Asbury Is Having A Revival (Again)

A spontaneous marathon revival among students and faculty at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, resulted in a week-long shut-down of classes and reached out to other colleges and communities from coast to coast this month.

Students, faculty, townspeople, and visitors wept, and smiled through their tears. They surrendered to the Holy Spirit, they said, and felt victorious. They confessed secret hates, frustrations, and weaknesses, and felt cleansed. They asked forgiveness, forgave, and embraced. They counseled together, quoted Scripture to one another, prayed singly and in groups, and sang.

During the first six days of the revival, delegations of students were invited to at least fifty-nine colleges and churches in sixteen states to tell the Asbury story.

Christianity Today published those words on February 27, 1970 about a “revival” at Asbury University, but they might just as well have been written about the current “revival” at Asbury, fifty-three years later to the month, which has been underway since last Wednesday, February 8. According to local news reports, the revival is essentially a continuous worship service.

How should confessionally Reformed Christians and Christians from other traditions think about such events? Are they really spontaneous works of the Holy Spirit? Is it impious to have doubts? Should we not be encouraged that, in the midst of what is arguably one of the darker periods in the post-World War II West, young people are seeking God and not getting stoned on fentanyl?

Revivals And Revivalism Are A Tradition

The first thing we need to recognize is that revivals and revivalism (hereafter R&R) are part of a tradition. In that sense, they are not necessarily spontaneous works of the Holy Spirit any more than an Anglican minister changing his vestments according to the season on the ecclesiastical calendar is evidence of a spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit. Just as prayerbooks and vestments are part of the Anglican tradition, revivals are part of the tradition of R&R for Methodists and wings of that tradition.

I use the expression R&R to signal that, pace those who want to distinguish sharply between them, there is as a matter of history and history, at best, only a dotted line distinguishing them. For more on this, see the chapter on the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE) in Recovering the Reformed Confession.

In America, the tradition of R&R goes back to the First Great Awakening in the early 18th century. The very sorts of things happening at Asbury right now happened in Colonial New England under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards (1703–58), in a variety of places under the preaching of George Whitefield (1714–70), John Wesley (1703–91), and in the so-called Second Great Awakening (c. 1800–c.1850), one of the pioneers of which was Francis Asbury (1745–1816). The Cane Ridge Revival (August, 1801) was perhaps the major early episode in the Second Great Awakening, but Asbury was at an earlier event, in January, 1800, in Logan County, KY, at the Red River Meeting house where some reckon the Second Great Awakening actually began.

The Second Great Awakening was led by Charles Finney (1792–1875) but, though revival fever was no longer raging by the end of the 19th century, it continued through the work of Dwight L. Moody (1837–99), Billy Sunday (1862–1935), Sister Aimee (1890–1944), and Billy Graham (1918–2018). The Second Great Awakening proper ended in the mid- to late 19th century, but the R&R tradition in America, which began in the first quarter of the 18th century, continued through the end of the 20th century. We are arguably living in the first post-revival period in American history since fifty years before the founding of the Republic. I have students who have no awareness (until I mention him) of Billy Graham, who has been gone for only about 5 years.

I taught at Wheaton College from 1995–97 as a visiting professor. I arrived in the Summer of 1995 just after the revival the previous spring semester. There was still a good deal of buzz on campus about the episode and students were staying up late into the night holding prayer meetings. Indeed, I had to tell them to go to bed and get some sleep as our prayer warriors sometimes arrived to class looking a little haggard. Those in the R&R tradition are always confident that these episodes are special works of God. This language is typical. “In 1995, God brought revival to Wheaton College. It broke out in a student-led Sunday night service. Confession and repentance continued Sunday night and every night through Thursday. Eight or nine hundred students got right with God that week.” Except that revivals at Wheaton are relatively regular. One old-timer told me that they tend to happen about every thirty years. On that schedule, we are about two years away from the next Wheaton revival.

Despite the confidence with which those in the R&R tradition speak about revivals, the truth is that there is typically little to show for them. Those of us in the confessional Reformation traditions would look at church attendance as an expected fruit of revivals but there is no evidence of increased church attendance after the First Great Awakening. In fact, attendance dropped. The genius of the so-called Great Awakenings is that, for the most part, they divorced religion and piety from the church, a pattern which American evangelicals have continued. Graham, Carl Henry, and Harold Ockenga, who pioneered the post-WWII “neo-evangelical” movement, intentionally marginalized the visible church as they sought unity among evangelicals around a high doctrine of Scripture. Sister Aimee held huge rallies before WWII and Billy Graham held a “revival” in LA in 1949, but to what effect? Yes, the Lord used those things to bring people to Christ but for all the “magic and noise” (H. L. Mencken), things in LA, London, and elsewhere soon returned to normal.

Another Tradition: The Ordinary Means Of Grace

There is an alternative approach to Christian theology, piety, and practice: the Reformation approach. In the Reformation traditions (Lutheran and Reformed) the emphasis was never on alleged spontaneous works of the Holy Spirit (has anyone ever attended a planning session for a Graham crusade?) or on intense, prolonged meetings or on intense religious experiences (not that there is anything wrong with them) but on an educated ministry of Word and sacrament (i.e., Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). The Heidelberg Catechism speaks for the Reformed churches when it says:

65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, from where comes this faith?

The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

Our understanding of Scripture is that God has ordained means or instruments through which he has chosen to work. We call these the ordinary means of grace. We intend the word ordinary in two senses at the same time: ordained and usual. Because God has ordained the official, ecclesiastical (Matt 28:18–20; Rom 10) preaching of the gospel as that means by which he will call all his elect (Acts 2:39) that is how he usually works.

To be sure, we recognize God’s freedom to work when and where he pleases. We do not, however, recognize the right of Christians or of the visible church to do as they please. Thus, in the sixteenth-century Reformation or during the period of Reformed orthodoxy (c. 1564–1700), we do not see the Reformed holding tent revivals or commissioning uneducated preachers to wander about. That behavior was associated with the Anabaptist and other radicals, not the Reformation churches. We believe that, because God is sovereign, because it is he who elects unconditionally from all eternity, and because it is the sovereign Holy Spirit who brings the elect to new life and true faith (with all the attending benefits), it is he who sets the terms and conditions of the ministry.

We rejoice with the angels in heaven whenever anyone is brought to new life and true faith, however unusual the means. We do not, however, easily assume that everyone who walks the aisle or prays a prayer at a “revival” is necessarily the recipient of new life. The “sawdust trail” instituted in the Second Great Awakening and some of the phenomena associated with First Great Awakening are not biblical phenomena. They are the product of group psychology and other influences.

Reformed folk should pray that the Lord might use the Asbury event but they should also pray that Asbury does not become a paradigm after which Reformed Christians and Reformed churches hanker. Gold miners know that there are things that glimmer that look like gold. One of them is Iron Pyrite or “fools gold.” To the uninitiated, pyrite looks like gold but it is not. This is not to say that it has no use. It is being used to make magnets, which are valuable, but pyrite is not gold and cannot be used in the same ways that gold is used. It does not have the same value because it does not have the same properties. Pyrite is found fairly easily. Gold, as miners will tell you, is rather harder to find. So it is with revivals and true faith. A lot of what happens in the R&R tradition, despite all the hoo-hah in the press—William Randolph Hearst ordered his papers to “puff Graham,” i.e., to promote the crusade—history tells us that much of what comes from the R&R tradition is not gold at all but pyrite.

What the Reformed churches have, in the Biblical and Reformation doctrine of justification and sanctification, is pure gold. We should not be looking over our shoulder at our friends in the R&R tradition wondering if we are missing out. We are not.

Follow up» Asbury Is Ending Another Revival.


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    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Growing up at a Baptist church that had “revival” every year (ie a guest pastor came a preached every evening for a couple nights to get people to make a decision for Christ) and only in the last 2-3 years coming into the reformed tradition, I’m grateful for your thoughts on this. I’m not sure why singing CCM for nearly a week straight and people’s emotions clearly being in a heightened state from the event is somehow “revival” but it’s definitely causing people from all across the US to go visit it. If people are brought to true saving faith there by the Spirit – fantastic! But it looks more like an evangelical summer camp session as opposed to the Word being rightly preached and people being convicted of their sin before a holy God, and brought into the church to be shepherded and discipled.

    • Who are we to judge what is the right way or wrong way to praise God, we need to be cautious of what is said, I don’t dare judge what’s going on in our Universities, That’s not our job,

      • Sherry,

        I can’t speak for everyone one but at my ordination one of the things I promised to do was to uphold, teach, & defend the Word of God as confessed by the Reformed churches. This means that everything people call Christian theology, piety, & practice is subject to evaluation according to God’s Word.

        That’s one major reason why we had a Protestant Reformation, to assert that the Word is the standard in the church, not human experience and not subjective interpretations of providence, which is what is at issue re Asbury. People are interpreting providence (an extra-biblical event) and demanding that others submit to that interpretation.

        A Reformation Christian has to say, “nope, not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent” (Dana Carvey as G H W Bush).

      • I agree, especially when almost all the news these days is about students overdosing and doing any number of other dangerous or evil things! We should fall on our own faces before the Lord and search our own hearts!

    • Hi Sherry,
      I think that God in his word makes it quite clear that he cares how he is worshipped – two priests in Leviticus were consumed with fire by God for offering incense he didn’t command them to! In Hebrews scripture tells us our worship is to be with “reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” in reference to this as well. It is for this reason, along with the fact that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ” that I am skeptical of these so-called revivals. Even now, other campuses across the United States are mimicking what has happened at Asbury as students seek out a religious experience – one might say an illegitimate one, since it is by the preaching of the word and participation in the sacraments of baptism and the supper that we grow in faith and not our participation in subjective emotional experiences.

  2. I’m disappointed with your post, and at the same time not surprised by it either. Even as a conservative confessional Lutheran, I must give thanks to God to “events” like these, which we must always approach with discernment, but never, ever, speak or teach that God ONLY works through Word and Sacrament. Articles like this seriously approach the quenching of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of other believers. It is sad that you appear to mock this “event” with the term (revivals and revivalism – hereafter R&R). Not everything in Christian history has been “fools gold” outside of your specific Reformed paradigm. You may have studied history regarding these “events” as you call them, but you cannot study the hearts of those who came to saving faith through them — which is indicative of God’s means of grace that He sovereignly chooses.

    • Gary,

      I’m disappointed in your response. I expect more from a Lutheran. I really do. Check your own Book of Concord please because I’m fairly confident that what I wrote is more in keeping with both the letter and spirit of the BoC than what you just wrote.

      You should also go back and read what I wrote a little more carefully.

