In the 17th century, Christians of many ideologies embarked on the hazardous journey across the Atlantic, to the promise of religious freedom and economic prosperity in the New World.
Quakers came to Pennsylvania, Catholics to Maryland, and Dutch Reformed to New York. Later came Swedish Lutherans and French Huguenots, English Baptists and Scottish Presbyterians. With the exception of some Puritan communities, there was no attempt to impose religious uniformity in America.
The period from about 1648 to 1800 was an age in which reason (as opposed to revelation and dogma) became increasingly important, but so did religious revival. Benjamin Franklin exemplified his time's general attitude towards religious matters when he remarked, a few weeks before his death:
As to Jesus of Nazareth...I have...some doubts as to his Divinity, tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it.... I see no harm, however, it its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence...of making his doctrines more respected and better observed.
At the same time that religious skepticism and toleration were growing in the west, so too were revival movements that sought to return to masses to genuine faith in Christ and the gospel of salvation.
George Whitefield arrived in the colonies from England in 1739, and experienced wide success with his revival sermons. Jonathan Edwards was famous for his fiery sermons in which he described in detail the torments of those who do not have personal faith in Jesus Christ.
John Wesley was a revivalist preacher and a personal friend of Whitefield, but he differed strongly from his Presbyterian friend on the doctrine of predestination. Wesley founded a small group of preachers and bible students, who focused on holy living and came to be called the "Methodists."