I’ve been thinking on my “thinking day.” Thinking about…


For evangelicals it’s a powerful and evocative word. It can almost cast a spell upon us. It conjures images of great days gone by and elicits the hope that perhaps it could happen again. You know, the second coming of Charles Finney and the ghost of D.L. Moody. If the word revival is spoken in the right way and in the right setting it can cause Christians to get a faraway look in their eyes and a pang in their soul. Especially if we happen to be living in a time when it is generally assumed the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

(A hand basket? Why a hand basket? Well, that’s what they say.)

I’ve been fascinated with revival ever since my conversion in 1974. It was during the height of the Jesus Movement and since I already had strong counterculture sympathies I promptly became the school Jesus freak. Overnight I went from Led Zeppelin to Larry Norman, started carrying a bible to school and traded my Erich von Daniken books for the writings of Watchman Nee. Pretty soon I was conducting bible studies almost every night of the week and helping lead a Christian coffeehouse. Then through the personal influence of Keith Green and Leonard Ravenhill I became student of historical revival and a seeker of contemporary revival for my own generation.

Actually the Jesus Movement was a revival — a new kind of revival. It was not a geographically centered revival but a demographic revival located among the youth counterculture, though few evangelicals were able to recognize it as a revival at the time.

Evangelicalism is all about revival. Evangelicalism as a movement was born and bred in the historic revivals in England and especially in America. Among evangelicals revival lore has taken on mythical status — the Orthodox church has the Lives of the Saints and the evangelical church has the hagiographies of the revivalists. They’re our saints.

With evangelicals it’s revival or bust. This is why Evangelicalism is inseparable from revival. Revival has given us our essence our definition and our identity. And to a surprising degree revival has largely shaped evangelical theology — from salvation to the Second Coming. An evangelical Christian is a revivalist Christian.

But revival has always been a little bit tricky. The problem lies in definition. Surprisingly the word revival itself does not occur in the Bible. And because of its omission from scripture we lack an authoritative standard for definition. Revival has a sort of plastic quality so that it can be molded and shaped to mean a lot of different things. The American motif for revival has come to have four distinguishing characteristics and when we speak of revival these characteristics are implicit.

Event Oriented
Revival is an event. To be more precise it’s a meeting or a series of meetings. As such it can be promoted and advertised. And even though the hope is that the revival will in some way impact the wider culture, it is centered in the context of Christian meetings.

Strongly Emotional
Going all the way back the days of Whitefield, Wesley and Edwards, evangelical revival has always had a strong emotional component (though Whitefield, Wesley and Edwards generally sought to downplay excessive emotion in their meetings). With the Azusa Street revival of the early 20th century and the birth of the Pentecostal movement, emotion became more pronounced in revival.

Limited Duration
The nature of these revivals is such that you can’t live with them. Charles Finney himself made a point of emphasizing this. Their intensity and demand upon time is such that they can’t last forever. I mean, who wants to go to revival meetings every night for the rest of their life?

Political Overtones
More recently strong political overtones have come to be associated with evangelical revivals in America. A negative assessment of the present political scene is often an incentive to pray for revival and it is generally assumed that a revival will in some way effect voting trends and legislative processes. Politics has come to be a means to gauge the need for revival — or in the current vernacular, “a wake up call.” The wrong political party won the election! We need revival!

So we look for a series of emotional meetings in churches across America that will have political ramifications.

But I wonder.

To be honest, I don’t think that’s going to happen. More importantly, I don’t think that’s what needs to happen.

Things have changed.

(No, seriously, things have really changed!)

Modern vs. Postmodern

(Bear with me. You need a basic understanding of these words and their implications.)

In 1641 the French philosopher Rene Descartes made his famous philosophical statement, “I think, therefore I am.” This is an arbitrary date for the beginning of the Enlightenment and the birth of the modern world. Faith was out, science was in. Revelation was out, reason was in. Respect for the wisdom of the ancients gave way to the philosophy that newer is better. The Enlightenment with its faith in empiricism, science and technology created the modern world with its giddy hope for the future. A hope for the future founded on the premise that through science and technology, ignorance and poverty could be eradicated and with this the elimination of injustice and the recovery of the lost garden of Eden. Mankind had shaken off the dogmas of the medieval age and would now pull himself up by his modern bootstraps. This hope reached its zenith in the unbridled optimism of the beginning of the 20th century. But this hope perished in the ovens of Auschwitz and in a mushroom cloud of Hiroshima. The modern world of the Enlightenment had not built a utopia, it had instead driven the world over the brink of madness. The most educated nation in the world had not eliminated injustice; it had created an efficient system for murdering six million Jews. Technology had not made a garden paradise of the world; it had invented a way of destroying the world with the push of a button.

