Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The marks of revival

Yesterday I listened to a talk Tim Keller gave at The Gospel Coalition conference on a Biblical theology of revival. By revival Keller doesn't mean a programmedc event, or one that can be worked up by a method -- contrary to Charles Finney and his many imitators -- but a spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit characterized by a recovery of the gospel and a deep sense of repentance. Interestingly, he said that revival is often a quiet affair -- quiet in that the church gets quiet before God. This is contrary to revival-ism which tends to be noisy.

In looking at various revivals down through church history Keller sees that they look different but have several common denominators, including the two mentioned above -- recovery of the gospel and deep sense of repentance. Elaborating on those common characteristics of revival Keller said something that I think is worth latching onto -- revival is always accompanied by "sleepy Christians waking up" and "nominal Christians getting converted."

First, sleepy Christians waking up -- these are people who are genuinely saved but for some reason have lost the joy and power that should be their's in Christ. All the promises of God in Christ are objectively true for them but they aren't experiencing the fruit of those promises. Keller illustrated it this way. Imagine a father and his young son walking down the street side by side. Suddenly, in a spontaneous gesture of affection, the father picks up his son, hugs him to his chest, and says "I love you!" What's happened at that moment? Objectively the father's love is the same as before, but now the son is experiencing that love in a fresh subjective way. This is part of what happens when sleepy Christians wake up.

Secondly, nominal Christians are often people who have gone to church all their life. They may be leaders or officers in the church! Keller picked out the example of a former church treasurer who came to him and confessed that he had never understood the gospel until now even though he'd been serving in the church for years. Our churches are filled with such people -- faithful churchgoers who've never experienced the transformative power of the gospel, many of whom are clinging to some form of works-righteousness to get them into Heaven.

You might be saying: "What about the unconverted outside the walls of the church? Doesn't revival affect them?" The neat thing is that when you have a local church, or denomination, or parachurch movement, full of sleepy Christians waking up and nominal Christians getting converted, the world can't help but notice. Those once sleepy and nominal church members have the "savor of Christ" on them and channels are opened for extraordinary operations of God.

As an elder charged with the oversight of a local church I can't think of a better prayer than this -- that the sleepy Christians in our pews are awakened and that the nominal Christians (and only God knows exactly who they are) will be converted. That's how revival starts.

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