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CALL IT REVIVAL: Part #1: What Is Revival

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

What is Revival and Where Did the Term Come From?

THE BLIND LEAD THE BLIND AND WE ALL KEEP FALLING IN DITCHES: Recent events at Asbury University have spurred a host of self-appointed heresy hunters, glory chasers, and a world of speculation as laymen and scholars alike weigh in on the topic of revival. However, after watching countless videos and critiques one thing I’ve noticed very few, if any, use any Scripture to support their conclusions. How is it one event has resulted in so much discord and dissension within the body of the Messiah? Why is it we can’t seem to agree on a topic that should really be cut and dry? I propose the issue isn’t whether or not a revival experience is genuine or not, I would argue this disfunction is the fruit of bad theology and Biblical ignorance. The only solution is to get into the Word, without it we are doomed to speculative arguments which only serve to sow more division in the already mutilated body of supposed believers. Furthermore we continue to demonstrate to the world around us that the truth matters very little when our opinions are held in such high regard. The church will quite literally cut off its own nose to spite its face, and frankly…we are hideous. While I am no scholar, for which I pray you offer me some grace, I do think my personal experience and now focussed study may edify and benefit the body of believers regarding the topic of REVIVAL.


What these articles will cover:

  1. Part #1: What is Revival and where did the term come from?

  2. Part #2: What Really Matters

  3. Part #3: A Look Into The Biblical Examples

 

WHERE DOES THE IDEA OF REVIVAL COME FROM?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (www.etyonline.com), in a very literal sense the word revival simply means the “act of reviving after declining or discontinuance.” It is simple to understand this word developed from the word “revive” which indicates to bring back to life, restore or to regain consciousness. This common understanding originates back in the early 15th century and later finds usage culturally in the mid 1600’s for "the bringing back to the stage of a play which has not been presented for a considerable time.” It may not seem so curious then we eventually would come to use this word in a religious sense.

The Online Etymology Dictionary traces this religious application back at least to the early 1700’s. Famed minister Jonathan Edwards, who wrote extensively on religious awakenings like the Great Awakening and other localized movements during his years in ministry, uses the term “Revival” in the title of one of his published writings “Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England,” according to www.christianhistoryinstitute.org. His extensive study on the topic may have been one of the catalysts to promoting greater use of the term "revival" in the Christian world.


Either way, it is not difficult to see this word is a very modern incarnation which makes it

difficult to establish a firm Biblical foundation for its use when we are discussing moves of God. However, that by no means is an attempt to simply sidestep the topic altogether. With all of the divisiveness over this topic, it is critical as believers that we seek to gain a Biblical perspective as to limit the harm and damage we are seeing being inflicted surrounding modern moves of God,. Even in Edwards’ day, “anti-revivalists” complained the movements he spent so much time trying to understand were simply “all emotion, froth, and disorder”, strangely 300 years later it appears the church still struggles to make sense of intense forms of worship and/or deliverance in our religious institutions. As a result disfunction is often the result, as I imagine Edwards observed 300 years ago.

 

WHAT IS REVIVAL?

Before we move any further in this study it is important we define terms clearly. Using the very literal definition of the word "revival", one might understand the religious application of revival as the following: "bringing to life something that was once spiritually dead." While overly simplistic, this may represent the foundational idea by which 300 years of church doctrine concerning the idea is established. In a very real sense. Let's briefly explore how the Bible addresses this concept of being dead and living again.


John 12:23-25 esv

“23 And Yeshua/Jesus answered them, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.'”


2 Corinthians 5:13-14 esv

“14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

The Bible gives us a baseline to understand how one might make sense of "revival" terminology. Is that how it is being understood in our modern context? Current events and disagreements seem to indicate our simplistic definition for revival doesn’t quite move the needle for many no matter what side of the discussion you are on. So, if this definition doesn’t suit our modern generation, how would one define it today?


Pastor Mike White, CityLight Church: “the Holy Spirit working through believers consistently to accomplish something we cannot accomplish on our own. The end goal of revival is aggressive Kingdom expansion. Revival can be concentrated in one region for a specific period of time. Revival is marked by signs, miracles and wonders: the Holy Spirit working through us to bring the things of heaven to this earth. Revival is also marked by massive harvest: believers giving their lives to Christ in record numbers. After all, a soul coming to Christ is just as miraculous as any other sign, miracle or wonder!”

-Blog Post: What is Revival?


