“In studies of early American evangelicals and evangelicalism that seem to dominate the landscape these days, Charles Chauncy is usually trotted out in a couple of paragraphs to represent the reactionary ‘Old Lights’ who were so shortsighted as to oppose the Great Awakening, and Jonathan Mayhew is mentioned in passing as an inlet of soulless rationalism on the road to Deism.
But John Oakes’ dual biography of these two rich and formative figures shows that these characterizations are too pat, too simplistic, and that a new, comparative approach to their religious and political thought reveals that ‘traditional Calvinists’ such as Chauncy and Mayhew are vital to understanding the great changes that occurred in the period from the Awakenings to the Revolution. In the process, Oakes shows that both of these figures had many points of similarity but were also unique thinkers and actors in their own right.” — Kenneth P. Minkema, Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University
“A balanced, careful, and engaging study of two important figures who are more often captured in caricature. Oakes’ book situates Charles Chauncy and Jonathan Mayhew not as pathfinders of revolution and Enlightenment, but as key figures in their own historical moment.”
—Nicholas Guyatt, University of Cambridge
“Oakes’ study of Chauncy and Mayhew has brought depth, texture, and a kind of iridescence to his subjects. For those who think ‘moderate’ means ‘bland,’ this book offers a powerful rebuttal. Far from monochromatic gray, Chauncy’s and Mayhew’s efforts to balance tradition and change drew from a rich palette of intellectual trends and cultural forces in eighteenth-century New England. Oakes’ comparison of them vividly reveals, too, that such colonial balancing acts took multiple forms.”
—David Holland, Associate Professor of North American Religious History, Harvard Divinity School
“John Oakes’ erudite understanding of Reformed Protestantism has allowed him to give us a fresh, insightful, andnuanced analysis of how Charles Chauncy and Jonathan Mayhew articulated the momentous religious and political transformations that shook New England from the 1740s through the Revolution. By locating these two important figures in the socioreligious context in which they flourished, Oakes has framed a revealing window that sheds light on the way in which religiously based thought, as it evolved in New England, suffused the secular languages of liberty, and how tradition continued to shape the innovative discourses of the latter half of the eighteenth century. An exemplar of how disciplined comparative scholarship can significantly expand our understanding of long-studied events.”
—Alan Tully, Eugene C. Barker Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin
Gibbs, Lee W. Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society, LV (Spring/Fall 2017) 41-43
Mullens, John P. New England Quarterly, 92/4 (2019) 661–64.
Lewis, Simon, Anglican and Episcopal History, 88/3 (2019) 323.
Young, Samuel L., Review, S-USIH Blog, June 23, 2019. Online:
Moots, Glenn. “False Choices: Religion’s Role in the American Revolution,” The Public Discourse: The Journal of the Witherspoon Institute, June 19, 2019. Online: https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2019/06/52650/.