Marks of Revival

Revival Fires

I had the privilege last week to meet a man convinced we are headed for revival.  He is a gentle man, who thinks often of God, wishing for a return to some semblance of the way things used to be – minus the overt sins of racism and sexism that were so widely tolerated in days gone by.  But the basic reason for his certainty is simple: We are in desperate need of revival. He had other reasons, of course; supporting reasons. Among them, through his examination of of history he has concluded that God works cyclically, and that we are presently overdue for the next revival.

I share his desire to see God bring revival.  I can’t argue that we are overdue and in desperate need. And it is not just America that needs to be “revived”.  More than our culture, I believe the American Church needs to experience revival.  And when God works, he works through his church. So if revival is to occur, reorienting the cultural drift, renewing God as the rightful object of our collective affection, it is going to be at work in and through the Church.

But still, what does revival actually mean? Of course it means “to make alive”.  But what does it look like? Do all revivals look alike? What are the characteristics?

I suspect the answer the the question “Do all revivals look alike?” is likely a “No”.  Cultures are different. God seems to bless different expressions of evangelism and ministry approaches from one generation to the next; one culture to the next.  So to assume when revivals hit they will be uniform seems a bit of a stretch to me.

J.I. Packer,defines a revival this way:

“Revival is God accelerating, intensifying, and extending the work of grace that goes on in every Christian’s life!”

In his book God in our Midst, Packer suggests that, among the variety of God’s ways, there are at least five constants that seem to always appear in biblical revivals:

1. Awareness of God’s presence: “The first and fundamental feature in renewal is the sense that God has drawn awesomely near in his holiness, mercy and might.”

2. Responsiveness to God’s Word: “The message of Scripture which previously was making only a superficial impact, if that, now searches its hearers and readers to the depth of their being.”

3. Sensitiveness to (Our Own) Sin: “Consciences become tender and a profound humbling takes place.”

4. Liveliness in Community: “Love and generosity, unity and joy, assurance and boldness, a spirit of praise and prayer, and a passion to reach out to win others, are recurring marks of renewed communities.”

5. Fruitfulness in Testimony: “Christians proclaim by word and deed the power of the new life, souls are won, and a community conscience informed by Christian values emerges.”

I hope my new friend is right, that God – who is always at work – will soon be at work in unusual ways.  These are some of the signs I will pray will be evident in our culture, and in our church.

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

Evidences of a Backslidden Condition

Through the prophet Jeremiah the Lord dispenses a treasury of wisdom and insight. Perhaps among the most valuable of those insights, at least to my thinking, is found in Jeremiah 17.9:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

The Lord also reminds us, through Jeremiah and scores of other places in his Word, that he is concerned about the heart; more concerned about the heart than even the behavior.  This is because the heart is the key. Whatever owns the heart will dictate the behavior – good or evil.  Yet, according to God, in the passage above, our hearts often deceive us.  We think one thing, unaware of all that is actually going on deep down within.  All looks calm on the surface, but underneath a sinkhole may be developing.  So it is essential that we learn to plumb and decipher our own hearts.  It is at least as important to do this as it is to evaluate our actions (or lack of them).

In his remarkable book, Revival, Richard Owen Roberts suggests to us that the real problem today, in society and in the church, is backslidden Christians.  The Free Dictionary defines backslide as

  • to revert to sin or wrongdoing
  • to lapse into bad habits or vices from a state of virtue, religious faith

Or as another old sage has expressed it:

A backslider is a person who was once emptied of his own ways and filled with the ways of God, but gradually allowed his own ways to step back in until he was all but empty of God and full of himself again.

This condition, whether you accept Roberts’ analysis or not, is quite common. We see it not only in our contemporary culture, but also throughout the pages of the Scripture:

  • Israel all throughout the OT
  • Paul points it out to the Corinthians, Galatians, etc.;
  • John speaks of it to most of the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3;

This should illustrate to us that the problem of backsliding, though not a biblical term, is a biblically recognized human condition – or rather it is a universal condition of humanity effected by the Fall.  There is none of us who is immune to it.  But there is both a remedy and a preventative inoculation that will help minimize susceptibility. The remedy is the gospel. The inoculation is a frequent and regular self assessment, and the applying of the gospel to every hint of infection the assessment reveals.

