Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition by Michael A. G. Haykin, Robert Davis Smart and Ian Hugh Clary. 280 pages. Reformation Heritage Books. 2016.
This book details exciting historical accounts of revivals. All you have to do is to look at today’s headlines to see that our nation desperately needs revival. But what is biblical revival? Is it a planned, man-centered event, such as “Revival – Saturday Night”? No, as one of the editors and contributors of this volume, Robert Smart writes, the intent of the book is to “Promote the knowledge of God, the gospel of Christ, and the great outpourings of the Spirit through a variety of Reformed authors reflecting and applying historical and biblical lessons for today’s Christian leader.”
The authors, who include Steven Lawson (Foreword), Joel Beeke, Michael Haykin, Iain Campbell, Tom Nettles and others, put forth the view that revival is “a sovereign gift from God in which, for a special season, His normal and true work of advancing His kingdom is sped up or quickened so that more is accomplished through His servants in a shorter period of time.” The authors take special care to demonstrate that revivals are mixed with counterfeit Christianity and require wise leadership.
Each chapter in this well-written book features a different Reformed tradition, historical context, and regional culture where revival occurred, yet each fits within an overall Reformed and biblical interpretation of revival. Part one of the book looks at revival in the British Isles, while part two looks at revival in America. I enjoyed reading about the men associated with these revivals. Jonathan Edwards, who even in his own time was known as the “theologian of revival” for both the First and Second Great Awakenings; George Whitfield and Asahel Nettleton, are also well-known, but most such as Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen are not so familiar. Frelinghuysen has been described both as a forerunner and a catalyst of the Great Awakening. Fortunately, this book tells the stories of some of these more obscure leaders for modern readers.
Smart concludes the book by stating that the authors of the book call for Reformed leaders to “grab the baton of leadership and finish the race with continuity and zeal, and a greater understanding of previous revivals will encourage them to do this.” He asks all to join in asking God for both reformation and revival.
I was surprised to read that by the end of the eighteenth century, only 10 percent of the population of the growing American nation was in fellowship with a local congregation. Might that be where our nation is heading? As one of the authors of this book states, our only spiritual hope for true revival is to turn to the God of revival.
Interview with Dr. Robert Davis Smart on the new book Pentecostal Outpourings
Pastor Bob Smart has been my pastor for more than twenty-one years. Throughout that time he has had a heart for, and prayed fervently for biblical revival. That’s one of the reasons I was pleased to see this new book on revival which details exciting historical accounts. I recently had an opportunity to talk to Dr. Smart about this new book.
Coram Deo: Who is your primary audience for this book?
This book, Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition, is intended for the Reformed leader, especially for the younger Christian leader, who may benefit from the biblical basis for future outpourings and reflect on past outpourings in their Reformed tradition and geographical, denominational settings.
Coram Deo: What is the purpose of the book?
The purpose is to revive the latent Reformed hope in the promise of the Spirit; namely, that Christ merited and continues to pour out His Spirit in larger measures as He wills and when He wills in every generation.
Coram Deo: How were the contributors and their specific topics chosen?
Contributors were invited based upon shared belief, biblical-historical-theological competence, experience in ministry, and scholarly writings.
Coram Deo: What is biblical revival? How does it differ from revivalism? How does it differ from reformation?
Spiritual revival, or renewal, is a work of God in which the Church is made radiant and empowered because the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit are intensified. It is a remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit from Christ for the salvation of the unsaved and the sanctification of the saved.
“Revivalism” is the conditional view of revival, which teaches that if people do right God will act (Charles G. Finney). This view is man-centered because it asserts that revival is worked up by something we do to meet conditions. Unfortunately, this view has been popular in the West, causing remarkable damage to the Church at large.
True revival is not a display of miracles, revelations, and fanatical phenomena, nor is it another rigorous effort at mass evangelism. It is not, as the popular secular view assumes, a mere increase of emotional intensity in Christian gatherings. True revival will always be marked by the doctrines of grace taught in the Reformation. Thus true revival is reformation in Word and deed like in the 1500s.
Coram Deo: What are some of the objections that are raised against the concept of revival?
Revival has often been associated with a humanly engineered series of meetings to convert the unsaved and with a fanatical experience that has little to do with the gospel and biblical theology. Therefore, the Reformed have tended to shy away from our great need for revival and reformation through the outpourings of the Spirit. Pentecostalism, making the Reformed less interested in the promise of the Spirit, has misused the biblical language of revival.
Coram Deo: Should God’s people pray for revival?
Luke 11:1-13 and Acts 1-4 teaches that the promise is to be asked for. This highlights the sovereignty of God and the grace He gives. Promises are to be prayed for without reliance on money or methods.
