Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Revivalism. Part one.

I post the following as part one of two pieces on revivalism. Part two came moments ago by chance and follows below.

Most readers here will be far more familiar with the following subject than those of us here who post this blog. To make sense of us posting on a subject we know little about, a subject proposed by a room full of non-believers at best, shows there is a move in the aether that affects all of us regardless of the approach we take to epistemology and metaphysics. In short, we turn to the history of Christian revivalist movements in the West over the past 200 years.

The point of this post is to bring to our foucessed attention the history of revivalism as a possible model of our future course in relation to our current malaise in confrontation with fascist Islam and Left dhimmi fascism. What has been done can be done again. That works both ways, both as the irrationalist violence of the Boxer rebellioin and anti-Semitic pogroms on 1900 or as a spiritual reivivalism as it was of roughly the same period. We act withing the bounds of our time, as Marx points out so poetically, but too with volition within those bounds. In our conflict with the moral nihilism of Protestantism and Left dhimmi fascsim and the resurgent fascsim of modern Islam we have models to follow, if not exactly. Below is one model of social rejuvbenation that is possible for us. We need not all flock to the chruch tent to listen and swoon at the sermons of John Wesley, if only we should be so lucky, but we can experience a apiritual rejuvenation of similar if different intensity, and such has occured in at least three wave only one hundred years ago. What was, even the good, can happen again.

Revival is a work of God by his Spirit through his Word bringing the spiritually dead to living faith in Christ and renewing the inner life of Christians who have grown slack and sleepy. In revival God makes old things new, giving new power to the gospel and new spiritual awareness to those whose hearts and consciousness have been blind, hard and cold. Revival thus animates or reanimates churches and Christian groups to make a spiritual and moral impact on communities. It comprises an initial reviving, followed by a maintained state of revivedness for as long as the visitation lasts.

There are many great names and events associated with each of these. George Whitefield and John Wesley were associated with the First Great Awakening (1727 on).

Second Great Awakening

The Second Great Awakening (1792 on) in UK resulted in the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society, The Religious Tract Society, The Baptist Missionary Society, The London Missionary Society, The Church Missionary Society and a host of other evangelistic agencies. It also achieved considerable social reform; the abolition of the slave trade, prisons were reformed, Sunday Schools began and a number of benevolent institutions were commenced. The revival affected the whole of Europe and the US.


The third Awakening or maybe "resurgence", from 1830, was largely influential in America and many countries worldwide including India and Ceylon. The Plymouth Brethren started with John Nelson Darby at this time, a result of disillusionment with denominationalism and clerical hierarchy.

Third Great Awakening The next Great Awakening (sometimes called the Third Great Awakening) began from 1857 onwards in Canada and spread throughout the world including America and Australia.


Advanced Information

A movement within the Christian tradition which emphasizes the appeal of religion to the emotional and affectional nature of individuals as well as to their intellectual and rational nature. It believes that vital Christianity begins with a response of the whole being to the gospel's call for repentance and spiritual rebirth by faith in Jesus Christ. This experience results in a personal relationship with God.

Modern revival movements have their historical roots in Puritan pietistic reactions to the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the formalized creedal expression of Reformation faith that characterized much of seventeenth century Protestantism. Lutherans such as Johann Arndt, Philipp Spener, and August Francke resisted this depersonalization of religion. They discovered a more experiential element in Reformation faith which emphasized personal commitment and obedience to Christ and a life regenerated by the indwelling Holy Spirit. They also emphasized witness and missions as a primary responsibility of the individual Christian and the church. Subjective religious experience and the importance of the individual became a new force in renewing and expanding the church. These concerns gradually permeated much of Protestantism, especially the developing churches in America.

The Eighteenth Century Birth

The appeal for a personal, public response to the gospel that came to characterize revivalism sprang up almost simultaneously in both England and America in the eighteenth century. The initial signs of the First Great Awakening in the American colonies occurred in the congregation of the Dutch Reformed pastor Theodore J Frelinghuysen in northern New Jersey in 1725, a decade before John Wesley and George Whitefield began their field preaching in England. Frelinghuysen had come under the influence of pietism before coming to America. In 1726 William Tennent, the Presbyterian leader of the Great Awakening, started his "log college" to prepare ministers who would preach a personalized Calvinism which called men and women to repentance.