In Revival, Roberts provides a list of twenty-five possible evidences of a backslidden condition.  While this list is neither authoritative nor exhaustive, it does provide a pretty good index of symptoms to look out for.

Let me encourage you to read through it, jot them down, and honestly evaluate the present state of your personal life and the life of your church:

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Revival: The Restoration of the Holy Spirit to This Place

To understand aright what this teaching of the Spirit is, there are three things we must specially remember:

 The first, that it is all from within. It is by influencing, by renewing, by purifying the life, that the Spirit gives the experimental knowledge of God’s truth. Out of the light of life, wrought within our feeling and willing and acting, spiritual wisdom and understanding is born.

The second, that this power and energy of the Spirit is given on one condition — that of entire possession. As a teacher can not teach unless he has the undivided attention of his pupil, the Holy Spirit demands the entire control of the life. A great deal of prayer for the teaching or the filling of the Spirit is vain, because the seeker is not faithful in obedience to that measure of the Spirit which he already has. The Spirit claims our whole being.

And the third essential element in the teaching is that it is only communicated and to be received by faith. The movings of the Spirit cannot be known or felt until we begin to act. It is when, while feeling our weakness, we believe in the hidden presence and power within us and begin to act, that his guidance and strength are known. Faith in his indwelling and most certain leading, much faith in the Father who works by the Spirit, unceasing faith in the Lord Jesus, in union with whom we have the Spirit flowing through us — this faith will receive the fullness of the Spirit. This is the revival we must seek for, the restoration of the Holy Spirit to his place as the inward teacher, having complete possession and control of heart and life.

Excerpted from Andrew Murray‘s  Coming Revival

Spiritual Pride

Here is a great insight from Jonathan Edwards as relevant today as it was in his Colonial American culture:

The first and worst cause of error that prevails in our day is spiritual pride. This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christ. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit to darken the mind and mislead the judgment, and the main handle by which Satan takes hold of Christians to hinder a work of God. Until this disease is cured, medicines are applied in vain to heal all other diseases.

Pride is much more difficult to discern than any other corruption because, by nature, pride is a person having too high a thought of himself. Is it any surprise, then, that a person who has too high a thought of himself is unaware of it? He thinks the opinion he has of himself has just grounds and therefore is not too high. As a result, there is no other matter in which the heart is more deceitful and unsearchable. The very nature of it is to work self-confidence and drive away any suspicion of evil respecting itself.

Pride takes many forms and shapes and encompasses the heart like the layers of an onion- when you pull off one layer, there is another underneath. Therefore, we need to have the greatest watch imaginable over our hearts with respect to this matter and to cry most earnestly to the great searcher of hearts for His help. He who trusts his own heart is a fool.

Since spiritual pride in its own nature is secretive, it cannot be well discerned by immediate intuition of the thing itself. It is best identified by its fruits and effects, some of which I will mention together with the contrary fruits of Christian humility.

The spiritually proud person is full of light already and feels that he does not need instruction, so he is ready to despise the offer of it. On the other hand, the humble person is like a little child who easily receives instruction. He is cautious in his estimate of himself, sensitive as to how liable he is to go astray. If it is suggested to him that he does go astray, he is most ready to inquire into the matter.

Proud people tend to speak of other’s sins, the miserable delusion of hypocrites, the deadness of some saints with bitterness, or the opposition to holiness of many believers. Pure Christian humility, however, is silent about the sins of others, or speaks of them with grief and pity. The spiritually proud person finds fault with other saints for their lack of progress in grace, while the humble Christian sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts. He complains most of himself and his own spiritual coldness and readily hopes that most everybody has more love and thankfulness to God than he.

