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 Revivals in History

Do they function as guard rails, cruise control, speed bumps, or on ramps?

It’s a simple fact—revivals change things, big time. During the brief history of our nation, revivals have twice radically altered the course of events in our great land—once in the 18th century (First Great Awakening), and once in the 19th century (Second Great Awakening).

In the first instance, revival led to our nation’s independence; in the second, it led to the abolition of slavery. In both cases, revival’s net effect on the entire nation was profound.

While it is true that revivals do start in the Church, the power of real revival cannot be contained inside the walls of buildings. While God loves to bless the Body of Christ, His revivals are never limited to that. Mighty revivals change entire nations.

It is, I believe, this wonderful dynamic that is described in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14: “If . . . my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

That is to say, according to the Bible, the stated purpose of revivals is to change whole nations, not just churches.

We are, I am convinced, in the early stages of a new, major awakening in America. If I am correct (and there are many Christians who would agree with me), then it is safe to say that this new revival will, like the great awakenings before it, significantly change America’s cultural landscape yet again.

While I am looking forward to this new awakening with great expectation, I do see a major issue that needs to get worked out. That issue has to do with the skewed views some Christian leaders have of history; and even more seriously incorrect, their notion of revival’s role in it.

For instance, I recently heard a Christian leader state from the pulpit that “God’s role in history is that of an architect, and the Church that of assembly line workers.” At an earlier time I heard that same leader state that “history was cyclical.”

Both views are not only seriously skewed, but are counter productive to the point of being destructive. If adhered to, those views will prevent revival from taking root in the lives of those who hold them.   

It is my strong desire that as many Christians as possible be able to participate in this new awakening. That is why I wrote this paper. First, I will describe what some of the incorrect views of history, and explain their origins.

Second, I point out what the correct view of history is.

And, third, I will explain the proper way to understand revivals’ role in history.

Skewed view number one: The Cyclical View of History

Wise old Solomon wrote that: “Blowing toward the south, Then turning toward the north, The wind continues swirling along; And on its circular courses the wind returns. . . . and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:6ff).

Later Solomon elaborated on this seemingly “cyclical” aspect of history (Eccles; 7:8ff). He there apparently suggests that history not only returns to its starting point, but that the end is even better than the beginning.  

Even God, when speaking through His prophets concerning the end of this age, refers to that period in terms of times, seasons, days and hours—all terms with a certain “cyclical” air about them.

Do you suppose that history is really like that? Does it go around and around in circles? And, if so, is it the purpose of revival to guide the Church back to where it has already been? Perhaps back to God?

Our senses tell us that the cyclical concept of history has some support in the natural world as well. For instance, much in nature certainly appears cyclical—the moon circles the earth, the earth and the other planets of our solar system circle the sun. This produces the cyclical aspects of days, nights and seasons.

This notion of history is probably best expressed by the cliché: “Those who fail to study history are destined to repeat it.” Put another way, “What goes around, comes around.”

 

Those who hold to the Cyclical View of history would say: “He who fails to study history is destined to repeat it”; but they would leave it there. To them, history proceeds in a circle, or in multiple circles (Eccles. 1:6ff).

If history is, indeed, cyclical, then revivals could serve only a very limited function—that of helping to keep the Church going in the proper circle.

Under a cyclical scenario, revivals would function much like guard rails on History Highway. They would serve to direct the Church back to home base, back to its roots, back to where it started, but perhaps better. These “guard rail revivals” would be thoughtfully designed and created by God, then appropriately placed along the way in order to keep the Church moving in the right direction. In extreme cases, revivals might even be thought of as serving much the same function as those formidable fences at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

To help explain what I am getting at, I offer this word picture of guard rail revival along History Highway:

Here the expressway appears straight and clear for miles ahead. You slip your car into gear, and sit back. You are quite sure you know exactly where you are headed. All you have to do is follow the highway, you think. That should not be tricky.

You find your favorite station on the radio, and then survey the horizon. You are comforted by the amazingly straight nature of the highway stretching endlessly before you. You begin to settle a little more deeply into your seat. You wiggle around a bit, looking for that point of optimum comfort.

Just when you think you’ve found your perfect groove, without warning, your body is hurled with neck-wrenching velocity to the fullest extent of your seat belt.

Smush!

