The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism,by Harry S. Stout (Eerdmans, xxiv + 301 pps.; $14.95, paper). Reviewed by George M. Marsden, professor of the history of Christianity in America, the Divinity School, Duke University.

“There are no Protestant saints,” Yale’s Harry Stout has commented regarding why he wrote his Whitefield biography as he did. At least, there are no Calvinist saints in the sense of a special class of holy people. If salvation is by grace alone, then we should expect our heroes and heroines to be flawed humans whom God made use of for his purposes.

Stout’s approach yields a fascinating portrait of the Calvinist evangelist. His Whitefield is, first of all, an immensely influential public figure. Although popular on both sides of the Atlantic, in the American colonies Whitefield was a celebrity without rival. He was, as Stout points out, the first American “star” in an embryonic nation that would be particularly susceptible to stars.

Whitefield visited the colonies seven times, and beginning with his dramatically successful revival tour during 1739–40, he could count on astonishing crowds wherever he spoke in America. Benjamin Franklin, who admired success, especially when it promoted good works for public benefit, became a good friend of Whitefield’s. Before the Revolution, Whitefield was much the better known. When Whitefield died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1770, the news had an impact like the death of a monarch. Almost every British colonist remembered where he or she was upon hearing the news.

The genius of Stout’s brilliant biography is that he uses Whitefield’s public success as the key to understanding his personality. Whitefield succeeded in part because ...

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