The Life and Ministry of Gilbert Tennent (Preview)

Over the next several days I’m going to post the text from a lecture I delivered six years ago on Gilbert Tennent, one of the heroes of the Great Awakening. I was given the assignment by Pastor John Ashbrook for the 2002 Ohio Bible Fellowship Pastor’s Conference. The conference focused on American revival history and included a chapter-by-chapter discussion of Iain Murray’s excellent book Revival and Revivalism, several lectures by Dr. Gerald Priest of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, and a stellar presentation on Asahel Nettleton by Pastor Ashbrook. It was a very worthwhile week.

Though I don’t think I confessed this to Pastor Ashbrook, the first time I recall even hearing of Gilbert Tennent was when he asked me to prepare the lecture. I had a lot of research to do! Fortunately, I came across some great resources, not the least of which is an 1851 copy of Alexander Archibald’s book Biographical Sketches of the Founder, and Principal Alumni of the Log College. It’s a gem—both figuratively and literally, as I paid a pretty penny for it to some “weird book” site. (I believe that it was reprinted in 1965 by The Banner of Truth Trust.) Other particularly helpful resources included a biography by Milton J. Coalter and a 35-page booklet by one Ian Paisley (which I think was given to me by Pastor Ashbrook). In the months leading up to the conference I did a lot of reading, collected a lot of data, and ended up with a 12-page presentation that included 50-plus footnotes and a large number of quotations—a sure sign of someone so intimidated by the topic at hand that he’d rather have others do the speaking for him. It’s in a format that is a hybrid between a manuscript and an outline, but it isn’t too choppy a read.

Gilbert Tennent is an historical figure you should know, and the four posts I make during the next several days will at least give you an introduction. The topics will be as follows:

1. Gilbert Tennent’s Personal and Ministerial Life

2. Gilbert Tennent’s Theological and Ministerial Distinctives

3. Gilbert Tennent’s Contributions to the First Great Awakening

4. Lessons for Today from the Life of Gilbert Tennent


For the two people who might care enough to look, here’s the bibliography in advance:

Alexander, Archibald, ed. Biographical Sketches of the Founder and Principal Alumni of the Log College. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1851.

Alexander, Archibald, ed. Sermons of the Log College. Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications (reprint), 1993. (First published in 1855 as Sermons and Essays by the Tennents and Their Contemporaries.)

Cairns, Earle E. Christianity Through the Centuries. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954.

Coalter, Milton J., Jr. Gilbert Tennent, Son of Thunder: A Case Study of Continental Pietism’s Impact on the First Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Dieter, M. E. “Revivalism.” In The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Ed. Walter A Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991.

Kuiper, B. K. The Church in History. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951.

Murray, Iain. Revival and Revivalism. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994.

Nichols, Robert Hastings. The Growth of the Christian Church. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1941.

Noll, M. A. “The Great Awakenings.” In The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Ed. Walter A Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991.

Paisley, Ian R. K. Those Flaming Tennents! No publisher or date indicated.

Reid, Daniel G., ed. “Old Side Presbyterians,” “Pietism,” “Tennent, Gilbert” and “Tennant, William,” in Concise Dictionary of Christianity in America. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.

Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, from the CD entitled The Charles H. Spurgeon Collection by AGES Software.

Note: The books that are in bold print are the most helpful. Coalter’s Gilbert Tennent, Son of Thunder and Alexander’s Biographical Sketches are by far the most exhaustive and beneficial. Alexander’s is the more inspiring and edifying of the two, as you are privileged to read a great man’s assessment of a great man.


3 Responses

  1. Hey Chris,
    I’ll look forward to these posts. I really enjoyed Revival and Revivalism a number of years ago and have wanted to read it again. Maybe this will be the impetus. I would have really liked to hear the biography of Asahel Nettleton too.

  2. Chris,
    I remember being with you at that Bible Conference. I still have my notes from Dr. Priest and refer to them from time to time. Thank you for the information about Tennent.

  3. That was a tremendous week, Len. I know you’ve been to a number of the conferences—I’m glad that was one of them!

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