That word brings to mind different images. There’s the images of the famed Billy Graham crusades of years gone by. There’s the images of the big tent revivals in the lawns of churches where someone plays a tambourine asking for money while someone else plays an electric organ during a preacher’s sermon.
Revival’s been around longer than that. If you consult your old history text books, you might read of the First Awakening and later on the Second Awakening. The First Awakening happened in New England back in the 1700’s with the likes of the famed pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards. The Second Awakening happened years later with Charles Finney and DL Moody. Revivals happened throughout the world from England (where Charles and John Wesley committed themselves to Jesus and started the Wesleyan tradition) and Wales to India, China, Africa, and India. Some petered out over time, others had great impact on the culture around it felt to this day.
The thing about revival is that it is a call to people to remember their religious past (as in the church they grew up in or a recommitting to their faith now) and then repent of their sins for fear of going to Hell.
Jonathan Edwards had the classic sermon on this called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God wherein he likened God’s wrath like holding a spider and its web over a fire. Scary stuff. Many people came to believe in Jesus out of fear of going to Hell for eternity. This happened in the States, in the UK, in parts of eastern Africa, India, China, and Korea. People confessed their sins, made amends with people they had wronged, and did it all with fear of going to Hell.
And that’s how revivals have worked over the generations. Now, don’t get me wrong, I greatly respect Billy Graham. An amazing man of God who has done amazing things for God. Yet, his message of being saved from the fires of Hell to live in Heaven forever I don’t think works today.
In this day and age, your threatening someone with Hell, a place they don’t believe in to begin with, and give them promise of Heaven, a place they already think they’re going to or doesn’t exist at all. These threats and promises are met with indifference.
When the message of Hell is preached to prevent someone where they might be going, the response is “I don’t agree with you judging me.” When the promise of Heaven is given, the response usually is “That’s your truth, I have mine. We’re all going to the same place anyway.” Truth is subject to interpretation. Sin isn’t thought of as real. And Hell fire and damnation is something of the past to scare people into a future they don’t think they’re going to anyway.
One of the things about the revivals of the past (and some attempts at the present) is when someone does come to a faith in Jesus, they are left to their own with their manual (the Bible…usually) and a Christian to English Dictionary (okay, that one’s made up, but sometimes you just need one).
Revivals can play off of emotionalism and mob mentality. I remember around the time I graduated seminary, I was in talks with a church, who, the day I visited, had a guest preacher. This dude reminded me of a slick snake oil salesman. His sermon used a passage as a nail to which to hang his sermon. He was manipulative and a bit mean in his demeanor towards the people. Then this guest preacher had an altar call to commit or recommit one’s life to Jesus. For a while it was quiet. Then one person came down (I do think this was genuine) and then the pastor came down, then the whole congregation came down. I left.
Jonathan Edwards talks about this in his book The Religious Affections. There is a bit of emotionalism wrapped up in some of these things. It is an unauthentic emotional plea using manipulative logical fallacies to convince someone to change their life style and way they view the world. Some are genuine, others are caught up in the emotional mob mentality. Many are left to be babes in the woods, eventually giving up what they once answered to.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think a true movement of God through His Holy Spirit can happen wherein people turn their hearts to him and seek Jesus. But it shouldn’t be through manipulation. It needs to be through authentic relationships, an authentic faith and spirituality, and an authentic walk with Jesus.
Threats of an eternal damnation won’t work. You can’t scare someone out of Hell and into Jesus’ arms. Promises of Heaven won’t work because in this pluralistic world, people have their own truths. Yet when we introduce them to the real Truth, Jesus, and help them discover Him and come to understand the Truth, the Way, and the Life, walking with them in an authentic community and relationship, then something great can happen.
Live. Love. Walk humbly with God in Jesus, and amazing things can happen.