      Mocking? Not at all. Am I in favor of the R&R tradition? No. Have I spent nearly 40 years in ministry cleaning up after the R&R tradition? You betcha.

    • Re: what RSC has to say plus what you say, that you’re a “conservative confessional” Lutheran, what does exactly does that mean nowadays? Are you part of the LCMS? If so, you are in a synod divided by those who seem to have adopted modernist approaches to scripture and worship versus those who (as RSC says) adhere to the Book of Concord?[apparently your current president, for that matter, seems to endorse revisions to that worthy publication for no valid reason]? Or are you part of the mainline ELCA where anything and everything goes, in which case never mind?

      I myself was a member of LCMS mostly “conservative” congregations for over 50 years until I began to study the theology of various Protestant denominations in the U.S. and came to the conclusion that the confessional Reformed (and by that I do NOT mean synods like the liberal PCUSA, etc.) and came to the realization that they (those such as the OPC, UCRUS, etc.) have a more accurately realized definition of what Scripture taught during the 16th Century Reformation.

      If you check history, you’ll find that the German Lutheran immigrants traveling up the Mississippi River to find places to settle were shocked at all of the “revivals” they saw taking place and saw to it that they established their own schools and seminaries. The same was true of those migrating from the East through Pennsylvania and Ohio.

      Sure, there are those who came to a legitimate belief of scripture and a valid saving faith via some of these so-called revivals. But there were many more to were only given a superficial understanding of what a true saving faith really means. Finney’s 19th Century “burned out” Western NY district is ample evidence of that. At least Billy Graham had some kind of connection with local congregations in the cities where he held his crusades to ensure that some of them would pick up and encourage those who “walked the aisle” could be further taught what the Christian faith truly means.

      Then again, there are those like Bart Eherman who apparently “walked the aisle” at a YCC revival when he was in his teens and “accepted Christ,” went on to study at Christian institutions such as Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, and then went on to further study textual criticism under Bruce Metzger at Princeton and is now an atheist doing much damage to the spread of the Gospel.

  3. Amen, Rev. DeSha — well said. It’s a shame when our tribalism discourages joy and praise when believers are moved to pray, repent, and worship God.
    That’s ALWAYS a good thing.

    • Darren,

      Yes, this space is devoted to “Recovering the Reformed Confession.” It’s the subtitle of the HB. So, we’re unapologetic about that. We think the world needs more confessional Reformed churches. That said, what exactly is tribalistic about my history and my cautioning of Reformed folk not to go down the Asbury trail?

      How much time have you spent sweeping up the spiritual sawdust after the revival blows over?

      How do you know with such certainty that the current revival is a work of the Spirit? As for me, as I argued in RRC, I’m more interested in the fruits of the Spirit than I am in the guessing at the work of the Spirit in alleged revivals.

      How do you answer the historical facts that “revivals,” even the 1GA, lead not to greater church attendance but to lower church attendance and that even after the Graham rallies, life in the big city carried on as if he were never there?

      How does that square with biblical religion?

      If you read what I wrote you’ll see that I clearly affirmed that we ought to rejoice whenever someone comes to faith, whether through the divinely ordained means or through unusual means. I myself came to faith through unusual circumstances. That’s not tribalism.

      This characterization of what I wrote (as tribal) is just lazy—and lazy people are a tribe everyone should leave.

      • That’s fair. I shouldn’t expect a forum dedicated to one particular “branch” of the family tree, to be unbiased. (And that is a genuine “non-snarky” statement – lol.)
        I guess I’m not clear what would be dangerous about going down the “Asbury Trail”? What is the “trail”? More open and honest worship? More intense and personal prayer time? More intentional and personal seeking after God?

        I get it — I have concerns, too. But to be honest, you don’t have to be Reformed to have questions and concerns. It sounds to me as if many non-Reformed Christians are asking the same things. Is this man-focused? Is this devoid of Scripture? Many (most? all?) of the people participating have the same desire to have authentic, biblical interactions with a living God who desires intimate relationship.
        You ask me how I know “with certainty” that this is a work of the Spirit … I suppose I can’t know it with “certainty.” But I would ask you a similar question, of course. How can you know it isn’t? And I gotta’ tell you — when professing Christians are testifying to the things happening there? Things that proclaim and advance the gospel of Christ and make Jesus the focus? I’m thinkin’ the evidence certainly suggests it just might be a work of the Spirit, no?
        If not, then we’re all in big trouble. Because then we’d need to question EVERYTHING. Especially the overwhelming passion and fire and joy we see in the “frozen chosen,” right? lol

        You don’t have any facts that prove revivals result in lower church attendance. C’mon, man. Any historian knows you can’t prove something like that. As if there aren’t a multitude of factors that determine church attendance. And as Reformed Christians are quick to point out — church attendance doesn’t really reveal much, does it? Considering how fond we are of questioning somebody’s salvation.

        I don’t know, Dr. – it just seems like we ought to be far more concerned with the Christian church – not just the Reformed one. I couldn’t care less whether or not a person chooses my Christian tradition or my “theology of choice.” I want people to come to faith in a living Savior who longs to have vibrant, daily, intimate relationship with them. I don’t care how they get there – and I certainly don’t care what church they choose to practice it in. My denominational tribe doesn’t have the market cornered on truth. I think it would be good for all of us to remember that.

        • Darren,

          1. It is a historical fact that the 1GA resulted in lower church attendance. I was as surprised as you are to read that. Take a look at Recovering the Reformed Confession. It’s documented there.

          2. Why not go down the Asbury Trail? Well, if there was a genuine “revival” in 1970 why are they having another one? Is there an expiration date on the work of the Holy Spirit? Why does Wheaton have periodic “revivals”? Same question.

          The fruit of the R&R tradition is not great. It cannot be easily equated with the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Reformation was wonderful, until the Pietists got hold of it. Again, see RRC.

          I can tell what the fruit of R&R tradition is by its fruit or lack thereof.

          You’re entitled to be theologically indifferent—the fruit of that tradition hasn’t been bountiful either—but this is a confessional Reformed space by conviction.

  4. Thank you for addressing this so quickly! I thought your Christianity Today quote from 1970’s was a current quote until you attributed it because of how similar it sounds. As a Reformed Christian not going to a reformed church, I value your opinion. Please be in prayer for more Reformed Churches and Reformed influence in KY!

    • Thank you Allison.

      We’re working on it.

      NAPARC Churches In KY

      There are a couple of ways to keep track of P&R churches in KY.

      The first is via the NAPARC Google Map.

      The second is via the Zip Code P&R finder.

      I’m aware of the OPC in Neon and I’ve heard rumors of a URCNA church plant in KY under the supervision of the Cincinnati congregation. You could ask them about it.

  5. Thank you Dr. Clark for your thoughts on this. They articulate my own vague suspicions regarding revivalism much better than I could have.

  6. As someone once put it: The revivalist altar call is fully realized in the call to come to the altar to receive communion every Sunday.

    If this reorientation by the student body is genuine, we can genuinely hope that they will understand that confession, repentance, and feeding on Christ are reliable experiences granted by a reliable God to all those who trust Him. The ordinary case of expecting these things weekly seems already superabundant.

  7. When you name Jonathan Edwards as the leader of the First Great Awakening and Finney as the leader of the Second, somehow equating them, I am amazed, as I am when you suggest what happened in Northampton in the 18th century is the same what is happening at Asbury right now. Edwards was as Reformed as you are, maybe even more so!

    I agree that that are happenings that are more human activity than anything else, but to dismiss all revivals as you do is quite stunning. You must not agree with Iain Murray’s book, Revival and Revivalism. He makes the distinction that you seem to reject.

    You may well have cleaned up after a lot of human activity, but please don’t throw out the baby with the bath water!

    • Dennis,

      1. Please go back and read what I wrote. The 1GA & 2GA aren’t “the same” but they aren’t as far apart as we’ve been told. Please take a look at the chapter in Recovering the Reformed Confession where I discuss the continuities and discontinuities between the 1GA and the 2GA. The latter did not happen in a vacuum. From where do you suppose that those Presbyterians in KY learned to hold extended meetings? It wasn’t from Luther and Calvin. It was Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley et al.

      2. As I keep saying, we should rejoice anytime God brings someone to faith but the ends don’t justify the means and God has ordained his means.

    • Dennis, I don’t think it’s unfair to point out that Dr. Clark was converted in high school in a broadly evangelical church, saw the problems, and was discipled in the Reformed faith after joining a RCUS (German Reformed) church. He’s now in the URCNA, part of the Dutch Reformed tradition which also has historically been quite suspicious of Amercian revivalism.

      Conservatives in the RCUS, including the portion (Eureka Classis) that refused to join a series of liberal mergers and retains its separate existence today, have a long history of opposition to American revivalism. The same was historically true of the Christian Reformed Church. While there are certainly Dutch Reformed people who emphasized a Dutch form of Puritanism — the Nadere Reformatie — that isn’t part of the historic CRC tradition. It’s the tradition of the Netherlands Reformed, Free Reformed, and Heritage Reformed, which is very different from the CRC.

      We could read things written by RCUS leaders during the actual Second Great Awakening, and subsequent decades, by people who saw the Second Great Awakening and its bitter fruits firsthand. It’s well known that I disagree with Dr. Clark on a number of issues including his objection to the Anglo-American Puritan tradition, but I don’t blame him for being faithful to the anti-revival part of the historic Reformed tradition, even though it is a part with which I strongly disagree.

      An emphasis on revivals can all too easily turn into “revivalism.” An objection to revival (note the deliberate use of the singular) can all to easily turn a legitimate emphasis on the ordinary means of grace into a rejection of the need for personal conversion.

      Both are errors into which different parts of the Reformed tradition have historically veered.

      • Thanks for your comments, Darrell. I also have real difficulties with Revivalism like Dr Clark. does. I agree that there is always a danger to err in one direction or the other. But, Edwards and Finney didn’t have much in common in terms of ministry or theology. I recognise Dr Clark’s strong anti-Revival bias which he would say comes from his extensive study and experience. I still think he throwing out some babies with the bathwater!

    • Quite welcome, Dennis.

      Dr. Clark can and will speak for himself’; neither he nor I would want me to speak for him. He is from a different part of the Reformed theological tradition than me, one which, in the case of the German Reformed, has been an opponent of the Second Great Awakening all the way back to when the Second Great Awakening was actually happening.

