In the early 21st century, it is typical to associate evangelicalism with extremes: the terms "born-again Christianity," "Bible Belt," and "Jesus Freak" readily come to mind. Yet at the height of its early success, evangelicalism ultimately represented an act of moderation. While Anne Hutchinson was cast out for overemphasizing free Grace and Jonathan Edwards was, perhaps, expelled for too strictly enforcing ecclesiastical law (and in doing so, countering the evangelical movement with stricter ministerial authority), Mather, the Moodys, and a younger Edwards all found success in balancing ministerial influence with congregational deference. This moderation was reflected not only in the content of the narratives, but in their chosen speakers: while ministers certainly recorded evidence of their own conversions, even their most marginalized converts were granted a turn to speak (and if publication history is any indication, were heard more widely--if only in this specific genre--than the ministers themselves). Individual narratives indicated the need for further balance between journalistic openness and reserved proselytizing, and the voices of ministers at times clashed with the voices of laypersons in a struggle for narrative power. In the end, if only briefly and quietly, even Patience Boston, Joseph Quasson, and Sarah Edwards had a say in the creation of one of America's most powerful, and most controversial, institutions: the protestant church. Their narratives are a key to understanding the origins of that institution, and the role of the people who populate it.
"Such a Means of Promoting His Work Amongst Us":
Evangelicalism and Autobiography in Early American Conversion Narratives