The hope of world revival is at hand. And there’s a third good reason to expect it (although this chapter may initially seem to contradict it). Here’s the thesis:
God loves the world and longs to see his Son exalted among all earth’s peoples. But he knows the world is currently facing extraordinary crises and challenges beyond its own resources. He also knows humankind is under the dominion of both sin and dark spiritual powers. Deliverance for the nations rests once again in God’s sovereign intervention to reveal his glory, to push back the darkness, and to release his solutions in Christ in a revival equal to the desperate needs of our time. In fact, revival in the church is the only hope he currently holds out for the world he loves. Therefore we can pray and prepare for it with confidence.
“These are apocalyptic times,” writes journalist and editor Rodney Clapp, “apocalyptic in the sense that the entire world is seen as besieged by crises so severe we are on the brink of the end . . . We can expect apocalyptic fear to spread in the coming years. Many fear total disintegration.”1 There is no question that the megatrends of this hour on both national and global levels are leading many to feel overwhelmed. Hopes we hold for the twenty-first century may soon be suffocated by the challenges. Paul Kennedy, writing in Preparing for the Twenty-first Century, says, “Far from a stimulus to preventative actions, global trends are so large as to induce despair.”2
When I teach about revival in seminar settings, I often pass out summary lists of the most disconcerting megatrends we face. (A version of such handouts appears in appendix 1). Of course, newspaper headlines, news magazines, evening news broadcasts, and neighborhood conversation keep us constantly aware of what ails our world. I find, however, we are often overwhelmed by unexpected dark prospects we confront. And I must confess that when that happens, it is a response I am actually grateful to see! For it is only as we come to grips with the extent of our need and extremity that we will be driven to seek, as our only hope, Christ and the revival he brings.
The Seeming Disappearance of Hope
In overwhelming times, a people of such biblical hope are desperately needed.
Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, aware of our emerging crises, commented a decade ago that we are witnessing a virtual disappearance of hope in Western culture.3 It is being replaced by wide-spreading pessimism and fatalism about the future. For example, Doom, a nonreligious apocalyptic group, predicts the imminent end of the world unless wholesale action is concentrated on environmental and economic problems.4 Other groups speak of the potential of an “urban apocalypse” because most Two-Thirds World cities don’t have the infrastructure to sustain the level of population growth currently taking place. Chuck Colson observes that in America “our inner-cities are coming very close to anarchy.”
Some foresee the time when the U.S. finally takes such a strong stand against Japan’s economic encroachments that it has the feel of all-out military conflict. (See The Coming War with Japan by George Friedman and Meredith LeBard.5) On the home front a popular economist projects financial bankruptcy (The Coming Collapse of America and How to Stop It6), while in even stronger terms Larry Burkett The Coming Economic Earthquake) sounds an alarm over the destruction of our economic system through personal bankruptcies, the debt of corporate businesses, and the wrenching of an aggregate national debt that is moving toward 3.4 trillion dollars by the year 2000.7 He quotes J. Peter Grace, chairman and CEO of the W. R. Grace Company, who says, “We’re on a disaster course and the time for action is right now…By the year 2000, interest payments on the Federal debt will take 102% of all personal income taxes.” Time magazine calls recent semi-apocalyptic upheavals “once in a lifetime dislocations that will take years to work out.” It includes among them the job drought, defense-industry contractions, the savings and loan collapse, the real estate depression, and the health care cost explosion.
Writes Norman Robertson, chief economist at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Bank, “There’s going to be a lot of trauma before it’s over.” No one is projecting any quick fixes. Robert Stan Lacey, publisher of the newsletter Work-place Trends, says, “The U. S. work-place is a profound, historic state of turmoil that for millions of individuals is approaching panic.”8
Beyond Economic Earthquakes
If we look beyond national economic trends, how hopeful are other prospects? Unfortunately they too are not only disturbing but in many cases seem to defy any solution. For example, one theologian raises the possibility of a coming race war in which racism, urban violence, and the marginalization of African Americans may force this nation to undergo ethnic civil wars on a level we now only read about in Eastern Europe and Africa.9
Recently at Yale University, Senator John Carey gave his view of the dark prospects as he told the student body:
Consider a different part of the reality of America today: a violent, drug-ridden, rat-infested reality; a reality in which the institutions of civilized social life have broken down; of disintegrating families; boarded up store fronts; schools that have become armed camps and crack houses replacing community centers as the focus of neighborhood life.