Bill Johnson, Bethel:

“Revival is the atmosphere in which Christ’s power is most likely to be manifested”

I could go on and on with modern resources and definitions, but those who make a point

to teach about and engage in purposeful pursuit of revival culture seem to agree, revival is a powerful act of the Holy Spirit where signs, wonders, and miracles are demonstrated resulting in a mass or continual harvest of individuals coming to faith in the Messiah, Yeshua, Jesus. Certainly, there are those who may disagree with this definition, but for now, let’s run with this concept. You may wonder why no Scripture has been used to directly define "revival"…well…if it hasn’t hit you yet, that’s because no Scripture can be used to define or describe revival. Why? Because it is a modern construct. This is why I must quote men and pastors as a means of determining what modern vernacular surrounding this topic truly is. Revival in many cases is believed my manu to require miracles and acts of wonders, while others say modern "revivals" are a sign of recklessness and a lack of piety and order. How is it people are so far apart? Can we discover a better way to address this topic?

 

SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE:

Let me begin this final point with a perspective from my own personal experience. The purpose of this article was to define terms and try to make sense of where the modern ideology of “revival” comes from, I want to make it clear, the word "revival" doesn’t really matter. It’s not the word “revival” that impacts whether or not something is a true move of God, however, that word does impact how we respond to something which claims to be a work of God. Let me explain. Personally, I grew up in the charismatic church. At the time it was non-denominational and Assemblies of God, but those same churches would be called hyper-charismatic or word of faith churches in today’s vernacular. For me, I heard the word “revival” thrown around frequently and without discrimination. Many things were called a revival, many of them bearing no fruit, some of them even bearing bad fruit. Beyond that I’ve witnessed time and time again the emotional manipulation of desperate people by those who claim to discern and operate under the Spirit of God. (I want to make it clear this summary does not mean every one of my experiences were negative, but many were) Over the course of time, this has left me bias, jaded, and skeptical every time I hear the word “REVIVAL!” My heart sinks, I get anxious, and I am immediately inclined to doubt. You may be wondering why my experience is relevant to this discussion, I would suggest each one of us has a similar bias that often is overlooked as we reflect on what is dubbed a "revival" by our modern society..

Consider when you simply hear the word “Christmas” or “birthday”. Just the mere mention of the word would stir up all kinds of emotion, anticipation, etc. For most of us it was good feels. Our hearts swell with eager anticipation each time it is mentioned. Mentally, we spin with excitement as we await the great day. There is "expectation" for a memorable and happy experience so we mentally and often physically prepare ourselves for that inevitable outcome. For some of us, it can be simply hearing a Christmas song, or certain smells that trigger the same response., some even go as far as to give it a name “the Christmas spirit.” It is not in fact a “spirit” they are experiencing but a physical response to an emotional expectation built upon years of reinforced beliefs. In the end our response is often not spiritual at all. Let's develop this analogy a little further. Now consider, there are people out there who when they hear the word “Christmas” or “Birthday” their hearts melt. They are filled with anxiety and despair. Darkness and confusion fill their mind as they attempt to process a time in their lives that regular brings them more harm. The same day that produced so much joy for others is a day of darkness, despair, and destruction for others. How could it be that a single word could illicit such powerful and opposing reactions within a person, even without their immediate active participation? As humans our minds and bodies are enormously impacted by previous experience. Therefore, even something as small as a single word may instigate a visceral response in our minds and physical bodies, increase heart rate, lack of focus, sweaty palms, etc. For some, the word “revival” has the same impact. For one, nervous, doubtful, anxiety. For others, eager, hopeful, anticipation. Both built upon a form of experiential reality that cannot be denied. However, both can negatively impact our ability to properly discern the truth through the haze of our past experience and bias. A simple google search which includes the words “Asbury Revival” will expose this reality as one surveys the headlines. However, the vast majority of those who choose to throw their two cents into the “wishing well” of social media, will never openly expose their own bias. Rest assured, their baggage is there, and it is impacting how they respond to reports of revival. We should not be blind to the reality that emotional and experiential bias is a nearly insurmountable obstacle to overcome for humanity. It is through the clarity of the Word of God, leading us in all truth by the Spirit of God, we can overcome those biases to properly understand the work of God in the world around us.

 

THE MISSION: Here is what I propose as we continue this study, that we remove the word “revival” from the equation and simply look at the Bible and its guidance objectively. There is a huge amount of baggage that accompanies this word that often predisposes someone to a particular conclusion on the topic. I pray as we study together that we can see and discern clearly how the Bible, previous witnesses, and in some ways even God’s heart is revealed in the Word of God when it comes to experiencing Him in ways we may not always understand. This will not be a critique of the Asbury Revival, or any other revival for that matter. It will not seek to provide a 5 step system or strategies to identify Revival. It will not attempt to teach you how to start revival I your own church. Finally, this is NOT an attempt to debunk modern revivalism. My goal is to reflect and correct my own personal bias, but also assist others in removing the veil of their own bias so we can rightly discern, understand, or respond to future events attributed to the work and spirit of God.

 
Check out Part #2 and Part #3 at the links below:












 

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