The steering wheel spins in your hands, as your car bounces off a guard rail, and back onto the highway. You are suddenly wide eyed and completely alert.

“How,” you wonder, “did I ever miss that curve? Where did it come from?”

You immediately slide straight up in your seat, blink your eyes a couple of times, steer your car back under control and into the proper lane; then you look around to see if anyone witnessed your embarrassment.

Once back on course, you inspect the road behind through your rear view mirror. Sure enough, the highway did curve a little to the left; while you apparently tried to straighten it right out.

And you might have, had it not been for that pesky guard rail.

If history is indeed cyclical, then revivals would be God’s way of redirecting the Church back on course for the return trip.  Revivals, here, would serve only as guard rails to keep the Church moving in its proper circle, or circles.

But, what if history is not cyclical? What if history is linear, progressing from Genesis to Revelation in a divinely ordained straight line?

Skewed view number two: The Purely Linear View of History

The Purely Linear View is pretty cut and dry. It proceeds simply from beginning to end, in a sovereignly predetermined, but largely unpredictable (at least from man’s perspective) manner.

It is this linear notion that works well in the system of those who would emphasize the sovereignty of God, over free will. This view lends itself to what is commonly referred to as “Providential History,” as it allows the student to look back at recorded events for the connecting thread of the progressive revelation of God.

This view differs strongly from the cyclical in the area of predictability, as linear analysis likes hindsight far better than foresight.

In fact, if history is purely straight-line linear, nothing outside inspired prophecy can be known of the future. This is suggested in Matthew 24:36, where it is described how even the Son of Man did not know exactly when the end would come.

Under this structure, the relationship between historical events is far more sovereign than causal. Under this view of history, revivals play a very minor role (if any at all) because it not only does not regard free will, it greatly diminishes any effecting role for man in history. Regarding the holocaust it would say: “Sure, the holocaust was a terrible thing, but it was destined to be.”

In other words, under a totally linear scheme of things, mankind is trapped in an assembly-line existence, inexorably destined to perform rote-like, boring religious acts—unable to make any decisions that have a lasting effect. Then, at the end, Christ returns.

It is not difficult to describe revival’s role under a linear view of history, because revival under such a schema would be entirely inconsequential. Picture this—revival as cruise control:

You are driving down History Highway, all is well, the pavement beneath you is sometimes smooth, sometimes bumpy, and sometimes downright treacherous. Nevertheless, once you engage “cruise control,” you haven’t a worry in the world—God is in charge, and he will get you to your destination intact—eventually. All you have to do is to sit back, and let God be God; after all, He has a plan.

Skewed view number three: The Wave Theory of History

As I noted above, there are biblical elements that strongly suggest something other than a purely linear view of history. Because of those, another theory arose that incorporates both cyclical and linear aspects. It is the Wave Theory of History.

Advocates of the Wave Theory see the history of mankind as a progression of sine-like waves, moving from left to right (beginning to end), with God’s plan somewhere inside those waves. They would look at an era of prosperity and say, “get ready for a depression,” and vice versa. The image above depicts the broken line as representing God’s plan, from beginning to end, and the wavy line as the Church working its way to that same end, but not following as direct a path as God planned it.

There are some good reasons to support this concept. First of all, history did have a definite starting point: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).

Second, after the beginning of time, there was then a progression of meaningful events that led to the Messiah. This can be seen in the Old Testament and in the Gospels.

Third, once all things have occurred that are destined to occur (throughout the course of history), at that point there will be an end to this historical age. This notion is evident in the New Testament, especially in the book of Revelation.

Could this be? Could history be both linear (with a beginning and an end), and seemingly cyclical? Here’s how I see it.

I am convinced that God, Himself, if viewing history through man's eyes, would do so in a linear fashion. While He certainly does use cyclical-like terminology to explain the relationship of historical phenomena to mankind, I am convinced that He would actually like man to view His plan in history more as linear than anything else.

To understand how this works, we must first understand an important aspect about the nature of God. We must recognize the fact that God does not actually “live” in history, as do we; time (and the history that inhabits time) are merely parts of His creation. God is eternal. He is at once “in” what we would call the past, the present, and the future. God “lives” in an eternal “now,” while man, at this stage of his existence, does not, and cannot.

There is no doubt that the Bible does teach a concept of history which incorporates a linear progression of ordered events, as well as what seems to be cyclical.

