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On Feb. 23, 2023, Asbury University officially ended the continuous revival service that spontaneously grew from its routine chapel service Feb. 8. The Asbury Revival, also called the Asbury Outpouring, drew thousands of visitors to the Christian school in Wilmore, Ky., and inspired similar revival services at other Christian colleges. I am cautiously hopeful that these outpourings are the Holy Spirit’s work, and I pray they bear spiritual fruit for God’s kingdom.

There were critics and skeptics of the revival on both ends of the Christian spectrum. Much of the criticism seems to stem from a suspicion of emotions and spiritual experience. I myself have warned about the danger of elevating human experience and emotions in a 2014 Banner article titled “The Idolatry of Experience.” 

But there is also an opposite danger: idolizing human reason. We don’t seem to hear as much caution—especially in Reformed circles—about the dangers of elevating rationality. This is surely a problem for Christians who reject biblical miracles as irrational. But it’s dangerous in other ways, too, and can happen in the most subtle ways and with the best pious intentions.

For example, we have a tendency (in practice, though not in theory) to reduce true biblical faith to an intellectual assent to God’s truths. As a result, we are in danger of a “righteousness by good doctrine,” which the 19th-century theologian Herman Bavinck warned about in The Certainty of Faith (p. 26). Bavinck saw a gradual breaking apart of what the Protestant Reformers held together: 

The faith of the sixteenth century became the orthodoxy of the seventeenth. People no longer confessed their beliefs, but they only believed their confessions. Among most of the people this orthodoxy prepared the road for rationalism. Religion became a matter of reason, … and the certainty of faith became confused with rational insight. On the other hand, within the small circles of the faithful it evoked another reaction; they were not satisfied with merely rational knowledge but sought the essence of salvation in experience. This movement gradually devolved into pietism (pp. 28-29).

Is not Bavinck’s description still relevant for what’s happening in the church today? 

The Heidelberg Catechism defines true faith as “not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true all that God has revealed to us in Scripture; it is also a wholehearted trust” (Q&A 21). By starting its definition with “not only a sure knowledge,” the Catechism was correcting a common mistake to reduce faith to only head knowledge. “In other words,” Fred Klooster’s commentary on the Catechism says, “faith involves heart knowledge rather than mere head knowledge” (Our Only Comfort, Vol. 1, p. 211). This heart knowledge is a gift and work of the Holy Spirit. 

This true faith is also, as Len Vander Zee noted in last month’s (March 2023) article “Rebuilding the Romans Road,” a transformative faith. As the Belgic Confession states, “It is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being” but moves people to do good works of “faith working through love” (Art. 24). True faith is holistic. It includes the head, heart, and hands. 

Therefore, this Easter, let us not merely intellectually believe that Jesus died and rose to save us while we were, and are, still sinners. Let us wholeheartedly trust in Jesus. And may that move us, deeply and emotionally, to extend that same undeserved and unearned grace to others.


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