The Great Revival

The Great Revival: Beginnings of the Bible Belt

John B. Boles
Copyright Date: 1972
Edition: 1
Pages: 260
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130hpp4
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  • Book Info
    The Great Revival
    Book Description:

    Drawing upon the religious writings of southern evangelicals, John Boles asserts that the extraordinary crowds and miraculous transformations that distinguished the South's First Great Awakening were not simply instances of emotional excess but the expression of widespread and complex attitudes toward God. Converted southerners were starkly individualistic, interested more in gaining personal salvation in a hopelessly evil world than in improving society. As Boles shows in this landmark study, the effect of the Revival was to throw over the region a conservative cast that remains dominant in contemporary southern thought and life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4857-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvii)
  5. [Maps]
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  6. Chapter One The Setting
    (pp. 1-11)

    The two decades following the American Revolution were years of transition for the major religious denominations in the South. The Anglican Church, enervated before the Revolution largely by a debilitating blindness to popular needs, emerged from the conflict in a precarious position.¹ Long associated with dry-as-dust sermons, lackadaisical piety, and the fopperies of tidewater society, the orphaned Church of England was a victim of change. The times simply demanded what the state church was not. Dilapidated buildings and vacant pulpits, a Tory label and an aristocratic past, offered scant hope for the new era. The evangelical inroads of the Baptists,...

  7. Chapter Two The Feeling of Crisis
    (pp. 12-24)

    For most American clergymen, the final years of the eighteenth century were freighted with despair. These were the suspicious times when orthodox New Englanders saw a Tom Paine deist behind every door and a French infidel lurking in the shadows. Lyman Beecher found theY ale of I 793 “in a most ungodly state” and forever wondered how he had escaped the “intemperance, profanity, gambling, and licentiousness” that were so rampant.¹ Crotchety, outspoken Jedidiah Morse preached a Fast Day sermon in Massachusetts warning of a secret conspiracy of the “Bavarian Illuminati” which threatened to topple the Republic.² The deistic publications and...

  8. Chapter Three The Theory of Providential Deliverance
    (pp. 25-35)

    For the southern clergymen apprehensive about the future of Christianity, their fears had a significance much larger than mere personal worry. This perception was integrated into their overall belief system. Their understanding of how God worked in this world and how man erred in life ultimately produced very similar conclusions among ministers of each denomination. Repeatedly these conclusions led to a generalized remedy for the situation. That fears felt by each denomination could produce such a remarkably uniform theory of action is evidence of how similar their central beliefs were. The apprehensions about religion constituted a problem to be solved....

  9. Chapter Four Portents of Revival
    (pp. 36-50)

    The climate of ideas, beliefs, and hopes out of which the Great Revival in the South developed is more important than the location or circumstances of its actual beginning. Yet from a small start in Logan County, Kentucky, the revival gained momentum and symbolic meaning until it was powerful enough to sweep across the South. It was only through an unusual combination of personality, theology, time, society, and coincidence that a remarkable outbreak of religious emotion erupted in Logan County. The leading personality in this particular beginning was James McGready.¹ More than any other single individual, McGready, a Presbyterian, transferred...

  10. Chapter Five Kentucky Ablaze
    (pp. 51-69)

    At the close of the eighteenth century, Kentucky, with the rest of the South, had reached the point where dozens of ministers and thousands of church members were convinced that God would some day send his glorious deliverance.¹ Prayer societies, fasts, intense and urgent sermons, all were united in an effort to bring men into the necessary relationship with God. Hopeful expectation had largely subdued ministerial pessimism. Throughout the South, from the sea islands of South Carolina to the piedmont of Virginia, and even to the “Barrens” of Kentucky, the faithful remnant was waiting for God to send a revival....

