The lofty notion of revival has taken center stage in my prayer life as of late. I’m sure I’m motivated in part by the disturbing stories that dominate our news. And God has guided me to some books that have underlined the need for such prayer.
Walter Kaiser’s book, Revive us Again: Biblical Principles for Revival Today, investigates numerous outpourings of God’s blessing that have been recorded in the Bible. Why such an approach seems so novel may indicate just how far we’ve slid away from spiritual vitality! Reading Kaiser’s commentary on God’s works of “refreshment” in the past is remarkably encouraging.
I also appreciated a hopeful comment in Ross Douthat’s otherwise disheartening book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. The book is well worth reading and helps put into perspective how we’ve gotten into some of the messes we are in. But without the belief in God’s ability to shake up his church, this book would be tough to wade through.
Here’s what Douthat wrote in his concluding chapter:
“It would be heresy and hubris to assume that a renewal of either [the church or our country] is inevitable. Christianity’s overall resilience hasn’t prevented particular Christendoms from decaying and dissolving, and Jesus never said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the United States of America. But to hope for a revival is every believer’s obligation. And perhaps, just perhaps, a more robust and rigorous American Christianity is something that even non-believers should consider hoping for as well.”
The best book I’ve read recently about revival is Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge’s A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir. Knowing that God’s people have faced even darker times than we see today and hearing how God poured out an unusual flood of evangelistic fruit, transformational worship, and anointed preaching can move even the most pessimistic saint towards expectant intercession.
I’ve written an article that explores how this might look on college campuses and beyond. I’ve entitled it The Next Campus Revival: A Prayerful Consideration and I’ve posted it here. I hope you’ll consider reading it and sharing it with others.
Talking to yourself is not always crazy. In fact, quite often it is downright essential for mental health. Becoming fluent in positive, healthy, truthful, Scripture-saturated internal dialogue should be a high priority for all of us. Talking to yourself is an important life-skill that requires practice, careful consideration, and perseverance.
The New Testament exhorts us to “set our minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2), to “think about” things which are “true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable… excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8), and to “consider” certain truths about ourselves that we might not want to believe (see Romans 6:11). The Old Testament admonitions to meditate on God’s word (e.g., Psalms 1:2) require far more moment-by-moment focus than just a daily reading of the Bible for a few minutes.
At certain times (when wrestling with unrelenting pain, encountering persecution, struggling with doubt, or various other trials), the need for persistent internal dialogue rises to the level of urgent. We must win arguments with ourselves because the alternatives can spiral in terribly destructive directions.
Recently, I found a helpful (and rather humorous) written out internal dialogue that C.S. Lewis penned. It is one of four “scraps” found in God in the Dock, a collection of Lewis’ writings about theology and ethics. Apparently, this short paragraph appeared in a church’s magazine. But one has to wonder if Lewis might have been experimenting with a form that could have expanded into a whole book full of such internal conversations. In some ways, the fuller work might have proven to be as helpful in handling internal struggles as The Screwtape Letters has been for dealing with external attacks from our adversary.
Have you ever found yourself in need of the kind of internal argument Lewis spells out here?
‘You are always dragging me down,’ said I to my Body. ‘Dragging you down!’ replied my Body. ‘Well I like that! Who taught me to like tobacco and alcohol? You, of course, with your idiotic adolescent idea of being “grown-up”. My palate loathed both at first: but you would have your way. Who put an end to all those angry and revengeful thoughts last night? Me, of course, by insisting on going to sleep. Who does his best to keep you from talking too much and eating too much by giving you dry throats and headaches and indigestion? Eh?’ ‘And what about sex?’ said I. ‘Yes, what about it?’ retorted the Body. ‘If you and your wretched imagination would leave me alone I’d give you no trouble. That’s Soul all over; you give me orders and then blame me for carrying them out.’
Certainly the tone of these conversations will vary, depending on temperament. But none of us is exempt from the need for some form of such exchanges.
Of course, if you prefer to do this out loud, I’d recommend judicious care in choice of location.