I ask you to consider a reality where more than 80% of babies are born to single mothers; where young men die violently at a rate exceeding that of any American war; where only one child in thee finishes high school and even then, too often, can barely read; where the spread of AIDS and homelessness rifts so visibly at the fabric of community; where far too many families are on welfare for far too long, and where far too many children carry guns instead of lunch boxes to school.10
One need only consider the plight of our youth in the midst of such measurable cultural disintegration to acknowledge we need answers desperately. We see the sharp increases in teenage pregnancies and drug addiction. Gripped in fear, constantly confronted with murder and mayhem in our cities, young people by the millions must begin their classes by stepping through metal detectors put in place to help minimize violence. Because many youth are raised in homes with few values and with significantly increased incidents of child abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional), it is no surprise that many are incredibly hostile and even seek to resolve their internal conflicts with the use of a firepower often greater than what the police forces have to deliver in return.
As president of the Carnegie Corporation, Dr. David Hamburg warns in Today’s Children: Creating a Future for a Generation in Crisis that the U. S. is committing “atrocities” with its children. “We’ve already lost a substantial portion of the generation of kids under age sixteen. Their loss to drug abuse, crime, and teen pregnancy, but also to more subtle corrosives like malnutrition, illiteracy and poor self-esteem.”11
Philadelphia Enquirer columnist, Claude Lewis, ponders, “Shouldn’t we be depressed by what we see on the national landscape?…Someone informs us that a baby is ‘God’s opinion that the world should go on.’ One has to wonder, if this is the kind of world we want to go on.”12
Prospects for the Soul of a Nation
Some have accented our troubling national prospects with the term culture wars. 13 They see us caught up in a rending struggle for nothing less than the heart and soul of our nation. In Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the Ware on Traditional Values, Jewish film critic Michael Medved graphically describes the “foul-mouthed, sex-soaked, violent (especially toward women)anti-family content of modern films,” and sees the film industry as a “poison factory which assaults our most cherished values and corrupts our children.” Further, he echoes others who suggest that Hollywood is joining universities, the new media, and many public-interest organizations to undermine the Judeo-Christian values that one informed and shaped our culture.14
Unquestionably there is intense discussion right now about the definitions of our values for the twenty-first century. Those on one side of the debate have every reason, humanly speaking, to feel despair. Carl F. H. Henry sees us potentially moving into the “twilight of a great civilization.”15 For example our culture has shifted from a “sanctity of life” ethic to one more focused on a “quality of life” ethic, which opens a Pandora’s box on many fronts, from abortion to euthanasia. In another arena a recent Gallup study suggested that based on current changes, only about 10 percent of American families will be what we think of as “traditional” families (mother and father and children living together) by the beginning of the twenty-first century. But he goes on to say that 70 percent of Americans are equally convinced that American society is likely to collapse if the traditional unity falls apart.
The forces of relentless secularism currently appear to be striving to denounce the supernatural as irrelevant for this nation, as well as criticizing absolute beliefs as arrogant. They want to promote nonreligious and in some cases even antireligious philosophies as the new “moral cohesion” for our society.
When he received the 1993 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Chuck Colson in his acceptance Speech confronted this dark drift straight on:
We are stripping religion away from public life to our great and everlasting peril. It is the most self-destructive process the nation could embark on. We are trying to erase the indispensable role of religion in informing the moral consensus by which civilized society has survived. We have embarked into a “brave new world” without moral directions, of values erased from teaching, of tolerance elevated above truth, of the expunging of the last vestiges of religious symbols in this country. What we’ve got is a “brooding hostility” toward religion. We’re no longer neutral about religion but hostile to religion. On most every front there is an increasing secularization of America. The basic presupposition has developed that we are no longer a Judeo-Christian culture.16
George Hunter III documents that whereas in 1969 only 9 percent of the population had no church background, in 1989 it was 26 percent, and it is projected to be a least 37 percent by 2001.17 And this in no way includes the millions of others who have dropped out of church because they were never meaningfully touched by the gospel which they were members. On top of all that, we also know that currently there are at least three million people who have no knowledge of Christ and no one near them, culturally speaking, to even begin to tell them. In addition, there are fifty million unchurched urban poor in our inner cities.
