(pic credit: FB post on Asbury… thanks!)
Revival: Defies Definition?
Does revival defy definition?
It kinda does.
Why would ‘defining’ revival be important right now?
Simply put, people are now hotly conversing… live, blog, social media, news media posts, recounting personal experience… about a ‘revival’ in Asbury, ‘revivals’ in multiple college campuses, and…
Many people are actually are talking about radically different things at the same time, all referring to ‘revival’.
All the current conversation about ‘revival’ has become a word-play of confusing ideas with each person speaking out something totally different… and un-intended… and everybody thinking they ‘understand’ and mean the same thing.
Simply put, ‘revival’ means different things to different people.
It represents different things to various periods of world and church history, as recounted and interpreted by different people.
It has, and is being defined by people differently.
It signifies different realities to people uniquely within each of the three major flows of Christianity in 2023… the Liturgical/Historic flow, the Evangelical/Fundamental flow, and the Pentecostal/Charismatic flow.
It’s like the time I walked into a large fruit market in Columbia, and asked, “do you have mangos?” The owner laughed, and replied, “…which kind, amigo? We have over 15 different varieties!”
Truth be told, (says Google) there are over 1,000 different varieties of mangos in the world.
There are big mangos. There are itty-bitty-tiny mangos. There are meaty and robust mangos. There are very subtle-flavored mangos. There are stringy, fibrous mangos. There are mushy mangos. There are tart mangos. There are sweet mangos.
At the market, with the help of my new-found friend-shop owner, I found one type of mango that was small, bright orange, and was sweeter than any candy you could ever hope to find.
The Definers: Look Under the Hood
I have read hundreds of works on ‘revival’. I have heard thousands of discussions and messages on ‘revival’. I have been exposed to hundreds of ‘definitions’ and ‘defining characteristics’ in regards to ‘revival’.
To summarize using health-care-research-speak, “there is a total lack of consensus on this topic” across the Christian church.
One question I’ve found helpful in the discussion; which of the three (fore-mentioned) major flows in modern Christianity the writer or speaker is coming from?
Look under the hood, and get some idea which kind of engine drives their vehicle, so to speak.
Q: Is ‘Revival’ a Biblical Word?
Answer: Depends what we’re really talking about.
A concept attached to events described in the Scriptures?
A word that is directly used in the Scriptures.
Biblical scholar Craig Keener, who leans a bit towards the Charismatic flow in modern Christianity, points out that the word ‘revival’ is actually an extra-Biblical word, meaning the word ‘revival’ is not used in the Bible.
It’s a word historians came up with after the last book of the Bible was written… nearly 16 centuries after Jesus, for sure.
[ see https://julieroys.com/opinion-what-revival-happening-asbury/ ]
Amongst modern Pentecostals, the word ‘revival’ has become attached to ‘Holy-Spirit outpourings with manifestations’ in the book of Acts, such as Acts 2:17-18 and Acts 10:45, as well as similar historic events in Europe and America.
To Liturgicals and Evangelicals, it has a number of other meanings… some of which do not have any ‘Holy Spirit manifestations’ as part of the defining characteristic.
Historically, when did the word ‘revival’ show up?
It wasn’t until the 1650s, where ‘extraordinary religious awakening in a community’ became called a ‘revival of religion’ (such as noted by Mather in 1702). By the early 1800’s, ‘revival’ referred to ‘enthusiastic religious meetings (often by Methodists) meant to inspire revival’.
A ‘Revivalist’ was “one who promotes or leads a religious revival”, as written about and attested by 1812.
[see https://www.etymonline.com/word/revival ]
The early American experience evidenced a number of ‘Great Religious Awakenings’ that have been cited as ‘revivals’. For example, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield are cited as two major catalysts of the ‘Revival’ that started in the 1730’s, and lasted into the 1770’s within the newly-established American colonies. It’s estimated that over 80% of the people living in the new colonies were touched by that ‘Awakening’.