Spiritually proud people often speak of almost everything they see in others in the harshest, most severe language. Commonly, their criticism is directed against not only wicked men but also toward true children of God and those who are their superiors. The humble, however, even when they have extraordinary discoveries of God’s glory, are overwhelmed with their own vileness and sinfulness. Their exhortations to fellow Christians are given in a loving and humble manner, and they treat others with as much humility and gentleness as Christ, who is infinitely above them, treats them.

Spiritual pride often disposes people to act different in external appearance, to assume a different way of speaking, countenance, or behavior. However, the humble Christian, though he will be firm in his duty; going the way of heaven alone even if all the world forsake him; yet he does not delight in being different for difference’s sake. He does not try to set himself up to be viewed and observed as one distinguished, but on the contrary, is disposed to become all things to all men, to yield to others, to conform to them, and to please them in all but sin.

Proud people take great notice of opposition and injuries, and are prone to speak often about them with an air of bitterness or contempt. Christian humility, on the other hand, disposes a person to be more like his blessed Lord, who when reviled did not open His mouth but committed Himself in silence to Him who judges righteously. For the humble Christian, the more clamorous and furious the world is against him, the more silent and still he will be.

Another pattern of spiritually proud people is to behave in ways that make them the focus of others. It is natural for a person under the influence of pride to take all the respect that is paid to him. If others show a disposition to submit to him and yield in deference to him, he is open to it and freely receives it. In fact, they come to expect such treatment and to form an ill opinion of those who do not give them what they feel they deserve.


Adapted from Jonathan Edwards’ Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England. This article previously appeared in Banner of Truth.

Revivals Begin With God’s People

“Revivals begin with God’s own people; the Holy Spirit touches their heart anew, and gives them new fervor and compassion, and zeal, new light and life, and when He has thus come to you, He next goes forth to the Valley of Dry Bones…

Oh, what responsibility this lays on the Church of God! If you grieve Him away from yourselves, or hinder His visit, then the poor perishing world suffers sorely!”

~ Andrew Bonar

Easy Chairs & Hard Words – Part 6

by Douglas Wilson 

 We join a conservation in progress; it is between a young theological questioner who grew up in a typical Evangelical church, and an older pastor from a more historical theological tradition.  

 “Look,” I said, “I have heard you mention that many Christians don’t study their Bibles. Were you saying that anyone who disagrees with you on this question of God’s sovereignty hasn’t done his homework?”   

 Pastor Spenser shook his head. “No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that, in my experience, most of them have not.”   

 “But you would agree that there are fine Bible scholars who differ with you on this?”   

“That depends on what you mean.”   

 “What do you mean?”   

 “There are men who are fine Christians who do not understand this truth. There are men who are fine scholars who differ with it. But when they dispute this truth, in certain key passages, there is an unfortunate lapse of their scholarship.”   

 “May I play the devil’s advocate?”   


“Who are you to say what the correct interpretation is? Isn’t it arrogant of you to say that you are right and all the others are wrong?”   

 “It is not a question of whether I am right. It is a question of whether God revealed this truth in his Word, or not.”   

 “I don’t get your point.”   

 “We must not, as Christians, determine whether or not God has revealed something by how many men acknowledge the revelation. The content of the revelation is determined by the careful and laborious study of the text. It is not determined by counting noses. Not even scholarly noses.”   

 “Are you saying that you cannot make a mistake when you go to the text?”   

 “No, certainly not. I have made many mistakes. But I may only acknowledge my error when someone shows me the mistake from the text.”   

 “Now how does this relate to the question of God’s exhaustive sovereignty?”   

 “I have had many Christians tell me I am wrong about all this predestination business. But only a handful of them have ever endeavored to demonstrate the error I am supposed to be making from the text.”   

 “What do the rest of them do?”   

 “They break down into two basic categories. The first group talks just long enough to establish where the disagreement lies; after that, they avoid any discussion of the issue. Thinking about it discomfits them. The second group will talk about it; indeed, many times they enjoy talking about it. But the authority to which they appeal makes any resolution of the question impossible. Their authority, their court of appeals, is reason, common sense, and armchair philosophy. They will say that reason requires us to acknowledge that we have ‘free will’. Otherwise, how could God blame us? For who resists His will? This group acknowledges the authority of the Bible – on paper – but does not submit to the arbitration of Scripture.”   