Clearly, the darkness overwhelming our society right now is comprised of many forces, from hostile anti-supernaturalism to materialism and affluence, to injustice and racism, to lack of compassion toward the disenfranchised within our country. Carl Henry suggests that we may even now live in the half generation “before hell breaks loose” and, if its fury is contained, he says, we will be remembered, if we are remembered at all, as those who laid down their lives as the “dikes” to hold back impending doom.
In the call to be willing to be such dikes, many hear the Spirit’s summons to take up the only hope we have for victory: to seek a national spiritual awakening to Christ. For out of that, God can raise up literally tens of millions to turn the tide. In fact the rapid changes, looming challenges, and desperate crises enveloping our generation require a church prepared for comprehensive action not only in holding back the doom but in advancing a fuller revelation of Christ and his kingdom as the great hope of all nations.
Darkening Prospects among the Nations
Much of the discussion in this chapter so far has focused on national prospects. But we are part of a “global village” that is also overwhelmed with a host of international challenges. All of this simply serves to compound our sense of hopelessness and doom. However, the international prospects can likewise drive us to turn to God in ever-increasing dependence, with growing conviction that only a sovereign God can endue our redemptive efforts with sufficient power and effectiveness. Again, revival is our only hope, amplified this time by a global vision. (See appendix 1 for an extensive catalog of these prospects.)
For Christians the one international issue that might push us the furthest into despair, were it not for the promise of God’s reviving presence, concerns the Great Commission. The sheer immensity of what needs to be done is staggering. We sense the urgency of almost three billion to be reached with the gospel who have never heard it before. To grasp the work ahead of us, consider that three billion is the number of times your heart will beat from the day you were born to the day you reach seventy-five. That is a lot of people!
Then if we add all the other dark prospects that plague the world community it is clear that for Christ’s mission to go forward victoriously it will be very costly to us who serve him. The church needs to be equipped with a new level of spiritual power for bold action on a host of challenges that impinge directly to fulfilling Christ’s global cause. We can only hope to push back the night among earth’s peoples if God intensifies a manifestation of Christ and his kingdom through us such as no generation has ever experienced before—or ever needed to.
And yet beyond the tangible dark prospects, there are the more hidden, subtle spiritual forces we much confront as well. The Bible describes two mysteries at work in the world: godliness and iniquity. Evil is growing concurrently with good. Our generation, facing obstacles never imagined by any previous age, finds itself thoroughly embroiled in a whirlpool at the convergence of these two diametrically opposed powers—Christ against demonic forces. Both history and Scripture bear witness: Until the final day of judgment, every bit of progress in the gospel, on all fronts, will be paired with times of retrogression and suffering as Satan deploys his subversive legions to attempt to overwhelm the cause of Christ.
Every “harvest field” was previously a “battle field.” As we anticipate the advance of the gospel, we can anticipate intense encounters with Satan, with ensuing resistance and counterattacks. The charts in appendix 1 point out graphically that if we take Christ’s world mission seriously, we face in the twenty-first century a conflagration with the demonic of such a magnitude in its consequences that nothing short of revival will ever see us through it.
As noted earlier, J. Edwin Orr observed that all revival is a time of “warfare of the Spirit against the devil.”18 In revival, satanic forces perceive the intensification of the present of the Conqueror moving among the nations. Satan understands this much about true revival: If given its fullest expression, it will always entail successive dethronements of his kingdom here and worldwide. And so the nearer we come to revival (or rather, the closer revival comes to us), the more intensified will be the resistance of “anti-forces” of darkness against whom that revival is so specifically targeted. Attempting new breakthroughs in world evangelization and engaging all the dark prospects arrayed against our generation, we will be involved in unprecedented spiritual warfare. Demonic territorial counterattacks and preemptive confrontations by the powers of darkness will be normal occurrences.
Billy Graham, visiting in the aftermath of hurricane Andrew’s devastation in South Florida, tells of Christians working night and day to help the survivors get water and food. One of them noticed a sign on the roof of a devastated house that read, “Okay, God. You’ve got our attention. Now what?” Graham drew a parallel: “I see storms of apocalyptic proportions on the horizon. God is beginning to get our attention. Now what?” The thesis of this chapter is that the only hope for our nation and for the peoples of the world is a God-given revival in the church. That is what!
