Interview with the Author: Thomas S. Kidd

Whenever I read a good book, I have a desire to sit down and have a conversation with the author over some form of hot drinks. With our world ever so connected today, this desire is nearer to being satisfied than we might think—though perhaps electronically and without the personal interaction (or hot drinks). Upon reading the latest biography on the life of George Whitefied, I took the liberty to ask author and historian Dr. Thomas S. Kidd if he would be willing to briefly answer a couple of questions—for the purpose of sharing on my blog. I am thankful he agreed.

Dr. Thomas S. Kidd is a Professor of History at Baylor University. He has written several books including: Baptists in America (Oxford, 2015, with Barry Hankins); George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale, 2014),  Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, and God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. Among his other books are The American Christian and IslamThe Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America, and The Great Awakening: A Brief History with Documents. Kidd writes regularly for outlets including WORLD magazine and USA Today. You can also check out his blog. 

Me: “Dr. Kidd, 18th century America was a vastly different time than 2016 America. In what ways was the time of Whitefield and Edwards fertile soil for the Great Awakening?”

Thomas Kidd: “The Great Awakening began about a century after the founding of the first English colonies in America. The New England colonies, in particular, had begun as devout Puritan experiments, but they seemed to have fallen away from their original spiritual fervor. On the other hand, those colonies had deep spiritual traditions on which to draw, so Edwards and Whitefield really were calling them to “re-vival,” or the renewal of commitment that once was strong.”

Me: “I was quite surprised to find that Whitefield pre-conversion with a man of intense and almost Luther-esc struggles. How did these internal torments form him into one of the greatest preachers of all time?”
Thomas Kidd: “Yes, some might regard Whitefield as depressed or even deranged in those pre-conversion months, as he seemed to battle almost physically with the Devil’s torments. But those experiences enlivened Whitefield’s later preaching. He was crystal clear about what was at stake in salvation.”

Me: “I gathered from your book that Whitefield was a bit of a 'Calvinistic Charismatic.' He believed very dogmatically in the doctrine of election (which separated him from the Wesleys) and yet he was often accused of 'enthusiasm.' Can you explain briefly this strange blend in George Whitefield?”

Thomas Kidd: “It is true: Whitefield was both a deeply principled Calvinist, and he consistently emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit in revival, and the ministry of the Spirit in assisting believers to live out their daily devotion to Christ. Of course, there are still non-cessationist Calvinists around today who emphasize the work of the Spirit, but you would be hard pressed to find people in church history who combined doctrinal precision and Spirit-filled ministry the way that Whitefield did.”

Me: “Whitefield had a type of zeal for the gospel of Jesus Christ that I have never heard of. You list in your book that he preached an estimated 18,000 sermons in his lifetime. He frequently preached multiple times a day to crowds in the tens of thousands on upwards. Often times he preached himself sick—ultimately preaching himself to his grave at the age of 55. You record a quote of him saying on his 40th birthday that he “would gladly spend the day in retirement and deep humiliation before that Jesus for who I have done so littler” (232). What drove this man?” 

Thomas Kidd: “He's absolutely certain that there is no more pressing issue in life than whether a person is born again. For the Christian reader, Whitefield also seemed to operate with a special anointing on his preaching ministry that accounts for his zeal. And he was nowhere happier than when he was declaring the gospel in front of as many people as possible.”

Me: “As you have done significant research on the times and figures of the Great Awakening--to you, what is the most obvious thing the Western church is lacking today that perhaps it had back then?”

Thomas Kidd: “In comparison to Whitefield, we lack urgency about the gospel, and about the reality of heaven and hell.”

ME: "That is very true. Sometimes I wonder what our lives would look like today if we dared to really believe the gospel message. Thank you, Dr. Kidd, for your time."

I heavily recommend a reading of Dr. Kidd's biography on the life of George Whitefield--a truly exemplary life. We have a lot to learn from great men of the past, and a reading of history has a tendency to reveal our modern blind spots.


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