 “Why do you think this is?”   

 “I cannot say; I merely see the results of it. Only God sees the heart. I am not competent to say what obstacles may exist in their hearts, although I do not doubt they are there. It is my business to see to it that there is no obstacle to their understanding in my heart.”   

 “What do you mean?”   

“I mean any kind of pride, haughtiness, impatience…whatever. If there is any of this on my part, it may well be used by God to keep fellow Christians from these wonderful truths. In the providence of God, matters are arranged in the church in such a way that it is possible to stumble your brother.”   

 “Can you give me an example of this from Scripture?”   

 “Sure. In 2 Timothy 2:25, it assumes that God is the Giver of repentance. When a man repents, he is the recipient of a gift.”   

 I had looked the passage up. “Well, it sure looks that way.”   

 “Now many Christians deny that repentance is a gift of God. In a discussion with such a person, what do you think the temptation is?”   

 I grinned. “To beat them over the head with this verse?”   

 “Exactly. Now back up and read the previous verse, this verse, and the verse after.”   

 I looked down. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”   

 I glanced up again. “But isn’t this talking about a debate with a non-Christian?”   

“Yes, it is. And if we ought to correct unbelievers with such humility, what should our demeanor be toward brothers?”   

 “Got it.” I said.   

 “Now notice that the behavior of the one who knows the truth is connected with the possible change of heart of the one listening, if God is gracious and so wills it.”   

 “So how do you tie this in with our discussion? If all this is so clear in the Scriptures, why do Christians deny what you say the Bible teaches?”   

 “I would suggest that the problem is not with those who don’t believe it, but with those who do.”   

 “How so?”   

 “Some Christians deny God’s exhaustive sovereignty, and they live in a manner consistent with that denial. Other Christians affirm it, but then go on to deny it with their lives. The second group has more to answer for.”   

 “You can’t be saying that the church is in this sad condition because this is the way God has willed it?”   

 “Well, yes, I am. If God controls everything, then He certainly controls this.”   

 “But why? That seems so contrary to everything I have ever learned about God and His relationship to the church.”   

 “I don’t know why either. I am not sure a creature could understand why. But I do know that I am not going to water down clear statements of Scripture just because I want to worship a God who meets with my approval!”   

 “Is there any passage of Scripture that teaches that God controls backslidings?”   

 “Yes. Isaiah 63:17. `O Lord, why have You made us stray from Your ways, and hardened our heart from Your fear? Return for Your servants’ sake, the tribes of Your inheritance.’”   

“So you are also saying that the reason so many Christians deny this truth is…”   

“…is that God has willed it. Yes. He has hardened our hearts. And, anticipating the question, it does not lessen our responsibility in the slightest.”   

“Is it wrong to ask why God does this?”   

“No. Isaiah asks why. I believe that when Christians acknowledge that God has done this, and begin tearfully asking why He has done it, we will be on the edge of true revival. True revival is something He gives.”   

I was shaking my head. “I don’t know…”   

Pastor Spenser went on. “The modern evangelical church is drowning in an ocean of theological stupidity. Here and there are handfuls of the `orthodox’ clinging to the wreckage of what was once a great ship. In such a condition, it is impertinent to even be tempted to pride.” 

“But why would God do that to His own ship?”   

“He has done it, and He is God. That is enough. By all that Scripture teaches, His reasons were good, just, and holy. And when we consider the glorious future that is promised for the gospel in the world, we should take courage as we pray for revival. It will be clear to us later.”   

“And in the meantime…?”   

“In the meantime, those Christians who have been given an understanding of this should not puff themselves up. We know that what Job says in Job 42:2 is true. `I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from you.’ But they must also respond to this truth the way Job did in vv. 5-6. `I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’”   

“How are you applying this?”   

“It is one thing to hear truth, and agree with it. Many have come to believe these things simply because they are attracted to a system which is logically consistent. Or perhaps they are repelled by the shallowness of so much of our preaching and teaching today. Or they are the studious type, and like to read books by the Puritans.”   