By the time George Whitefield began recurrent revivalistic tours of the American colonies in 1738, Jonathan Edwards, the theologian of the colonial awakening, had already experienced revival in his Northampton, massachusetts, Congregational church. Edwards accepted the validity of much of the religious emotion that accompanied the conversions among his parishioners and wrote in defense of the proper role of emotion in true religion. The revival continued to move south until it touched all the colonies. In England the recognized leader of the "Evangelical Revival" was John Wesley, founder of Methodism and close friend of Whitefield. Whitefield had encouraged Wesley to take up the field preaching that brought the gospel directly to the masses of working people.

The success of this appeal to the heart as well as the head could not be doubted. Religious interest was renewed, and people flocked to the churches in significant numbers in both America and England. American historians recognize that the sweep of religious fervor from north to south (prior to the Revolution) was one of the few unifying factors among the otherwise disparate American colonies. In England the revival left an indelible religious and social impact for stability in the midst of the revolutionary unrest which pervaded most of Europe at the time.

The Definitive Stage

The pre Revolutionary revivals demonstrated the general patterns which characterized all subsequent awakenings; however, it was the Second Great Awakening at the beginning of the nineteenth century that defined the theology and method of the tradition. The revival began at Hampden Sidney and Washington colleges in Virginia in 1787. It continued at Yale under Timothy Dwight and at Andover and Princeton at the end of the eighteenth century. It was popularized in the great camp meetings on the frontier. The Cane Ridge, Kentucky, camp meeting in August, 1801, became the most famous of all. The strange emotional phenomena which had shown themselves in the earlier colonial revival reappeared in intensified form. "Falling," "jerking," "rolling," and "dancing" exercises engaged many of the twenty thousand worshipers present. These demonstrations moderated as the revival continued, but physical phenomena have always existed in some measure in popular revival movements.


Charles Grandison Finney The outstanding figure in early nineteenth century revivalism was Charles Grandison Finney. Finney took the revival ethos of the frontier camp meeting to the urban centers of the northeast. His success there and his widespread influence as a professor and later president of Oberlin College gave him a platform for propagating a theology and defense of the revival methods he espoused. In his Revival Lectures Finney contended that God had clearly revealed the laws of revival in Scripture. Whenever the church obeyed those laws, spiritual renewal resulted. In the minds of many Calvinists this emphasis on human ability greatly modified the traditional concept of the sovereign movement of God in reviving the church. However, the importance which Finney attached to the necessity for prayer and the agency of the Holy Spirit in his revival theory and practice helped to mute such concerns.[....]

The Theology of Revivalism


Revivals of religion and the theological presuppositions and practices which have accompanied them through their history have consistently raised a common pattern of criticism. The strongly emotional nature of the revivalist's appeal, the critics charge, leads to spiritual instability or even to irrational behavior. They also claim that the revivalist's emphasis upon crisis experience tends to deprecate the place of growth and process in Christian living. Opponents also charge that the importance revivalism attaches to a warm hearted, spiritual ministry results in a general anti intellectualism throughout the tradition; they claim as well that the strong appeal to individualized religion leads to a subjectivism that obscures or even denies the social and cultural implications of Christianity. The direct praying and preaching, the tendency to popularize and excite interest by use of promotional psychology, and inclination to judgmentalism and separatism are also common accusations brought against revivalists.

The major response of revival proponents has been to point to the positive results they claim for religious revival and revivalism in church and society since the beginning of the movements in the eighteenth century. The dramatic growth of the churches resulting from special periods of religious revival and the day - to - day revival emphasis in revivalistic churches is part of the historical record. Significant moral, social, and cultural changes have accompanied the major awakenings. The ecumenical spirit of revival efforts has often produced a level of cooperation among churches not achieved in any other way. Expanded Christian benevolence and church extension have always accompanied these periods of spiritual renewal. Religious institutions and organizations to promote Christian causes and social concerns, including most of America's Christian colleges, seminaries, Bible institutes, and many mission bodies, are products of revivalism.

M E Dieter
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

A literal expectation of Christian revivalism is unlikey to bring much satisfaction to the average reader; but the expectation of a revival of optimism and individualism and the frontier ethos is probable if we will live at all. Ours is a time of change like any other, and to expect it to be what was is to live with certain disappointment. In our struggle with Islam and Left dhimmi fascism we will either confront ourselves and revive or we will die out.

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