      Even without belonging to that part of the Reformed tradition, I think it’s important that those who do value the Puritans and the First Great Awakening distinguish (as Iain Murray did) between “Revival and Revivalism.” It’s also important to remember that while some of the opponents of the First Great Awakening such as Charles Chauncey later proved to be opponents not only of the excesses of the revival but also opponents of basic biblical orthodoxy — Chauncey himself came not only to oppose the revival, but also to oppose Calvinism and total depravity, and even to advocate universal salvation near the end of his life — other opponents of the First Great Awakening were orthodox Calvinists who believed the revival was unbiblical, not because it emphasized personal conversion, but because it placed too much emphasis on an emotional response rather than the biblical marks of true conversion and the role of the institutional church.

      To say that the First Great Awakening created ecclesiastical chaos is an understatement. Jonathan Edwards himself, near the end of the First Great Awakening, became among the most pronounced opponents of its emotional excesses, believing (in my view, correctly) that the revival had been hijacked by a spirit that was not of God. Davenport and men like him were obvious disgraces to true religion, but far too many others also lapsed into things that simply could not be squared with Scripture, though less extreme than Davenport.

      If you haven’t done so, please read Edwards’ 1741 work, “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.” Here’s a link:

      Here’s a summary of Edwards’ work, written by a modern Particular Baptist, who points out the problems of the modern charismatic movement and quite a bit of what passes today for “revivals.”

      To quote that Particular Baptist: “Third, we should be skeptical of any movement that draws attention away from the local church and its preaching ministry. Modern-day revival movements tend to focus on the individuals who lead them and the parachurch venues in which they occur. Wittingly or unwittingly, such experiences de-emphasize the ordinary means of grace—especially biblical preaching—found within the local church. Finally, such movements often foster what I call a ‘lightning-bolt spirituality.’ Adherents are encouraged to seek sanctification through intense emotional encounters at certain venues as dispensed by certain teachers—you’re struck by a spiritual lightning bolt and become instantly more sanctified. This response runs contrary to the Bible’s portrait of progressive sanctification through God’s ordinary means of grace, which develops slowly over a lifetime. As to cults of personality, Edwards pointed converts away from himself toward Jesus, away from the revival meetings toward the local church. A genuine work of the Spirit today will do the same. As Jesus said of prophets, whether false or true, you will know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:16).”

      I can’t speak to what is happening now at Asbury College. I’m not there, I don’t know the people, I haven’t read in detail what they’re written and said, and Scripture warns against condemning men unheard.

      But I live in the Missouri Ozarks, I know what the Bible Belt can be like, and I share Dr. Clark’s belief that much of what passes for the gold of the gospel in Southern “Bible Belt” religion is far removed from true conversion as defined by Scripture, and can fairly be compared to pyrite or “fool’s gold.”

      • I really appreciate this response primarily because of its’ irenic tone.
        I just feel as if it’s really important to be kind, considerate, and gracious in a context like this one.
        We all have our theological convictions, but we mustn’t allow them to make us suspicious or critical of every Christian group that may not hold to those same beliefs.

        I have issues with some things that occur in and through the Charismatic movement. (Many of the charismatic Christians I know share those concerns.) But I will not ever be so arrogant and un-Christlike to suggest the differences determine the validity of somebody’s faith.

        Whatever is happening at Asbury, we should know that the name of Christ is being exalted. I may not feel entirely comfortable with everything. But Jesus is being worshipped. And Christians are being encouraged. I can’t deny that. And it would be wrong of me to try.

        • Darren,

          Is the name of Christ being exalted? Isn’t that what is at question here? On what measure would we know? Are we judging on the basis of the intensity of the experience or on the basis whether people are doing what God has commanded?

          In the heat of the moment, as this event is unfolding, it is very difficult to tell exactly what is happening and what its fruit is or will be. The number of conflicting reports about what is actually happening is bewildering. It will take months, perhaps years to know with certainty the nature of this episode.

          The history of American revivals, beginning with the early 18th century, however, does not promise a good final report.

    • Thank you, Darren. I’m responding because I don’t want you or others to think I missed your appreciative note, or worse yet, to think I was ignoring you. I’ve said enough, and probably said more than I should have said on Dr. Clark’s page. He can and will speak for himself.

      Discernment is important with regard to things like what is happening at Asbury, and Jonathan Edwards would have insisted on that, but a judgment of charity is also appropriate. The essay I cited by Edwards notes that a spirit of censoriousness was not unknown in the Reformed world even in its better days, and Edwards cites John Calvin by name as an example of how sound men may lapse into undue severity — a sentiment shared, by the way, by some of Calvin’s contemporary colleagues and successors in Geneva.

      But at the same time, testing the spirits to see if they are of God is not to quench the spirit. On the contrary, is it required by Scripture. Edwards by 1741 had become one of the most severe critics of the First Great Awakening as he saw the excesses it had unleashed. We cannot look at such things uncritically.

  8. I agree but it could be worse. Fodder for the likes of Rolling Stone a little over a year ago. What is really accomplished by this…..

    “ THIS PAST WEEKEND, infamous FBI fibber Michael Flynn stood on a stage at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio and spoke his truth: “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.” Christian nationalist mic drop. He’d finally said the quiet part out loud.

    Which, to be fair, was maybe not even the craziest thing that happened at Cornerstone last weekend as it hosted podcast host Clay Clark’s “Reawaken America Tour” — a show so very spectacular that Cornerstone, the church of famed end times Christian Zionist John Hagee, had to release a face-saving statement saying that maybe, just maybe, things had gone a little too far even for them (“Cornerstone Church is not associated with this organization and does not endorse their views.”) There was a woman wearing a Jewish-themed prayer shawl and blowing on a ram’s horn, because, as she explained it, “Demons tremble at the sound of the shofar.” There was My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell and disgraced political operative Roger Stone on hand to provide the event with a legitimate dose of illegitimacy. There was Alex Jones growling at attendees that “the devil’s reign on this planet is coming to an end” and that Bill Gates and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama know that “they chose SATAN! AND THEY! ARE GOING! TO FAIL!” There were rousing rounds of the oddly-devised anti-Biden chant “Let’s go, Brandon” and worship music provided by Sean Feucht, graciously in attendance thanks to his failed run for California’s state legislature. There was also, presumably, nary a vaccinated person in the house.”

    • That’s hardly Christian Nationalism and quoting the evil mag Rolling Stone to prove a point is nuts. They reject any semblance of real reporting.

    • I see elements of Christian nationalism boldly implied. In comparison to vague and theatrical notions expressed in public – I’m not doubting the sincerity of some – consistency is sorely lacking. A man like Machen may have been ridiculed for his belief but not for a lack of consistency in his promotion of faith and practice (and its preservation above all else).

    • …. To avoid confusion. Machen was influential as an example of the hard line between vague notions of public faith and the preservation of sound doctrine / faithful worship.

  9. Thank you for this insight Dr. Clark! My wife, our baby, and I are headed to Glenside in a few months for my time at WTS. Just a few years ago we were coming out of R&R. Thanks be to God He raises men up such as yourself to catch those of us who would’ve otherwise kept on the wrong path. Keep your fists up brother! Many of us are very grateful for your faithfulness!

    My first (and only) published work is on the use of Augustine in different theological traditions today. My advisor and mentor for the project actually got his M.Div. at Asbury (my undergraduate degree is from a Wesleyan-Holiness university)! It was in that time that I began to become confessionally Reformed. Perhaps if I continue in Historical Theology I’ll find my way out to the west coast!

  10. Thank you for this article. I think it sums up how I have been thinking about the entire situation. My academic training in US History combined with my Reformed Confessional beliefs create a thousand rabbit trails in my head; which you have narrowed down to a concise explaination in excellent form. Do please keep up the good work. I would ask for a piece of advice, how should one of the Reformed bent engage with those believers who are deeply stirred by these events? I never want to be one who dampens the Spirit, but I want to offer my concerns and passions to warn of possible missteps.

  11. I attended a Christian university for my undergraduate education. Located in Texas, it was founded by someone who was of the Christian & Missionary Alliance ilk, an outgrowth of Keswickian theology and the Higher Life movement. That said, in 1994 (or thereabouts) we experienced a “revival.” However, it was not one spontaneously wrought on campus by the Holy Spirit, but one brought to us by students from Northwestern Christian University in Oregon. Apparently they had an experience akin to the one in Asbury and students were going throughout the country to other Christian colleges and universities to “spread the fire” as they said.

    During our mandatory chapel service, the NCU students were given the stage and they explained how awesome and Spirit-filled their campus was, with students hugging and crying and confessing sins and skipping classes to fast and pray through day and night. And so we decided to the same thing at our university. After all, it was Spirit-led, right?

    At that time in my life, I was in a formational period concerning my theology and spirituality. Having come out of an upbringing in the Conservative Baptist Association, I had flirted with Baptist, Bible, C&MA, AG, and other churches throughout my college years, though all left me unsatisfied. At the point of the “revival,” I was beginning to read about Reformed theology, something that was foreign to me and introduced by a college friend. But I was, at that time, not Reformed and still subject to the shifting sands of evangelical piety.

    But I remember watching and listening to all the revival talk and thinking something was very wrong. I remember feeling guilted into joining the goings-on. As other students heeded the call of the NCU kids and went on stage to confess sins (lust, anger, cheating, a hard heart, backsliding, etc.) I remember thinking, “those are sins we all struggle with in one way or another.” Nobody was being specific, which was probably a good thing, but it all felt forced. Everyone was so desperate to have a big work of the Spirit that we made it up and pretended it was a real thing.

    So we sang songs for hours as the administration allowed the chapel service to continue. Students got up to give a word, or confess a broad sin, or say how much they wanted revival in our land. People came and went over two days, some going to classes and stopping by the chapel during down time, others staying in the chapel without eating, some starting prayer groups in their dorms. And it all felt very forced. My spirit was in angst, but I didn’t know how to respond. But if I questioned the goings on, I was accused (as some in the comments here have done) of only standing in the way of the Spirit and, as one obviously subject to the wrong spiritual forces, I needed to join Peter and get behind everyone else.

    A week later, campus was normal, the “revival” was over, and nothing had changed. Except a lot of people who were expecting some great wave, or fire, or wind, or whatever were very disappointed. We had tried to recreate Pentecost on our own terms, and we failed. All the liars, cheaters, and guys who lusted after girls still lied, cheated, and lusted. The prayer groups dissipated over time and by the end of the month, nobody even spoke of our “revival.” None of my friends who were so adamantly engaged in the prayer meetings and fasting and singing changed in any recognizable fashion, that I could see, except one, who ended up rejecting the faith altogether. Apparently, the Spirit didn’t heal him of a long-term illness after a marathon prayer/repentance session, and so he figured it was all a sham. Which it pretty much was.

