Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fire: 1740-1741 -- The First Great Awakening

Fire, second in the “Great Awakenings” series by Bill Bright and Jack Cavanaugh, introduces us to the town of Havenhill, Connecticut in 1740. The revival focus here is the one brought about by the preaching of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.

Josiah Rush returns to Havenhill after spending seven years in exile, banished from the town after a fire he accidentally caused brought about the deaths of the town pastor and two young children. His old friend Philip Clapp, now the community leader, helps re-introduce Josiah as the new pastor. Soon, however, it becomes clear that the townspeople are still attached to their old preacher and will never accept Josiah. Hostility seems to come from every part of town, including the deacons, and especially from the busybody Eleanor Parkhurst, widow of the former pastor.

After Josiah’s arrival, more trouble arrives, including a small-pox epidemic. Several mysterious fires at the warehouses are blamed on Josiah; dock workers talk about strange things going on, and end up murdered. Josiah bungles around in his social life, still pining for his old love, Abigail Parkhurst, who is now engaged to Josiah’s close friend Johnny Mott.

As Josiah considers the town’s condition in his journal and diagnoses a “soul sickness,” he learns of the revival sweeping through Boston and other parts of New England. Through Josiah’s exploration we are briefly introduced to the historical figures of the time: Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. As with all the books in this series, Fire includes great descriptions of the revival, the crowds of people attending to the preaching, and even the changed lives of the communities. Fire even includes a brief conversation with Benjamin Franklin, for a look at Franklin’s own unbelieving views (though that scene seems rather extraneous, thrown in only because of Franklin’s fame, but serving no real purpose).

Also in keeping with other books in this series, though, the actual revival of the time plays only a minor part, observed only by a few outsiders immersed in their own story. Yet Fire does a great job of conveying Christian truths, especially the idea that revival comes not on man’s schedule but God’s, and the glory belongs to God alone and not man. Josiah even gets his own Job-style confrontation, to further bring home the point of God’s sovereignty and power. As such, Fire is one of the better installments of the “Great Awakenings” series, with its good mystery story combined with sound theology. It also highlights the best known revival in American history—and the one true revival that came from the preaching of God’s word.

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