Why We Need a Revival Theology

There are a wide range of views within the church on revival. Here is a helpful perspective from the church historian, Robert W. Caldwell. Though he doesn’t address the believer's role in praying that God would bring about revival, he does close on a hopeful note, that perhaps God will one day usher in the next Great Awakening. Please read the article and then consider joining with believers around the country in asking God to do just that — and soon.

Article: How Revival Turned Protestants Into Evangelicals

It seems revivals have fallen on hard times. Revivals today are associated with Pelagianism, American individualism, and kooks on cable television. Many find these associations distasteful, especially young Reformed folks who identify deeply with Reformation theology while turning a suspicious eye to revivals’ emotionalism.

Thus, while many appreciate Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and the First Great Awakening, they almost invariably write off later American revivals as hotbeds of human activism, heresy, cults of personality, and emotional extravagance. Better to leave all that in the dustbin and get on with the mission of preaching the gospel and building the church. Right?

There are some good theological instincts at work here, but also quite a few historical inaccuracies. For one thing, revivalists haven’t always been non-theological pragmatists. From about 1740 to 1840, the church’s greatest minds thought seriously about revival—how conversion works, how the gospel should be preached, and how soteriology is manifested practically. I wrote about this time in my recent book, Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney.

Some critics of revival believe that revivalism is alien to the essence of Protestantism; that Protestants, through their participation in the Awakenings, got sidetracked by the Enlightenment, religious fanaticism, modernity, individualism, or some mixture of the above. It’s true that the Awakenings—those great revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries in America—helped create that vague grouping of conversionistic Protestants known as “evangelicals.” But the idea that evangelicalism, and the revivals that spawned it, represent a warping of the spirit of Protestantism is a historical stretch.

I advance the opposite thesis: Revivals embody the true flourishing of Protestantism precisely because they intensify and expand on central Protestant themes. When evangelicalism emerged from its Protestant background through the Great Awakenings, it carried forward some of the best features Protestantism had to offer the world.

Read the rest of the article here.


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