    To all those who want to act like speaking against these kinds of revivals is squelching the Spirit or “putting the Spirit in a box” as I have been told, there is NO Scriptural evidence this is the way the Spirit normally works in the church. As Dr. Clark so winsomely points out on this blog, again and again, the church is primarily built through word and sacrament, the ordinary means of grace. I would argue it is also the ordinary means of grace that revives God’s people week in and week out. If we are under the means of grace every Lord’s Day, then biblical revival happens in the church every week.

    And to those who argue that rejecting the R&R phenomena is rejecting the work of the Spirit, I say show me from the Scriptures the precedent for ANY of this. Pentecost doesn’t count, as it was the initial vivification of the church under the New Covenant, not a REvival. Beyond Pentecost, the rest of Acts records the Spirit ADDING to the numbers of the church as the gospel is preached, but there is no record of the Spirit REVIVING the church in the R&R way American (and English) Christianity has invented.

    For those who want to accuse the Reformed of questioning the work of the Spirit in the R&R movement, I say show me this is a work of the Spirit from Scripture – not from your pseudo-spiritual psychology, or group-think guilt trip, or desire to be more holy based on some experience you had (QIRE, I believe Dr. Clark would call it). R&R is a uniquely English/American invention foreign to the Scriptures and those who employ such means are far more akin to Simon the magician of Acts 8 than to the true apostles.

  12. It seems to me that it is not either/or but both/and. Genuine revival results from an unusual sense of the presence of God. “Revival” is a renewed pursuit of God. Sacred assemblies were a part of Israel’s history. And, unfortunately, as humans, we need renewed. I assume you’ve been to Asbury? First hand observation would be imperative before any concrete conclusions can be drawn. I am grateful for how God is not confined to our finite perceptions of Him.

    • Dr Kinnan,

      I wasn’t in Northampton in the 18th century but I have a fairly good sense of what happened there. I wasn’t at Cane Ridge or Logan County but, again, we know what happened. I don’t have to stand in the shower to discuss getting wet.

      I’ll trade your finite perceptions of him for the clear teaching of God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed churches. We’ve been encountering versions of this phenomenon since the first Anabaptist began speaking in tongues and rolling on the floor (yes, that really happened). There’s nothing new or necessarily genuine about “revivals.”

      I’m always happy for a genuine work of the Spirit and, as I will keep saying, we know that by its fruit (See Galatians) not by affective experience.

      • I haven’t read RRC yet, but please tell me one thing and I may not have to read it. You say you’re “always happy for a genuine work of the Spirit”. Was 1GA a “genuine work of the Spirit”?

        • Dennis,

          Like any such event the answer is mixed. Did God the Spirit use Edwards et al to call some of his elect to new life and true faith? Yes. Was there weirdness (e.g., Sarah Edwards allegedly floating across a room etc)? Yes.

          I certainly do not accept the narrative that the 1GA was a “good” revival and the 2GA was a “bad” one. The history is too complex for that to stand and, as I keep saying, even the advocates of that narrative don’t follow it consistently.

          Good came out of Whitefield’s work but it’s also true that he, more than Edwards, became America’s first religious rock star, who deliberately provoked controversy in order to gin up bigger crowds. “Good guys” vs “Bad guys” history doesn’t work very well in most cases and not in this one.

  13. I keep thinking about the early 1990s when I was a student at a dispensational-leaning college (I was not yet Reformed). We had two annual weeks of meetings, and at one they had invited a primary guest speaker who had already gone around the country speaking to colleges and exhorting students to be part of a movement he didn’t specify.

    The first day, he handed out sheets of paper, maybe index cards, and sometime during the talk he asked people to wave those sheets in the air to tell God we were open to Him. (I didn’t wave it; I was getting suspicious of emotional manipulation. In fact, I would have skipped the rest of his sessions except that they were required.)

    Every day he told us that at the end of the week he was going to ask for 100 students to be part of a special commitment (unspecified) and that he’d already raised 100 students at each of several other colleges. Of course today we’d be able to search the internet to see what commitment he was asking, but in those days we could only wait. But conversations all over campus that week were “Are you one of the 100?”

    Friday arrived and the speaker told us that he was going to ask for a commitment from these hundred people. He pointed down to a place on the main floor and told us that there was a pulpit down there that had been used by the founder of the college, and that on it were sheets of paper and pens. As soon as he said that, people started lining up. Two or three people had signed the paper when he said, “Do you realize I haven’t even said yet what you’re agreeing to do?”

    It turned out that with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia was open to missionaries. He was asking for a hundred students, faculty, and staff from each of several colleges to commit to a year in Russia.

    As I recall, it was far more than 100 people who signed up that day. I think we made it to 300. There was much rejoicing, and even some marriages among students who were mutually “called” to Russia and decided they’d rather go with a spouse than single. The school hired a new faculty member specifically to oversee the Russia campaign.

    And then a year or two later, two or three people actually went to Russia and the “College 100” campaign petered out as though it had never happened. Later that speaker wrote a book that became a best-seller about the Prayer of Jabez in the Old Testament. That too became a rah-rah movement that seems to have fizzled away into nothing.

    The Holy Spirit can use anything, and He certainly can use this. But assuming that emotional fervor comes from the Holy Spirit is a big assumption.

  14. I listened to the sermon which “launched” this Asbury event and no mention of Christ’s atoning work for our sin was mentioned. In fact, someone did a word search on the speech and there were 3 mentions of taco’s and no mention of sin.

  15. On a related note, I occasionally come back to this sermon. It’s just so powerful…. The ultimate call against complacency:

    Their foot shall slide in due time. (Deuteronomy 32:35)

    In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who were God’s visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God’s wonderful works towards them, remained (as verse 28) void of counsel, having no understanding in them. Under all the cultivations of heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit….

  16. If there is a genuine searching for God and a hungering and thirsting after righteousness at Asbury, may God bless it. May those so blessed find themselves regular supporters of the regular means of grace.

    Briefly in R&R after deliverance from theological liberalism; then Confessional Reformed for following decades of my life. I have a great deal to be grateful for in my life.

  17. Very helpful, Dr Clark. I just enjoyed Chris Rosebrough’s view, which is very similar to your own. He rightly set out define revival scripturally and used 2 Chronicles 29 as a standard—the returning to right worship of God, not a special outpouring of God’s Spirit. I appreciate you ei willing to rock the boat of American revivalism.

  18. Hi

    Thanks for an interesting read Rev. Clark.

    I most certainly agree.

    Many years ago I was a neo-Reformed, heavily influenced by Edwards and neo-Calvinistic preachers.

    I was not aware of how inspired by pietism many of them were, nor how a combo of being under poor pastoral care combined with listening to almost exclusively heavy law preaching, could shipwreck ones faith.

    As I despaired in anfechtung, I was rescued by God through a preacher from AALC.

    I did not know at the time that The Anglican tradition was that different from the neo-Reformed camp I had been in.

    I later learned that one of the preachers I spent most of my time listening to, had a Wesleyan-baptist as a mentor.

  19. Oh and I forgot to ask: The Anabaptists were «speaking in tongues and rolling on the floor»?

    Please enlighten me more on this issue!

  20. Thanks for responding, Dr Clark. But, you can’t say that 1GA was a genuine Revival. That’s disappointing. Do you believe there is such a thing? Has there ever been a genuine Revival? Of course, every time God is at work He is at work through fallible human beings and so there will be error to one degree or another. But, surely we can see a qualitative difference between Edwards and Finney and their ministries. If you do believe that there is such a thing as a genuine Revival how pure does it have to be before we can call it genuine?

    • Dennis,

      You are assuming, I think, things that I don’t know to be true. I would like someone to show me a list of benefits, as judged by Scripture as confessed by the Reformed churches, of the 1GA. I began my research assuming the paradigm with which you seem to be working, i.e., 1GA predestinarian/good; 2GA Arminian/bad. The more I read about the 1GA and the more I read from the ostensibly Reformed proponents of the 1GA, the more I came to see how my original set of assumptions was false. Have you read Marsden’s marvelous biography Edwards? If you take a look at the footnotes in the QIRE chapter in RRC you will see that, at a certain point in the chapter I just started citing Marsden because he was making my case for me. Re-reading Edwards on Religious Affections did not help their case nor did reading Tennent help the pro-1GA case. I discuss Chauncy in the book but I also discuss Thomson, whom almost everyone ignores. Please read Tricia’s thesis. Have you listened to Muller’s lecture on the serious discontinuities between Reformed orthodoxy & Edwards? One of the nails in the pro-1GA case was Murray’s book itself. I heard him give lectures on this book when I was teaching at Wheaton and there were some problems then but in reading the book I found that his argument simply didn’t match the facts that I was finding in the history nor did I find his analysis to be entirely consistent. When push comes to shove, he would rather have the 2GA than not have it. In other words, the only real unifying thing that matters is a certain quality of subjective religious experience. It’s why I write/speak about the QIRE: the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience.

      There was a lot of excitement in the 1GA and God the Spirit certainly used that unusual episode but, on the whole, as an episode, I don’t find it to be particularly biblical or Reformed.

  21. Hello everyone. Hopefully this helps. I came from the same theological place that many of these folks are coming from in Asbury. I myself grew up in a charismatic background in which during that time many people were always talking about a revival and how they wanted one. I thinks it’s great for people to come to Christ, to believe in the gospel, and I to want to see that happen. I have a ton of buddies who aren’t believers. Guys who I grew up with and consider brothers.I don’t think I want anything more than to see the Lord save them. If the Lord ever does save them I would never bring them to a church like asbury. Mostly for two reasons. First one which is huge is that my buddies would never hear the gospel at that church. Maybe a couple of times. What I mean by that is that I doubt that they would hear 1 Cor 15:3-4 and Ephesians 2:8-9 just to keep it simple. If a church doesn’t preach justification by faith alone in account of Christ alone don’t go there. Two, they would never grow. And to be honest I don’t know if would hate anything more than seeing my buddies in a church in which they are not growing. Even typing it bothers me. This is because most of these church in now way actually hold to question and answer 35 of the Westminster shorter Catechism. So where would I bring the people I love the most in life other than my family. I would bring them to a reformed confessional church. A church that holds to the Westminster standards, and I’m gonna say the OPC version just to be safe because I don’t know the other versions but I know there are unfortunately a lot of liberal Presbyterian churches out there so I’ll say OPC to be safe. Or a place where they hold to the three forms of unity. Well the reason I name these are because confession is because from what I know so far these are the most orthodox reformed confessions. Not only are they saturated with Christ which for is amazing but you also learn correct theology. The problem with churches like asbury is that your gonna get a lot of legalism. Trust me. I spent years in the Charismatic Movement and it was aweful. People falling on the ground and balling their eyes out and being consoled in a corner. When you see that type of stuff and you don’t feel the same way as them you just think that you gotta do more and you gotta conjure up these feelings to prove that you love Jesus. And when you live like that it just results in more sin. When I first heard justification by faith alone that changed everything. I know I’m being a bit broad but hopefully this helps a bit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, would love to try and answer em! Thanks again for the blog Dr! Love the Heidelblog.

