Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Book Review: "George Whitefield: The Evangelist," by John Pollock

"George Whitefield: The Evangelist," by John Pollock is an excellent introductory sketch of the life and ministry of the famed Great Awakening revivalist.

Pollock has an easy-to-read style that helps the reader coast through the primary events of the life of Whitefield as an up-close eyewitness. The style of this book takes one "behind the scenes" as it were, into the life of Whitefield.

For this reason, quotations are plentiful but footnotes and citations are rare in this book. For some, this is a strength. Polluck is more of a story-teller than a strict chronicler. For others, this may be frustrating as they seek to do further or more in-depth research on the protagonist.

The author clearly has a fondness for Whitefield, often defending him in the midst of his several controversies. At the same time, this work is not hagiography. Polluck is fair and honest with Whitefield's errors (particularly in his youth) as well as forthright about his divisions and contentions with other believers.

I did think, however, that Polluck missed the point in Whitefield's theological dispute with John Wesley (chs. 23-26). Polluck seems to believe that Whitefield thought Wesley a universalist. This likely comes from his misapprehension of the doctrine of Limited Atonement. In this particular episode of Whitefield's life, Polluck seems to lean towards a Wesleyan understanding of salvation, calling the founder of Methodism a much "stronger theologian." Polluck appears to have missed the Biblical force of Whitefield's predestinarianism, and seems to dismiss it as mere foreknowledge. Polluck seems almost embarrassed of Whitefield's unabashed Calvinism and relentlessly dresses it up for the reader.

As Polluck tells the story of Whitefield's evangelical zeal, this reader found himself repenting of my own coldness towards evangelism and personal witness. Whitefield certainly devoted his life to proclaiming the evangel, and I could not help asking for more of the same fire.

That weakness notwithstanding, "The Evangelist" is an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable introduction to George Whitefield.

Matthew Everhard is Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

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