Revival by Richard Owen Roberts

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For several years the subject of revival has interested me. I believe there is a great deal of confusion concerning this topic, so I have begun to read widely on revival. Recently I was introduced to the book now under review, by a pastor who said it was one of the best on the subject. So I was eager to see if the author, Richard Owen Roberts, had any new insights — He did not.

What I am repeatedly finding in “revival” literature is a great deal of experience (usually from a by-gone era) coupled with a longing and pleading for a new round of those experiences, and a complete lack of scriptural foundation. Revival authors do not seem to be looking to the Bible for their example and teaching, but to men and movements of the past. As a result I believe they are often asking God for things that are clearly unbiblical.

Roberts defines revival as, “An extraordinary movement of the Holy Spirit producing extraordinary results.” What is this, and on what Scripture does he base his definition? Of course, we must give a little slack since the word “revival” is not even a biblical term. Could this be part of the problem — we are longing for something God does not even talk about — at least not in these terms.

Roberts goes on to describe and define and illustrate revival — and almost always without any biblical support whatsoever. Some examples: In chapter two he gives twenty five signs of a backslidden condition and uses only four Scriptures to back up his views. Chapter three is dedicated to informing the reader when they can expect revival. Many indications are given – but absolutely no Scripture. In Robert’s chapter on the dangers of revival, sixteen dangers are identified, but no biblical support is given.

An interesting thing that I have found in revival literature is the exaltation of past revivals that would be condemned by the same authors, if they encountered such a revival today. Case in point, the Welsh Revival of 1904-5 is often referred to as the kind of revival we need today, However in my reading of the Welsh Revival, I found many of the same excesses that are found today in the “laughing revival.” Most of the evangelical writers on revival can easily see through the present Toronto and Brownsville “revivals” and want no part in them. Yet they long for a Welsh-type Revival without recognizing the similarities.

All this is not to say that this volume has no value. Good things are said about repentance, the Christian disciplines, prayer, etc. We can agree with most of this. Still the author’s position on revival leaves us with one question, “Where do you find this stuff in the Bible?”

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