  22. It is discouraging to hear such a denigrating tone towards so-called “uneducated” preachers of the “tent revivals.” Evidently, one must have a degree and a solid building before the Holy Spirit can move. What about the Tabernacle in the wilderness or the untrained disciples? God can use whom He will. The bias against revival is based on visible results only. One of the reasons church attendance dropped off was because those churches were far too liberal for new converts to attend. New denominations were born instead, and B.T. Roberts, himself a brilliant law-trained preacher, founded the Free Methodist Church. Not only did his work stand, but he was a staunch abolitionist ahead of his time. He effected social change in this nation. New York was never the same after Finney’s revivals. It is nothing short of pride and snootiness to disparage events in which people were saved. The bias against revival stems from arrogance. Some of the posts here show an incredibly haughty, irritable spirit bent on humiliating anyone who disagrees. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Though we speak with all knowledge but have not love, it profits us nothing. For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that Whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. It sounds to me as if the author here will be disappointed to see people in heaven who walked the sawdust trail.

    • Joy,

      The idea that it is a benefit to the church or the gospel to have waves of uneducated preachers is a distinctly American idea. It has more to do with Andrew Jackson than it does the Apostle Paul.

      The ancient post-apostolic church, the medieval, Reformation, and post-Reformation churches valued educated ministers, in part because they knew that they weren’t apostles, that they weren’t endowed with the Holy Spirit in the same way the Apostles had been. None of the post-Apostolic preachers were transported from place to place the way at least one of the Apostles was. Finney rode horse and carriage because he was no apostle. None of the 19th-century or 20th-century revivalists raised people from the dead.

      There have been many ill-effects from an uneducated clergy. One of them is the spread of heresy. Survey after survey has shown that American evangelical Christianity is shot through with heresy, whether it regards the Trinity, the person of Christ, or the gospel. Another is the corruption of the gospel, e.g., Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. The manipulative revival message that Jesus is waiting helplessly for sinners if only they will walk the sawdust trail is not an Apostolic message. The false sacrament of the anxious bench is as unwanted and unwarranted as the five false sacraments of the Roman communion.

      You are quite right that New York was never the same after Finney. Historians regularly describe that area as the “Burned Over District.” It was burned over because after Finney et al. had been through nothing else could grow there. See Nathan Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity (1989). It is quite an eye-opening read.

      The 2GA was an unmitigated disaster for American Christianity and that disaster continues to produce unhappy results even today. The chaos and enthusiasm of the 2GA gave us the Millerites, the Mormons, the Adventists, and other sects & cults.

      Finney’s message was nothing but sheer heresy against the ecumenical Christian faith. He was a Pelagian, which heresy was condemned by the 4th ecumenical council at Ephesus (AD 431).

      Love requires no one to tolerate heresy and error in the name of pragmatism and sentimentality.

    • What up Joy I hear yeah and I don’t think I can add anymore to what the doctor said but I’ll try. I’ve been where these people In Sudbury have been. A lot of these people are caring and kind but their theology unfortunately is wrong and from personal experience If there is anything that can destroy a Christian it is bad theology. When there is no law gospel distinction in the church, when there is no pure administration of the sacraments(baptism and the Lords supper) and no church discipline then your headed for trouble. I know people in the movement similar to asbury who care about me and wanted my best but all they ended up was hurting me a lot and they didn’t even know it. Things changed for me when I first heard of probably the most amazing doctrine of the whole church which is justification by faith alone on account of Christ alone. Even typing gives me goose bumps. It’s beyond comforting. And the ball started rolling from there and I was introduce to the reformed confession and boy it’s been amazing reading them because they are full of Christ especially the Heidelberg catechism. I’ve been where you have been. One thing I keep hearing is about social justice. And to be honest I used to be in same head pace as you. But I want to encourage by reminding you about about the ultimate justice that exists. God’s almighty justice. Always remember that their first needs that God’s justice be satisfied. The only way to do that is through the believing of the gospel. That amazing good news of our great and might King who died on the cross for his people,!was buried and rose again on the third day for his peoples justification. For believers we get to go and do the most amazing work in all humanity. The work of catching men. The hearing of that great news that’s changes a sinners position with The Almighty. From enemies with God who deserve eternal wrath to having a Father in heaven whose ready to embrace his people when they finally fall asleep. And these people after they are caught(saved) these people need to grow. They need to be in a place where they will grow in the gospel. Where they will know the mighty truths of the Scriptures. The greatest place to start Joy is the reformed confessions that you can find on the Heidelblog. Hope this helps Joy!

      A Bro in Christ,

  23. Could you share your source for statistics on church attendance for the First Great Awakening? I’ve done a little looking on the internet but have only found a few vague numbers without any real sources. The only firm statistics I could find (Finke and Stark) was that church attendance rates doubled from 1776 to 1850, in the time frame of the Second Great Awakening.

  24. David, you have been very kind. I understand what you are saying, and I agree that doctrine is essential. Our churches have erred because they will not endure sound doctrine, and heresy has filled the void. I would not, however, equate revival with heresy or imply that no revival can support sound doctrine. That is a fallacy, for history and Scripture both bear otherwise. We are promised those times of refreshing from the Lord when we repent. We are to live in a state of confession. II Chronicles 7:14 is a promise to “my people who are called by my name.” We do indeed need to seek the Lord’s face in this most decadent age. This “awakening” (call it what we will) at Asbury is spreading across denominational lines, and for this we should rejoice. It doesn’t seem to have been borne out of any single “doctrine” other than repentance from sin, over which I should think we would all agree. I would certainly hope that the Reformed doctrine would not render one incapable of repenting, having thought himself secure beyond all bounds. The Scriptures everywhere teach us to confess our sins moment by moment. I would say that the normal life of the believer should be characterized by habitual obedience to the point that we do not need periodic overhauls of our messy lives. We are to live for God’s glory consistently, and this we cannot do without sound doctrine. Nevertheless, we also know that God’s word teaches that entropy will occur if we do not abide in Christ and His Word. Even the most devoted Christian can become weary in well-doing or proud of his “doing” and require, therefore, a fresh touch from the Savior! Where would any of us be without His touch?

    By advocating for any sort of historical revival even by so-called uneducated men, I am lifting up Christ Himself and His sovereignty in saving whom He will how He will. I don’t think we have any business telling Him how He can and cannot save. He will surely use a rough and humble man if He cannot find a “mighty” one, since there are so few (I Corinthians 1:26).

    Regarding the liberal baggage that so many Arminian churches (and countless others) have picked up, I do not carry that with me. I do not believe in “social justice” as that term is defined today, but I do believe in social reform. “Social justice” is a very different stripe today than the social reforms of days past. I think we are too quick to stereotype and predict the packaged beliefs we think people have when we hear even one thing with which we disagree. I said nothing about not believing in justification by faith, and I said nothing about social justice, and yet I fear you assume that because I support revival, I am at sea theologically. This is a complete mystery to me, when God Himself calls His people to repent. It is high time to awake out of sleep, Romans 13:11. I do not need the Heidelberg Confessions in order to know God’s Word. I need God’s Word! Sola Scriptura!

    Blessings for your most kind and well-intended and even loving reply!

    • Hey Joy, blessings to you! For any of this to truly stick it has to be biblically sound. Your points are true in a general sense but sometimes we need to really get into specifics. Check out Table Talk’s latest edition on Machen. That man was a true crusader!

      I don’t think Asbury will stick outside a little temporal inspiration which is nice and fine but at the end of the day, it’s a demonstration. It’s not enough to truly feed on….

  25. Dr. Clark,

    I truly appreciate your articulate reply. To be clear, I was not in any way advocating “waves of uneducated preachers,” nor was I in any way equating American preachers with apostles.
    I suppose your point was that it was okay for apostles to be uneducated because they were apostles and knew the Holy Spirit, but it was not okay for pioneer preachers to be uneducated because they did not know the Holy Spirit in the same way. But where do you get that in God’s Word? No one is an apostle today, to be sure, and I reject the Apostolic movement and its ilk, but to say that no one is filled with the Holy Spirit in the same way as the apostles were filled is nowhere to be found in Scripture. Paul commanded believers to be filled with the Spirit, Ephesians 5:18. He didn’t say, “Oh, by the way, you won’t be as filled as I am.” Jesus said, “Greater works than these shall ye do,” John 14:12.

    We know Paul was the most educated of the apostles, but Paul himself, speaking for all time, said knowledge was inferior to love because knowledge puffs up, and he counted all as dung that he might win Christ. He did not hold up his pedigree or line the walls with his credentials. He lifted up Christ Himself. We are living in an age that will not endure sound doctrine, but unfortunately, it has been the so-called “educated” men of this generation that have derailed sound doctrine and have substituted notions of their own, with disastrous results to the Bride of Christ. Many have not only educated themselves out of their faith but have become apostate to the faith. It simply does not follow that, the more education one has, the more godly one is, or the more qualified one is to preach the gospel. Only if that education is tempered by the simplicity that is in Christ Himself is it worth a hill of beans.
    I maintain that even “uneducated men” who know the Scriptures are thereby educated and may therefore preach sound doctrine.

    What matters is to be educated in the One Book that Wesley advocated: God’s Holy Word. That book educates everyone who devotes himself or herself to its lifelong study and application. I didn’t think it was fair that you seemed to be equating revivals and revivalism (your terms) with being uneducated, as if God’s Word isn’t sufficient. These men preached God’s Word, and that is what made them so different from the empty formalism of their day. Not only that, but many of them were indeed well-educated. Finney was himself a brilliant lawyer, and B.T. Roberts and others who broke away from the decadent Methodist Church were also brilliantly educated men. Buddy Robinson was pretty rough, but even so, wasn’t Peter? To imply that nothing good came from these revivals is bad history. Quite the opposite is true. Entire movements of social change occurred in their wake–abolition, the women’s rights movement, and countless institutions of higher learning, to name a few. To that, add a rich hymnody and spirit of devotion to Christ Himself.

    For the record, it was Finney himself who popularized the term “burned over,” regarding the wild excitement that had preceded him in those areas. I am aware of his doctrinal aberrations, but generations after his revivals, those areas were transformed in significant ways. To this day, Rochester, New York, is called the most neighborly city, and when someone in times past asked why, the reply came, “Because Finney was here.”

