Revival In America – With Professor Mark David Hall: What part have revivals played in American history? When did the great revivals of American history take place? What was their impact on society? How did they even begin? Are we in the Third Great Awakening? What role did pastors play in the Revolution? What role did churches play in abolition? Tune in to hear Professor Mark David Hall reveal the truth about revival in America!
Air Date: 03/24/2021
Guest:Professor Mark David Hall
On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Transcription note: Â As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.
Faith and the Culture
What makes a nation great? What principles produce freedom and prosperity and liberty in a culture? Welcome to WallBuilders Live. This is the intersection of faith and the culture, where we’re always taking the hottest topics of the day and we’re addressing them from a biblical, historical and constitutional perspective.
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My name is Rick Green. I’m a former Texas legislator and America’s Constitution coach. And I am honored to be here with David Barton. He’s America’s premier historian and our founder at WallBuilders, also with Tim Barton, national speaker and pastor and president of WallBuilders.
Alright, David and Tim, we got Mark David Hall back with us today. We’ve had him on frequently, great historian and professor at George Fox University. But we had a listener question. I thought to you guys first, then we’ll get Professor Hall on in just a few minutes. And the question comes from Parks Wilson.
And the question is this. “I’d love to hear program on the history of revivals and Great Awakenings in America. I heard once that there were multiple revivals in the history of America.”
And so you know, of course, we hear about the first and second Great Awakenings, I think that’s what we’ll probably talk to Professor Hall about. But man, we even covered revivals in a lot of our curriculum for high schoolers, for the government course, did a couple of Foundations of Freedom television episodes about revivals. Huge part of why America is America comes from those revivals.
Yeah, Rick with revivals, there are a lot of writings on revivals. There’s a lot of historians have examined them. And one thing stands out is it’s really hard to know exactly where they start and where they end. When you look at it, it’s interesting, some historian said, there’s a first and a second and a third Great Awakening, some say, well, it’s just a first and second.
But some break the second into a second and a third. And then you get the turn of the century revivals of the DL Moody’s and Ira Sankey’s. And then you’ve got the Azusa Street Revival right up to the 1900s and you got the revivals of people like Billy Sunday and so many others.
And as they look at revivals, they don’t quite know how to divide it when it comes to national. Are they national? Are they regional? Are they local? How are they?
How Can We Tell?
And that’s why when you said it’s hard to know when a revival ends, and when it begins, is because of these breakdowns. It’s not hard to say, well, Billy Graham delivered his first sermon here, right? Well, no, historically, you can show when some of these guys were preaching. But as far as when you’re talking about a national movement, well, did that begin at this preacher’s first sermon, or was it this preacher? Or that’s where there’s some interesting conversation.
But big picture, I think one of the things that is not controversial to say, and I’m saying that it’s not controversial for us to say we totally agree with that. Some people disagree with it. But it’s unquestioned that faith and revivals played a significant role in shaping America.
America, largely for literally centuries, was a very religious nation where people were interested in God and what God had for them and who God was and learning to live according to Scripture on some level. And so the history of revival is it really is kind of a fun, steady.
Dad, we’ve talked about a lot of these guys over the years. I mean, I know Rick, as you’ve even done things, all three of us speakers, we’ve talked about some of these guys. Certainly, the easiest ones to talk about are the noted ones from the first to the second Great Awakening.
But even in the history of the Revolution, the role that pastors played in the Revolution, or the role that pastors played in the abolition movement leading up to the end of slavery in America, it’s unquestioned that pastors and churches have been very significant and revivals have been part of stirring the people up to get engaged to make a difference in society.
Major Cultural Shifts
And this is where, dad, I think the way that we would probably define revival is when you see the impact of faith begin to shift culturally, you know, okay, that’s a revival, because things are different than what they were before this movement. And this is maybe where we would describe and define revival is different than maybe some other historians.
Just because when Jesus talks about you judge a tree by the fruit, when you can begin to judge the fruit, and you see that there was a cultural impact that things are now changed, that things are different, we would say there was a revival that caused that change to be different. That’s where it’s easy to look at the first or the second Great Awakening and recognize there was a major cultural shifts happening because of that.
