Franklin and Whitefield as Opposites

In the most cynical, unsympathetic, and misleading biography I have ever read, there is a magnificent paragraph about Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield.

The Deist and the Calvinist were best friends. “Franklin became Whitefield’s best American friend and, reciprocally, Whitefield was Franklin’s only evangelical friend” (The Divine Dramatist, 220).

Here is the diamond paragraph:

Here we see the greatest difference separating the religious worlds of Franklin and Whitefield.  For Franklin, the experience of personal friendship could not be translated into an experience of personal faith. The result was profound pessimism. Ironically, Franklin’s personal religion was more serious and filled with a sense of ultimate depravity than Whitefield’s Calvinistic—but ultimately optimistic—Methodism. Franklin, the outwardly jovial humorist, and Whitefield, the outwardly stern Calvinist, were at heart opposites. In all his activities, Whitefield was forever buoyed by the hope of a caring God, while the unceasingly active Franklin felt forever tortured by the fear that no one took note of his petty “little affairs.” Whitefield built a revival confident that the drama in which he played at center stage was a divine one. Franklin built a nation plagued by the fear that no one ultimately cared. (231)

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.