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Even before its October 2010 release, A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir was creating buzz. It had already garnered praise from the likes of Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, George Marsden, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and Al Mohler. The endorsements alone sound like a Who’s Who of conservative evangelicalism. It is not hard to see why.
The book was written by seasoned author John Woodbridge and young journalist Collin Hansen. Woodbridge is research professor of Church History and History of Christian Thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His biography reads like catalogue from a Greek drama, only instead of ships, it lists degree upon degree and award upon award. Hansen (who also has ties to Trinity having received his MDiv there) currently serves as the editorial director for The Gospel Coalition. He had already made his mark with his 2008 book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. In A God-Sized Vision, Woodbridge and Hansen tackle the inspiring, though often sticky, topic of spiritual revival.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to writing a book on revival is that there are so many different understandings of what revival is and how it comes about. Hansen and Woodbridge engage this problem head on in Chapter 1 by offering a biblical theology of revival and commentary from noted figures from Christian history. Taking cues from Jonathan Edwards and Martin Lloyd-Jones, the authors present a comparatively reformed understanding of spiritual renewal. They note that “only God himself could bestow such a blessing on his people in his own sovereign time” (p. 31).
Nonetheless, they do not underestimate the complexity of God’s work and are quick to recognize that throughout history, many different “theological streams” have often united in revivals. During the First Great Awakening, “America in particular became a remarkable laboratory where several different revival traditions merged to bolster the burgeoning evangelical movement” (p. 31). That tradition grew even more complex during the Second Great Awakening with the contribution of Finney’s emphasis on human responsibility. Woodbridge and Hansen handle these seemingly disparate positions well and conclude that “though God alone can instigate revival, the church need not wait idly…. We can confess our sins…and forsake them. Above all else, we can pray” (p. 35).
The purpose of these essays is not to argue about the theoretical legitimacy of Finney’s thought, but to point out the outcome it has had for the practice of Christianity in America. The first essay offered an overview of Finney’s religious system and mentioned several areas in which Finney introduced new ideas or methods. This second essay aims to make explicit the consequences of Finney’s ideas with respect to American Christianity.
The first such consequence was to open the door for theological modernism. If the twin criteria of reason and consciousness could nullify the authority of tradition and the confessions, they could also nullify the authority of Scripture. When modernists called an authoritative Bible a “paper pope,” they echoed the very language that Finney used in his diatribes against the Westminster Confession. Finney provided a precedent for the rejection of all external spiritual authority, as well as for undisciplined doctrinal deviation.
First appeared at SharperIron on June 3, 2005. Original post and discussion are available here
But as yet the state of the Christian world is such, that to expect to promote religion without excitements is unphilosophical and absurd. The great political and other worldly excitements that agitate Christendom, are all unfriendly to religion, and divert the mind from the interests of the soul. Now, these excitements can only be counteracted by religious excitements. And until there is sufficient religious principle in the world to put down irreligious excitements, it is in vain to try to promote religion, except by counteracting excitements. This is true in philosophy, and it is a historical fact.
- Charles Finney in Revivals of Religion
An hour west of Denver, Interstate 70 passes through the Eisenhower Tunnel. Rain that falls east of the tunnel will eventually flow to the Gulf of Mexico. Whatever falls to the west finds its way to the Pacific Ocean. The tunnel straddles the Continental Divide, a place where raindrops that fall only inches from one another may end up separated by thousands of miles.
“According to reports from around the world, people are coming to faith in Christ at an amazing rate. For Jim Denison, this is proof that the Fifth Great Awakening is underway”