There’s many other times when unquestionably, God was moving in denominations or in churches because of this pastor. And maybe it wasn’t quite the national culture shift, but maybe for this state or this community, things change forever in this community because of what was happening here. That’s where we might break down the difference between a national revival or a local revival or state revival. But I think big picture, certainly, would agree that there have been a lot of revivals in American history.
There have been and just kind of following up on what you said, even the ones that we call national revivals or national because there were so many local communities across the nation that had revivals that it looked like it was a national movement, and it was a national movement.
But I’ll just use George Whitfield as an example. I mean, this is a guy that we’re told that he preached 34 years in America, he preached 18,000 sermons. People like Ben Franklin, and John Adams and Thomas Jefferson all point to him as without the first Great Awakening, Whitfield was a central part of that, you wouldn’t have America.
But you look at Whitfield. The other factor that is so significant is we’re told that 80% of all Americans physically heard him preach a sermon. Now consider that. 80% of people heard him do it. And without the technology back then, that just means he was in that many communities.
He went to so many towns in America, and there was so much revival in so many towns that it changed the culture in those towns. And as those towns changed, it changed the county, and that changed the state, well eventually, the nation changes.
And so a national revival is not like it starts up top with the national figure. It goes community to community, state to state, region to region, and it becomes a national movement. So that’s the other thing. I think the definition we have today is often we need a national revival so that the whole nation will be healthy and healed. Wait a minute.
A national revival is really the product of communities being changed by faith having an impact in their communities, and then that changes the region, that changes the state, that will change the nation. But it comes from the bottom up, not from the top down.
But there’s a lot of stuff and revivals rose significant. I will send you also to our book, “The American Story”, we cover a lot about the first Great Awakening, particularly there. It’s a really significant movement. But also Mark David Hall, professor at George Fox University, this is an area he spent a lot of time.
Moment from American History
And so we thought this would be good also to ask Professor Hall and see what he says about revivals, what they look like, what’s characteristic of them, and what do they do in a nation when you have one?
Professor Mark David Hall when we return. Stay with us, you’re listening to WallBuilders Live.
This is Tim Barton from WallBuilders with another moment from American history. Alexis de Tocqueville, a political official from France, traveled to the United States in 1831 and penned his observations in the now famous book “Democracy in America”. Being from France, what he found in America was completely unexpected.
He reported “Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention. And the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this. In France, I’d almost always seen the spirit of religion in the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America, I found that they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.”
De Tocqueville recognized that it was biblical Christianity and the morals that produced that made America great. For more information about Alexia Tocqueville and the positive influence of Christianity in early America, go to wallbuilders.com.
We’re back here on WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us. Good to have Mark David Hall back with us, always recommend his books. And we’ll have links to those today at our website as well. Mark, good to have you back, sir.
Welcome Professor Mark David Hall
Thanks so much. It’s great to be back.
Well, we had some listener questions about past revivals in America, I think, in many ways we’re hungry for revival in America. And they were wondering, you know, what were the big ones in the past and what was the impact that they’ve had? We’ve always heard that terms, great awakenings. But when did these happen? And what was their impact on the nation itself?
Yeah, that’s a great question. So one thing I would begin by stipulating is in the early 18th century, almost every American of European descent would have identified himself or herself as a Christian. And still in the 1730-1740s, you had the first Great Awakening, which were these great revivals, where people like George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards preached the gospel. And these people, many of whom probably were Christians already they were convicted.
And they say, oh, my goodness; I maybe haven’t truly committed myself to Jesus Christ. And so you’d have these massive meetings with many people coming forward and weeping. And I think probably a good way to think about it what would be in their language today, they’d be recommitting themselves to Jesus Christ.
One of the things that came from this is us revival is tended to preach outside of the established churches and the established churches didn’t necessarily like this, because they were calling, actually, for more conservative form of Christianity. And so oftentimes the state legislators would try to put a damper on these revivals, and so this led those influenced by the revivals to challenge these sorts of restrictions.
Preparing the Way for American Independence
And so I think you think about the timeline here, the 1730-1740s, so ordinary people are being encouraged to challenge the powers that be when their liberties as they conceive to them were threatened, at least in their eyes. And this, I think, helped prepare the way for the war for American independence, where, in this case, you had the crown and parliament attempting to impose their will on the American colonies in a way that they saw it to be a violation of their rights.
