In 1859 and then again in 1904 a deep and penetrating work of the Holy Spirit engulfed the country of Wales. Wales had already seen many other periods when God had moved in revival—perhaps more than any geographical location in the history of Christianity. But these two spiritual awakenings were two of the most significant. In both cases, the Holy Spirit produced a profound increase of love for God among professing Christians and moved in the hearts of tens of thousands of people who did not know Christ, bringing them to repentance and a relationship with God. But there was a striking difference between the two revivals.
Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge compared the two awakenings and commented about Evan Roberts, the best-known preacher of the second: “Roberts, a gifted exhorter who led meetings filled with prayers, singing, and testimonies, did not prioritize Bible teaching. Compared to the 1859 revival, fewer Welsh preachers taught biblical doctrine. Instead, many new converts sought mystical experiences.”
The positive effects of the first revival both for the church and for society persisted for many years. The second revival, lacking an emphasis on the Bible, was “gone as quickly as it came.” Hansen and Woodbridge remarked about the second awakening: “After several years, Wales returned to its previous state of religious indifference.” The second revival was like a sparkler that spouted brilliant colors for a moment, sputtered, then grew suddenly dark.
The difference between the two revivals was the Bible.
God’s people today talk about the need for revival as they have at other times when love for God and passion for Christ has waned. I deeply long for it myself. In fact, when God grabbed hold of my heart as a teenager, one of my deepest yearnings, and the prayer from which God would not release me, was that God would do a work of revival during my lifetime. This past year I have been reinvigorated in my desire and prayer that God would do this. Who can question that we need a revival of the Holy Spirit? But it is my conviction that we will never see anything that lasts—that is, we will never see anything worth calling a revival of the Holy Spirit—unless we recommit ourselves to the Bible. We need a revival of the Bible if we desire to see a spiritual awakening that lasts.
Excerpted from Kenneth Berding, Bible Revival: Recommitting Ourselves to One Book.
 Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge, A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 115, citing Earle E. Cairns, An Endless Line of Splendor: Revivals and Their Leaders from the Great Awakening to the Present (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1986), 196-97. The two quotes in the paragraph following the citation marker are from Hansen and Woodbridge, 114 and 116.
4 thoughts on “Revival Without the Bible Won’t Last”
In 1970, I experienced a dramatic conversion, and found myself in the middle of revival. Suddenly, millions of people in a specific demographic group wanted to talk about Jesus.
Then, two years later, that incandescent moment was over. And, like all too many revivals, the immediate aftermath included a devastating victory for the other side — the “raw judicial activism” that imposed human sacrifice on all 50 states. (parenthetically, Roe v. Wade happened in the back yard of a famed Theological Seminary, which pretty well blew its credibility by ignoring the event for years.)
Fast forward a few decades, and a Turkish couple is visiting our church. And as I try to see things through their eyes, I suddenly realize that I am witnessing the only surviving cultural relic of that revival — a worship service modeled on a rock concert: lead singer, electronic music, shimmying backup singers, boring lyrics.
So much grace lavished up us — and so little to show for it.
Some scholars distinguish between revival (the real thing — not the little circuses churches stage to amuse their own members) and reformation. Revivals typically last two years, at most, then leave the “revived” population worse off than they were before. Like poor folks who win a lottery jackpot, and are bankrupt and friendless within a few years. Revivals typically bypass the mind to hot-wire “the heart,” the emotional subset of our human identities. Reformations discipline the mind, to apply God’s Word to a broader chunk of life, take a century to get up to speed, and make permanent changes in the cultural landscape.
In the early 80’s, I discovered an “under-the-radar” reformation just gearing up. And it’s still in progress. Year after year, millions of families in the USA politely decline to render unto Caesar that which is God’s, the children entrusted to their care.
IMHO, the only way to interact credibly with people who have a complete worldview (Muslims, e.g.) is with a complete “faith for all of life” of our own. As the aphorism goes,
[ No matter how much you overclock, turbocharge, or feague it, a navel view will never do when a worldview is overdue. ]
Tom, thanks for responding to this post. I couldn’t agree more that what we need is not a flash-in-the-pan burst of spiritual energy, but a deeply-rooted reformation, including worldview training. But part of the issue is what we mean by “revival.” You seem to be using the term merely for short-lived spiritual fervor. Others distinguish between short-lived and lasting revivals. I prefer to allow for some positive use for the term “revival” while recognizing that not everything that parades under the name of “revival” is helpful.
BTW, my life was also impacted by the Jesus Movement that was (most strongly focused between 1970 and 1972). We can grant that that was a movement lacking biblical rootedness in so many respects. But we must also grant that many people were won to Christ and discipled in their faith during that period, and that many of our current church leaders were spiritually impacted in a positive way during that time. I myself would welcome another blowing of the Spirit such as happened during those two or three years, but would urge all of us in teaching ministries to emphasize the need for biblical and theological training in the midst of it.
One more thing: Worldview training on its own is not adequate; helpful–and even necessary–though it may be. Young believers need to learn the Bible and the theology that flows out of the Bible. Worldview training as it has usually been framed can sometimes be overly philosophical at the expense of the Bible. I’m sure you know this, but I thought I might mention it for the sake of the rest of our readers.
Thanks for your lengthy comment.
Great post thankyyou