Carson and Keller on Revival


Last week while reading Pentecostal Outpourings, I went back and reviewed this video where D.A. Carson and Tim Keller discuss the topic of revival. Here are some notes from my Evernote file on the video, which is certainly worth 12 minutes of your time.

In the video Carson mentions that he has two personal resolutions should he ever encounter real revival in his own experience:

  1. Have as little to do with the media as possible, and
  2. Funnel the energy of the revival into good, systematic preaching and teaching rather than endless recounting of experience. This is because the experience itself can become an idol that is detached from Scripture.

Shortly after that, Keller contrasts about the Reformed view of revival with “the other view.” He describes the Reformed view of revival as an intensification of the ordinary operations of the Spirit. These include conviction of sin, conversion, giving assurance, sanctification. The other view defines it as the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit. When a sleepy Christian wakes up, they become more humble because they are more convicted of sin, and also more confident because they’re less concerned about what people think about them. This makes a potent evangelist. While he describes this view, Carson chimes in to observe that true revival is not something that your organize, or turn on according to a predetermined set of criteria. However, God does bring revival, and he can do it again.

So what should we do? As many others have pointed out, Keller notes that revival is sought through prayer. He compares it to building an altar and asking God to send fire. This is done by faithful preaching of the gospel, extraordinary prayer, leaders who model a renewed life, a few converts who are willing to open their mouths. Sometimes the fire comes in big ways, sometimes in small ways. Usually revival starts well, but ends poorly. However, we should still be seeking and asking for true revival.

Book Review - Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition


Pentecostal Outpourings

Smart, Robert Davis, Michael A. G. Haykin, and Ian Hugh Clary, eds. Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016. ISBN 9781601784339. 280 pages.

Nearly all Christians say that they desire “true revival,” but few agree on what that phrase means. Evangelicals sometimes distinguish between “revival” and “reformation,” associating the former with individual spiritual renewal (usually through mass conversions) and the latter with outward societal change. Furthermore, many evangelicals will contrast “true (or genuine) revival” with “false revival.” Iain Murray captures this contrast in his well-known work entitled Revival and Revivalism. What is it that distinguishes between true revival and the excesses of revivalism? Should Christians pray for revival? How should they seek it, and what should they expect when it comes?

These questions are particularly vexing for those within the Reformed tradition. Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition brings together a coterie of Reformed historians to argue that true revival is not merely compatible with Calvinistic theology, but that historical revivals have been heavily influenced by Reformed preaching and represents a consistent understanding of the true gospel. Despite the real and lasting results of these revivals, the historical record is difficult to interpret because true revivals have often included mixed reports of unnerving enthusiasm or manipulative revivalistic tactics. Parsing these confusing elements requires a foundational understanding of true revival, defined as follows by Robert Davis Smart in the introduction:

Pentecostal Outpourings demonstrates that revival is a sovereign gift from God in which, for a special season, His normal and true work of advancing His kingdom is sped up or quickened so that more is accomplished through His servants in a shorter period of time. Revivals cannot be merited by us but have been secured by another—Jesus Christ. Jesus tells His disciples that His righteous life and atoning death won for us “the promise of My Father” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). When Jesus ascended to the Father and sat down at the right hand of God, He poured out His Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This once-for-all historical and redemptive event was not the last time Christ poured out His Spirit in redemptive history. Subsequent outpourings of the Holy Spirit, working by and with the Word, are reviewed in this volume in order that we may seek God earnestly to revive His church once again soon.

Each chapter in Pentecostal Outpourings focuses on the history of revivals within a particular area and denominational tradition and is written by a specialist. As a result, the chapters provide detailed and reliable historical scholarship tracing the impact of revivals, usually beginning with the “Evangelical Revival” or “Great Awakening” and carrying forward through twentieth century. In some cases, chapters conclude with an extended theological analysis of the historical events (e.g., the chapter by Eifon Evans on the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists). Each well-written chapter includes numerous historical examples from individual conversion narratives, the writings of revival preachers, and contemporary historical records. A few of these memorable stories include the remarkable revival stirred by the harsh preaching of “crazy James Glendinning” in Ireland, the eventual misappropriation of Jonathan Edwards’s revival apologetic by later revivalists, and Andrew Fuller’s growth out of hyper-Calvinism to the zealously evangelistic Calvinism that eventually led to William Carey’s missionary endeavors. Of course, these are but a few highlights, and the time would fail me to tell you about the countless ordinary believers who came to lasting faith in Christ through the revival preaching that is recounted in this volume. To fully appreciate these revival stories, you just have to read the book.

