by Andrew Walker and Kristin Aune, editors
Few words in the Christian lexicon of the early twenty-first century are as exhilarating as “revival.” The word causes one to think of cleansing fire, fresh wind and Spirit power that resuscitates comatose souls.
Pasternoster Press, P.O. Box 300, Kingstown Broadway, Carlisle, Cumbria CA 3 0QS UK, 2003, 251 pages, £14.99.
—Reviewed by Lyle W. Dorsett, professor of Christian formation and ministries, Wheaton College and Graduate School, Wheaton, Illinois.
Few words in the Christian lexicon of the early twenty-first century are as exhilarating as “revival.” The word causes one to think of cleansing fire, fresh wind and Spirit power that resuscitates comatose souls. Yet there is little agreement within or across traditions and denominations on a definition of revival. What is revival? How does it differ from renewal, awakening or revivalism? As Christian leaders discuss the place of revival in the new century, our lack of consensus is painfully clear. On Revival will help to clear up the confusion.
This work contains thoughtful reflections from pastors, Christian leaders, academicians, graduate students and ministry practitioners from various denominations and theological persuasions—including traditional evangelicals, Pentecostals and charismatics. Editors Andrew Walker, Canon Professor of Theology, Culture and Education at King’s College, London, and Kristin Aune, a doctoral candidate at the same institution, have performed a welcome service by introducing and presenting fifteen papers read at a symposium on revival held at their school.
If you can get past some of the tedious academic jargon such as “(polysemous) lexeme ‘revival’” (5), or “a ‘parole’ that conforms, consciously or unconsciously, to a bigger ‘langue’…and various recurrent ‘actants,’ or characters” (29) your effort will be rewarded.
The authors all agree that genuine revival is a special visitation of God—something that is real, lasting and desirable. Among the fifteen observers, however, there is little agreement on the causes or effects of revival. The reader comes away with a keen sense that God’s work in revival is far too complex and profound to simply summarize, label or classify.
I appreciated the charitable critiques of both revivalism and of those “authorities” who naysay so much of what is called revival. Among the several thought-provoking chapters was one by Rob Warner who effectively takes John Stott to task for his criticism of the physical manifestations of the Toronto Blessing. Warner argues that Stott claims more for the biblical texts he uses than those texts actually allow. In another chapter, William Kay shows that the revivals in Wales and at Azusa Street make clear that sociological and psychological theories do not really help us understand spiritual realities.
A particularly insightful chapter is “Selling Revival and Worship” by Pete Ward. This specialist in youth ministry and education persuasively shows that much of contemporary revivalism is really selling worship rather than advocating evangelism. It is also selling intimacy rather than conversion.
I was surprised that the section on “Theological Perspectives” offered almost nothing from the Old Testament. This is serious omission for a book seeking to find biblical definitions of revival.
The concluding chapter, “Revivalism, Faddism and the Gospel,” is, by itself, worth the price of the book. Ian Stackhouse offers one of the most intelligent and biblically-based critiques of modern revivalism I have read. A modern prophet, this British pastor cautions against seeing revival as numbers-driven “success” in evangelism rather than “a prophetic critique of popular religion” that has become faddish. Stackhouse’s paper is a fitting conclusion to this splendid book. He calls us to embrace again the “scandalous, yet robust, language of the gospel” which, alas, has too frequently given way to more culturally palatable fads.
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