The post Holocaust/Hiroshima world has lost much of its arrogant optimism and increasingly few people have blind faith in the ability of empiricism and scientific rationalism to create a utopia and give meaning to life. We now have a love-hate relationship with technology. It seems we can’t live with it and we can’t live without it. Today there is a growing skepticism regarding technology, systems, certitude and the dehumanizing effects of living with “the machine.” Welcome to the postmodern world.

Postmodernism, with its inherent relativism and pessimism is a mixed bag for a Christian, but on the upside is the space postmodernism gives to human hunger for the spiritual — something the Enlightenment basically dismissed out of hand. I’ve also noticed that postmodernism isn’t always postmodern…sometimes it’s actually premodern; a return to a pre-Enlightenment epistemology — an epistemology which leaves room for revelation, which is the epistemology of the Bible.

Alright, enough of that, but know this: The world has changed. there’s no going back. Modernity is giving way to postmodernity. And here’s my point…

The modernist, Enlightenment-influenced techniques for revival — a kind of Industrial Revolution style of evangelism that made the advance of Christianity “scientific” and “factory-like” — are increasing ineffective and irrelevant in the postmodern world.

Meanwhile some old guard Christian leaders have panicked at the prospect of trying to preach the gospel in a postmodern context and have become apologists for modernity and seem intent on attempting to drag the world back into modern Enlightenment thinking so they can continue to communicate the gospel in terms they are comfortable with. This is as ridiculous as it is futile.

Reverend Don Quixote is leading the crusade.

I’m not campaigning for modernity or postmodernity; I’m simply a Christian content to communicate the gospel in the context of the world in which I live. But the fact is, we live in an increasingly postmodern world and a postmodern world calls for a postmodern revival — what I’ve been calling an unrevival. Not an anti-revival, but an unrevival. A postmodern revival that might be described as:


And perhaps, as far as the history of the evangelical church goes, unprecedented.

Compared to what we’ve come to expect from revival in the Enlightenment influenced evangelical church of the modern world, the postmodern kind of revival would be an unrevival. It would look and feel different. But let’s face it, we really do need something genuinely new. For one thing we don’t need more meetings, more hype, more emotion, more revivalism and more political rhetoric. This kind of revival has come to feel rather tired, dated, predictable, a bit irrelevant and more than a little bit angry.

And anyway the backside of revival has always had an underreported downside of schisms, fanaticism, general weirdness and way too many cheap and ultimately empty “conversions”. The goal is not to have big emotional (and expensive!) meetings that make headlines but leave most people worn out and pretty much the same. The goal is something else. The goal is a life that can actually be lived. Because this is what Christianity is really about:


Christianity is not about meetings and religion and politics and a ticket to heaven when you die…Christianity is about life! And that’s what Jesus came to bring. Life! Another way to say it is, Jesus came to give us a new way to be human. And we do need another way to say it because the way it’s been said for so long has become cliche. To rescue the vitality of the gospel from the banality of cliche we may need to employ some new vocabulary. As I pray and think and allow dreams and visions of a new kind of postmodern revival to form in my mind, I get words land phrases like these…

A new way to be human.
The salvaging of the soul.
Turning garbage dumps into gardens.
Cross, Mystery, Eclectic, Community, Revolution.

These are some of the words and phrases I associate with a Christian revolution in a postmodern world that could bring the exhilarating hope of the gospel to people who have become jaded to religion and typical revival.



Did you see that Bob Dylan was awarded a Pulitzer Prize today? The Pulitzer board cited his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

Here’s a sample of Dylan’s “extraordinary poetic power.”

Every Grain of Sand
Bob Dylan

In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There’s a dyin’ voice within me reaching out somewhere,
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair.

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake,
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear,
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer.
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name.
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light,
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space,
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face.

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me.
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.