Articles

No Revival, No America

04/16/20

Stan Guthrie

The rise of the “nones” and the stagnation of evangelism are well-known and disturbing religious trends for many Christians. But a bitter and polarized America’s social decline has become so pronounced that even a prominent agnostic political scientist is calling for religious revival. And that was before the pandemic.

“The Founders,” Charles Murray, author of the new book Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race and Class, told National Review, “were absolutely, emphatically agreed that you cannot have a free society with a constitution such as the one they had created unless you are trying to govern a religious people. If you do not have religion as the controlling force, then the kinds of laws we have could not possibly work.”

Indeed. As John Adams told the Massachusetts Militia in 1798, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The First Great Awakening, which began in the 1720s partly as a reaction to Enlightenment rationalism, unified the colonies with a shared religious experience of personal repentance and devotion to God and, some historians believe, laid the foundation for the American Revolution. It also led to the founding of Princeton, Rutgers, Brown, and Dartmouth universities. Jonathan Edwards, the Awakening’s great theologian and evangelist, was president of Yale.

Of course, the motive for revival—at least ultimately—cannot be to shore up the collapsing American experiment. Biblical faith has survived, and even thrived, under all kinds of governments, from Babylonian dictatorship to the Roman Empire to American democracy. And revival has broken out in many different contexts, from colonial America, to early-20th century Wales and Korea, to China (where Protestant numbers grew from 1 million in 1949 to perhaps 90 million over the next 50 years), and to East Africa.


[A]s the evangelical movement has employed the tools and techniques of the modern world—perhaps helpful in their own way—to do the church’s ancient work, she has forgotten the signs that accompany the Spirit’s working in revival


Such events are marked by a renewal of faith and religious passion among professing Christians and large ingatherings of heretofore-unbelieving people into God’s kingdom. Author Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth summarizes revival as “God mov[ing] in an extraordinary way to purify His church and revitalize it.” Revival goes beyond our good works and orthodox theology. It involves the sovereign Spirit of God working in human hearts and changing societies.

The East Africa revival, for instance, began in 1929 when a despondent missionary to Rwanda, Joe Church, stood outside a cathedral in Uganda, where he met a man named Simeoni Nsibambi. “There is something missing in me and the Uganda church,” Nsibambi admitted to the missionary. “Can you tell what it is?” After two days of shared Bible study and prayer, both men went to their respective homes, transformed.

Church returned to Rwanda, Christianity Today says, “a new man.” He wrote, “There can be nothing to stop a real outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Rwanda now except our own lack of sanctification.” Conversions started occurring. It was the beginning of a vast revival in Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya, which reverberates to this day. According to the Operation World missions guide, the continent’s share of Christians grew from 7.5 million—9.1 percent of Africa’s population—in 1900 to 504 million and nearly 50 percent in 2010. Thanks to revival, such numbers dwarf the Christian presence in the United States.

The Welsh revival was similar. “Just after eleven o’clock on a Wednesday evening in 1904, a solo voice rang out with the hymn ‘Here is love vast as the ocean,’” reports the BBC. “Meetings like it were taking place across Wales night after night, with fervent prayer and passionate singing—and similar disregard for the clock. …[I]n little over a year a hundred thousand people had made a new commitment to Jesus Christ.”


While much of the culture looks at Christians with contempt, thoughtful people such as Charles Murray know better. America must be revived, or it must be lost.


So why, in a nation that produced Billy Graham, has revival languished in America? Certainly the church’s fraught encounter with science and the theory of evolution since Darwin has made Christianity seem untenable in the minds of many who revere scientists as the ultimate authorities. Also, the retreat of fundamentalists and their successors into political and social subcultures has further marginalized the faith.

And as the evangelical movement has employed the tools and techniques of the modern world—perhaps helpful in their own way—to do the church’s ancient work, she has forgotten the signs that accompany the Spirit’s working in revival: repentance over sin, a thirst for holiness, prayer, and a sense of grateful wonder while standing in God’s holy and gracious presence. “We cannot organize revival,” G. Campbell Morgan noted, “but we can set our sails to catch the wind from Heaven when God chooses to blow upon His people once again.”

But Timothy Keller, in an online discussion presented by The Gospel Coalition, says our generation has become so concerned with how to reach secular people that we have forgotten to let God reach us. “In the last 20 or 30 years, we’ve put all our energy into that,” the New York pastor and author said. “Honestly, the best way to reach people is to show them something gorgeous.”

As well, Collin Hansen, editorial director of The Gospel Coalition and co-author of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir, says that while attempts to purify our doctrine are necessary, they are not sufficient, especially with a compromised church.

“Revival would look like widespread repentance,” Hansen said in an interview for this article. “Our society conditions us to look for someone to blame when things go wrong. But in revival we confront our sin before a holy God as we realize that we do not deserve the grace of Jesus Christ. I still see a lot of blame. I don’t yet see as much considering how God may be trying to get our attention and calling us to repentance.”

While much of the culture looks at Christians with contempt, thoughtful people such as Charles Murray know better. America must be revived, or it must be lost.

 

Stan Guthrie’s latest book is Victorious: Corrie ten Boom and The Hiding Place.

Share


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold