Friday, May 6, 2011
Do We REALLY Need A Revival?
Let me tell you why I said it.
Twenty-five years ago, I read Stephen Covey’s self-help masterpiece, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Last week, I decided to read it again. The book had a fresh forward, in which Covey reflects on the changes that have taken place in the world since his book was first published. He says that when he wrote the book, we were still in the industrial age. In the years that followed though, we entered the information age. This has created geo-political, technological and cultural shifts that have made our lives much more complex than they were twenty-five years ago. He insists however, that the 7 habits remain relevant because (to use his metaphor from First Things First,) principles function more like a compass than like a map. We use maps to navigate known territory; we use a compass to navigate unknown territory. Although we have never navigated an information age before, we have a compass to keep us from getting lost.
The problem is, compasses are hard to find nowadays.
In the first chapter, Covey talks about how American self-help literature changed over the last two hundred years. For the first one hundred and fifty years, self-help literature focused on character formation. Since then, it has focused on technique, image management and marketing. In other words, for the last fifty years or so, we have been focusing on secondary principles instead of primary ones. As Covey puts it, “we have been reaping where we have not sown for so long that we have forgotten that sowing is even necessary.”
Now, what does this have to do with revival?
Revival is the reawakening of a person or a group to known, but neglected principles. Throughout history, religious revivals – awakenings – have led masses of people to recall and recover their forgotten foundation. These revivals were often accompanied by emotional surges and supernatural phenomena but they resulted in roads, hospitals, seminaries and works of art. As Christians recovered their principles, they returned to the kingdom work of creating cultural artifacts, managing resources and making discoveries that would benefit all humanity in God’s name.
But what will we do with another emotional surge, even if it is accompanied by supernatural phenomena, if there is not enough Christian foundation left to recover?
A reformation works on that foundation. And it takes work. A reformation not only revives believers; it transforms culture. It does this by challenging the intellectual principles by which a culture operates. It overturns cultural icons, replaces them with new ones, confronts religious clichés and superstitions, and forces us to confess our true values instead of the ones we profess. It shakes believer and unbeliever alike with the power of the Word and with the implications of that Word to individual and communal life.
An authentic visitation from God usually will cause an emotional surge. And, it often is accompanied by supernatural signs. However, the resulting awakening is meant to lead to something more than “people getting revived.” Revived to what? Revived to do what? Revived to think what? What is a revival reviving? After signs and wonders are we left with the same old poverty, ignorance, and prejudices? What sort of revival is that?
When I look at the level of poverty and ignorance in the areas of our country that most loudly profess Christianity, I am not convinced that a “revival” would do much. No, a genuine move of the Holy Spirit would awaken us to a need for personal and societal transformation. In a truly Christian area, the people would not throw trash out their car windows. In a truly Christian area, school rooms would not be so unmanageable that teachers cannot teach. Crime rates would be low in a truly Christian area. A truly Christian area would demonstrate the quality of life that is produced by a people whose God is the Lord. A mere emotional upsurge will not do this, even if accompanied by supernatural signs.
They call our area the Bible belt. But as one of our pastors, Daniel Bell, recently said to me, “how can we be the Bible belt if we don’t study the bible? Maybe we are just the religion belt!”
Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!
But shouldn’t the principles of the Bible – the Word of Life -- be doing more for our area than has been
Pentecost is coming in a few weeks. I hope the Holy Spirit comes into our city so powerfully that day that Christians all glow in the dark afterward for forty days and forty nights. Then I hope they will start tithing. And keeping their word. And studying the Bible. And living moral lives. And treating immigrants hospitably. And finding ways to educate children who can’t afford private schools. And converting gang members. And reading. And thinking. And challenging our secularized forms of worship that do not introduce people to the presence of the transcendent and holy God. And working to create a society that will cause unbelievers to marvel at what occurs when a city and a region experience a real reformation.
We need a reformation.