Revival 101 (Part 1): What Is a Revival?

Introductory Thoughts

Revival – we know we need it and, thus, it has become a favorite theme for conferences, prayer requests, books and blogs. Jonathan Edwards wrote a book entitled The Surprising Work of God, which was somewhat of theological eye-witness account of the Great Awakening in his day. In this very important work where he talks about the characteristics or marks of a true revival, Edwards wrote,

“There is no subject which is of greater importance to the Christian church at the present time than that of revival. It should be the theme of our constant meditation, preaching, and prayers. Anything which stimulates us to that is of inestimable value. At the time it is the finest spiritual tonic. At a time when the greatest danger is to rush into well-intentioned but nevertheless oft-times carnal forms of activism, it is good to be reminded forcefully of the essential difference between an organized campaign and the sovereign action of the Holy Spirit in revival.” (The Surprising Work of God, pg. 5)

Edwards wrote that several hundred years ago and he might as well have written it for us today. It is what the church should be praying for, hoping for and longing for. This movement of the Holy Spirit is as critical now as it was when he and George Whitfield were leading the Great Awakening in the mid-1700’s. And many in our churches today are asking for it.

But there is a dilemma: with all the attention on revival these days, why don’t we see it? Why isn’t it happening? Where is this revival we long for? Do we plan for it? Should we organize it? Why can’t we see another great awakening?

What is a Revival?

Reformations and revivals are not the same thing. A reformation is when biblical truths are recovered that leads to one’s theology being refined. It is when errors are corrected and doctrine is clarified. An example would be the reformation under King Josiah as he recovered a reverence for the Word of God and a hatred of idolatry (II Kings 2). Another example from church history would be THE Reformation under Martin Luther where truths like justification by faith or sola Scriptura were recovered. Those were reformations.

A revival is personalizing the actions of that reformation. It happens when a person or group of persons isolate themselves from the apathy around them and commit themselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to live differently in light of that recovered doctrine. What effect does it a revival have on the church? Martyn Lloyd Jones in book Revival explains,

“They immediately become aware of his presence and of his power in a manner that they have never known before. … The people present begin to have an awareness of spiritual things and clear views of them such as they have never had before. … Spiritual things become realities. … What they testify is this: ‘You know, the whole thing suddenly becomes clear to me. I was suddenly illuminated, things that I was so familiar with stood out in letters of gold, as it were. I understood. I saw it all in a way that I had never done in the whole of my life.’” (Revival, pg. 101)

Revival makes old ways or old truths seem fresh. A revival is a period of unusual blessing and activity in the life of the Christian Church. J.I. Packer says,

“Revival is the visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have been sleeping and restores a deep sense of God’s near presence and holiness. Thence springs a vivid sense of sin and a profound exercise of heart in repentance, praise, and love, with an evangelistic outflow.”

It can better be described as one considers it characteristics, and we will consider the characteristics of a revival in tomorrow’s blog post.



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