What the Bible has to say on Revival
There is no shortage of books about Christian revivals. Over the decades I have read a fair cross section of them, so why do I want to go back to basics and look at biblical examples? The answer is a bold one: I think on the whole that the books are missing vital elements.
To be sure some of the stories of past revivals make exciting and inspirational reading which is good as far as it goes, but I want to know more. Also authors of these put their own spin on them. Some are super-spiritual and discount the human – sociological factors, human psychology and techniques of persuasion. Others go to the other extreme of denying anything except these human elements. Finally some produce one-size-fits-all human based blueprints for revival which strike me as pretty useless.
So I want to go back to basics.
A word of warning before we enter the world of the Bible. I happen to believe it – which sets me apart from an awful lot of modern church ministers! For those who eschew the Old Testament, just two quick points. Sure the Old Testament pointed forward to Jesus and found its fulfilment in him, but Jesus quoted it as authoritative in teaching and said “I did not come to do away with the Law and Prophets” (which is what they called what we call the “Old Testament”) So If one believes in Jesus one is committed to taking the OT as authoritative too. Second point is the statement in 1 Corinthians 10.11 about the experiences of the Israelites in the desert: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us...” This should alert us to the fact that there are things to be learned from the narratives in the OT. So far from being “just a Jewish history” as I have heard it described, we have deliberately preserved for us in the OT narratives historical scenarios which have something to teach us.
I also happen to credit God with more (infinitely more!) than average human intelligence which sets me apart from an awful lot of “Christian” platform speakers and their followers. Here is what I mean: First they treat the Bible as a grab bag of quotes to back up their own one-eyed ideas – they wouldn't dare do that if they really believed it came from God! Then they read it in a literalistic way – as if God didn't know about the figures of speech and plays on words that even pretty dumb humans use all the time.
For example we understand a play on words – as in this joke: “There are two fish in a tank; one turns to the other and says 'Hey do you know how to drive this thing?'” Guess what? God uses plays on words too! For instance a very simple play in Jeremiah 1.11-12 where the footnote in your Bible should tell you that in the original Hebrew “almond tree” and “watching” sound alike.
If we interpreted our everyday language literalistically – which we don't – we would get ridiculous meanings. This is exploited for humour by one author (Terry Pratchett) in this example: “A brass plaque on the wall proclaimed that – against all gynaecological probability – 'Fred Bloggs was born here'”.
Other aspects of “methodology” will be discussed and developed as we go. If I were to put up a starting hypothesis to test it would be something like this:
a) There is no one-size-fits-all pattern of revival. Rather a great variety to suit different situations.
b) The initiative for revival is generally taken by God alone, but occasionally in response to the prayers of devout people.
c) Human agents are generally invited to play a role. Occasionally human agents unwittingly play a role.
d) God frequently utilises crises and sociological factors to motivate revival, and uses many honest techniques of persuasion.
Case Study : The Golden Calf – Exodus 32
I'm not going to treat this one in depth because it has many unique features.
But I think it is fair to use it as an illustration is the role played by a leader chosen by God. It would appear God was going to destroy the Israelites for turning away from him so quickly and attributing his deliverance of them from Egypt to an idol in the form of a golden calf, but in answer to Moses' petition spared them.
Ps 106.23 Puts this graphically even painting the image of a warrior defending the breach made by an enemy in a city wall: “So he (God) said he would destroy them— had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to keep his wrath from destroying them.”
From this I deduce that a person God has appointed leader may be able by their intercession to be responsible for God – in this case dramatically - changing his intentions, or in a more ordinary way sending revival. We may be able to refine this observation as we examine further cases.