Unlike the Cyclical View, or the Stringent Linear Theory, the Wave Theory allows for a linear progression of ordered events, as well as what seems to be cyclical. Under the Wave Theory revivals might best be viewed as “speed bumps,” placed along the highway to wake the Church up whenever it gets sleepy, lazy, or just careless—much like speed bumps along a drowsy drive through a golf course

Picture this:

You are driving on an unfamiliar stretch of highway. It is sunny and warm (not hot, just warm). You have the top of your sports car down. The breeze is blowing through your hair, and you begin to pick up speed. You car is running smoothly. You hear and appreciate all those horses under the hood. You are comfortable and confident—not a care in the world.

You have been at this for such a long time. Days have turned into nights, and back into days; weeks into years, and years into decades. It seems like an endless progression. You do not often take the time think about it, but when you do, you realize that you may have become just a little too comfortable.

And that’s how you feel this afternoon—very confident, maybe even a little bored. You are, perhaps, simply maneuvering through the hills and curves by rote. You really do not have to think about it, because you’ve done it so many times before.

Suddenly, your chin crashes into your chest, and your torso is driven deep into the car seat. You can hear your back “snap, crackle and pop” like a fresh bowl of Rice Krispies in cold milk.

A loud crunching noise explodes from beneath your speeding car. You know what has just happened. One of those annoying mounds of asphalt or concrete has carved its initials into the bottom of your car. You have just encountered a speed-bump. And, without a doubt, this speed-bump has accomplished its goal—it slowed you down and got your attention.

“Well,” you confess, “I guess it’s time for a driving adjustment.” You now slow down, pull over to the side of the road, and get out your map.

Is this what revivals do to the Church? Is it the purpose of revival speed-bumps to get the attention of over-confident travelers along History Highway, slow them down, and force them to check a map, or re-engage their GPS?

As we discussed earlier, not only does the Bible employ cyclical-like terminology for history, but there is no doubt that it also provides for a concept of history incorporating a linear progression of ordered events.

If the Wave Concept is correct, then the Church is totally passive with regard to revivals. Revivals are simply there, already in place, just waiting to correct the Church’s speed and attitude, and to preserve God’s plan for His Church.

The Correct way to View History

Personally, I don’t buy any of the above-noted concepts, at least not in their totality. I think there is something very significant lacking in all three word pictures. I think there is only one correct way to view history, as God teaches it.

That "correct way to view history" is what I have diagramed below.

The straight line in the graph above represents God’s best for mankind. In every respect, it is best apprehended by mankind as linear. The irregular line represents the history of mankind, as it is actually being lived out.

This diagram correctly depicts revivals’ dramatic effects on man’s history, but not on God’s ultimate plan. A scientific metaphor of this relationship would be the phenomenon of light, as it is bent by the gravitational forces of the universe (Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity). As far as light is concerned, if it were capable of cognitive activity, it would be convinced it was proceeding in a straight line. But in reality, light is always bent by the force of masses in the universe.

In a similar fashion, mankind’s journey from Genesis to Revelation (because of the human condition, and the existence of evil), is bent by ungodly forces along the way. In most cases, man is not even aware (in his natural state) that his way is being “bent”.  

The proper way to view revivals in history is that they are purposed by God as the only way to get mankind back on course—back to where God wants His people to be. But, specific revival events should never be viewed as pre-ordained. In every case throughout Church history, revivals were facilitated by acts of volitionman's volition. The only thing pre-ordained about revivals is God's provision for them (2 Chronicles 7:14). Of course, God knows in advance when such revivals will take place. After all, he omniscient. But He never forces mankind to do His will. 

In my view, revivals represent a potent dynamic in the life of the Church. Rather than guard-rails, cruise control, or speed-bumps, I think the only correct way to view the nature of revivals is as on-ramps.

Consider this scenario:

For more miles than you can count you have driven along on this dusty, bumpy, gravel service road. Sometimes the going gets so rough that you have to call for an evangelistic tow truck just to get your car moving.

You often think, “what a miserable way to live! Especially since I know there is an expressway somewhere nearby. It’s just that I can never seem to find a way to get over to it. It’s almost like life is some sort of cruel punishment.”

The problem facing you is that between God’s Way Expressway, and your dusty old service road, there is a deep, and often muddy, run-off ditch, and an insurmountable guard rail.