    I don’t think we have the right to judge anything with which we disagree as a total failure. Even most Calvinists recognize John Wesley with respect. My concern was with the caricature of people whom God has clearly used. There are as many weaknesses in the Reformed movement as there have been in any Wesleyan-Arminian movement. I have grown up hearing about and reading about both, with my father pastoring for over 45 years. He was a highly educated man and was ironically considered a “liberal” in holiness circles because he preached the Bible instead of “notions.” He was never far from a book–church history, doctrine, religious biography, world history, politics–deep reading of the great classics of the faith, and he owned hundreds of volumes in his personal library, much of which I inherited. I would never for one moment elevate ignorance above diligence, having studied my own Bible for over fifty years to the point the pages are falling out. I have taught high school and college-level English for over 35 years, and no one values study, learning, and scholarship more than I do, having also sought my own advanced learning. It has been my God-given privilege to teach thousands of students to write well, students who have ended up at Duke, Cornell, Chapel Hill, and other Ivy-League schools. But this all amounts to nothing if I make learning my boast.

    I would not attend a Wesleyan church today because I hear so little doctrine. My own pastor in the SBC has his doctorate and is known all over my state and even the South as a great man of God, but you will not find a humbler, more charitable, more gracious, more self-effacing man. He holds the line doctrinally, but it is the fallacy of either/or reasoning to say that either we make fools of people or we embrace heresy. We speak the truth in love.

    I realize that we will differ on the Reformed theology. I believe in salvation by faith, not by decree. I believe that “whosoever will may come.” The Holy Spirit draws, but it is indeed possible to resist Him, as Stephen said to the Pharisees before he was stoned, Acts 7:51. I’m sure you could talk circles around me theologically, but theology does not save. Faith in Christ saves, and that faith must be present-tense in order to save. That faith is shown by works, James says. I believe in the relationship between fruit-bearing (works) and true faith. To grant us free will does not make Christ helpless. The reverse assumption is that He could not grant us free will, lest He be helpless, so He made us puppets instead, most of whom are thrown away. His is not an “anxious bench” but a throne of grace that Paul says to approach boldly, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need, Hebrews 4:16. This I believe!

    • Joy,

      I realize that we will differ on the Reformed theology. I believe in salvation by faith, not by decree. I believe that “whosoever will may come.” The Holy Spirit draws, but it is indeed possible to resist Him, as Stephen said to the Pharisees before he was stoned, Acts 7:51. I’m sure you could talk circles around me theologically, but theology does not save. Faith in Christ saves, and that faith must be present-tense in order to save. That faith is shown by works, James says. I believe in the relationship between fruit-bearing (works) and true faith. To grant us free will does not make Christ helpless. The reverse assumption is that He could not grant us free will, lest He be helpless, so He made us puppets instead, most of whom are thrown away. His is not an “anxious bench” but a throne of grace that Paul says to approach boldly, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need, Hebrews 4:16. This I believe!

      You might not be very familiar with Reformed theology. We’re a small group in North America but we confess salvation and justification by grace (divine favor) alone, through faith (resting in, trusting in, receiving Christ) alone. Yes, with (e.g., Romans 9) Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, and every single one of the magisterial Protestant Reformers, we say that God’s mysterious decree lies behind who does and does not come to faith but the sole instrument of justification is faith.

      Please take a look at our Belgic Confession and our Heidelberg Catechism to get to know us better.

      I truly appreciate your articulate reply. To be clear, I was not in any way advocating “waves of uneducated preachers,” nor was I in any way equating American preachers with apostles.

      Im glad that we agree on this.

      I suppose your point was that it was okay for apostles to be uneducated because they were apostles and knew the Holy Spirit, but it was not okay for pioneer preachers to be uneducated because they did not know the Holy Spirit in the same way.

      This is close. My point is that the ancient post-apostolic Christians recognized a fairly clear line of demarcation between themselves and the apostles. They recognized that they did not have apostolic power. They were not endowed with the Holy Spirit in the same way. Like the prophets before them, the Apostles were endowed with the Spirit in special way because of their special role in the history of redemption. The apostolic era has closed. The Holy Spirit is not inspiring Holy Scripture any longer.

      But where do you get that in God’s Word? No one is an apostle today, to be sure, and I reject the Apostolic movement and its ilk, but to say that no one is filled with the Holy Spirit in the same way as the apostles were filled is nowhere to be found in Scripture.

      Well, how do you get about Joy? After I baptize someone I travel in a car because I’m not an apostle. Philip, on the other hand, was transported by the Holy Spirit:

      When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus… (Acts 8:39–40; NASB)

      No one today has the power to put people to death (Acts 5 [all]) or raise them from the dead (Acts 20:10–12). We are post-Apostolic Christians. God is not giving more Scripture and he isn’t using people to raise the dead.

      We’re not talking about being “filled with the Spirit” and the fruit of the Spirit. Of course the Spirit is still doing this.

      We know Paul was the most educated of the apostles, but Paul himself, speaking for all time, said knowledge was inferior to love because knowledge puffs up, and he counted all as dung that he might win Christ. He did not hold up his pedigree or line the walls with his credentials. He lifted up Christ Himself. We are living in an age that will not endure sound doctrine, but unfortunately, it has been the so-called “educated” men of this generation that have derailed sound doctrine and have substituted notions of their own, with disastrous results to the Bride of Christ. Many have not only educated themselves out of their faith but have become apostate to the faith. It simply does not follow that, the more education one has, the more godly one is, or the more qualified one is to preach the gospel. Only if that education is tempered by the simplicity that is in Christ Himself is it worth a hill of beans.

      When it came to righteousness with God, yes. Please read his words in context, in Philippians 3. He did not demean education nor did he demand an educated ministry.

      I maintain that even “uneducated men” who know the Scriptures are thereby educated and may therefore preach sound doctrine.

      You are in the revivalist tradition but you are not in the tradition of the ancient Christian church, nor the Medieval, nor the Reformation, nor the post-Reformation church.

      This was one of the points I tried to make in the essay. By the way, haven’t you contradicted yourself? Are you or are you not advocating for an ignorant ministry?

      What matters is to be educated in the One Book that Wesley advocated: God’s Holy Word. That book educates everyone who devotes himself or herself to its lifelong study and application. I didn’t think it was fair that you seemed to be equating revivals and revivalism (your terms) with being uneducated, as if God’s Word isn’t sufficient. These men preached God’s Word, and that is what made them so different from the empty formalism of their day. Not only that, but many of them were indeed well-educated. Finney was himself a brilliant lawyer, and B.T. Roberts and others who broke away from the decadent Methodist Church were also brilliantly educated men. Buddy Robinson was pretty rough, but even so, wasn’t Peter? To imply that nothing good came from these revivals is bad history. Quite the opposite is true. Entire movements of social change occurred in their wake–abolition, the women’s rights movement, and countless institutions of higher learning, to name a few. To that, add a rich hymnody and spirit of devotion to Christ Himself.

      Well, I’ve read Wesley. It was one of the most spiritually depressing episodes in my Christian life. I’m not kidding. It was gospel-free. I’m told by a Wesley scholar that he preaches something like the Reformation gospel of free acceptance with God in his private correspondence. In our tradition, we do that sort of thing in public.

      For the record, it was Finney himself who popularized the term “burned over,” regarding the wild excitement that had preceded him in those areas. I am aware of his doctrinal aberrations, but generations after his revivals, those areas were transformed in significant ways. To this day, Rochester, New York, is called the most neighborly city, and when someone in times past asked why, the reply came, “Because Finney was here.”

      Have investigated the spiritual outcomes after the revivals?

      Approve | Reply | Quick Edit | Edit | History | Spam | Trash

      • Dr. Clark,

        Thank you once again for your thorough and thoughtful reply. I have read your comments carefully. I have skimmed the Belgic Confession and find much there to applaud. The language is beautiful and clear. Sadly, in my experience, much of Calvinism has borne the fruit of an unbiblical and unholy elitism, if not sinful pride. I have seen an entitlement and a “good ole boys” mentality in the Calvinist-roots institutions where I have worked and studied. I was not impressed. How would you like to request prayer for a wayward brother, only to have a college roommate actually say that maybe he was not among the elect? The spiritual lethargy that results from such a mindset is appalling.

        Of the great revivals, I have not read of the dismal failures you have intimated but have read quite the opposite, including an increase in church attendance, many lifetime missionaries and pastors sent forth, many educational institutions established, much-needed social reform, and on and on. No doubt there is truth on both sides. E. Stanley Jones, a key member of the 1905 Asbury revival, was a lifetime missionary to India as a result and became a personal friend of Mahatma Gandhi. His biography of Gandhi influenced the nonviolence of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement. The preaching of John Wesley transformed the English countryside, reaching coalminers who were considered the offscouring of the earth. His indirect influence upon the abolition of the slave trade, particularly on the conversion of John Newton, is well established, as is his relationship with William Wilberforce, whose orations saved England from civil war.

        I have done preliminary reading of primary sources of the 1970 Asbury revival and its spread to Greenville College and elsewhere. Some are newspaper clippings from the Sanford Herald in Florida, tucked away in my father’s copy of One Divine Moment, which tells the Asbury story. The narratives lack in sensationalism but are instead breathtaking in quiet repentance. Several of these voices from time past are at Asbury now. If the litmus test of revival is repentance, these reports abound, and with good reason. Many eyewitnesses to the 1970 revival have been praying for Asbury for years. Are we to discredit their prayers along with the revival? Have you actually read these accounts? If so, you know that Gen Z is leading this movement. How then is it possible that you actually said to Darren, “Well, if there was a genuine ‘revival’ in 1970, why are they having another one? Is there an expiration date on the work of the Holy Spirit?” Such reasoning is dumbfounding. How were the children not yet born to have experienced the revival that took place 50 years ago? Not even their parents were born and perhaps not even their grandparents.

        It was when I was researching Asbury’s present meetings that I found your website. Your going argument seemed to be that this revival isn’t real because the other ones weren’t. I see by the responses in this post that I am not the only one who understood your remarks as such. You confirmed this line of reasoning in your reply to Darrell. To say that I was stunned by your sweeping dismissals is an understatement. Had bizarre, unbiblical things been happening such as occurred in the “Toronto blessing,” we would have had no choice but to condemn the result. But such was not the case. You seemed to ignore the facts. You quoted the 1970 revival as if this was a copy of that. You quoted that weekly classes had been cancelled then, but you didn’t bother to clarify that this time, classes have continued on schedule. High-profile reporters such as Tucker Carlson have been refused. Nothing has been done indecently or without order. To be sure, strange things happened even in Edwards’ day, but does that discredit the preaching of Christ Himself just because demons sometimes shouted out His name? If something earthshaking would have occurred at Asbury, would we discredit it as false? But because nothing did, we discredit that, too? At the very least, young people are singing the Lord’s praises with no end in sight. What possible harm could come from that? Won’t we be doing that for all eternity?

