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Pentecostal outpourings: revival and the Reformed tradition

By Robert Davis Smart
September 2016 | Review by Gwyn Davies
  • Publisher: Reformation Heritage
  • ISBN: 978-1-60178-433-9
  • Pages: 260
  • Price: 20.00
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Book Review

There are Christians today who have little place for revival. Some focus on the most useful methods for reaching unbelievers with the gospel. Others concentrate on taking Christianity into the public square by promoting social justice or confronting aggressive secularisation.

Then there are those who confuse revival (a spontaneous and surprising work of God) with revivalism (man-centred evangelistic activity, using all means possible to produce results). It is revivalism that is, in part, responsible for the various forms of entertainment now countenanced in churches and conferences alike. Who needs revival when the ‘worship’ on offer is so ‘amazing’?

There are others who, in rightly calling for reformation of the church, are wary of revival. To them revival conjures up images of wild enthusiasm and disorder. Or perhaps they know well-meaning Christians who seem to live in a revival dream world (‘If only we had revival, our problems would be solved overnight’) and rightly reject such naivety.

This book is for all such people, as well as those with a more biblical understanding of revival. It aims to demonstrate the reality and importance of true revival and to draw lessons for today’s church. It succeeds admirably.

The editors have assembled an impressive array of contributors. Each devotes a chapter to the significance of revival within a specific context: Welsh Calvinistic Methodism (Eifion Evans); Irish Dissent (Ian Hugh Clary); eighteenth-century English Baptists (Michael Haykin); Scottish Presbyterianism (Iain Campbell); Jonathan Edwards and his influence on American Presbyterians (Robert Davis Smart); American Congregationalists (Peter Beck) and Baptists (Tom Nettles) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and the Dutch Reformed Church in eighteenth-century America (Joel Beeke).

The chapters are well written and convey valuable information and pertinent lessons. Robert Davis Smart contributes a helpful introduction and a concluding word that draws the threads together and issues a stirring call to seek God for true revival today.

Within the overall presentation, some themes are of particular interest. As might be expected, Jonathan Edwards receives considerable attention, but the contribution of lesser-known figures to our understanding of revival is also highlighted. The ‘Lewis revival’ of 1949–52 is assessed judiciously. A number of contributors display a healthy awareness of problems linked to revival, while others trace the sad decline from glorious revival into revivalism, mass evangelism or theological liberalism.

Nevertheless, it is thrilling to read time and again of God’s power accompanying the preaching of the Word of God and the consequent effects on both the church and the unbelieving world.

There are a few matters over which to quibble. An index would have been useful. Some chapters may contain a little too much information about unfamiliar people and places for the casual reader. There are a number of references to Jonathan Edwards’ ‘revival instinct’, when it would perhaps be better to speak of his convictions concerning the nature and significance of revival.

There is also the possibly misleading title. Although it is emphasised that the words were chosen deliberately to restore the use of scriptural language to the Reformed understanding of revival, my initial reaction was to assume — wrongly — that this was a book on, for example, the ‘Toronto blessing’ or recent, so-called ‘Welsh outpouring’ at Cwmbran.

But these are minor concerns. The book’s emphasis on the reality of revival in different places at different times is a valuable encouragement for us to pray for ‘Pentecostal outpourings’ in our day. As quoted in the introduction, ‘Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?’ (Psalm 85:6).

Gwyn Davies


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