Final Thoughts -- By: John H. Armstrong

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 11:3 (Summer 2002)
Article: Final Thoughts
Author: John H. Armstrong


Final Thoughts

John H. Armstrong

Revival is clearly needed in our time. So few understand what it is and fewer still pray earnestly for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church. There are a number of reasons for this present state of things. One is the sheer bad name given to revival by some Christian scholarship. The most common way this is done is in confusing revivalism with true revival.

In the new InterVarsity Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (1999) I discovered this entry (102–103):

Revivalism: A historical movement within the church that finds it roots in the Reformation, Pietism and English Puritanism but reached its zenith in the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. Revivalism emphasizes the involvement of the emotions as well as the rational dimensions of the human person in a personal event of conversion as the appropriate response to hearing the gospel and receiving the gospel. Revivalism as a type of religious practice often includes mass meetings with gospel music and biblical preaching, and with a strongly emotional appeal for a personal, subjective and public response.

This definition is fairly representative of modern thought among academically equipped writers. The problems with it are numerous. The first sentence is fairly good. True revivals are part of the entire history of Christianity but they became particularly prominent after the Protestant Reformation. The second sentence is somewhat accurate. Clearly revival includes both emotion and rational thought. And it is not to be doubted that revival calls people to conversion, often in dramatic ways. And the final sentence is not altogether wrong either. Then what is so wrong with this definition?

For one, it places the emphasis in revival upon “emotion” and “subjective public response.” This has been true in some revivals but not in others. Revivals vary about as much as people, cultures, and climates vary. The diversity to be seen in true revival is beyond such a simplistic explanation.

Second, this definition wants to equate emotion with personal conversion. Again this misses the bigger issue. Revival clearly marks out people and singularly brings them to conviction and conversion, but to equate it simplistically with such is a categorical mistake.

Finally, to equate revival with mass meetings and gospel music is also a narrowly Western version of the truth. Because nineteenth-century American revivalism produced this kind of response does not mean every true revival will follow the same pattern.

Much better is an older dictionary explanation of revivals of religion. The old...

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