Pentecostal Outpourings Reformed

Pentecostal Outpourings Reformed

The Reformed tradition is not the first thing that comes to mind when reading the words Pentecostal Outpourings (Reformation Heritage Books, 2016; source: publisher). When I came across the title I immediately thought, perhaps this is a historical work on the rise of the Pentecostal church. Maybe even a contemporary study of the globalization of Pentecostalism. It was a surprise when I read the subtitle, “Revival and the Reformed Tradition.”

In most Reformed circles, revivals are little discussed and unfortunately experienced even less. This is not universal across all Reformed traditions. Growing up in a Korean-American Presbyterian church in the suburbs of Chicago, revivals were very much real and ongoing. However, there does not exist a widespread Reformed discussion of revival in the current church. It seems that this is the first objective of Pentecostal Outpourings. The authors are reintroducing revival within a Reformed context.

The nature of the chapters is historical. They consist of historical studies addressing a variety of different historical and geographical settings. From Welsh Calvinistic Methodism to Particular Baptists in America, most of the chapters address revival in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The book is divided into two sections: “Revival in the British Isles” and “Revival in America.”

Though the common denominator is the Reformed tradition, the authors provide a diverse array of topics. Some of the material may be familiar to readers, but attention is shown to areas less studied. For instance, I enjoyed Ian Hugh Clary’s chapter on Irish Presbyterianism. I have had little study of Irish Presbyterianism, so I found the chapter very enlightening.

The authors are careful to differentiate between revival and revivalism. A common understanding of the authors states that the former is by the work of God, while the latter is an effort of man. Eifion Evans defines revival as:

Revival is a fresh manifestation of the vigor and effectiveness of God’s word after a period of spiritual decline, lethargy, and indifference. It is initiated by the sovereign, extraordinary, saving activity of the Holy Spirit and is characterized by an intense sense of God’s presence. It takes place against the backdrop of declension among God’s people and a militant ascendancy in the world’s godlessness. Pentecostal Outpourings, 18

On the other hand, Evans defines revivalism as:

Revival is to be distinguished from revivalism. Revivalism maintains that revival is the normal state of the church, so that declension may be remedied by man’s efforts of preaching and praying, which are attended with the certainty of a successful outcome. Pentecostal Outpourings, 18

Using Charles G. Finney (1792-1875), Evans identifies two areas revivalism is harmful. First, revivalism “deny God’s sovereignty and providential order” (Pentecostal Outpourings, 19). Second, revivalism “denies the essentially inward nature of regeneration and substitutes an outward profession or response for the evidence of a transformed lifestyle” (Pentecostal Outpourings, 19).

As expected from a volume on eighteenth and nineteenth Reformed revival, many of the authors address the role of Jonathan Edwards in various revivals and in defining revival. Generally speaking, the authors understand the activities of Edwards as true revival. The generation after Edwards is not as clear. As mentioned above, Finney is often an example of revivalism and a departure from Edwards. Robert Davis Smart writes, “The greatest use and misuse of Edwards’s revival apologetic happened between 1824 and 1835 during the revivals under the leadership of Charles Grandison Finney” (Pentecostal Outpourings, 149). Smart and others parse the continuity and discontinuity of Edwards and those after him.

An interesting feature of many of revivals is the involvement of Communion. Iain D. Campbell writes,

But no discussion of revival within Scottish Presbyterianism could be complete without mention of another historic development around which several revivals took place–the Communion season, a protracted series of services in a congregation centering on the Sunday morning Communion service….  As opportunities for fellowship and for intercongregational meeting grew, a heightened sense of spiritually attached to Communion seasons, and the preaching was often overtly atonement focused and evangelistic. Pentecostal Outpourings, 102

Through these historical studies Pentecostal Outpourings is making a theological case for revival. Though revivals are not normative for the church, they are the work of a sovereign God who answers prayers.

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