And they already had practice in this. They knew what to do. They began to protest. They send in petitions, and eventually, they resisted through force of arms. And you didn’t have any of that sort of thing in the first Great Awakening, but you certainly did in the war for American independence.
And they may not have done that without the first Great Awakening because they wouldn’t have. Even if they questioned authority, personally, they might not have had the courage to do anything about it.
You know, I think it’s a distinct possibility. And there have been other scholars who have made that sort of argument. I do think within the sort of Protestantism that informed the American colonies, there was this notion that tyranny may be resisted. So even without the first Great Awakening, still, I could imagine many Americans would have still risen up against the perceived act of tyranny. But certainly, the first Great Awakening helped the Patriot course. It certainly didn’t hurt at all.
I wonder when you look at some of the sermons of Whitfield and others that led to that first Great Awakening, was there more emphasis on biblical application in your life? Or was that even much of a topic? I mean, did they have the same struggle back then that we seem to have in the church today where there’s not a lot of life application in all these different areas we almost kind of separate certain areas of our life from biblical perspective? Was that an issue at all back then? And did they address that at all?
You know, that’s a great question. My senses, and it’s only a sense, so I’ve gone through all the ministers and all the sermons, that probably in your reformed or your Calvinist churches, your congregational churches, yours Presbyterian churches, in this era they would be preaching the gospel, preaching the Bible, and being very concerned about life application. Maybe not so much the Anglican Church, the Church of England and America, but that’s only about 15% of the American population, the Calvinist being more to 50 to 75%.
I think a key difference, though, is emotion. So if you were to go to church at, say, the first Congregational Church of Hartford or New Haven, you would find a very rigorous activity. You had probably an hour and a half, two hours long, maybe an hour long sermon that would be very, very well thought out, based on the Bible, theologically rich.
One of the things these revivalist did is they said, look, we need a little bit more emotion here. So George Whitfield actually studied the acting for a time and he had the ability to speak to large crowds, and to move their hearts, as well as their minds. So that’s one thing I would say is distinctive about the first Great Awakening.
Again, I’m not saying it’s better, I’m not saying it’s worse, I just think it’s something different. It’s something we see today in a lot of, you compare churches in your town, and you might know some that are very solid biblically, but maybe not a lot of excitement there, may be others that are full of excitement, but maybe not so solidly grounded in the Bible. And what you want, of course, is a nice mix of the two.
Sowing Before Reaping
Oh, that’s a great point. And that mix allows you to reach more people, because a lot of people have it’s just the esoteric arguments and almost philosophical in the sermon all the time, doesn’t give them much of that application or that passion for serving Christ. Another thing I was curious about was just the hard work of those ministers.
You know, I’ve heard about how Whitfield just day after day after day on horseback and message after message and just thousands of messages over the years across the country. So this didn’t come easy. I mean, the first Great Awakening, for instance, there was a lot of sowing into the culture before the harvest was there.
No, that’s exactly right. George Whitfield was a workhorse. He really was. He’s from England, of course, and he came over to America a couple of times. And he would ride from Georgia all the way up to what we now call Maine preaching regularly, preaching outdoors.
The numbers I’ve seen, I’m not sure these are exactly accurate, but something like he preached I believe in his Boston comments to something like 15,000 people, that might be an exaggeration, but it’s definitely well over 10,000 without a microphone. You know, this is just sort of insane to think about. And at the time…
Or having any Hall’s cough drops to help.
The Revival Process
That’s right. And he often did get ill because of this. I think it’s fair to say in the 1740s he was the most well-known person in the British Empire beside the king, maybe one of the first real international celebrities.
Wow. Okay, so let’s fast forward to second Great Awakening. So first Great Awakening, most of that revival time was 1730s, 40s, 50s, leading up to the Revolution. When did the second Great Awakening start?
Well, without getting into the scholarly weeds, some people have started to question this idea of first Great Awakening versus second Great Awakening. And they said, really, what’s going on is a series of revivals that might shift from place to place. But it is the case that most scholars do speak or the first Great Awakening primarily the 17s, in 30s, and 40s, into the 50s. And in the second Great Awakening, which may be starts as early as 1798, but most scholars will say for sure, yeah, the 1820s 1830s are where scholars usually date the second Great Awakening.