        The thought of a revival anywhere on this planet is not disturbing. What is indeed disturbing is an apparent equating of revival itself with ignorance, as if only ignorant preachers believe revivals are possible and only ignorant preachers, therefore, preside over them. Said ignorance is the sole cause for the revival’s lack of “lasting results.” This fallacy is an appeal to authority–an “authority” that stands outside God’s Word–an authority that needs a library in tow or the Holy Spirit won’t know what to do. The fallacy seems to go that a preacher with only a Bible in his hand has an “ignorant ministry.” I maintain that a preacher with only a Bible in his hand is a rarity that in itself could spark a revival in our day.

    • Hi Joy hope all is well! I think there is another document that I think can help you understand better what the reformed believe. Here’s the link:
      Would love to hear back on what your thoughts are. Would love for you to read the whole of the canons of dort. It’s been super encouraging for me and I hope that you will also find it encouraging. Happy Tuesday!


  26. Dr Clark,

    Thanks for your post.

    (1) I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the documentary “Revival: The Work of God” ( )

    (2) Then, I’m not sure the exact focus of your 2008 book in this regard, but it seems your focus (in this post at least) is limited to revivals in the USA (and Europe)? What are your thoughts on e.g. 1860 in South Africa: “The fruits of that revival [around 1860 in Worcester] were seen in the congregation for many years. They consisted, among others, in this, that fifty young men offered themselves for the ministry. And this happened in days when it was a difficult matter to find young men for the work of the ministry.” p.143 of “Andrew Murray, Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa” (2015) by Vance E. Christie ( ). Some of the book extracts can be read @
    There are also various reports of reconciliations between farm owners and workers – although I cannot get the exact quote I’m looking for, some of the details can be seen here , which also mentions increased zeal for missions and church attendance.
    With the risk of muddying the water, there are obviously lots of nuance needed:
    – The initial biography of Andrew Murray was done in 1919 by Johannes du Plessis (1868–1935), a heretic ( ), although from what I understand, JI Marais was Murray’s choice to do the biography, with du Plessis asked to help, but at that stage Marais was too old, so du Plessis did the great majority of the work.
    – As Douglas F. Kelly notes in his endorsement of the book of Vance E. Christie: “Murray was certainly in the Augustinian/Calvinist tradition, and his writings breathe a devotional spirit which have always cheered me onward. After much careful and appreciative reading of him I definitely decided that the Puritans’ account of the struggles of the Christian Life (such as in vol. 6 of the Works of Owen) give a better account of many of these matters than Murray’s ‘Higher Life’ teaching (developed later in his life). Yet his work is still valuable in so many areas, even though many of us cannot receive all of it without some exegetical critique.”

    • Andreas,

      Yes, my book was written for an American audience (though it has been read by lots of people outside the USA with some profit). I’ve not studied the Reveil in Switzerland and France (c. 1814 et seq.) but my impression is that it had some positive outcomes. It seems to have been of a different character than the 1st & 2nd Great Awakenings in the USA.

      I’ve not seen the documentary. I’ll take a look when I can. I’m trying to finish a very large publishing project so outside of my teaching and my work on the HB, everything else is on hold for now.

  27. Food for thought from CT mag of all places:

    Why I Left the World Council of Churches
    I could not but see the WCC as a juggernaut that had run off the road.

    J. I. PackerApril 5, 1993

    Why I Left the World Council of Churches

    This article is part of a larger series, Has the WCC Kept the Faith?

    I tell this story because I was asked to do so. It is an account of how, standing firm convictionally, I saw the leading organization of the world Christian-unity movement slide away from me. My attitude to it had then to change, just because my view of God’s truth had not changed.

    Once, perhaps pompously, I spoke of my relation to the World Council of Churches and local enterprises linked with it as one of qualified involvement. Now my understanding of biblical ecumenism requires me to stand outside those structures and speak of the need for repentance. I call my position, again perhaps pompously, one of prophetic detachment. My narrative is offered as a case study. It has three parts.

    Doing the do-gooders good

    Part one began in 1944, when I was converted to Christ in my first term at Oxford. Both the student evangelical movement to which, under God, I owed my soul and the evangelical Anglicans, with whom, as a cradle Anglican, I then formed links, nurtured me in an isolationist mindset. I was taught to view professed Christians who were not wholly with us on matters like biblical inspiration and authority or personal conversion as hardly Christian at all. Against this my judgment slowly rebelled.

    While I saw myself as much closer, doctrinally and devotionally, to evangelicals of other church allegiances than to nonevangelicals in my own denomination, I could also see that many “catholic” and “liberal evangelical” Anglicans loved my Lord, even though some of their beliefs made me wince. I became an ecumenical evangelical with a bilateral stance, stretching out my right hand to fellowship with the world evangelical movement, whatever its church affiliation (or lack of it), and extending my left hand to associate with Anglicans as such. So a concern for Christian unity—perhaps I should say Christian Christian unity—was born in me fairly early on.

    When I was ordained and began my ministry in a church in 1952, my theology had settled down as creedal and Reformed, with a directly biblical and pastoral thrust, and my hopes and prayers centered on the need for a new evangelical revival in the Church of England.

    As for the World Council of Churches, formed in 1948, with the powerful biblical theologian W. A. Visser’t Hooft as general secretary, and the announced aim of advancing Christian unity and service to the world, I saw no reason not to wish it well. I knew about the Faith and Order and Life and Work movements (both launched in the 1920s) that were coming together in it. And while I regretted the Life and Work slogan “Doctrine divides; service unites,” I thought, no doubt naively, that being tied in with Faith and Order would do the do-gooders good, and complement their agenda.

    Alarm bells ringing

    Part two of the story opens in the late fifties. An Anglican bureaucrat came to Bristol, where I was teaching in a theological college, to persuade me to set aside time to contribute to the work of various church commissions that were exploring new proposals about faith, order, and church relations. I said I would, and over the next 20 years I was involved in Anglican-Presbyterian and Anglican-Methodist unity talks, in the Archbishops’ Doctrine Commission, and for more than a decade in the Faith and Order Advisory Group of the Church of England’s General Synod, a body which, among other things, prepared responses to questions and documents sent from the WCC headquarters in Geneva. This obliged me to look more intentionally at what the WCC was doing, and I was not too happy with what I saw.

    In the fifties, I had believed that the theological tools being forged by the “biblical theology” movement would be put to use in the WCC for purging and synthesizing in a directly biblical mold the many denominational traditions being brought together. The informal slogan of “biblical theology” was “read the Bible from within, in terms of its writers’ own faith,” and I was all for that (and still am). In the sixties, however, it became clear to me that the WCC was working not with a reformational but with a relativist agenda, based on the idea that the church should let the secular world rather than the Bible tell it what to think and speak about. Politicization, in the sense of seeking political influence and adjusting testimony and policy as a means to a political end, had thus begun. I found that very worrying.

    In the fifties, “one world—one church” was an oft-used slogan, and suspicious critics alleged that the WCC was out to create a single global super-church, including all Roman Catholics, and headed by the pope. I never considered the criticism realistic, for the WCC was in no position to bring this ecumaniac’s pipe dream to pass, and I thought the WCC’s supposed commitment to “biblical theology” was in any case safeguard enough against it. In the sixties, however, while super-church talk dried up, so did “biblical theology” (academics were by then reacting against it), and the WCC now appeared as sponsoring a consensus theology that celebrated the Bible without encountering its authority. This theology seemed bent on reducing Christian tradition to secular concepts of “humanization.” The cloven hoofs of North American liberal Protestantism and Latin American liberation theology were seen as the council began more explicitly to identify at official levels with socialist and revolutionary politics. In doing so, it acted as if it represented its member churches. It committed churches to these programs, or at the least promised to ensure that concern for peace and justice on earth would henceforth be the churches’ top priority in this fallen world. The alarm bells in my mind were now ringing loud and clear.

    What was the church’s true priority? To evangelize the world, and thereby establish self-supporting, self-propagating churches everywhere. Where should “humanization” in the sense of philanthropy and social service come in? As supporting expressions of the neighbor-love of which evangelism is the primary expression. What was the WCC, which had absorbed the International Missionary Council in 1961, now saying about cross-cultural evangelism? That the church of the West should put into force a “moratorium” on it (that is, an indefinite suspension of the activity). Was the WCC assuming that universalism is true, so that all will be saved whether evangelized or not? Apparently so. Did the WCC then wish to redefine the Christian mission in a way that makes evangelism optional, or leaves it out of the picture altogether? Again, apparently so. Was not the WCC hereby disqualifying itself from the leadership it claimed in the ecumenical—that is, the world-Christian—sphere? I began to suspect so, and waited anxiously to see. So to part three of my story.

    The point of no return

    The cat finally came out of the bag at the Conference on World Mission held in Bangkok in 1973. I was not there, but the reports that reached me affected me like a kick in the stomach. Bangkok was deliberately structured as an experience of ideological group dynamics, orchestrated with the set purpose of browbeating participants into accepting a new account of the Christian world mission. This view equated present salvation with socio-politico-economic well-being. The sinner’s reconciliation to God, sanctification by grace, and hope of eternal glory were no longer viewed as central; indeed, for all practical purposes they were pushed right out of the picture. Syncretistic humanization became the name of the WCC’s game. The WCC leadership celebrated Bangkok as the close of the era of missions and the opening of the era of mission: truly a watershed event. For me, too, it was a watershed event, but one to be described in different terms.

    Bangkok impressed me as a point of no return. It confirmed my worst fears about the way the WCC was going. Now the council had betrayed the true church by abandoning the true gospel and the true missionary task and, what was more, made it a virtue to have done so. I saw this as the nemesis of the WCC’s politicization: seeking significance in the global power play, it had given up its trusteeship of truth. Its euphoria about Bangkok seemed spiritually unreal, if not indeed demonic. With all the charity in the world, I could not but see the WCC, ideologically speaking, as a juggernaut that had run off the road and totaled itself, becoming irrelevant to and useless in the furthering of the church’s God-given role.

    So since 1973 I have as a matter of conscience stood apart from the world of the WCC and done what I could for Christian unity and the Christian world mission under other auspices. I live in hope that the WCC might show some signs of going back on Bangkok, and I wish I could see some, but none has appeared as yet. Affirmations of evangelism have certainly been made since 1973, but they are clearly meant to be fitted into the Bangkok frame. Meanwhile, however, informal ecumenism flourishes among creedal Christians—Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic, all round the world. And in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, to look no further, church-planting evangelism prospers wonderfully. Christian unity and the Christian mission still go ahead, despite the debacle of the WCC, and in that I rejoice.