Pastor Spenser went on. “But it is quite another thing to be given a vision of the glory of God and to be, like Job, undone by it.”   

“Are you saying it is bad to be studious, or systematic?”   

“No, not at all. Hard study is required by God, as well as to compare carefully one portion of Scripture with another. Over many years, many people have told me that I study too much, but the Holy Spirit convicts me regularly that I study too little.”   

“What are you saying then?”   

“Hard study can be compared to chopping wood, assembling the kindling, and putting all the wood together for the fire. There are churches that have a good idea of where the wood should go, but they have forgotten there is supposed to be a fire.”   

“And others…?”   

“Others, theologically shallow, know there is supposed to be a fire. But they use grass, thorns, paper, and a lot of lighter fluid.”   

“How do you see your work?”   

“I have chopped a lot of good wood – although less than I should have – and I have assembled it. Now I am waiting, and praying to God.”   

“Praying for what?”  Pastor Spenser thought for a moment. 

“Praying for the fire to fall.” 


  This is Part 6 in a series of 6.

Easy Chairs & Hard Words – Part 5

by Douglas Wilson

We join a conservation in progress; it is between a young theological questioner who grew up in a typical Evangelical church, and an older pastor from a historical theological tradition.  


“But… What difference does it all make?” I asked.  

Pastor Spenser took a sip of his coffee, and answered the question with a question. “What kind of difference do you mean? For the individual Christian, or for the Church, or both?”  

“Well, I first came to visit you because the difference it makes to me was obvious. The doctrine I held before did little more than torment me. I was constantly in fear over the possibility of losing my salvation.”  

“But I have friends who hold to those same doctrines with enthusiastic cheerfulness. Are these teachings something which I needed to hear for my Christian life, but which are not necessary for the Church at large?”  

Pastor Spenser nodded. “I see what you are asking. Even if all this is true, is it something the Church needs to believe? Is the Church hindered in her work if these doctrines are neglected or rejected?”  

“Right. If some Christians seem to get along just fine without it, why can’t the Church as a whole?”  

“Because ideas have consequences, and because the Church is made up of individuals.”  

“OK. Explain.”  

“Ideas have consequences, not because each individual is consistent, but because groups of people are consistent over time.”  

“What do you mean by that?”  

“Let’s take a clear example from outside the faith. Have you ever known an atheist who was a decent, law-abiding citizen?”  

I nodded. “Yes.”  

“Now was he being consistent with the basic premises of his worldview?”  

I laughed, “No. And we had many discussions about it. He treated me with respect, but given his worldview, I was nothing more than a mass of protoplasm.”  

Pastor Spenser continued. “Now my point is this. Individual atheists can frequently be inconsistent like this. Atheistic societies never are.”  

“Never are inconsistent, you mean?”  

“Right. Over time, the beliefs of individuals will be consistently applied by the group, even if many of the individuals who brought this about did not apply them.”  

“Apply this to the Church, then.”  

“The basic issue we have been discussing all these weeks has been the difference between man-centered religion, and God-centered religion.”  

“I follow that.”  

“Now, have you ever known any Christian whose beliefs, or doctrines, were what we have been calling ‘man-centered’, but whose life was clearly God-centered?”  I nodded again. “Yes.” “And we would call that inconsistent?”  


“And if you wind up changing churches, you will very quickly encounter Christians whose doctrines are ‘God-centered’, but whose life is man-centered. This is also inconsistent.”  

“Well, this brings us back to my first question. If this is the case, what difference does it all make?”  

“It is quite simple. The Church, being an assembly of people, will eventually live in a manner consistent with her doctrine. If the doctrine is man-centered, then there will come a time when the lifestyle, morals, ceremonies, teaching, etc. are also man-centered.”  

“So even though an individual is inconsistent with his false doctrine, the Church at large will eventually be consistent with it.”  

“Correct. This explains why certain beliefs can be held by pious Christians, while those same beliefs go on to corrupt and defile the piety of the Church.”  

“Can you give me an example from church history?”  

“Certainly. Consider revival. What does that term mean?”  

