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Friday, May 6, 2016

"Pentecostal Outpourings" (various authors)

TITLE: Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition
EDITORS: Robert Davis Smart, Michael A. G. Haykin, and Ian Hugh Clary
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016, (280 pages).

The timing of release for this book couldn't have been more apt. For the Sunday (May 15th, 2016) is Pentecostal Sunday! Most resources and materials are produced by Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, and given the title of this book, it may appear that this too is another book published by the same. No. It is in fact about revival from a Reformed Perspective. In the tradition of the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the authors are convicted that the Holy Spirit is the reason for revival. This work of grace from heaven is much needed for this age and every age. Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, people will not only know and experience God at a deeper level, they would also be spurred on to good works. The three emphases in this book is about increasing the knowledge of God, spreading the gospel of Christ, and experiencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is also an apt preparation for Trinity Sunday following Pentecost Sunday.

What makes this book even more interesting is the multiple flavours of Reformed views that bring out the beauty, the unique perspectives, and the many different ways the Holy Spirit works. In the British Isles, Eifion Evans looks at "Welsh Calvinistic Methodism and Revival" where preaching and teaching are Spirit-inspired rather than preaching revived; that reformation is about God bringing about purity and power of His Truth to Christianity. This comes about through Spirit-inspired teaching. Ian Hugh Clary describes the Irish Revival, in particular two Ulster revivals and the Irish Dissent. The 1625 Six Mile Water Revival occurred along the river that runs through the towns of Ballynure, Ballycare, Templepatrick, and Antrim. Lesser known preachers were used mightily by God to spread the gospel. The Methodists and Baptists in 18th Century Ireland also had their revivals. The second Ulster revival in 1859 came about after the Great Famine. Like many forms of revival, it has prayer meetings as foundational to waiting on God. The revivals were unplanned and came about after long periods of prayer and waiting. Michael A. G. Haykin describes the revival in the early 1640s on the Calvinistic Baptists which grew from 7 congregations in 1644 to around 300 by 1689! He describes the rise and influence of Andrew Fuller, John Sutcliff, and A Coda whose heavy dependence on prayer and preaching in the power of the Spirit led to a revival in Baptist circles. Iain D. Campbell looks at the Presbyterian revival in Scotland and points out three different perspectives of Scottish revivalism: Historiographical; Social; and Denominational; before concluding with four lessons about the sovereignty of God; the supernatural work of God; our role as servants; and recognizing that revivals are not the only means God can bring about the renewal of the Church. It is the beauty of the gospel in itself that should be the purpose of our endeavours.

Midway through the book, the attention shifts to the revivals happening in America. Robert Davis Smart looks at the influence of Jonathan Edwards in the 18th Century. He traces the rise of revivalism in the Presbyterian Church, colleges, and the subsequent decline due to mistakes by various leaders along the way. One example is the way the revival preacher, Charles Finney misused the subject of revival by making it the all-encompassing aim of growing the Church. From the words of Calvin Cotton, a Presbyterian and Episcopal minister, such use had made revivalism as the "grand absorbing theme." The famous warning by Francis Schaeffer is apt.

"The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of Communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than the power of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them."

Peter Beck examines the revival movements in the Congregationalists in the 18th-19th Century, beginning with Jonathan Edwards and continuing with Asahel Nettleton, whose preaching ministry differed from Finney in terms of more lasting fruits of the revival movement. This is attributed not so much to the power of preaching but the practice of prayer. On the Baptist movement, Tom Nettles shows us that all the kinds of human engineering, the massive work, the techniques and methodologies put in, are nothing without the power of the Holy Spirit. Joel Beeke looks at the Revival in the Dutch Reformed Church and the powerful lessons drawn in terms of the need for doctrine, for courage, for preaching, and for peacemaking.

So What?
Pentecost Sunday is approaching (May 15th, 2016). The timing of the release of this book is most apt. As I ponder upon the lessons in the book, I want to offer three thoughts.

First, while revival is necessary, we must be careful not to make "revivalism" our idol. The people who care for the Church are often the very people who are always watchful and hopeful for the revival that is to come. It is a good thing to look forward to. Having said that, while it is necessary, we must beware of making the revival the catch-all purpose of our ministry. We are to love God, love people, and to serve all. Any revival will mean the increase in all of these three things. So, we need to be able to put revival in its proper place, that it is not about increase in numbers of people into the Church but a renewal of the spiritual minds and hearts of the people. Otherwise, we are susceptible to turning the good things of God into bad purposes of man.

Second, we need the Holy Spirit to start any movement for revival. Having said that, it is not about our efforts but about our sensitivity to the movement of God within our efforts. We are capable of many things, techniques, and tactical knowhow. Yet, timing is often the key to unleashing the power of revival movement. God's timing is always the best. In prayer, we learn not to put the spiritual cart before the horse. We learn to catch the wave. We learn to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Any revival is the work of the Holy Spirit. Humans can only do so much. Only God can do what man cannot do.

Third, be prepared. The worst thing for any Church is to keep praying and asking for revival when they themselves are not prepared. While it is important to pray, it is also critical to keep in step with what God is doing in our communities. Is there a good work that we can do? Is there someone we can help now? Is there a charity initiative that we can bring forward to bless the people within our spheres of influence? Faith is not waiting for things to happen. Faith is believing that God will work His wonder as we care about the little daily things that matter to God. This means we continue our ministries of prayer, of preaching, of teaching, of discipleship, of caregiving, and all manner of holistic ministry in Jesus. Do not wait for things to happen. Revival happens when we are in the midst of doing something, of being faithful to our calling in the first place.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Reformation Heritage Books and Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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