The sad truth is that sometimes you can actually see that expressway. And, not only can you see it, you have read a great deal about it. But the problem is, you just can’t seem to find the way to get on it.

More miles pass—hundreds of miles, then thousands, then tens and hundreds of thousands. Still, you cannot find your way onto that elusive expressway.

You have often seen it on your map, and you have even read books that were written by your ancestors. They used to drive on the expressway. Your family history includes stories about how Great Granddad had driven most of his life on that expressway, many years ago. “Could those stories be true?” you wonder. But, no matter how badly you would like to be like your ancestors, you cannot seem to get on God’s Way Expressway.

And you are not alone in your frustration—all of your friends are plodding along on that same miserable road, even when it degrades during storms into a muddy two-track rut. No one seems to have the answer.

Then, a “miracle” happens. Along comes a fellow traveler, and he has what seems to you to be a novel idea. He has read about something he calls “cloverleaf on-ramps,” and he’s convinced that all those little, seemingly insignificant roads you have passed by, for all those years, those roads that appear to exit off to the right (directly away from the expressway), actually lead back around and then right onto the great expressway.

It all sounds too absurd to be true—it’s just too simplistic. Nevertheless, you decide it’s worth a try. “After all,” you think, “it simply just could not get much worse than it already is. So why not?”

Immediately you jerk the steering wheel sharply to the right, seemingly opposite your desired direction, and you follow one of those mysterious curved constructions off to the right, up a steep incline, and back over the dirty old service road, over the guard rail and over the run-off ditch.

Suddenly, there it is before you! You can see it now, and it is awe-inspiring—it is that wonderful, long sought-after, expressway!

The pavement immediately smoothes out beneath your tires, and your foot quite naturally plunges to the floor. You car begins to accelerate. At first it does cough and sputter a bit, but as the carbon burns out of the engine, you begin to glide effortlessly along the highway.

“This,” you proclaim loudly, “is what my car was created for!”

A smile spreads across your face, so large that it looks almost decadent. For the first time in your life you understand what old Great Granddad was talking about. You carefully examine the road ahead, and then check to the right and to the left. “There is simply nothing in my way,” you declare. “It’s just like the Autobahn. I can go as fast as I want!”

Then, suddenly and without warning, you notice the faster traffic is speeding off to your left, while you are again beginning to encounter some pot holes. You are quick to recognize what is happening.

“Oh, no!” you exclaim, “I’m on an exit ramp!”

You lock your brakes, check traffic to your left, and shoot back onto the expressway. “That was a close call!” you exclaim, as you again accelerate to optimum speed. You soon realize that if you are to continue to drive on the expressway, you have to remain diligent to avoid those dreaded old exit-ramps.

This word picture, I believe, best depicts the relationship between revivals and history. It is a fact—God’s provision of time for mankind is linear. It flows on a straight line (in God’s eyes) from Genesis to Revelation. That’s what the Bible teaches.

However, because man has the ability to make mistakes, he is not forced to make the trip in the most expeditious means available to him. He may, if he chooses, bounce along on the unhappy roads of the “unrevived”—that is, suffering the service roads of life.

This is not to suggest that man is in any way forced to remain unrevived—not at all. In fact, for man to remain unrevived, he must consciously choose to overlook the signs marking the highway, those ordained by God to direct him to the on-ramps. Probably the clearest such sign is the one found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If . . . my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Sometimes, I think, God’s people miss revival because they do not understand just how available it is to them—perhaps because they do not understand biblical history. In other cases, I think they simply refuse to do the hard work required to negotiate the revival on-ramps. They might just get too comfortable (or lazy) in their unrevived state. Maybe they get too religious, or just caught up in the mundane.

In any case, God’s people choose whether or not they will get revived. I think there is no doubt about this.

However, there does remain one legitimate question: If the schema of history I have described above is correct, if revivals are like ramps leading onto God’s straight line “fast track” to glory, then why does God inspire Solomon and others to couch aspects of history in what so clearly appears to be cyclical terminology?

On the surface this seems to be a serious problem. But it is not. It is a simple fact that God did not inspire cyclical terminology with regard to history. That notion is bogus. God inspired “seasonal” terminology. There is a huge difference.

“Cyclical” implies a time line that returns to its beginning; one that basically goes in a circle, or in circles.