Many similarities stand out in these accounts of revivals which took place in vastly different locations, among divergent denominational traditions, and at different times. It is immediately obvious that true revival is no respecter of denominations. It occurs, often without warning or harbinger, wherever and whenever God pleases according to His sovereign plan. Genuine and lasting revival cannot be manufactured, yet many times it does occur amongst people who have earnestly prayed for it. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to distinguish between true revival and excessive emotional enthusiasm, which many times occur simultaneously. Careful pastors who are aware of this repeatedly seek to steer their people towards the Scriptures in an effort to curb excesses.

Those who read this book will be forced to reflect on their own relationship to God’s providential work. Evangelical Christians will come away from this work with a renewed longing for genuine revival, resulting in earnest prayer and renewed passion for faithful preaching and teaching of the Bible. But I suspect that even readers who are not evangelicals may be drawn to this volume, perhaps curious about evangelical claims of divine intervention. Although this book alone won’t be sufficient to overcome agnostic doubts, such readers will find such striking similarities in the genuine revival accounts that they may be driven further in a search to evaluate the claims of the Christian gospel itself.

Pentecostal Outpourings is available for purchase from Amazon and CBD. Purchasing a copy using one of these links below will earn me a small affiliate commission:

Read on →

Guidelines for Marking Student Papers


In my teaching, I frequently ask students to write research reports using the Turabian style guide. Of course, many students dislike having to follow the seemingly meticulous conventions for citations and formatting. I can understand that, but I tell them that the particulars are not the point—formal writing conventions exist to facilitate the interchange of ideas by providing a common format for displaying one’s work in an intelligible manner. In other words, it’s for the reader, which is the whole point. Besides, once a student masters the proper use of Zotero, it’s not that difficult.

Once I get the papers back, I’ve always become bogged down myself. Nobody ever taught me how to mark a paper, so I’ve tried all kinds of different approaches. Still, I usually wound up spending way too many hours on it, and of course, most of that time involved trying to show students why they can’t violate all the known conventions of English grammar and still be understood by readers. That’s not really helpful to anybody, actually.

Anyway, yesterday while I was in the middle of marking some papers, I thought I’d double-check to make sure that Turabian 8 was still the most recent edition of Turabian. On the University of Chicago Press website for Turabian, I found a PDF guide called “How to Teach Turabian” that includes a brief section called “A Quick Guide to Marking Student Papers.” It had never occurred to me that there would be guides on marking papers, and now I see that I’ve been doing this the wrong way for years.

Here are the guidelines for marking student papers:

  1. Distinguish marking papers (a learning outcome) from grading papers (an evaluation outcome).
  2. Let students help you decide when to mark their papers.
  3. When you don’t respond, students can learn from their peers.
  4. Don’t mark as you read.
  5. In marking, less is more.
  6. Have a learning agenda for your marks.
  7. Mark papers “top-down.”
  8. Don’t penalize good papers by leaving them unmarked.
  9. The most effective marks focus on a reader’s response, not on the writer’s success or failure.
  10. The most effective marks about writing have three parts: they (1) point out the specific issue on the page, (2) articulate the relevant general principle, and (3) suggest a change or, better, direct the student to make a change.
  11. The most effective marks about argument—“content”—have three parts: they (1) point out the specific issue on the page, (2) explain what gives you pause, and (3) make a suggestion or, better, ask a question pointing the student in a new direction.

If you ever have to mark student writing, you should read the whole thing.

A Study in Galatians & Romans


Starting in January, I’ll be teaching through the books of Galatians and Romans in my adult Sunday School class at my church. This post is an expanded version of a blurb I wrote about the class for a church bulletin.

Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Romans focus on the essential core of the gospel message—salvation as justification by faith alone. In Galatians, Paul describes the believer’s new life in Christ as a result of our co-crucifixion on the cross of our loving savior Christ:

ESV Gal. 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Romans expands this theme, giving us a theology of the cross that allows us to be “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). Because God’s righteous wrath for our sins has been poured out on Christ as our sinless substitute, His justice is satisfied and He has passed over our guilt (Rom 3:25).

Focused as they are on the gospel of grace in Christ, these two books have had immeasurable influence on Christian theology throughout the history of the church. Beginning in January, my Sunday School class will begin with a study of Galatians which will take us until Easter, and then we will begin working through Romans (which will take us until at least mid-summer).

Study copies of the biblical text will be provided in class. Those who would like to go further on their own during the week are encouraged to pick up a copy of Galatians: A 12-Week Study by Geoff Ziegler (Crossway, 2015) in the Knowing the Bible series, which is available from christianbook.com for about $8.