I grinned. “A week of nightly meetings?”  

“That is what it has come to mean. Arrange for a speaker, print the flyers, gather the troops, and work up a revival. From start to finish, it is the work of man.”  

“What did revival mean before?”  

“It referred to a time when the sovereign Holy Spirit moved in a congregation in such a way as to reveal the glory of Jesus Christ. From start to finish, it was the work of God.”  

“What is a true revival like?”  

I was surprised to see Pastor Spenser’s eyes well up. “I don’t know,” he said. “All the knowledge of true revival today is second-hand – through books. The last healthy revival was in the mid-nineteenth century.”  

“What happened?”  

“Revival, which is a gift of God, was, through theological confusion, turned into a work of man. The result is revivalism, not revival.”  

“What is the difference?”  

“Well, there are two kinds of revivalism. One is where a denomination has a long tradition of having these meetings, everyone is used to it, they go and listen, and then go home. It is little more than a religious seminar. And, as seminars go, some of them might be worthwhile.”  

“And the other?”  

“The other is the result of taking the whole idea of revival more seriously. The people expect fireworks, so they see to it there are fireworks. It is nothing more than religious enthusiasm and fanaticism.”  

“But weren’t some of the great revival preachers of the past – men you respect – accused of religious fanaticism too?”  

“They certainly were. And if God is merciful to us and sends true revival again, the charges of fanaticism will be heard again.”  


“I know. Couldn’t a Christian make the point that the whole distinction between revival and revivalism is a false one, and that all such events are fanatical to some degree or another?”  


Pastor Spenser nodded. “It is a legitimate concern. First, can we agree that there is such a thing as true fanaticism?”  

“Sure. I don’t believe anyone would disagree there. Religious fanatics have always been around.”  

“Now, the next question is this: Does the Bible teach anything which, if applied, would result in the one applying it to be accused of fanaticism?”  

I smiled. “You tell me.”  

“How about 1 Peter 1:8? ‘Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.’ Or Ephesians 3:17-19? ‘…that you…may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge.’  I don’t know. A little extreme, don’t you think?”  

I sat for a moment, thinking. Pastor Spenser spoke again.  

“Christians get used to such passages. There it is, safe on the page. But there is no way for a Christian to be filled with inexpressible joy without it affecting his demeanor and behavior. And when it does, he will be accused of fanaticism. Many Christians, in their concern over religious fanaticism, have gotten rid of not only the fanaticism, but also the religion.”  

“So what are the characteristics of true revival, over against revivalism?”  

“We have been talking about God-centeredness versus man-centeredness. The distinction follows us into our discussion of the criteria by which everything is to be evaluated; teaching and lifestyle, or, put another way, doctrine and morals.”  

“OK. Let’s start with doctrine.”  

“In a true revival, doctrine is the emphasis, and the doctrine is God-centered. In revivalism, because man is the center, feelings are emphasized. In revival, truth overwhelms the mind, resulting in an emotional response – inexpressible joy. In revivalism, the emotions are excited directly, and any number of teachings, true or false, can do that.”  

“What about morality?”  

“In a true revival, the change in the moral behavior of those blessed is significant and lasting. With revivalism, very little is done to teach the people to restrain their passions. In fact, because the ‘revival’ encourages a lack of restraint in the church, it is not long before a lack of restraint is evident elsewhere, usually in the area of sexual morality.”  

“Are you saying that in order to have a true revival, a belief in God’s exhaustive sovereignty is necessary?”  


“But didn’t men like Charles Finney deny this particular truth? And wasn’t he part of the revivals of the nineteenth century?”  

“Yes, he did deny it, and he was certainly a participant in ‘revivals.’ But he was one of those who effectively introduced the man-centered doctrines and practices which were the death of true revivals in this country.”  

“You know,” I said, “I thought I had gotten used to the strange things you say from time to time. But this takes the cake! I have some friends who are really into revival, and they read books by Finney all the time.”  

Pastor Spenser was shaking his head. “I know, I know. It is ironic. When Christians periodically despair of the current state of the church, and come to think, correctly, that the only thing which will help us is revival, they then turn to one of the men who was a major part of the problem.”  

