I just finished reading A God-sized Vision by Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge. So this was intended to be a review, except with today being Pentecost, the sermon was on revival. I love it when God makes things come together like that. Anyway, I had wanted to read more about revivals ever since reading about the Great Awakening, the second Awakening and the businessman’s revival in Marshall and Manuel’s books on our Christian history from exploration of the New world until the Civil War. But I never knew where to find more, so when I ran across a review of this book online, I decided to order it.
Now it is a bit scholarly beginning with a chapter about God’s dealings with his people throughout the bible. It continues with mentions of many movements throughout history, including the reformation and others that may not have been called revivals but had some characteristics of them. But they declined to really define revival because it seems there has never been real agreement on what is or is not a revival. They do give some opinions from several of our forbears in the faith, such as Jonathan Edwards who experienced it. Instead they just jump in and start telling about several examples, beginning with the Great Awakening.
I am afraid I have a bit of bias toward story. I felt the historical fiction version I read before had a lot more life in it. As a result, I took my time reading the book, and interspersing my readings with others. I was especially interested in reading of revivals I had not previously encountered. The book covered Wales, India, Korea, North America, East Africa, and China, so it did not disappoint on that score. The last part was on the Evangelical Boom in the 1940s to 1950s, with names like Billy Graham, Charles Fuller and Bill Bright associated with it. I was a bit surprised that it stopped there, as I have always thought we had revival going on in the 70s with the Jesus People and the Charismatic Renewal, but perhaps the authors felt they could not be objective about things so recent.
In wrapping up the book, they returned briefly to Jonathan Edwards, now offering his definition of revival as that which exalts Jesus Christ, provokes Satan, prioritizes the bible and inspires love. The authors added to that several observations, first that most revivals follow a period of persistent prayer. They were marked by widespread conviction and repentance from sin. Those which had the most lasting effects were accompanied by inspired preaching and teaching of the Word. And there was a warning that Pride can quickly short circuit the movements of the Spirit. However, allowing the Spirit to work can lead to a bold witness.
I liked the book better by the end than at the beginning. I was surprised though that they did not include the observation that a period of revival often seems designed to bring a new generation of leaders into the church. It can turn around what appears to be an aging population of Christians over all and bring in a new generation which has a lifelong passion for things of the Lord (this was touched on in the part about Wales). Nor did they highlight the fact that there is often a serious pushback that seems to follow revival. They did note that revival does not solve all the problems of the church and can in fact create others. What I noticed was that many of the revivals they mentioned preceded wars or civil disturbances. One thing I did miss in this book was the way Marshall and Manuel placed revivals within the larger movements of history. Yes, they do fill the churches again, but often it is part of a movement preparing people spiritually for difficulties just over the horizon and even, in some cases for their own deaths due to wars and insurrections.
We are not privileged to know how much of that actually begins in the spiritual realm. Of course, in that sense, the movements in the 70s were backwards to many of the historic revivals, since they followed war and upheaval more than preceding it. I think on looking back though, that many of us could say that we were attacked on a personal level by all sorts of things, immediately following that time. Often those attacks shut down our faith, or our ministries and I’m sure there are many who have had to learn spiritual warfare to recover our faith.
God is a master at doing the unexpected. In the sermon this morning, we were told of a local revival, that was connected to someone from the next country, who was in turn connected to another continent and so on. Apparently this “local” revival had actually hopscotched around the globe. I suspect that God may use revivals sometimes to change the direction of His church when it is in danger of wandering off the path. I also suspect, He uses it to re-teach us things that perhaps the first century church took for granted. Is it possible that we are overdue for the next revival?