Praying the Bible


In my recent class on the Psalms, we made a practice of praying the Psalms together at the beginning of each class session. The following is an excerpt from my lecture notes for that class where I introduce the concept of praying the words of Scripture.

Don Whitney has recently written a book titled Praying the Bible (Crossway, 2015) which compiles a lot of the things he’s learned about praying using Scripture over several years of thinking and teaching about this topic.

I haven’t seen the book itself—I’m sure it’s helpful, but I also think that I may not need the book itself to grow in my own prayer life. Fortunately for us, Crossway has released a number of helpful, free online resources to promote the book. I’ve listed some of these resources at the end of this post in the “For Further Study” section. In this interview below, Don Whitney shares a number of ideas about praying the Bible:

Read on →

A Compilation of Resources for #Whitefield300


On 16 December 1714 (O.S.), George Whitefield was born at the Bell Inn, Southgate Street, Gloucester. This past week, his birthday was commemorated on Twitter with the hashtag #Whitefield300 at the suggestion of Whitefield biographer Thomas Kidd.

I used IFTTT to archive the tweet stream. At first, I was just appending the tweets to an Evernote file. When I set that up, I didn’t know that IFTTT is limited to only 30 updates to Evernote per hour, which obviously didn’t work out too well once the volume picked up on the morning of December 16. Once I realized what was going on, I set up a Google Sheet to collect the tweet stream, and this seems to have been much more reliable.

Below is my attempt to compile some of the resources available on Whitefield, including links to my Google Sheet and Evernote file. If I have missed anything of significance, please drop me a line (email or tweet @dtjohnso) and I’ll be glad to update the list.

Read on →

Book Notes - Baptists Through the Centuries by David Bebbington


Bebbington, David W. Baptists through the Centuries: A History of a Global People. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010.

This book was runner-up in my textbook adoption process for my Baptist history course. I have not yet read this book in full, but I have found portions of this book to be helpful as I prepared lectures. I chose not to select this book as required course reading for two reasons:

  1. Published as it is by Baylor University Press, it costs slightly more than Leonard.
  2. Bebbington follows a synthetic rather than chronological approach to the details of Baptist history. He describes the synthetic approach in the paragraph quoted below.

“It is primarily a work of synthesis that attempts to put the pieces of the puzzle into an intelligible framework. Its approach, therefore, is topical. In accordance with the maxim that it is better to study problems rather than periods, each chapter addresses an issue in Baptist history. … A second feature of the book is its effort to set the problems at hand in a wider context than Baptist history. Baptists did not exist alone, and so the analysis gives space to the broader influences—intellectual, social, and political—that played on religious developments. … The third aspect worth mentioning is the principle of organization. Countries are not kept apart, for that misrepresents the reality of the past. For all the contrasts between different nations, Baptists traveled between them, read each other’s writings, and corresponded across oceans. What happened in one part of the world was often duplicated elsewhere.” (pp. 4–5)

This approach is self-evident when you look at the chapter titles, listed below:

  1. Introduction
  2. Roots in the Reformation
  3. Anabaptists and Baptists
  4. Particular and General Baptists in the Seventeenth Century
  5. Baptists and Revival in the Eighteenth Century
  6. Divisions among Baptists in the Nineteenth Century
  7. Theological Polarization among Baptists
  8. Baptists and the Social Gospel
  9. Gospel and Race among Baptists
  10. Women in Baptist Life
  11. Church, Ministry, and Sacraments among Baptists
  12. Baptists and Religious Liberty
  13. Baptists and Foreign Mission
  14. The Global Spread of the Baptists
  15. Baptist Identity
  16. Conclusion

There is certainly plenty of merit for the use of a synthetic approach to historical study, and I’ve benefited immensely from reading other works that follow this approach (in fact, Turning Points by Noll is highly synchronic in some chapters). However, I don’t think a synthetic approach would work well for beginning students who had no general chronological framework into which to plug the disparate concepts a synthetic study would bring to the surface. However, for readers with a general familiarity with the Baptist story, Bebbington’s work may prove a refreshing approach. The synthetic approach is somewhat of a current trend in historiography, but I was encouraged to find that others share my relative antipathy towards it as a practice. For instance, John Aloisi (Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary), gave the following recommendation for this book on his blog:

