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The Radical Pietism of Count Nicholas Zinzendorf as a Conservative Influence on the Awakener, Gilbert Tennent

  • Milton J Coalter (a1)

Unlike the religious dominance of Puritans in New England and Anglicans in the South, the mid-Atlantic colonies of eighteenth-century America were covered with an assortment of northern European churches and sects. By the 1740s, an overflow of New England Puritans shared New York with an earlier immigrant population of Reformed Dutch and French Huguenots. In the Raritan valley of New Jersey, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians lived alongside enclaves of more Dutch, and coexisted with English Quakers, Swedish and German Lutherans, and a variety of sectarians along the lower Delaware River and in the city of Philadelphia. On the upper Delaware were further German settlements while along the western frontiers of Penn's colony additional Scotch-Irish Calvinists were to be found.

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1. For descriptions of this international cross-fertilization of theology, see Stoeffler, F. Ernest, The Rise of Evangelical Pietism, Studies in the History of Religion, 9 (Leiden, 1965);Heppe, Heinrich, Geschichte des Pielismus und der Mystik in der Reformierten Kirche (Leiden, 1879); and Schmidt, Martin, “England und der deutsche Pietismus,” Evangelische Theologie (1953): 205224.

2. William Tennent, Sr., Hicse Libellus quoted by Pears, Thomas C. Jr, “History by Hearsay,” Journal of Presbyterian History 19 (06 1940): 7375. James Logan, William Tennent's cousin, suggested that Tennent's Anglican ordination was the consequence of family pressure in a letter to another cousin, James Greenshields. James Logan to James Greenshields, 2 January 1725, Documentary History of William Tennent and the Log College, ed. Thomas Pears, Jr.(Philadelphia, 1940), p. 39a.

3. Records of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Philadelphia, 1841), p. 51.

4. A complete list of the alumni of Tennent's school, the Log College, is provided in Pears, , Documentary History, p. 174. Of this group, the most important are treated in Archibald Alexander, , Biographical Sketches of the Founder and Principal Alumni of the Log College (Princeton, 1845).

5. Tennent, William Sr, “William Tennent's Sacramental Sermon,” ed. Pears, Thomas C. Jr, Journal of Presbyterian History 19 (06 1940): 81.

6. William Tennent, Sr., “Mss. Sermon #1,” Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

7. John B. Frantz, “The Awakening of Religion among the German Settlers in the Middle Colonies,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series 33 (April 1976): 274, 281–282.

8. A full account of Frelinghuysen's early training and ministry can be found in Tanis, James, Dutch Calvinistic Pietism in the Middle Colonies. A Study of the Life and Theology of Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen (The Hague, 1967), pp. 1141.

9. It should be noted that this three-stage “ordo salutis” is a distillation of the different descriptions of the process given by various Pietist leaders. Also, this pattern of conversion was never rigidly interpreted as the only manner by which an individual might be saved. For representative views of the conversion process by German pietists, see Stoeffler, F. Ernest, “August Hermann Francke,” German Pietism During the Eighteenth Century (Leiden, 1973), chap. 1 and Dale Brown, W., Understanding Pietism (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1978), pp. 116119; by Puritan theologians, see Pettit, Norman, “Preparation and the Problem of the Heart,” The Heart Prepared: Grace and Conversion in Puritan Spiritual Life (New Haven, 1966), pp. 121; and by a Dutch Reformed clergyman, see Tanis, , Dutch Calvinistic Pietism, pp. 114132.

10. Lodge, Martin E., The Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1964), pp. 117120.

11. Thomas, Prince, ed., The Christian History Containing Accounts of the Revival and Propagation of Religion in Great-Britain and America for the year, 1744,5 (Boston, 1745), pp. 292293.

12. Gilbert Tennent's influence on Whitefield's preaching style is noted in Maxson, Charles H., The Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies (Gloucester, Mass., 1958), p. 49 and Tanis, , Dutch Calvinistic Pietism, p. 80. Charles Robert Reed has maintained that William and John Tennent also acquired Frelinghuysen's preaching methods through their brother, Gilbert; see Reed, , Image Alteration in a Mass Movement: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Role of the Log College in the Great Awakening (Columbus, Ohio, 1973), p. 27.

13. James Tanis has claimed that Tennent formally organized conventicles within his own parish; see Tanis, , Dutch Calvinistic Pietism, pp. 159160.