    • “ Nevertheless, it would not be serving Packer’s legacy well nor does it serve us and those who will succeed us lightly to pass over what Trueman describes as Packer’s erring “on the side of charity in his ecumenical dealings.” Hindmarsh writes of Packer’s search for “common ground with “charismatics, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox believers.” He describes Packer as searching for “catholicity” and as impelled by what Packer described as “ethos of convertedness within a larger ethos of catholicity.”

      That ethos is what we know from history as Pietism. The Pietists reacted to their state churches in Europe and the British Isles by downplaying doctrinal precision, all the while affirming the ecumenical creeds and the confessions of their traditions, whether Lutheran or Reformed, in favor of what I have called the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE). The Pietists had a mixed record. Some of them managed to hang on to orthodoxy in their generation but typically they lost it in their children’s or grandchildren’s generation. The great German liberals, whether outright liberals or so-called Mediating Theologians, were all the children of Pietists because, what matters in Pietism, ultimately, is not confession but a personal experience of the risen Christ. So long as one can give a testimony of conversion, confession and doctrine come second. Hindmarsh captures the spirit of Pietism well: “Faith, repentance, fellowship, communion, holiness and service are all the while being renewed by the coursing life of the Spirit. Given this spiritual ethos, Packer was eager to make common cause with faithful believers in other Christian communions.”

      This dynamic, this conviction helps to explain Packer’s involvement in two different ecumenical projects with Romanists where the doctrine of justification was compromised. Few Americans knew about the first until the second, Evangelicals and Catholics Together (1994) and its successor, widely known as ECT II. I have described and interacted with these documents and episodes previously (see the resources below). In both cases, to different degrees, evangelicals signed and affirmed as the gospel and the doctrine of justification equivocations that subverted the Reformation. They did so because they were convinced that their Romanist dialogue partners were also born again and thus the language of the documents, even on justification, was academic. The material question, regeneration, was already settled….” -RSC

  28. Thanks for responding, Dr Clark. I’m still not sure if you really believe there is such a thing as revival. You say 1GA was not particularly biblical or reformed. Has there ever been a revival that was biblical and reformed, in your opinion? What do you think of what took place in Scotland in the 19th century in Dundee and Kilsyth and the surrounding area?

    The work was investigated by the Presbytery of Aberdeen. It was found that many were converted and those who gave clear evidence of conversion almost all persevered in the faith. The Presbytery received testimony from various ones involved, especially the ministers. Probably the most well-known of those ministers was Robert Murray McCheyne. The ministers involved never referred to the meetings as revival meetings. But MacCheyne said this in reporting to the Presbytery: “It is my decided and solemn conviction, in the sight of God, that a very remarkable and glorious work of God, in the conversion of sinners and edifying of saints, has taken place in this parish and neighbourhood…. I have never seen or heard anything indecorous at such meetings…. So far as I am aware no unscriptural doctrines have been taught, nor has there been a keeping back of any part of the whole counsel of God…. I have been fully convinced that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the Kirk of Shotts, and again, a century after, at Cambuslang, etc, in Scotland, and under the Ministry of President Edwards in America, was attended by the very same appearances has the work in our own day.”

    I’m quite surprised to find you questioning Edwards’ orthodoxy. Also, you say with Murray the only real unifying factor that matters with him is the quality of subjective religious experience. I’m not sure what you mean by the quality of subjective religious experience. Every religious experience is subjective. The difference is that some are based on objective truth and others or not. I would be interested in knowing what part of Murray’s argument you found to be country to fact and where you found his analysis be inconsistent.

    Dr Clark, you have given me a lot of reading to do ( just like seminary): RRC, Marsden and Tricia’s thesis. Where can I find the latter, please?

    • Dennis,

      I certainly believe that the Holy Spirit can and does do wonderful things, in his own mysterious way, through the due use of ordinary means. I am guided by John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” It seems to me that a lot of what people seek in revival is exactly what Jesus said is invisible! They want to know where he’s been, what’s he’s been up to, and where he’s going. Jesus said, “you don’t know…”. What we can see is the effect and perhaps the affect. What we can observe is the fruit of the Spirit.

      I am confident that God the Spirit is working wonderfully through his appointed means: the preaching of the Holy Gospel and the use of the holy sacraments:

      65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only, from where comes this faith?

      The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel, and confirms it by the use of the Holy Sacraments.

      Has God worked marvelously and unexpectedly through the due use of ordinary means? Indeed he has. I trust the Presbytery of Aberdeen or at least I have no cause to doubt them or Robert Murray MacCheyene, but as to what people call “revival,” well, the devil is in the definition and the details.

      I confess the ecumenical faith, in the ecumenical creeds. I confess the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity. Those are the things to which I’ve taken vows as a member and minister in the United Reformed Churches in North America. We do not confess “revivals,” therefore opinions about them are just that, personal opinions and matters of Christian liberty on which good people may freely disagree.

      As to Edwards theology, you shall have to take it up with Charles Hodge, who called him a pantheist. He was debatably, an occasionalist, a Platonist, and I am confident that he corrupted the doctrine of justification. Jonathan Edwards is not my homeboy and he should not be yours.

      We’ve a resource page on Edwards to help people catch up with some of the modern scholarship on Edwards. See also the resources on revivals and revivalism.

      Ms Howerzyl’s thesis is linked there. Here it is for convenience.

      • Thanks again Dr Clark for your helpful response. I agree with much of what you say about the Holy Spirit. I understand your reluctance to use the word revival. Many things are associated with that term which we wouldn’t accept as biblical. But, I still use the term. I would say a simple working definition is this: it is a sovereign act of God whereby He strengthens his people with might through the Holy Spirit, empowering the means of grace to an extraordinary degree, resulting in abundant edification of God’s people, unusual spiritual progress and the conversion of sinners, usually improving the moral and social climate of the surrounding community. I will leave history contains numerous examples of this having taken place. I think it is sometimes necessary because the church has declined many times in spiritual vitality sometimes to a degree that something unusual is required to restore its spiritual health. It’s fair to say that many times there are irregularities, errors, emotional excesses etc along with a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. In a fallen world of sinners and demons that is sadly going to happen.

        In terms of Edwards, I’ll have to do a little more research. But as for Hodge,, I don’t think he quite calls him a pantheist. In reference to Edwards’s theory of identity, Hodge says that “this doctrine, therefore, in its consequences, is essentially pantheistic.” He is not really suggesting that Edwards is a pantheist and I don’t think you are either. If he was truly a pantheist could he be saved? He’s saying he was mistaken on this point. Thanks again, Dr Clark. Clark.

        • Dennis,

          If a person teaches pantheistic doctrine, he is by definition a pantheist.

          I trust that Edward‘s actual theology, what he believed, was better than what he wrote. The point is that, as Richard Muller has been arguing for some decades, he was no paragon of Reformed orthodoxy.

          • We may be dealing with semantics here but if someone knowingly accepts and believes in pantheistic doctrines and therefore knowingly teaches and seeks to teach and intends to teach pantheism then they’re a pantheist. But if someone mistakenly teaches something that has pantheistic consequences, I think to call them a pantheist is a bit extreme, especially when that person is a professing Christian and a preacher and teacher of the Christian faith and would denounce pantheism if he was asked.

  29. Thanks again, Darren. Yes, I also found Murray’s book very helpful. And yes, I know, Edwards criticised many of the things of an extreme nature that we’re going on. And that always seems to happen during a revival. It’s not all good. There are always things to be critical of. As long as fallible human beings, sinful human beings are involved in revival, why would we expect anything else?

    I also couldn’t comment on Asbury. I have no firsthand knowledge but I am somewhat sceptical. But that doesn’t make me reject the idea of revival in general. The church goes up and down in terms of spiritual health and vitality. When it becomes moribund and God restores it, and it happens more quickly than would be the case normally, and more people are converted then would happen normally, why not call that revival?

  30. Thank you, Dave, for your response and kindness. I will endeavor to read the sources you have provided. I am thankful that we can take the Lord at His Word! Praise His Name!

  31. Dr. Clark,

    This is a different question, and maybe you have addressed this elsewhere on your posts, but I recently read You Are What You Love, by Jamie K. A. Smith. I am curious as to your thoughts on this book and/or his work in general.


  32. You seem to be very hung up on the wording “revival”. How about that hundreds of young people are repenting and getting touched by God? I wouldn’t dare put a damper on what God might be doing in these young people’s lives. Oh, that my two “20 something” daughters would be repenting, worshiping, and craving a touch from God like these young people. Come Lord Jesus. Our young people are hurting, depressed, prodigals, suicidal, and in bondage to their sin. Show our young people that you are good. They don’t know your goodness and grace. All they see is politics, religion, pharisees, and hypocrites. Remove the blinders off our young people so they can see you. Amen!

    • Casey,

      What I want is for young people (and everyone else) to come to a new life and true faith, to enjoy communion with God, and to grow in their new life in Christ. I want young people (and everyone else) to grow in their knowledge of and love for Christ and his gospel.

      I doubt that what people call revival is the way that the Lord has instituted to achieve these ends.

      Is what is happening at Asbury a revival? I doubt it and I’m not alone. The president of Asbury University has hesitated to call this episode a revival. He says that we will know later on whether it was a revival. I agree with him.

      I don’t think that a passing, intense religious experience is all that helpful nor do I think it has much to do with the Christian life, sanctification, or the fruit of the Spirit.

      I understand that our young people are hurting. History tells me that events like this don’t actually do much to address the things about which you and I are both concerned. What they need is to be fed week by week in a gospel preaching church. They need to be well fed and nourished on the good news. They need to be instructed in the faith, they need community and prayer. What they need is the ordinary Christian life and what we call “the means of grace” (the preaching of the gospel, the use of the sacraments, and prayer).

  33. Psalm 22:3 God inhabits the praise of His people. This is what I heard when I questioned the Holy Spirit about Asbury. I was also reminded of Matt. 18:20. Mind you I can be a skeptic of so called forced spiritual more specifically emotional only experiences. However, that stated, I attended this event with my wife & was greatly encouraged by it. I witnessed young and old alike in worship. It brought a smile to my face as I realized the prelude to come. Yes, a gentle loving AH HA moment if you will. I myself didn’t have an epiphany experience but did enjoy worshipping and witnessing the event

  34. It is interesting that the timing of this event coincides with the release of Jesus Revolution, a questionable event in and of itself

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