  11. Chapter Six The South Conquered
    (pp. 70-89)

    For too long “the Great Revival” has meant, to most historians, only those hysterical “holy fairs” associated with Kentucky, Cane Ridge, and simple frontiersmen who wanted their whiskey straight and their religion red-hot. It should be obvious by now that there was present a pervasive, strongly believed system of ideas about God and his dealings with men. Most emphatically, there existed a vigorous cerebral element behind the revivals that began in Kentucky. And just as the revival was not entirely emotional and physical, it certainly was a region wide phenomenon, evoking similar beliefs, crowds, and responses in North Carolina as...

  12. Chapter Seven The Changing Revival Image
    (pp. 90-110)

    When after a long decade of religious decline the camp meetings first came to the fore, they were almost universally greeted as the welcome vanguard of God’s returning mercy. Within several years, however, some of the more orthodox clergy began to withdraw their approval, while others, still more rigid, declared the revival and its excesses to be nothing more than the demonic delusions of an. ignorant people. In the face of such criticism, many of the undaunted supporters of pietistic religion strove mightily to defend their “work of God” from the verbal slurs of those they considered hypocritical nominalists and...

  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  14. Chapter Eight Homiletics & Hymnology
    (pp. 111-124)

    “As to the Idea of sermonizing,” scribbled a Methodist itinerant in 1803, “I thought but little about it, It concerned me but little, the Idea was to go out and call Sinners to come to Christ, that they might be saved from Sin here, and saved in heaven for ever here-after.”¹ Calling sinners to Jesus Christ was certainly the end toward which all homiletics was aimed, but this is not to say that all, or even most, evangelical ministers gave as little thought to their message as James Watts apparently did. In the scholarly mind the revivalist preacher often occupies...

  15. Chapter Nine A Theology of Individualism
    (pp. 125-142)

    In practically every aspect, the fundamental emphasis of the popular churches in the South was individualistic. For neither Baptist, Methodist, nor Presbyterian did the idea of the church mean a universal institutionalized body. Instead, whenever they spoke of the church, they meant the local congregation, or, in the most abstract sense, they sometimes used this phrase to refer to that mystical body of individual believers known only by God. This localized, individual ecclesiology was intimately related to the prevalent evangelical theology. The brunt of the preaching and teaching was exerted to break down the barriers of personal indifference. The ministers’...

  16. Chapter Ten Unity & Schism
    (pp. 143-164)

    The three major denominations shared their most important doctrines. Each accepted the idea of a perfect God who was the moral governor of the universe. Man was inherently and infinitely sinful, unable by himself to effect reconciliation with God. Being merciful, God sent a deliverer, his coequal son, Jesus Christ, who assumed the sins of mankind and died to pay the punishment due them. By believing in him, men could escape spiritual death and be reunited with God. Yet because men were so depraved, only the divine grace of God could ignite the spark of faith. This generally accepted scheme...

  17. Chapter Eleven The Economic & Political Thought of Southern Revivalism
    (pp. 165-182)

    It is difficult to believe that the common man of the South, who possessed few slaves, little education, and a provincial outlook, could have held even the rudiments of a conscious economic and political theory. His was largely a world of planting, reaping, and hunting; of the ax and plow; of monotony and loneliness. For the great majority the only acquaintance they had with abstractions and theories was through the sermons of the local minister or itinerant preacher. In an age of almost negligible newspaper circulation, only lawyers, merchants, large commercial planters, and politicians clustered in state capitals were interested...

  18. Chapter Twelve Revivalism & the Southern Evangelical Mind
    (pp. 183-204)

    The revival movement declined rapidly after 1805. By that time practically everyone who could be reached and moved by the evangelical message had enjoyed the opportunity. Unlike upstate New York two decades later, the South had not reached the stage of agrarian maturity that could sustain almost continuous revivalism.¹ Nevertheless, at hundreds of camp meetings and innumerable rural churches scattered across the South, thousands of common people had felt their consciences pricked and had experienced a feeling of conversion. Churches were crowded afterwards, and most observers seemed satisfied that there had been a great moral reformation wherever the revival fires...

  19. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 205-222)
  20. Index
    (pp. 223-236)