Paper: When Theology Unites and Divides: The Changing Relationship between George Whitefield and John Cennick, by Tom Schwanda

On June 25th during the George Whitefield at 300 Conference held at Pembroke College, Oxford University, Tom Schwanda (Associate Professor of Christian Formation and Ministry, Wheaton College, IL) presented a paper about the relationship between two important figures in 18th century evangelical Christianity. Here’s an abstract:

Unlike John Wesley, who could be prickly in his dealings with colleagues and hold grudges for a lifetime, George Whitefield was more even tempered and balanced in his relationships with others.  Whitefield also demonstrated a graciousness that could forgive even when he was wronged.  This paper examines the changing relationship between George Whitefield and John Cennick.  Once converted Cennick associated with Wesley and became one of his early top assistants.  However when Cennick became more aware of his own Calvinistic theology and alert to the growing divide between himself and Wesley he united with Whitefield.  Initially Whitefield had expressed reservation about lay preachers, maintaining the importance of ordination.  His views soon changed once he heard Cennick’s preaching.  Cennick’s importance to Whitefield continued to soar until he became enamored with the Moravians and eventually sought to unite with them.  Whitefield demonstrates his tender heart when in a 1747 letter written after Cennick had withdrawn from the Calvinist Methodists he was still able to express love and prayers for the continuation of Cennick’s new ministry.  In that same letter Whitefield bemoans his growing weariness with the lack of unity and dividing walls between the various groups within the English Revival.  In 1753 Whitefield addressed a highly critical letter to Count Zinzendorf about his concerns with the Moravians.  While he did not name Cennick specifically, how did his old friend respond to Whitefield’s judgment?  Through a careful reading of the extant correspondence between these two revivalists I will seek to develop a more nuanced understanding of Whitefield’s relationship with Cennick and make an assessment of how they perceived each other at the time of Cennick’s death in 1755.

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