Coram Deo: We read in the book that some of the most memorable revivals in Scottish church history took place in connection with communion seasons. Can you describe a communion season?
The Scottish Presbyterians pastors and elders gathered outside for a communion season, which required each person coming to the Lord’s Table to show a token (a coin) that showed two elders had interviewed the individual. The Scots called these Holy Fairs, which were preceded by preaching for a week. In the Great Awakening, for example, George Whitefield was one of the preachers and two revivals occurred in Cambuslang and Kilsyth. People camped outside for a week.
Scottish Presbyterian Rev. James McGready organized holy fairs in Kentucky (1801), which became known as camp meeting revivals. Unfortunately, there was a diversion from the Reformed faith among some of the leaders. These separated from the Presbyterians, and they began the Restoration Movement in the USA (Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, etc.)
Coram Deo: Some readers will not be familiar with the concept of a concert of prayer. Could you tell us what it is and when it was originated?
When Jonathan Edwards published A Humble Attempt to Unite God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for Revival, according to Scriptural Promises and Prophecies, the Scottish Presbyterians published A Memorial, which called for monthly concerts for prayer. Many believe this was the prelude to the Second Great Awakening.
In recent times, David Bryant revived this practice in America among parachurches on college campuses and among city-regional leaders. It is practiced in local churches still.
Coram Deo: You write that the greatest use and misuse of Edwards’ revival apologetic happened between 1824 and 1835 during revivals under the leadership of Finney. Could you tell us about that?
This is another good question, which is addressed on many pages in our book. Presbyterian and Congregational leaders, like Finney, were practicing new measures of revivals that Edwards would discountenance, then they would justify their revivalism with Edwards’s apologetic. This resulted in the burned over district in upstate New York, and eventually favored mass evangelism in the place of genuine revival.
Coram Deo: What would you want your readers to take from the book?
Three things: First, to grow in hope that such true revivals did and will promote reformation of doctrine and practice when Reformed leaders learn and lead as those in this book demonstrate. Second, that increased prayer would come before our sovereign Lord that He may be exalted in these extraordinary outpourings, which highlight the Gospel and advance missions. Third, that the Reformed network of churches and leaders would unite in seeking and leading together for the Gospel as they have for over 500 years.
Coram Deo: Thanks so much for your time.
15 Great Quotes from Pentecostal Outpourings, Edited by Robert Smart and Others
- For Harris, moreover, the words revival, awakening, and reformation were interchangeable. They were all intended to convey God’s visitation of a community with unusual power attending gospel preaching and resulting in conversions over a wide area, giving sustained reforming effects on a personal and social level.
- Reformation is the work of God in restoring the purity and power of His truth to religion that bears His name but has vitiated and corrupted that truth in its teaching and practice.
- Revival is a fresh manifestation of the vigor and effectiveness of God’s word after a period of spiritual decline, lethargy, and indifference. It is initiated by the sovereign, extraordinary, saving activity of the Holy Spirit and is characterized by an intense sense of God’s presence. It takes place against the backdrop of declension among God’s people and a militant ascendancy in the world’s godlessness. In this respect reformation follows revival. Furthermore, revival may be personal or congregational, local or general, confined or widespread. It shows great variety in its manifestations, extent, and duration.
- What grounds are there for believing that God’s people should pray for revival? Quite simply, Scripture provides warrant for it by its teaching and incentive to it by its promises.
- Although the physical manifestations accompanied a minority of the conversion experiences, they were a large focus of controversy and were defended by the leaders of the revival and critiqued by its opponents.
- It is surely no coincidence that preceding and accompanying this growth were the concerts of prayer that many churches had established in response to the Prayer Call of 1784.
- Times of extraordinary blessing tend to lead to extraordinary confusion. The good seed of gospel blessing has always been intermingled with the weeds of confusion, doubt, and suspicion.
- There can, therefore, be no substitute for the careful, precise, exegetical, and theological preaching of God’s Word. Revival must never be viewed as an alternative to the regular means of grace.
- But perhaps the root cause of the decay of evangelicalism in America was the replacement of the old comprehensive concept of revival with the post-Finneyan machinery of revivalism.
- Asahel Nettleton represents all that was good in the Second Great Awakening and all that may be had again if today’s preachers would but remain true to Nettleton’s ideals.
- Our only spiritual hope for true revival is to turn to the God of revival.
- At the heart of revival is love—the love of God, love for Christ, and love for lost sinners.
- Reformed churches that do not seek help from and welcome the special presence of the Holy Spirit may assume wrongly that all that really matters is an intellectual understanding of doctrine.
- Revivals demonstrate clearly the absolute sovereignty of God.
- God alone chooses where and when He will pour out His Spirit and upon whom He will pour out His Spirit.