Would You Know a Revival If You Saw One?
The venerable theologian, teacher, and author J. I. Packer, expressed some thoughts on the matter:
Would we recognize a reviving of religion if we were part of one?—J. I. Packer, “The Glory of God and the Reviving of Religion: A Study in the Mind of Jonathan Edwards,” in A God-Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 107-108.
I ask myself that question. For more than half a century the need of such reviving in the places where I have lived, worshiped, and worked has weighed me down.
I have read of past revivals. I have learned, through a latter-day revival convert from Wales, that there is a tinc in the air, a kind of moral and spiritual electricity, when God’s close presence is enforcing his Word.
I have sat under the electrifying ministry of the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who as it were brought God into the pulpit with him and let him loose on the listeners. Lloyd-Jones’s ministry blessed many, but he never believed he was seeing the revival he sought.
I have witnessed remarkable evangelical advances, not only academic but also pastoral, with churches growing spectacularly through the gospel on both sides of the Atlantic and believers maturing in the life of repentance as well as in the life of joy.
Have I seen revival? I think not—but would I know? From a distance, the difference between the ordinary and extraordinary working of God’s Spirit looks like black and white, a difference of kind; to Edwards, however, at close range, it appeared a matter of degree, as his Narrative and his Brainerd volume (to look no further) make clear.
Some evangelicals need to be asked, Are you not expecting too little from God in the way of moral transformation?
But others need to be asked, Are you not expecting too much from God in the way of situational drama?
Do we always know when we are in a revival situation?
Some scholars have argued that in most cases, revivals can usually only be identified ex post--after the event. The outward, tangible fruits of widespread conversions become evident over time, as those Christians grow spiritually and mature. Observers then tend to look and conclude, "What a remarkable work of grace God was doing 'back then'" referring to the conversion of large numbers of people.
Here is a good rule of thumb: if the media are claiming the occurrence of a revival or an awakening, it is almost certain to be untrue.