This book is a very interesting read…. Although described by the publisher as “a chronological survey” (back cover), Bebbington’s work is largely arranged in a topical format that can be be helpful though it also has the potential to be a bit disorienting at times. For example, I found it rather odd to read about William Carey almost 100 pages after Walter Rauschenbusch when Carey was born exactly 100 years before Rauschenbusch. Similarly, the book includes a chapter titled “Women in Baptist Life” (ch. 10). I wondered, why not just discuss key Baptist women at appropriate points in the historical narrative (e.g., in the first nine chapters)? I don’t see a compelling reason for making that topic a distinct chapter. A similar observation could be made about the chapter on religious liberty (ch. 12). On the other hand, if one wants to read an insightful chapter on these topics or on things like Baptists and the social gospel (ch. 8) or Baptists and race relations (ch. 9), Bebbington is a very good place to turn. Overall, Bebbington’s work is definitely helpful and well worth reading, but the potential reader should realize that Bebbington doesn’t tell the story of Baptist history in anything like a chronological narrative. So I’m recommending it with the caveat that if you like to read history in a generally chronological format, Bebbington may drive you crazy. But if you want to read about some key topics in Baptist history, this is a helpful book by a first rate historian.

So anyway, if you’re glazed over with all this rambling about historiography, let me just bring this back to a point of usefulness by sharing Bebbington’s own statements summing up the overall point of the book:

“This book attempts to address the question of who Baptists have been over the four centuries of their existence. It tries to take account of ways in which they adapted to the societies in which they lived as well as their central practices. … [I]t must not be assumed that Baptists possessed a single, consistent identity. There were, after all, many types of Baptists. … The variety of Christian bodies called ‘Baptist’ has to be taken into account. So does the consideration that there was great deal of change over time. The circumstances of the early seventeenth century, when Baptists first arose, were very different from those of the early twenty-first century. It was a hallmark of the denomination to be strongly attached to the Bible, but ways of understanding the place of scripture in ordering church life altered over the centuries. Again there was much variation over space.” (p. 2)

“The coverage of this book extends not just over England in the period from 1609 to the present but also over the world at large. … There is, therefore, a need for Baptist history to have an international dimension. Because research on many countries (including some of the nations just mentioned) is at a very preliminary stage, there are all too many gaps in the coverage of the present volume. The aim here is not to deal with every country where Baptists have existed, but to discuss broad trends with representative instances.” (pp. 3-4)

Doctrine of Assurance


This Sunday in my Adult Sunday School class, I’ll be taking advantage of a scheduled break in our regular teaching schedule. We just finished teaching through First, Second, and Third John last week, and will be beginning a study of John’s Gospel on November 16. To take advantage of the break in between books, I plan to focus on a topic that frequently arises in 1 John: assurance of salvation.

In the Sunday School class, we’ll be working through a number of Bible passages as they are presented in chapter 40 of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (available from Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or CBD). His organization is helpful, and I find his comments on Hebrews 6:4–12 particularly useful. I’d recommend this chapter to anyone who is interested in a thorough understanding of Scripture on this topic.

Another helpful resource is a brief blog series from Tim Challies. While I wouldn’t express everything exactly as he did, of course, his thoughts are helpful (and free!):

  1. Sincerity and Assurance of Salvation
  2. Assurance of Salvation (Part 2)
  3. Assurance of Salvation (Part 3)

Book Review - Rediscovering the Church Fathers by Michael Haykin


Rediscovering the Church Fathers
Rediscovering the Church Fathers

Haykin, Michael A. G. Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. ISBN 9781433510434. 172 pages. Includes index.

In this book, Haykin combines his remarkable knowledge of the earliest period of church with his zeal for heart-warming devotional Christianity to produce a work that both informs and edifies.

Haykin writes to counter the fact that, in his view, “far too many modern-day evangelicals are either ignorant of or quite uncomfortable with the church fathers” (13). In this regard, he observes, that “certain strains of anti-intellectual fundamentalism have discouraged an interest in that ‘far country’ of church history” (14, my emphasis). He understands that this problem is not entirely due to bad reasons, however, because our “desire to be ‘people of the Book’—an eminently worthy desire—has also led to a lack of interest in other students of Scripture from that earliest period of the church’s history after the apostolic era” (14). Despite this trend, Haykin argues that we should read the church fathers for several reasons. We should read them for “freedom and wisdom,” to understand the New Testament, because of bad press about them, to aid in defending the faith, and for spiritual nurture. In the book, Haykin’s goal is to spark our interest in reading more of the fathers “by looking at several case studies, as it were” (29). These case studies serve to introduce important themes in both the early history of the church and the development of cardinal doctrines. As such, this book is not a comprehensive survey of the fathers, a feature that is apparent by the fact that although there are chapters on many important fathers, some of the most important (like Athanasius and Augustine) are actually left out.

