I sensed, after publishing a recent editorial on spiritual revival, that some Christians harbor stereotyped ideas about revival. Some think it is only about emotional fervor. Others think it is only about narrowly defined spiritual (and private) matters and has no connection to societal issues. For me, Christian spirituality is holistic because biblical truth and a biblical worldview are holistic. Therefore, spiritual revival is also holistic.
Best-selling author and pastor Timothy Keller has identified ten marks of genuine spiritual revival (“Ten Marks of Revival”). First, there are three instrumental means the Holy Spirit tends to use for revival: recovery of the gospel of grace, creativity, and corporate prayer. By recovering the radical nature of God’s grace, Christians will repent from either liberal or conservative self-righteous distortions. By creativity, Keller means there have always been new, creative methods of presenting the gospel to each generation and cultural moment that have sparked spiritual revivals. And every past revival has been accompanied by fervent corporate prayer.
There are usually three parts to a spiritual revival, Keller says. First, nominal church members are converted into true disciples. To me, this goes hand in hand with the recovery of the gospel of grace. Second, many Christians will experience God’s love and presence more directly. One consequence of this is genuine repentance from any idols they have clung to. Another is that Christians, having experienced God’s love and grace deeply, will more readily reach out to their communities in love. Third, large numbers of nonbelievers will be attracted to the Christian community, often as a result of these changes among believers.
The next four marks or results of revival I believe are unique to Keller’s description of revival. First, lamentably, there always will be an “excessive fringe” to the revival. Genuine spiritual revivals will humble Christians. But some, ironically, might be puffed up with spiritual pride instead. Feelings of spiritual superiority might arise. Some Christian leaders might get too powerful and popular for their own good. People might idolize spiritual experiences and ignore biblical truth. Charlatans might take advantage of people’s spiritual fervor for their own gains.
As a consequence, there will be mainstream cultural backlash to the spiritual revival. People, Christians or otherwise, often will point to the “excessive fringe” as proof of the dangers of the revival movement. Furthermore, “some conservative, traditional church leaders” will join the attack on the spiritual revival for the same reasons. Some might even criticize the growing movement out of jealousy. These are the second and third results of revival.
I find the fourth result of past spiritual revivals fascinating. If the revival is deep and broad enough, it often leads to positive social reforms. Past revivals, Keller says, resulted in “the repeal of child labor laws, the abolition of slavery, a decrease in crime, improvements in the institution of marriage, and many other benefits.” In other words, spiritual revival is not only a private, “Jesus and me” affair. Genuine revival will drive Christians to show God’s love holistically, combining God’s Word with good deeds to help heal a social wound or eradicate a social evil.
Genuine spiritual revival is holistic. It means recovering God’s truth, experiencing God’s grace, and embodying God’s love and justice in a fallen world. Ultimately, only God can bring revival. But we should earnestly seek it as faithfully as we can.