What you have here is something similar to the first Great Awakening, but a very important change. So in these second Great Awakening is, again, the vast majority of Americans would have said, I am a Christian, I’m a Presbyterian, I’m an Anglican, something of that sort. In the second Great Awakening, you had a similar phenomenon. So you might have people, someone who was baptized or Presbyterian who was a decent person who went to church, and then he would go to a revival.
And many of these revivalist were either Methodist or Baptist. And he would hear this person exhort the gospel and move his heart and have what he thought was a conversion experience. And I emphasize that because my guess is many of these people actually were Christian before they had this conversion experience. But nonetheless, they had a conversion experience.
And one of the changes that came about because of the second Great Awakening is you see the absolute explosion of the Baptist and the Methodists. They’re just tiny, tiny denominations in the late 18th century. By the time we get to the mid-19th century, they’re the two dominant denominations.
And these are denominations we easily recognize as evangelical today, even denomination, so Southern Baptists would be the most obvious connection. Many Methodists, not all Methodist, but many Methodist have kind of strayed in a liberal direction. But the Methodists in this era, the Baptist in this era, solid, solid Orthodox Christians, but just a lot more excitement they brought into their faith.
There’s one other thing these people did that I think we have to know, we have to recognize is they were profoundly concerned with reforming society. And they understood that the greatest evil at this time was slavery. There were other evils. But the enslavement of African Americans was the greatest evil.
And to these evangelicals that were converted or who shifted from being Presbyterians to Baptists became the foot soldiers in the fight against slavery, the abolitionist movement. Now there were others, there were Presbyterians and Anglicans, who are part of this movement as well. But the foot soldiers indisputably were evangelical Christians concerned with reforming society.
Influencing the Culture
You read my mind on what my last question was going to be. And that is what was the major cultural impact and it would have been the end of slavery eventually as a result of that. So revival is important to the culture. It really does so good values into the ground, into the culture, and sometimes it takes decades to reap the benefit of that. But we could sure use another revival in our country today.
Actually, I said, last question, this one off the top of my head. Just what would you look for as a sign that a revival was happening if you were trying to, based on history, say, hey, maybe this is happening again, or could be happening soon?
Yeah, there certainly have been several other major revivals in the late 19th century, the mid- 20th century. But as we discussed, I’m just not an expert on those, so I’m not really capable of speaking to them with authority. I mean, these are noticed by everyone. I mean, it’s a huge movement. And even the skeptics will notice it’s going on, but say, you know what’s going on? And they’re marked with people being convicted, large numbers of people being convicted.
Again, some of them, maybe many of them actually were Christians in the sense that we would have seen them in heaven one day regardless of the sort of conviction. But indisputably, they became convicted. They recommitted their lives to Jesus Christ. Of course, historically, some might have become Christians. I would say today with something like, man, like 35% of Americans basically saying, I’m maybe not an atheist, but I don’t really have any religion.
I think one of the great marks of a revival today would be the sorts of NONEs and as being attracted to church meetings, or tent meetings or Colosseum meetings where people are preaching the gospel, and they come forward and they say, I’m a sinner. I am in need of salvation. I’m putting my faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and then of course, seeing a change in their lifestyle. And so that would be my hope and prayer that we would see this sort of thing today.
Did America Have a Christian Founding?
That’s good. That’s good. That’s an interesting distinction to from what you said at the top of the interview with that first Great Awakening where it was people that already call themselves Christians, but were convicted about truly living that out. In this case, when we have so many, a third of the country part of the NONE category, that would be the group to watch for new.
And Mark David Hall, I appreciate you so much. You know, I think folks should definitely check out all your books, distinguished professor there at George Fox University. By way of the University of Virginia, so somehow went from one corner of the country all the way up to Oregon to the other corner, someday on an interview, we’ll get that story, but a dozen great books, hundreds of articles out there, and folks can find out more about you at the website there. And then just, I guess, Amazon for the books, is that the best place where you recommend?
