STREAMS OF REVIVAL – A RIVER OF AWAKENING
In nature, when two or more rivers or streams come together, the phenomenon is called a “confluence.” Spiritually speaking, there is currently a confluence of historic 20th century spiritual movements potentially drawing together life giving springs of lesser streams of revival into a mighty, rolling river of spiritual awakening.
After WWII Billy Graham led the most impressive evangelistic crusades in history while theologically conservative pastor and prolific author Harold J. Ockenga wrote books and articles advancing what came to be called, “Neo-Evangelicalism.” Concerned that the perceived anti-intellectual fundamentalism of a previous generation would not speak to the mind of post war Americans, Graham expertly used mass media and preached in carefully prepared stadium events, intentionally uniting multiple churches from different denominations for a common evangelical cause. Meanwhile Ockenga, along with other young evangelicals, with Graham’s encouragement founded both Fuller Seminary and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in the hope that a more educated and culturally articulate theological conservatism would give Bible believing pastors greater personal credibility in the modern age. In addition, he and others formed the National Association of Evangelicals as a way of uniting the growing movement around the common themes of strengthening an evangelical witness in America, influencing public policy, unifying various evangelical bodies, and acting together to assist in social ministry.
With these national efforts, along with the launch of Christianity Today (founded by Billy Graham and conservative theologian Carl F.H. Henry), Evangelicals reshaped what it meant to be a Protestant Christian in the 20th Century. Their strategic efforts were so successful that within 30 years, both Time and Newsweek declared 1976, “The Year of the Evangelical.”
On the “other side of the church aisle” (so to speak), at the beginning of the 20th century, in a run down building on Azuza Street in Los Angeles, a group of ministers and laymen, (some who had been part of the late 19th century Holiness movement, and an odd assortment of others), were teaching that supernatural healing, prophecies, and the strange gift of “speaking in tounges” were all for the church today, just as they had been in the book of Acts. In the Azuza Street Revival of 1906, only a handful of people identified with the “Pentecostal” message, but by the end of the 20th century millions of Pentecostals in America, and up to 600 hundred million worldwide, were impossible to ignore. Looking back, a well known Pentecostal leader, Jack Hayford wrote a history of the movement titled, “The Charismatic Century.” Given the unprecedented growth of Pentecostalism worldwide, which C. Peter Wagner called the fastest growing non-military movement in history, it’s hard to disagree with the assessment.
In the late 1960’s the fabric of American unity was shredded. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s movement, the counter-culture youth and hippie movement, and numerous smaller cultural tributaries were coming together like a flooding river overwhelming the traditional view of America as many had perceived it. Campus unrest like the Kent State Massacre, racial violence like the Watts riots in LA, growing political activism and the protests of the left, combined with a relaxed and redefined sexual ethic, along with the wide spread introduction of the drug culture made America a cultural battleground. The American “Melting Pot” was boiling into an inferno!
Those days of social upheaval were my childhood and early teen years. As images of riots, assassinations, and angry protests in the streets poured into America’s living room at 6pm every night on our new color TVs, it seemed to me there was no hope. But I was wrong, God was still at work.
The Jesus Movement of the late 60’s and early ’70’s seemed to arise from no where and spread through the youth culture like a prairie fire. Tens of thousands of young people came to Christ. Long haired, bearded hippies tripping on LSD one week were carrying big leather Bibles, preaching a fundamentalist brand of the Christian message, expecting the imminent return of Christ, and creating a new musical style the next week. In a few short years The Jesus Movement changed the spiritual landscape of the nation. Bible colleges and seminaries filled up, churches were planted, and the mega church phenomenon was birthed. The revival among the youth culture reignited Charismatic and Evangelical Churches across the country. It was a “God thing.”
Those three major trends- the Pentecostal/ Charismatic Renewal; the Evangelical Awakening; and The Jesus Movement represent the greatest large scale revivals in the last 100 years. Most historians, however, regard them as something short of the full-scale National Awakenings of the 18th & 19th centuries that affected every corner of society. They were each related to the other, but still somehow distinct, like three fresh water streams that never meet until they reach the sea.
Times change. Unfortunately, revival fires grow cold. Scandals came that embarrassed the Church and tarnished our witness. Some visible Christian leaders fell into immorality. A new generation of Americans, with less confidence in religious explanations, is asking a different set of questions today and the Church is finding itself in a rapidly changing cultural context. Simultaneously, some evangelicals in the late 20th century became overtly enthralled with the political process and others failed to represent Christ in any tone other than a strident, partisan, argumentative one. Over time, the culture moved away from us again. That’s essentially where we are today. American Christianity has moved from the “Moral Majority” of the 1980’s to what Dr . Russell Moore calls, “the prophetic minority” of today. Atheism is rapidly becoming an option of religious choice for a new generation. Our nation has been scarred by the attacks on 9/11, global economic uncertainty, and war. Christians are increasingly marginalized by a growing secularism but even more increasingly focused on our need for revival!
The desire for another move of God in national awakening and revival has never seemed more needed, especially, perhaps, by those who are themselves the products of past revivals. Reflecting on the revivals of America’s past, and his own conversion during the Jesus Movement, evangelist and California pastor and author Greg Laurie in 2013 said, “…that’s history. We need to pray, ‘Lord do it again…’ We need another revival in America.” His view is shared by Christian leaders across the Protestant spectrum. For instance, Erwin Lutzer, Pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, a congregation deeply identified with the evangelical wing of the Christian family, recently said, “Despite its foundational Christian heritage, America is rapidly degenerating into a godless society. The church in America, although highly visible and active, appears powerless to redirect the rushing secular currents. Mired in a moral and spiritual crisis, America’s only hope is a national revival, like God has graciously bestowed in the past.” The voices are different but the message is strikingly similar. Even Billy Graham himself said last year, “Our country is in great need of a spiritual awakening. There have been times that I have wept as I have gone from city to city and I have seen how far people have wandered from God.” (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/11/07/billy-graham-turns-95-says-country-needs-spiritual-awakening/)
Can America see another Spiritual Awakening? Yes. The three streams of revival from the 20th century still make up the collective memory and practical experience of the vast majority of Christians today. Almost every American Christian today is, in a sense, a child of revival. Each of these former movements started as small sub-culture movements which grew exponentially. Given the calls from numerous sub sections of the American Christian family for God’s people to repent and cry out to God for revival, our past may flow into something greater tomorrow. By God’s grace, the three streams of revival can become a mighty river of Spiritual Awakening.
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