Iain Murray’s book The Puritan HopeÂ was one of the most influential books I have ever read. It knocked over all sorts of theological dominoes, which set me on the current course of ministry I am on. This book, Revival and RevivalismÂ is a rich historical analysis of the Christian culture in early America. He quotes extensively from early American pastors and theologians during the time of the Second Great Awakening to reveal their view of revival.
He then shows how the emergence of “altar calls” and physical responses (i.e. standing, coming to the front, falling down, etc.), were at first a matter of concern, and then a matter of contention amongst ministers of the Gospel. One camp convinced that these means were vital to procure converts, the other camp wary that mere external signs of repentance did not mean true conversion. Murray points out that the older view of revival was that it was like the wind and the rain, you never know when God might pour it out, you need only be faithful to preach the Gospel and implore souls to repent and flee to Christ. The later view (popularized by Charles Finney) was that you couldÂ generate revivals, and have massive numbers of converts by following a certain formulaic approach (i.e. camp meetings, pressuring people to respond in some physical manner, etc.).
Murray is a really insightful historian, and this book was really a treat. It familiarized me with godly men I’d never heard of before, and helped me fit others I had heard of before into a more full-orbed historical context. In essence, the church should yearn and pray for revival, and be quite wary of revivalism. Otherwise, we will adopt unbiblical means of laboring for converts, instead of faithfully obeying how our Lord commanded us to rescue lost sheep.