It’s the easiest way, although I’m kind of getting disgusted with Amazon. So I think conservative Christians need another alternative. But right now, that’s the easiest way to buy the books. Yes, sir.
And latest book, if I remember, was the Did America Have a Christian Founding? Right? Do you have a new one since then? Or is that the latest one?
No, that’s my latest and that’s my only one today for the general reading public. So that’s definitely the one I would encourage people to begin with that they haven’t read anything by me. And then the book will point them to other things that I’ve written that they might want to go to to dig further.
The American Story
Excellent. Excellent, Professor, appreciate you. Thanks so much for your time today.
Hey, thanks so much. Always a pleasure.
Stay with us, folks. We’ll be right back with David and Tim Barton.
Hey, guys, we want to let you know about our new resource we have here at WallBuilders called The American Story. For years, people have been asking us to do a history book, and we finally done it. We start with Christopher Columbus and go roughly through Abraham Lincoln. And one of the things that so often we hear today are about the imperfections of America, or how so many people in America that used to be celebrated or honored really aren’t good or honorable people.
One of the things we acknowledge quickly in the book is that the entire world is full of people who are sinful and need a savior, because the Bible even tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And yet what we see through history, and certainly is evident in America is how a perfect God uses imperfect people and does great things through them.
The story of America is not the story of perfect people. But you see time and time again, how God got involved in the process and use these imperfect people to do great things that impacted the entire world from America. To find out more, go to wallbuilders.com and check out The American Story.
It Starts in Our Communities
We’re back here on WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us. And thanks again to Professor Mark David Hall for joining us. We’ll have a link to his latest book available for you at wallbuilderslive.com as well. And back with David and Tim. You know, guys, I mean, basically from what he’s saying, and David, from what you said earlier in the program, it does begin with us. I mean, we can be part of that revival in our own communities.
We can and really it does come down to our engagement involvement. As he mentioned, revival is when you see people that are hungry for the gospel. And one of the things we’ve even had pastors on, some of the pastors from California, who their churches have stayed open in the midst of the shutdowns, and there are people coming that are desperate that are hungry for answers. And these pastors, these churches, and these communities have been able to offer and provide answers.
And as Mark David Hall said, a good sign of revival is when even the people who might not be necessarily interested in religion are looking for that. We’re seeing some of that happening right now around the nation, happening in California. To back up to the beginning of the interview, I love that he pointed out, when you look at like the first Great Awakening, it’s not like the awakening was bringing people to Christ necessarily, because the vast majority of Americans, the ones, especially that came from Europe would have already self-identified as Christian.
And I really appreciated he said that. Because this is something, guys, as we travel and speak, we will periodically get push back on the fact that people will say, well, America wasn’t really that religious, it wasn’t founded on religion, that people weren’t really Christians, that even the Founding Fathers were atheists, agnostics and deist. And it’s like, no, if you just read some basic writing, study basic history, you’d realize that America was by and large, a religious continent, and by religious, specifically the religion of Christianity, these were by and large Christians.
A New Lifestyle
But the first Great Awakening helped remind people oh, yeah, we need to live according to this faith that we acknowledge to be true. And that awakening, the first Great Awakening, the second Great Awakening helped bring people to the realization they should live their lives differently, maybe than how they were living, to acknowledge God in new ways that really reflected in their lifestyle, their behavior.
But I was really grateful just to hear him acknowledge that, no, America did have that foundation. And the reason I appreciate that is because it does give us the thought of that knowing where we came from, if we’re going to project in the future of where do we want to go, well, then we need to understand the foundation we’re building on and we have to get back to that foundation of faith, which is even part of the revival we would want to see in modern America today.
Now, Tim, you’re exactly right. So much of the revival was people who are already professing Christianity. But as Professor Hall said, they wanted their faith to be practical. They wanted it change community. And that really goes back to our thinking. As Christians, we have to learn to think biblically. What does the Bible say about economics or education?
How do we live out this aspect of our faith, not just professing Christianity? But how do we make a change in our community? And that really is for us as Christians to look into. It’s not just about getting everybody else to become Christians. It’s also about getting Christians to act right and think right and live out their faith in their community and have an impact on the culture around them.
Revival In America – With Professor Mark David Hall
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