Today’s book delves into Colonial America and looks at two figures that are not typically portrayed together: George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin. While I am not quite certain that I’ll grant Randy Petersen’s subtitle of “The Surprising Friendship that Invented America,” I still find The Printer and the Preacher a great read. Here’s why:
First, Petersen opens with some of Franklin and Whitefield’s interactions rather than burying those into chronological order. This leaps the reader ahead a few decades and sets up why one would want to read the rest of the book.
Second, while there is some prior knowledge of American Colonial History is helpful, it’s not critical. Petersen provides many of the background events needed to understand what was going on in the world of Whitefield and Franklin. We should know what happened in those times, but keeping it all straight is easier with the reminders.
Third, I greatly appreciated the admission of things not known throughout this book. While there is enough ambiguity admitted to for the overall premise to be questioned, at least Petersen is not foisting a false certainty about the relationship between the two.
Fourth, there is no attempt to posthumously baptize Franklin. The man went through his life unwilling to be counted a born-again Christian and any biography dealing with his life should admit that. Too many Christian-oriented books on the founding era of the United States attempt to classify all the Founding Fathers as strong, right-wing Christians, which they weren’t. Honesty is a good sign for a biography.
Overall, this work is not without its flaws. For example, there are several places where there is no evidence that Whitefield and Franklin met. It’s possible they did or didn’t, and one’s view of their relationship will decide how that silence is interpreted. Naturally, Petersen presents them as likely having interacted. It helps the story, but it’s not certain.
At its core, though, this is a story of two men with conflicting viewpoints working together. They benefited professionally and personally, and in turn two nations reaped spiritual and temporal rewards. It’s a great story, one that sheds light on a model worth learning.
Free book in exchange for the review.