During a recent study of the book of Acts, I was struck with the recurring emphasis on the irrepressibility of the gospel. Several commentators pointed out that Luke weaves in several “summary statements” that help the reader step back from the drama and see an overarching theme.
Consider these six key announcements:
Acts 6:7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
Acts 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
Acts 12:24 But the word of God continued to increase and spread.
Acts 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.
Acts 19:20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
Acts 28:30 Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I discussed the book with others throughout a two-year-long study, we kept sensing that Luke’s agenda for writing the book was not only to inform Theophilus of all that had transpired (see Acts 1:1), but also to encourage all of us who “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on [us] and… be… witnesses” throughout the world (see Acts 1:8).
When we face setbacks, as Peter and Paul and others (e.g., Stephen!) certainly did, we should not lose heart. When obstacles seem to slow things down (e.g. complaints, divisions, storms, snakes), we should remember that God’s word will go forth. When people threaten to persecute us (or vow never to eat or drink until they kill us – see Acts 23:14), we should not be surprised nor shrink back. The gospel is irrepressible.
Thus, while it almost always is disappointing to anyone who reads the book of Acts, it should not seem odd that the book ends without answering the question, “So whatever happened to Paul?” We know that Paul was beheaded… but we have to turn to sources outside the Bible for such information. Why is that?
The best answer I found both satisfies and unsettles: For Luke and all those who grasp his reason for writing, it is far more important to know what happens to the gospel than to know what happens to Paul. More pointedly, it is more helpful to know that the gospel will not be stopped than it is to hear what our future may be. God wants us to be more committed to His kingdom than to our well-being, to His glory than our comfort, to the eternal kingdom than to earthly ease.
The “lack of closure” at the end of the book of Acts is no mere editorial oversight. It adds emphasis to the unifying theme in no uncertain terms.
I just finished reading an excellent biography of one of my heroes, Francis Schaeffer. Colin Duriez has done an excellent job of weaving insights from numerous sources – most notably, Schaeffer’s writings and interviews of family and friends who knew him best.
Several things stood out to me as I read the book and relived my own interactions with Schaeffer’s work.
• Schaeffer loved art, not only for its own sake, but because it was such a revealing window into the soul of a people or culture. You could tell so much about the people around you by appreciating the art they adored, whether you personally liked it or not.
• For Schaeffer, it was not enough to have the “correct” theological views, crucial and unwavering as they must be. Christians also need to experience the gospel in their emotions and attitudes. He underwent a significant spiritual crisis when he saw how very few orthodox, Bible-believing Christians had any love for the lost people around them. I remember the many places where Schaeffer wrote that we must proclaim what we believe “with tears” as we interact with non-believers around us.
• If I had to summarize Schaeffer’s thinking, I would emphasize two central ideas: 1) “the finished work of Christ,” and 2) the Lordship of Christ over all of life. The first idea frees people to live joyfully and compassionately, regardless of one’s circumstances. The second idea shapes the way Schaeffer viewed all of life, not just our internal, personal lives, but all of life – relationships, politics, art, philosophy, the church, the Bible, our highest hopes and deepest disappointments.
Duriez’ biography includes a delightful coda as an appendix: an interview with Schaeffer shortly before his death. One quote stood out to me as worthy of much reflection: “If God is really there, he is to be worshiped, he is to be adored, but he’s also to be obeyed.”
If you’re not familiar with Schaeffer’s work, please find a way to change that. Duriez’ biography could be a good place to start. Better still, dive into one of Schaeffer’s earliest and foundational (and shortest!) books, Escape from Reason. You won’t regret it.
Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. He ministers on campuses and elsewhere in our nation's capital to students, professors and policy shapers. He is an honors graduate from Temple University and has a Masters of Divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he is also engaged in doctoral studies. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and the books Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did and Corner Conversations: Engaging Dialogues about God and Life, both published by Kregel Publications, and Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well, forthcoming from Crossway.
To find out more, visit his blog, Integration Points.