Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Printer and the Preacher - by Randy Petersen

The Printer and the Preacher: Ben Franklin, George Whitefield, and the Surprising Friendship that Invented America by Randy Peterson is a book that attempts to explore the friendship of George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin and how that relationship affected the coming united American states.  I have read some biographies on Whitefield (Dallimore's) and knew of Franklin's correspondence with Whitefield, and thought that the topic of this book looked interesting. 

Sadly, this book did not satisfy my hopes.  First, though the author's writing style is not boring it is too unorganized for my taste.  I have read books before where the narrative goes back and forth through time and I know that this can be done in an interesting, yet still unconfusing way, but this book does not do it well.  On any given page, especially towards the first half of the book, one can be in Franklin's early life, then his later, or in Whitefield's early life, or his later life, then again in Whitefield's later life and then in Franklin's early life… and so on.  It felt as though one was in a defective time machine so that when you put one foot out in 1776 the machine goes crazy and you actually step out for a momentary glimpse of 1730 but ultimately  find yourself experiencing vertigo in 1765.  At least in my opinion that was how it seemed, perhaps others won't mind it, but I would have preferred a more steady chronological approach. 

And then, I thought that Petersen wrote a bit too flippantly, especially in regards to Franklin's wrong beliefs.  For a good deal of the book he seemed to be rather lighthearted about Franklin's rejection of the Gospel especially when writing about Franklin's perspective of morals and his piecing together his own form of religion.  Peterson does show his own Christian views at one point, harshly critiquing Franklin's thought that being saved by faith alone (without works) is not a Christian doctrine, "But he [Franklin] was still dead wrong.  It is certainly a 'Christian doctrine' that we are saved by faith alone and not by our deeds…"  But then he continues his account of their lives in care-free style that seems to push aside the importance of eternity, and the seriousness of Franklin's rejection of the Gospel.  I'm sure Peterson did not mean to do this, but that was how it came across to me.   

Other things bothered me as well, such as the author's harping on the emotional responses of the people towards Whitefield's messages and his emotional delivery of the truth.  The author makes  statements like this:  "Throughout his career, George was accused of over-emotionalizing the Gospel.  His dramatic antics got people so excited, they might agree to anything, or so the critics said.  But that was the whole point.  Whitefield knew that the Gospel broke into most peoples' lives through their emotions, not their minds…What they lacked, George felt, was a transformation of the heart - and that would best happen not through logical argumentation, but through an emotional appeal."  I may be wrong, but I don't ever remember that Whitfield put emotion above words and logical thinking, especially in regards to the Word of God.  And even if he did believe as the above statements say I would still have to flatly disagree.  The Bible doesn't say that faith comes from emotion, rather it states that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17).  It doesn't say that emotion is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, rather the Word of God has those attributes (Heb 4:12). Emotion is an effect but not the cause of the New Birth.   

And then the author uses other statements, like, "…about the same time the great reformers were crafting a new faith."  New? "Crafting"? Weren't they returning to the one and only Word of God?  And again he says, "Whitfield bought heavily into the Calvinist theology…"  I wouldn't use the term "bought into"…

So, to put my opinion simply: Petersen had too flippant a perspective of the history of these two men who both have eternal souls and whose beliefs about Who, and what life is really about, really did matter when it comes to where they would spend eternity.

I received a free review copy of this book from the Booklook blogger program in exchange for my review which did not have to be favorable.

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