“So how would you summarize all this?”  

“I would say that God is over all, and through all, and in all. Anyone who denies this, in any measure, is a hindrance to true heaven-sent revival.”  


This is Part 5 in a series of 6 titled Easy Chairs & Hard Words.


20 Reasons We Need Revival

Reformation is the labor of God’s people to conform our lives, our churches, our institutions, and our whole society to the standards God has established in his Word. Revival, however, is no less than an act of God to change hearts and lives; bringing life – or a quality of life – into being, where no evidence of it previously existed. 

Both are necessary.  As a vision statement of the Presbyterian Church in America illustrates: 

Without an emphasis on revival, “reformation” may become either a mimicking of political ideologies or sterile doctrinalism. Without an emphasis on reformation, “revival” may become a shallow pietism or mysticism. Only reformation and revival together can accomplish the Great Commission of our Lord. 

Which comes first?  In one sense that question may be about as easy to answer as which came first, the chicken or the egg?  But in another sense it seems to me that revival is far more necessary.    

While the goal of Reformation, in part, is to allow the free demonstration and proclamation of the Gospel, it does not always work out that way. Theoretically a Reformation can take place without any real effect on the heart.  We can establish order according to God’s standards, without necessarily being reconciled to God, or being drawn closer to him.  

A Revival however – a REAL Revival – changes the heart; revealing our sin, and opening our hearts to the love & grace of God, demonstrated in Christ’s death to pay the debt of our sin; leading to living in humble joy to the Glory of God.

(I distinguish between a REAL Revival, and the revivalism that is prevalent in some parts of the USA.  In some places signs are posted, and newspaper ads taken out, saying: “Revival this Week…” The old cliché is correct: Posting a sign does not guarantee a revival; and if a REAL Revival is taking place, you don’t need a sign.) 

But, again, both Reformation and Revival are needed. I’ll let God work out the logistics. 

But since God alone can create a revival, it seems worthy of our efforts to pray for God to send one.   

While unpacking my files recently, I stumbled upon the following observations and reasons we need revival.  I have slightly edited them from the original work of John Murray in the Banner of Truth.

1.      We have gone on so long without seeing a revival. There has been no major revival in more than a century. (Habakkuk 3:2)

2. There has been a great spiritual and moral decline in the land, and some areas are dark and almost pagan.

3. The prevailing Christianity is powerless, and the church has lost her credibility.

4. Deadness, formality and worldliness have taken hold of many congregations. (Revelation 3:1)

5. True conviction of sin is lacking. The first work of the Spirit is to convict of sin. (John 16:8)

6. The broken spirit and the contrite heart are rare. We do not mourn over our sins. (Zechariah 12:10)

7. Many of us have “left our first love” to the Lord Jesus Christ and lack warmth and fervency. (Revelation 2:4)

8. Zeal for the glory of God is lacking, and we are not grieved by the dishonor done to His name in church and nation.

9. We are not deeply moved by the Sight of multitudes passing into eternity without Christ.

10. In many pulpits, the true Gospel is buried out of sight, and sinners are flattered and encouraged in nominal Christianity. 

11. Trust in the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible has been undermined, and the distinction between truth and error lost.

12. Preaching is in decline, and there is a famine of hearing the Word of God. There is no great hunger for the Word. (Amos 8:11)

13. There is widespread ignorance of the basic truths of the Gospel and of the nature of Christian conversion. The doctrine of the new birth is watered down. 

14. Evangelism has become centered on man and his need instead of on God and His glory.

15. The decay of family religion and family worship. The subversion of the family threatens the very fabric of society .

16. The decline in church attendance and the failure to retain the youth. 

17. The neglect and desecration of the Lord’s Day.

18. The lack of any fear of God in our communities. There is open defiance of God and of His ways.

19. Ignorance of what God has done for us in the past. (Judges 2:10) 

20. We are sinning against great light because God has so blessed this nation in the past.  

So, let’s commit to praying for Revival, while laboring together for a heart-felt Reformation.