Dissertation Note: “Rhetoric of the Revival: A Pragma-Rhetorical Analysis of the Language of the Great Awakening Preachers”

Michał Choiński’s dissertation “Rhetoric of the Revival: A Pragma-Rhetorical Analysis of the Language of the Great Awakening Preachers”, completed at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, aims to analyze the “rhetoric of revival” in ten New England revival sermons from 1739 to 1745. Using the academic methodology of rhetoric, the author unpacks the “mechanisms of rhetoric and the persuasive use of language” employed by several well known preachers of the First Great Awakening including George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennant, Jonathan Parsons, and Andrew Croswell.

The study is organized into three parts: methodology, cultural and historical background, and sermon analysis. In first chapter, Choiński defines the scope of rhetoric, he selectively reviews the history of rhetoric including the classic taxonomy or the “canon of rhetoric”: inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, and pronunciatio. Combined with traditional rhetorical analysis, he utilizes the relatively new approach to rhetoric called the pragmatic approach defined as the “relations of signs to interpreters.”

Chapter two delivers an admirable historical and cultural overview of New England as it relates to the Great Awakening and to the subjects of his study. The author walks the reader through preaching practices in Puritan New England from 1620 to the dawn of the Awakening. He also considers the phenomenon of the Great Awakening from an historical standpoint and surveys some of the key historical interpretations. The author strikes a cautious but sympathetic tone in his treatment of his controversial topic. In the end, the author agrees that there was a general spiritual awakening in New England in the 1740s rather than a constructed or invented phenomenon on the basis of a few pockets of revival.

Chapter three, the bulk of the dissertation, is devoted to the analysis of ten sermons which the author selected to demonstrate the rhetorical range of material that was produced in the Great Awakening. His work here is largely composed of rhetorical commentary upon each of the sermons. The selections are Whitefield’s What Think Ye of Christ?, Abraham’s Offering Up His Son Isaac, The Lord Our Righteousness, The Conversion of Zaccheus, Jonathan Edwards’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Future Punishment of the Wicked Unavoidable and Intolerable, and The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, Gilbert Tennent’s The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry, Jonathan Parsons’s A Needful Caution in a Critical Day, and Andrew Croswell’s The Apostle’s Advice to the Jaylor Improved. A brief conclusion summarizes the findings concerning each of preachers. Concerning Edwards in particular, He observed “intricate rhetorical mechanisms” and “highly elaborate imagery and structured argumentation” as well as extended metaphors.

This dissertation will be useful for specialists who interested in the construction and delivery of revival sermons, especially concerning the preaching of the Great Awakening. The author’s expertise is in rhetoric, so his main contributions lie in that domain. A second group who may be helped by this dissertation are pastors who have formal training in rhetoric. These pastors could find sermon inspiration in this analysis of the “rhetoric of revival.” To be sure, this study’s aim is to describe the main rhetorical features of the selected sermons. While Choiński does pay close attention to the primary source materials in his study, he does not marshal any significant argument concerning the “rhetoric of revival.”

— Daniel Cooley, Senior Fellow of the Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS

Tags: , , ,