The First American Evangelical

Just finished reading “The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather,” by Rick Kennedy.

Kennedy proposes that Cotton (d.1728) represents a turn from the old Puritan ways to a broader church life, even while maintaining a strict High Calvinism. Kennedy writes, “We see in Mathers movement and openness to the winds of the Holy Spirit, the experience of answered prayer, a biblical focus on Jesus as Savior in and through history, and a readiness to judge, negatively or positively, the spiritual temperature of a pastor or church. These became core aspects of early American evangelical thought.”

Mather was open to and interested in “experiences” of God that he collected and reported. He took seriously “angelic visitations” and special speakings of God to the soul, as well as healings and other manifestations of God’s visitations.

“He encouraged his parishioners and readers to continue to live in the light of the lively and unpredictable God of the Bible. He was at the forefront of a more lively type of enlightenment, a type of evangelical enlightenment that would be deepened the next generation by Jonathan Edwards…For Mather was more worried about believing too little than believing too much.”

He was accused of being an enthusiast and being immoderate. Yet he continued to preach what he called “the top of Christianity,” and “an all-day-long faith.”

Usually George Whitefield is considered to be the fountain of the Evangelical movement, but Kennedy proposes that indeed it is Cotton Mather.