That is not the concept that the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches a “seasonal” notion of history—not cyclical.

The difference is most easily understood when one applies another basic biblical concept to the mix—that of the “law of the harvest.” That’s the notion which holds that mankind will reap what it sows (Gal 6:7).

If we till the soil, plant good seeds, and cultivate properly (according to God’s Word); then we can expect God to provide a good crop for us. We can count on Him for that.

The concept is this: There is a high degree of predictability conveyed by the law of the harvest—obey God, you prosper; disobey God, and you fail. It is a simple fact that actions have consequences, every time.

However, while this seems fairly cut-and-dry, it is not easily explained using a purely linear model of history (one whose predictability is limited to prophecy).

So, in order to convey this “aspect of predictability” inherent in the law of the harvest, God inspired Solomon to use a seasonal (not cyclical) word picture of history, as opposed to linear.

That, in a nutshell, is the reason God used seasonal terminology to convey what is largely a linear concept—it’s the only way mankind could grapple with it.

That means those aspects of history that seem repetitious (or cyclical) to man are not actually the historical events themselves, but the historical factors leading up to what are very different events. Namely, those different aspects and results produced by the implementation of the inexorable, highly-predictable, law of the harvest.

Rather than circles, it is more correct to view these fluctuations as irregular waves, sometimes drawing closer to God’s way, sometimes drifting away—but never rising above it (as can be the case with the Wave Theory).

So, how can we relate these thoughts to the original consideration, “what can the Church in America expect during this next period of revival?” This is what I look for:

I expect to see the fast-track to national restoration and national righteousness. I expect to see victory over national sins—the largest one of these (in my view) is residual racism. I expect to see racism in America end.

I expect to see huge fruit from personal evangelism.

During this revival I believe the Church in America will prosper as never before; but it will be a prosperity along the lines of the Apostle Paul.

The critical factor is that we steer the Church up the revival on-ramps; then vigilantly strive to keep the Church right in the middle of God’s best through constant revival—waves of revival.

When Charles Finney was asked how often he thought the Church should be revived, he replied: “Every two or three days, if it can wait that long.”

That’s why the revival he started, the Second Great Awakening, lasted for several generations.

Accept the challenge—pray for national revival, now!

We must have revival.

My book, WIND, is the roadmap for this revival. It is available from Amazon, and Kindle. Please consider buying it. Whether or not you get the book, I will provide one article on this site every week until we have revival. If you like it, email the link to a friend, and put it on Facebook.

You may email your thoughts and comments to good.schools@gmail.com. If you choose to email me, please know that I might print some or all of your thoughts on this site. If you don't like what I advocate, let me know.

Mike Carrier, M.A., NYU

Click here to buy WIND on Amazon Kindle. ($2.99)
Click here to buy WIND on Amazon (Print Book). ($14.99)

Buy and send copies of WIND to your children and grandchildren. It will make them angry (at first), but in the end they will thank you.

Read previous posts:

Is it good to be tolerant? (5-27-16)

Just how close can we get to God? (5-20-16)

Failure of public schools (5-13-16)

Trump/Hillary/Biden/Sanders (5-6-16)

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Some thinkers have already written America off. For instance, in 2008 Fareed Zakaria wrote a New York Times Best Seller entitled The Post-American World in which he outlined just such a scenario.

According to many academics and philosophers (such as Mr. Zakaria), America’s role as a leader in the world is on the wane. Even some of our current political leaders are looking to the rest of the world for guidance through our tough times. They are speaking as though America’s best days are long gone.

Well, perhaps they are right. Maybe it is time to give up and bow down to what the world wants us to do; to surrender our liberties, and our leadership. Perhaps it is time for capitulation.

But, we do have a choice. And the choice is clear and real. In earlier times, when faced with similar circumstances, America (and other God-centric countries) simply heeded the imperative stated in the Old Testament: "If . . . My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:13-14).

Nothing could be more clear, or more simple. Within that short statement resides all that is required of us to find our way back. It has worked before, and it will work again.

This book explains in clear terminology how you can do your part to help bring about the restoration of our country through a Third Great Awakening.

WIND is a call for national revival—a clarion call.

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*WIND Vol. 2 is not yet available, but if you would like to preview a chapter of it you may: "Revivals in History--The Correct View"