Seasons of Revival

Holy Spirit

No matter how many times I have seen them, my bemusement has never seemed to wane.  I appreciate the zeal, yet marvel at the naivete’.  Signs and banners adorning church doors and properties: “Revival Tonight!” “Revival This Week!”

Don’t get me wrong, I long to experience revival – a genuine work of God, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in ways that bring widespread renewal.  But whenever I see such signs I am reminded of something I heard long ago: “Just because you put up a sign does not mean there is a revival; and if there is a true revival, you won’t need to put up a sign.”

Again, while I appreciate the zeal, I suspect many people are confused about what a revival is and is not.  A genuine revival is beyond human control. It is a work of God.  A Reformation, on the other hand, is something that we – the Church – should continually labor toward.  A Reformation is the conforming of our practices to the ways of God expressed in the Word.  There is always need for us to be at work to this end, since we are prone to drift toward fads and to our own devices.  But where we work toward Reformation, we can only – and must! – pray for Revival.

As we embark on a new year, a time when many of us pause and press the mental reset button, I am praying that perhaps in this coming year I might see and experience a genuine revival.  But I wonder if what I pray for is the same as what those who place signs on their doors are hoping to see.  As I consider the possible differences of opinion I may have from others on this subject, I appreciate the insights of Tim Keller describing one of the points of confusion – the difference between Seasons of Revival and mere Revivalism:

How do seasons of revival come? One set of answers comes from Charles Finney, who turned revivals into a “science.” Finney insisted that any group could have a revival any time or place, as long as they applied the right methods in the right way. Finney’s distortions, I think, led to much of the weakness in modern evangelicalism today, as has been well argued by Michael Horton over the years. Especially under Finney’s influence, revivalism undermined the more traditional way of doing Christian formation. That traditional way of Christian growth was gradual – whole family catechetical instruction – and church-centric. Revivalism under Finney, however, shifted the emphasis to seasons of crisis. Preaching became less oriented to long-term teaching and more directed to stirring up the affections of the heart toward decision. Not surprisingly, these emphases demoted the importance of the church in general and of careful, sound doctrine and put all the weight on an individual’s personal, subjective experience. And this is one of the reasons (though not the only reason) that we have the highly individualistic, consumerist evangelicalism of today.

Read the rest of Keller’s article: Revival: Ways & Means

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