Thinking Critically About Revival -- By: Tom Wells

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 04:3 (Summer 1995)
Article: Thinking Critically About Revival
Author: Tom Wells

Thinking Critically About Revival

Tom Wells

A group of us were sitting around a table at our monthly pastors fellowship in Dayton, Ohio, agilely flitting from subject to subject when someone mentioned revival. The ensuing discussion went something like this: “What about the revival in China?” The question was directed to a missionary who had visited the People’s Republic no less than ten times in recent years to evangelize college students in one of the major cities.

“You can’t believe what you hear coming out of China,” was the reply. “I’ve seen nothing to confirm the stories of miracles that you may have heard of here in the States.” He went on to cite an exciting story of superhuman endurance under trial by a Chinese believer. It was a good story, but it was false. Someone else chimed in. “But we’ve heard that there are fifty million Christians in China now. Is that true?”

“Yes,” replied our friend, “that is true if you count all those who profess any kind of Christianity. Fifty million would be a fair estimate.”

I remember this exchange because it well illustrates the difficulty we have in understanding one another. When the missionary heard the word “revival” he assumed the question was about the exciting and the miraculous. But others heard a question about the vast numbers of men and women who have turned to Christ in China in the last twenty-plus years. It took a few minutes to unravel the confusion and to get us all thinking along the same lines.

Questions about the meaning of revival are not uncommon. Maybe you have heard a conversation that went like something like this: “Revival occurs when God brings a large number of people to Himself, when, in other words, men and women are being born again.” “Not so fast! You can’t revive what’s never been alive. Revival is a work among the people of God. Dead sinners don’t come into it at the earliest stage.” Clearly there is a difference here, but who is right and who is wrong?

I suspect that the answer lies in associating our present use

of the term with a text like, “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years” (Hab. 3:2). Whenever God is unusually and powerfully at work in His world, there we rightly speak of revival. If we want to think critically about revival, then, we will concentrate on times and places where God is manifestly at work. I suppose there will not be much controversy about this.

But the first thing we have to think critically about shows that my own definition of revival, though accurate as far as it goes, begs an ...

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