14. Tennent's frequent cooperative activities with Frelinghuysen are well documented by the complaints of the Dutch domine's colonial opponents; see Hugh, Hastings, ed., Ecclesiastical Records of the State of New York (Albany, N.Y., 1902), pp. 2426, 2466, 25532557, 2585, 25872589, 2667, 2678. Also, Tennent aided the German Reformed Superintendent, Peter Henry Dorsius, in an examination of a German Reformed candidate for the ministry; see Tanis, , Dutch Calvinistic Pietism, p. 72.

15. Locke, John, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1894), 2: 432 and 430.

16. Tennent, Gilbert, The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry (Philadelphia, 1740), pp. 1113.

17. Ibid., pp. 18–19.

18. Weinlick, John R. gives a complete account of Zinzendorf's life in his Count Ztnzendorf (Nashville, 1956).

19. Several different explanations of Zinzendorf's tropus ecclesiology may be found in Hans-Christoph, Hahn and Hellmut, Reichel, eds., Zinzendorf und die Herrnhuter Bruder (Hamburg, 1977), pp. 412417. F. Ernest Stoeffler also explains Zinzendorf's view of the church in his German Pietism During the Eighteenth Century, pp. 156–157.

20. Martin E. Lodge has discussed the erosion of lay interest in middle colony churches which occurred because of the incessant warring among these groups; see his “Crisis of the Churches in the Middle Colonies,” Interpreting Colonial America: Selected Readings, ed. James Kirby Martin (New York, 1973), pp. 385404.

21. Weinlick, John R., “Moravianism in the American Colonies,” Continental Pietism and Early American Christianity, ed. F. Ernest Stoeffler (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1976), p. 136.

22. Moravian historians differ on the exact dates of Zinzendorf's arrival in New York and Philadelphia. J. Taylor Hamilton and Kenneth G. Hamilton believed that Zinzendorf arrived in New York on November 30, 1741 and that he entered Philadelphia on December 10, 1741; see Hamilton, J. Taylor and Hamilton, Kenneth G., History of the Moravian Church (Bethlehem, Pa., 1967), p. 89. John R. Weinlick dated the New York and Philadelphia arrivals as November 29 and December 6, 1741 respectively; see Weinlick, John R., Count Zinzendorf, pp. 154155. In either case the meeting between Tennent and Zinzendorf occurred early in December of 1741.

23. “Desaven des Herrn Gilbert Tennents Pfarrers in Neu Braunschweig, inserirt in die Philadelphischen Zeitungen” in Büdingische Sammlung 3 (Büdingen, Germany, 1744): 309. I have been unable to identify either the author of this document or the publication in which it appeared first. Its title indicates its original publication in a Philadelphia newspaper and its greeting to “Mr. Franklin” suggests that it was sent to the Philadelphia publisher, Benjamin Franklin. Furthermore, the date of its publication had to be between 9 February 1742 when issue number 1042 of the Boston Gazette (mentioned in the document) appeared and 1744 when the Büdingische Sammlung was printed. The only Philadelphia newspaper published by Franklin during that time period was the Pennsylvania Gazette. Yet no such letter as that in the Büdingische Sammlung can be found in the Gazette's extant copies.

24. Tennent, Gilbert, The Necessity of Holding Fast the Truth (Boston, 1743), pp. 310, 2232, and 3236.

25. Ibid., p. 10.

26. Ibid., p. 31.

27. Ibid., p. 34.

28. Ibid., p. 35.

29. Ibid., p. 31.

30. Stoeffler, , German Pietism During the Eighteenth Century, p. 144.

31. Gilbert Tennent to Jonathan Dickinson, 12 January 1742, quoted in Hodge, Charles, The Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 18391840), 2: 112.

32. In a footnote to his work Hancock illustrated that he had read the published letter from Tennent to Dickinson; see Hancock, John, The Examiner; or, Gilbert against Tennent (Philadelphia, 1743), 5n.

33. Ibid., p. 31.

34. Tennent, Gilbert, The Examiner, Examined; or, Gilbert Tennent Harmonious (Philadelphia, 1743), p. 23.

35. Ibid., pp. 131–132.

36. Lodge, , The Great Awakening, pp. 258259;Trinterud, Leonard, The Forming of an American Tradition: A Re-examination of Colonial Presbyterianism (Philadelphia, 1949), pp. 119120.

37. Trinterud, , Forming of an American Tradition, p. 148.

38. Ibid., p. 120.

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Church History
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