Jonathan Edwards and Revival

Our churches today focus on marketing strategies in order to grow churches. Pastors are viewed as CEO’s who if unable to grow the church by certain percentages over a certain amount of years should be terminated as being unsuccessful. We take our church growth strategies from the business world instead of the Scriptures. Instead of marketing the church we should be seeking revival to grow the church. The problem is, the church has more than one view of what revival is.

Revival can be viewed as something “extremely rare, humanly unattainable state of temporary overheated spirituality” (Josh Moody, The God-Centered Life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for Today [Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2007], p. 36). In contrast the opposing view sees that revival “may be manufactured by following certain techniques or methods” (Moody, The God-Centered Life, p. 36). Both of these extreme views are really foreign to the Scriptures.

In Josh Moody’s recent book, The God-Centered Life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for Today, he argues that one area that Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the great American theologian and philosopher ,can have a great impact on the church is in the area of revival. I am currently just reading this book and have found I cannot put it down. Moody is an excellent writer with a pastor’s heart (he is Senior Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, New Haven, CT) and an incredible grasp of Edwards (his PhD from Cambridge was on Edwards response to the Enlightenment (his dissertation is published as Jonathan Edwards and the Enlightenment: Knowing the Presence of God).

He writes,

It takes little imagination to understand the pastoral challenges that can arise from these opposing views of revival. The first idea of revival so strongly emphasizes God’s sovereignty that there is an inevitable tendency to passivity in evangelism. If I can do nothing to create revival then it is understandable to wonder whether I need do anything. The second idea of revival can produce exactly the opposite challenge. If revival can be produced by a predetermined mechanism and if revival fails to arrive, spiritual disappointment, even depression, is possible, to say nothing of the pressure to produce results, which leads to spurious conversions, or those who think redemption, regeneration and revival is in their and not God’s hands (p. 37).

What can Edwards teach us then about a more biblical approach to revival? Edwards is uniquely qualified to teach us on the area of revival. He experienced first hand two revivals and was a historian of a third. He preached and taught on revival and wrote one of the key books ever written on the subject, A Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections. What we can learn about revival from Edwards is a more balanced biblical approach to revival.

Moody writes,

Revival is not random, not manipulative, not tied to a particular system or certain ecclesiastical machine. It is God’s initiative, his action, his intervention, his applying salvation to the church and the world. Much of the contemporary criticism of revival is well founded. Revivalism can be manipulative and shallow, its techniques unthinkingly aping modernistic attitudes of industrialism and individualism and woefully inadequate to anticipate changing culture in which we live. Revivals can also be excuses for delay, inaction and remaining passive in the face of the challenges the church is called to address. All these and other criticisms targeted towards revivals are at least to some degree cogent. Edwards would have agreed: for him, true revival was less mechanical and more magisterial, less passive and more powerful and Christ-like (p. 48).

While revival, or what Edwards would call an “awakening” was something only accomplished by God and could not be accomplished by the hands of men, he acknowledged that man was involved in the process. Not only did God ordain the end, that is revival, He ordained the means. Edwards noted that things like prayer and the preaching of the Gospel were ordained means of accomplishing revival. God used the prayers for revival and the preaching and urging for men to repent was used by God to bring about awakening or revival. Therefore, what Edwards teaches us is that church growth is not about man it is about God but it is also about God using man.

No amount of strategizing by man can bring about church growth through revival. But God does involve us in the process. We are not to sit idly by. We are to actively pray for revival and preach for revival! That is what Edwards teaches us about revival.

Moody concludes his chapter on the area of revival by addressing three issues in the church today. First, the church needs to revive preaching. We must boldly and clearly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “A greater commitment to careful explanation of the text would be married with a relevant and emotionally engaged application” (p. 50).

Second, Moody calls us to revive the church. The church is God’s vehicle for accomplishing His will in this age. We need to makechurch first place in our lives once again. “The church too needs to be revived, because communities of salt and light are necessary for such preaching to be realistically and practically modeled. Without free samples of Christ the message of Christ is hard to swallow” (p. 51).

Finally, we need to emphasize other areas of spiritual revival. “If spiritual revival is ecclesiastically controversial today, it is also manifestly necessary. The levels of holiness, of the fear of the Lord, of simple spiritual power, are at a low ebb in the West” (p. 54). There are other means to promote revival including personal testimony, cocerts of prayer, and other opportunities to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to bring about revival.

Moody concludes the chapter,

Edwards’ theology of revival has three practical and strategic implications. First, it encourages us to emphasize preaching. Second, it calls us to focus upon the basics of building local churches. Third, it points us forward through the power of the Holy Spirit. Revival as an unblical an manipulative belief in the capability of human agency to generate spiritual change must be eschewed. Revival meaning a passive and stagnet excuse for doing nothing because God has not brought revival needs to be exposed for what it is: an attitude foreign to the vigorous missionary effort and evangelism modeled by the Apostle Paul. Revival as a principled reliance upon expectation of divine initiative for the advance of the kingdom through God-given means is what we should embrace.

I could not say it better than that!

For more on Edwards, the Holy Spirit and revival be sure to check out Michael Haykin’s Jonathan Edwards -The Holy Spirit in Revival: The Lasting Influence of the Holy Spirit in the Heart of Man from Evangelical Press.

One Response to Jonathan Edwards and Revival

  1. […] of June 5, 2009 Posted by John Burton in Related Stories on 06 5th, 2009 | View commentsComments Jonathan Edwards and Revival – 06/05/2009 Our churches today focus on marketing strategies in order to […]

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