Here is one historian’s perspective on the condition of religion in America prior to the time of the Great Awakening:
“It was not wholly dark in American Christendom before the dawn of the Great Awakening. The censoriousness which was the besetting sin of the evangelists in that great religious movement, the rhetorical temptation to glorify the revival by intensifying the contrast with the antecedent condition, and the exaggerated revivalism ever since so prevalent in the American church,—the tendency to consider religion as consisting mainly in scenes and periods of special fervor, and the intervals between as so much void space and waste time,—all these have combined to deepen the dark tints in which the former state is set before us in history.”
This is not to say that even this historian considers the Great Awakening as anything other than an important and true revival of religious fervor and life, but it is interesting that he is able both to affirm the overall goodness of the movement and yet still not agree with all the perfection and exaltation in which opinion often holds it today. I wonder if there is not perhaps some truth in looking at it that way. I recall reading also in the past, for instance, concerning one of the leading preachers of that time, Gilbert Tennent. During the revival, he took a very censorious tone in relation to many other preachers of his day, a tone which he in later life repented of (at least in part). One of the less than perfect elements that was displayed in the time of the Great Awakening was a tendency towards extremism. The tendency today to exalt the leaders of that movement to near perfection of saintliness is probably a continuation of that mistake. There were a lot of good men during that time, it seems, but they too were human and imperfect.