Table of Contents:

  1. Rediscovering the Church Fathers: A Vital Need for Evangelicals
  2. Dying for Christ: The Thought of Ignatius of Antioch
  3. Sharing the Truth: The Letter to Diognetus
  4. Interpreting the Scripture: The Exegesis of Origen
  5. Being Kissed: The Eucharistic Piety of Cyprian and Ambrose
  6. Being Holy and Renouncing the World: The Experience of Basil of Caesarea
  7. Saving the Irish: The Mission of Patrick
  8. Walking with the Church Fathers: My First Steps on a Lifelong Journey

Appendix 1: Reading the Fathers: A Beginner’s Guide Appendix 2: Reflections on Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100–600)

I would like to share just a few comments on how some of these chapters impacted me, without going into a summary of each individual chapter or a discussion of major themes that build throughout the book.

Many (if not all) of these chapters nurtured me spiritually. One of Haykin’s many research interests is the study of Christian spirituality, a topic that is the focus of a festschrift in his honor titled The Pure Flame of Devotion: The History of Christian Spirituality (edited by Weaver and Clary). This emphasis shines throughout the book, but I was particularly encouraged by Ignatius’ steadfast anticipation of his own martyrdom and Patrick’s dogged commitment to evangelizing his former captors in western Ireland.

As I expected, many of the chapters deepened my appreciation for the precise formulations of orthodoxy that we enjoy as a result of the diligent efforts forged by these men in times of doctrinal controversy. The chapters on the Letter to Diognetus and Basil of Caesarea were especially helpful in that regard.

On another note, my understanding was transformed by his chapter on Origen. I did not realize it, but I had allowed bad press on the Fathers to distort my understanding of their abilities. I began reading the chapter assuming that Origen’s famous penchant for allegory would mean that there would be little for me to learn about biblical interpretation. But I realized that my understanding of Origen was tinted by a gross misunderstanding. Rather than reading about a half-crazed mystic who simply allowed his imagination to run wild whenever he encountered something he didn’t immediately understand in the biblical text, I learned that Origen was a deeply devoted student of Scripture who understood that allegorical interpretations were not always appropriate (81–82). In fact, Origen actually affirmed three uses for the literal meaning of Scripture, rather than seeing it all as a deeply spiritual parable of something other than what it actually says, and said that the interpreter “should not resort too easily” to allegory (84). Although Origen is perhaps the best-known implementer of the patristic penchant for allegory, he only employed it when he felt it was appropriate, and he articulated principles for the appropriate use of allegory (85–86). Coming away from this chapter, I realized that I have misunderstood the church fathers and their use of allegory because I had not been listening to them. Instead, I had been allowing my own bias (which came from bad press) to keep me from a fair analysis of the facts.

Whitefield and the Great Awakening Conference


Whitefield and the Great Awakening
Whitefield and the Great Awakening

I am looking forward to attending the annual conference for the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies this year on “George Whitefield and the Great Awakening.”

Here is the introduction from the conference website:

George Whitefield was not only the most celebrated preacher of the eighteenth century, but he was also a central figure in the creation of modern Evangelicalism. His emphasis on the new birth, his passion for evangelism, his ability to cross denominational boundaries and build networks of Christians based on the gospel and Reformation convictions were central features in what we know today as Evangelicalism. In this conference celebrating the tercentennial (1714) birth of Whitefield, we will explore these key themes of this remarkable Christian’s life and what they meant for his day and mean for ours.

Here are the session titles, taken from the tentative schedule posted on the AFCBS blog:

Session 1: “The Calvinism of George Whitefield” (Thomas S. Kidd)
Session 2: “George Whitefield: Anglican evangelist” (Lee Gatiss)
Session 3: “George Whitefield & the Wesleys” (Stephen Nichols)
Session 4: “Preaching George Whitefield” (Steve Lawson)
Session 5: “The Spirituality of George Whitefield” (Bruce Hindmarsh)
Session 6: “Whitefield’s preaching and the politics of Empire” (Jerome Mahaffey)
Session 7: “The Legacy of George Whitefield” (David Bebbington)
Session 8: “The Hymnody of the Great Awakening” (Esther Crookshank)

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father
George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

As another neat bonus, a few days ago I received my copy of Thomas Kidd’s new biography titled George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (ISBN 9780300181623). I’m looking forward to digging into this book over the next few days. The hardcover is available from Amazon and CBD, and there is also a Kindle version available.