Keller and Lloyd-Jones on revival

At the recent Urban Plant Life conference in London, Tim Keller spoke on revival in churches (Jonny Raine has put his notes from the day on his blog). There’s been many local revivals in churches or clusters of churches in various parts of the world over the years. But what would a large scale revival look like, how would it happen and what is preventing it from happening?

I’m reading Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, a collection of addresses by Martin Lloyd-Jones to the Puritan and Conferences of 1959 to 1978 (it’s great what you can find in your local library!). In it he cites various trends in Reformed theology and tradition which militate against revival:

Why is it that men belonging to the Reformed tradition, of all traditions, have apparently lost interest in this question of revival? I have already given you one reason, which is the danger of becoming theoretical and intellectual in one’s approach. A minister of the Gospel is a man who is always fighting on two fronts. He first of all has to urge people to become interested in doctrine and theology, but he will not have been long at that before he will find that he has to open up a second front, and to tell people that it is not enough to be interested only in doctrine and theology, that there is a danger of becoming a mere orthodox intellectualist and of growing negligent about your own spiritual life and the life of the church. This is the besetting danger of people who hold the Reformed position. They are the only people who are really interested in theology, so the devil comes to them and drives them too far along the line of that interest and they tend to become pure theologians and interested in truth only intellectually.

Secondly, I am sure that this phenomenon was due to the fact that so much energy in the last century had to be given to the fight against Modernism. The enemy was attacking along that particular line and all the energy of the orthodox was bent to quell him and to hold him back and to defeat him. Yes, but unconsciously they allowed this conflict to control their entire thinking, and apologetics became the chief thing with them instead of a positive message…

The third reason, I would say, is a natural dislike of too much emotion. The theological thinker tends to be distrustful of emotion. After all, he argues, other people can and do display emotion; but we are different. In a most subtle manner such a man develops a dislike of emotion that becomes unhealthy and wrong; he loses his balance, and becomes guilty of quenching the Spirit.

Fifty years on, these battles still exist:
1. The danger of a cerebral, forensic theology which forgets Christ and so pours cold water on any fire in the heart for him.
2. The decade long battle in the Anglican Communion over a heterodox sexuality which has exhausted the church, and arguably made evangelicals neonomian in the process.
3. The dislike of showing emotion, which is a particularly English issue.

The second and third points would not need to be made if the true centre of our world was Christ on the cross, resurrected, ascended, majestic and interceding for those that he has made his righteousness.

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7 Responses to Keller and Lloyd-Jones on revival

  1. James Oakley says:

    The revival movement (18thC-present) has also had some unfortunate side-effects in the church, which make it tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    For example: I still meet, most months, the expectation that every Christian will be able to give an account of their conversion in a way that fits the revival template. That’s slightly overstated, but many Christians who have been disciples of Christ since their conception feel pressure to explain their testimony along the lines of “I was once not a Christian, then at age X I had a crisis moment when I realised that it was true / I was sinful / Christ died for me so I became a Christian that night after hearing [usually well-known evangelist]”.

    Few are brave enough to say: “My parents are Christians, so – by God’s grace and according to his promises – I have been one since birth too. I look back on my baptism with gratitude as my new beginning. Since then it’s been up and down – but isn’t it for all of us. Clearly, as a young child my faith was what you’d expect of a child, but my understanding has grown over the years to the point where I now know the God I’ve always trusted, in much the same way that I now know the parents I’ve always trusted. I thank God for his grace to me, operating even before I knew it.”

    So: If that’s a bad consequence of revivalism, we mustn’t overreact by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Clearly we should long for God to save large numbers of people in their adult years who were previously outside his covenant – and this is more so now than ever before.

  2. James Oakley says:

    Actually, Neil, re-reading my comment, I’ve just realised what I said. Proves authorial intent doesn’t cover the full range of possible meaning in a text:

    Did I really just say that we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater? What, out of the church? You mean we’ve thrown the bathwater out of the church, so we’re in danger of throwing the babies out of the church as well? Oops!

  3. neilrobbie says:

    I’m constantly suffering from the divergence of authorial intent and what I actually say!

    Keller’s three categories in his first lecture concur, I believe, with the issue you raise. During a revival, sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians grasp the gospel (those who are in the covenant community but have never grasped the object of faith to which their baptism points, who is Christ) and the unconverted are converted (drawn into the covenant).

    I’m with you on the testimony. We teach people at St Luke’s to give a testimony in both ways you outline. Either “Before and after conversion” or “Jesus means this to me today in a way he didn’t when I was younger, though I have always believed in him truly”.

  4. Marc Lloyd says:

    I wonder if being very caught up with the hope of revival might not be a distraction from the ordinary work of godliness, discipleship and evangelism? Maybe the fear of that distraction puts some of the Reformed off going on about revival?

    • neilrobbie says:

      Hi Marc, welcome to transforming grace, it’s great to hear from you, I hope you are well. Some Christians certainly make the hope of revival an idol; taking the focus of their worship off Christ and so making themselves slaves to a different god. I don’t think Lloyd-Jones is saying that we ought to speak of revival in this way. He later makes the point that Christians can so easily strive with prayerful energy and activity for a future reality of widespread conversion which will never come about because they are worshipping the goal of revival itself.

      Yet, in much the same way, the ordinary work of godliness, discipleship and evangelism can become an idol, can’t it? We can strive with prayerful energy and activity toward an image of self as the godly man, faithful disciple and evangelist. I don’t know if that is what you meant, but it’s worth saying that revival might be slow in coming, not because of the fear of the distraction of revival, but because we are already distracted by an idol of self.

      Revival comes historically , it seems, with the recovery of the gospel, when Christ crucified is all in all to many, and Christians dispense with self-glorifying work-righteousness. This is the point Keller made at the conference. Revival is something which can be described rather than aimed for.

  5. sammydaviesjr says:

    I’m sure Tom Clewer would be most unhappy that you’ve mistaken him for Jonny Raine, the man who’s notes you refer to at the start of your post! Easy mistake to make…

  6. neilrobbie says:

    Hi SammyD, if I may, many thanks, mistake corrected! Note to self: not all blogs are single author, so always scroll down the “about” page.

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