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.