On Revival: a Critical Examination

In June 2002 a conference was held at King's College, London and this book sets out the essays compiled by the speakers on that occasion. 'All Christians want revival' comments Joel Edwards of the Evangelical Alliance, 'but few of us want to think about it. This collection of essays offers us an intelligent profile of the theology, history, nature and sociology of revival'.

The book is arranged in four sections, the first one being 'Theological perspectives', followed by 'Lessons from history', then 'The contemporary scene' and lastly 'Multidisciplinary approaches'. The contributors include Rob Warner, Mark Stibbe, David Bebbington, Tom Smail and Steve Latham. What a wealth there is to be mined from this book, which should enable us to have a firmer understanding of what we understand by revival. How I wish that I could have attended the conference to listen to the fascinating papers and be involved in the interactive sessions! Some of the points raised I would like to have teased out in the fellowship there.

The insights into the present spiritual state of the country from evangelicals of standing are most impressive and challenging alongside the overall consideration of revival. Mark Stibbe's section is headed 'Seized by the Power of a Great Affection'. I like that – what a lovely way to describe revival! In it he speaks of a revival of which I had never heard before – the awakening in Norway in the late 18th century, which I found to be further stimulus to thirsty praying.

The final essay, 'Revivalism, Faddism and the Gospel', proves to be very realistic stuff in challenging our tendency to jump on the latest bandwagon. I was particularly struck by the last paragraph in which he writes: 'A better way of conceiving Christian mission…is a way that finds its impetus and sustenance in the gospel, is expressed in cruciformity when it comes to discipleship, outward in its movement towards the world. Added to that is a good deal of praying, as that activity which the Spirit himself inspires in us, thereby including us in his will. But apart from this there is little more one can do. For all the planting and watering, only God can cause it to grow. But until the Church makes peace with the sovereignty of God in this regard, and learns that the Spirit blows where he wills, one suspects that fads will continue to appeal to church leadership…'

But what do we meran by 'revival'? Are we clear at all? For me, the Chairman's quotation of Arthur Wallis in last summer's issue of Headline sets out as good an appraisal of revival as I have found. This book will help to dispel woolly thinking, stimulate the need for disciplined perception of the Spirit's work and inspire a lively vision of our prime consideration – preparation and prayer for revival. I very strongly recommend it to all readers who are serious in our plea that God will revive us again.