In this discussion, I want to be careful to avoid the trap-door of argument regarding what a ‘real revival’ is… or is not.
I do want to walk away with a couple of ‘salient features’ that hopefully we can all agree upon.
One thing for sure. History itself seems to indicate that ‘revival’ is a major departure from ‘business as usual’ in the life of the Church for some period of time.
‘Revival’ seems to indicate that something out-of-the-ordinary was happening within the Church, then spilled out into the surrounding city, culture and society. This harmonizes with Dr. Che Ahn’s assertion that historic ‘revival’ comes first to a Church, then a ‘harvest of souls’ from outside the Church, then some impact on society.
‘Revival’ seems to indicate that a great number of people were involved, impacted or affected.
‘Revival’ also seems to indicate that God was sovereignly involved and unusually ‘present’ in some powerful way.
So, the things that everyone does seem to agree on regarding ‘revival’:
-a massive shift from the ‘usual’ to the ‘extraordinary’.
-a massive visitation of God.
-a massive number of people.
-a massive impact within, then outside the Church.
Other Defining Characteristics of Revival?
Are there other defining characteristics that can lead a person to call something a ‘revival’? Criteria?
[I say this because there are hundreds of on-line skeptics and nay-sayers who are calling Asbury a ‘not-revival’, based on their own criteria and characteristics…]
Once again, the answer depends on the flow (Liturgical/Historic, Evangelical/Fundamental, Pentecostal/Charismatic) the writer/author/speaker/scholar/commentator/blogger/media-poster is coming from.
This is true of the current-day ‘Asbury-plus-others’ events, as well as the take on historic events, such as the Great Awakening or the Welsh Revival.
As you read the historic accounts of what has been called ‘revival’, and try to answer the ‘criteria and characteristics’ question, it becomes… hard to discern.
Some flows of Christianity see a massive swelling of church attendance as a ‘revival’.
Others will account a massive number of people confessing Christ, repenting and being baptized… ‘revived devotion’…
Other flows make note of massive ‘supernatural’ manifestations, such as miracles, signs, wonders, healings and deliverance from evil spirits.
Still others will claim that a ‘true revival’ cannot be assigned to some event until years have passed, whereas the ‘fruit’ of that event can be measured and seen… the ‘time will tell’ folks…
Just as we started this conversation, defying definition.
Many Varieties, All Mango
Perhaps ‘revival’ can come in many forms and shapes and flavors.
Perhaps, each true ‘revival’ will be uniquely different than other ‘revivals’.
Perhaps ‘revival’ is not limited to narrow parameters and characteristics.
Perhaps ‘revival’ is remembered and historically filtered by people who run their experiences through their ‘lens’ of the ‘flow’ they live in.
Perhaps, each true ‘revival’ will be exactly what God wanted and sovereignly sent for that specific and particular time, place and people.
Certainly, God is unlimited in the ways and means He can reveal and display Himself when He shows up in Visitation.
A few days ago, the leadership of Asbury University began using a very different type of wording to describe what’s happening on their campus… the ‘Asbury Outpouring’.
Not the ‘Asbury Revival’.
I suspect… suspect, don’t know for sure… this change to ‘outpouring’ to be a careful and educated attempt by Asbury to avoid the ‘everybody using the word ‘revival’ with each person taking it to mean something different’, while totally dodging the ‘guilty by association’ of labels and history.
Interesting, Asbury is not a Charismatic/Pentecostal school. They are actually part of the ‘Holiness’ stream of Evangelical Wesleyan tradition… which is awesome… I studied in a Wesleyan-related school for awhile, good people…
SO, if Asbury is steering away from the hotly-disputed label of ‘revival’, and more embracing ‘outpouring’…
written by crisbaj
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All Scripture references from New International Version unless otherwise indicated.
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Hello Cris, What a refreshing take on the subject matter! Thank you so much! I hope we can all get together soon. I know your lives are busy and back and forth and us too! Hopefully, we can meet soon. God bless,Theresa
thanks for reading! we just arrived in SanV, getting settled in.