A recent survey taken by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) asked the opinion of Christian leaders regarding the greatest concerns facing this society, for which we are in desperate need of answers from God. The list in the following order: moral decline, deficit, abortion, family breakdown, health carte, domestic economy, drug and alcohol abuse.19 Many believe biblical revival is the only solid, practical answer to every one of these. Not surprisingly, shortly after the survey, the NAE turned over a portion of their fiftieth anniversary conference to pray concertedly for the only hope we have as a nation: corporate revival in the church.
It is not that revival is a magical panacea. Rather, as we’re already learned, revival in its true biblical sense is nothing less that “the manifest presence of Christ,” first to his people and then through them to society and to nations. The deliverance of our country depends above everything else on God’s willingness to intervene sovereignly with his church in a manner equal to the desperate needs of the time. And that intervention must be nothing short of an “approximation of the consummation.” Only a church wholly revived—with a greater focus on Christ, leading into a fullness of his life together and on to the fulfillment of his global cause—can be victorious. Only such a church can successfully confront and transform the dark prospects that this generation facers, whether political, technological, economic, social, or religious.
Further, out of his great love for earth’s unreached—love that cost his Son the cross—God is not only willing but ready to act. He longs to give the world through a revived church what it desperately must have to see these dark prospects turned into arenas of convincing victories. He knows that the only future for such a world, living as it is in “apocalyptic times,” is an apocalyptic-type foretaste of what awaits the nations in the final revival.
For example, consider what might ultimately be true for every one of the NAE concerns listed above when God finally consummates each area in Christ (whether public righteousness, family life, material resources, or personal well-being). The hope of revival speaks to this. God wants to approximate that work in an intermediate sense even now as his people are revived and redeployed with a new vision of Christ. The same can be said for every one of the scores of prospects listed in appendix 1. Out of God’s love for the world, he desires to displace in graphic measure everything that contradicts who Jesus is, replacing it with his kingdom work.
Missiologist Bryant Myers, writing on “the changing shape of world mission “ in a recent MARC newsletter sketches the hope before us. Analyzing current structures of sin around the world (organized crime, drug traffic, pornography, military spending, gambling, tax cheating, etc.), he offers this helpful insight. Over 30 percent of the gross world product is related to these “structures of sin,” with a total cost every year of 5.2 trillion dollars. Only 520 billion dollars per year would be needed, however, to provide all the world’s poor with adequate food, water, education, and shelter. He asks, “What effect might a worldwide revival of righteousness have on meeting the basic needs of the poor?” What effect indeed!20
This is not to suggest that revival will bring in the New Jerusalem. Nor I attempting to argue here for a postmillennial view of history. Not at all! I’m simply reasoning (whatever your eschatological perspectives may be) that there is so much more God wants to do among the nations—particularly in face of these dark prospects—than we have yet experienced. I’m suggesting that God is yearning to intervene powerfully to do something about it. And I’m suggesting the primary entry point for a marvelous new work of God’s grace, truth, and justice is through a church fully revived. Such a church will be empowered to take up the work of the gospel by word and deed and enter with redemptive healing into the mainstream of the world’s chaotic, unpredictable, and potentially destructive onrush into the twenty-first century.
Fresh Perspective on Dark Prospects
Not long ago Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn commended that if former generations could have looked ahead to see what is happening in our generation, they would have called it “apocalypse.”21 That being so, the apocalyptic nature of these dark prospects should also give us every reason to seek God for the apocalyptic nature of revival (I’m drawing here on the actual meaning of the Greek word itself as we saw in chapter one—a dynamic unveiling of Christ to his people and then to the world). Extraordinary crises require an extraordinary unveiling of Christ! God’s love for the nations and the breaking of his heart over the desperate plight of earth’s unreached peoples should instill in us absolute confidence. We will not find ourselves seeking and preparing for revival in vain. God knows there is no other hope. He knows these apocalyptic times require his apocalyptic visitation in a wide-ranging moral and spiritual awakening in the church. His love for the world will move him to visit his people with power once again.
Earlier in this century a great prayer leader in Norway, Olaf Hallesby, realized the same desperate need for Christians to pray for revival in his generation. What he wrote to them are words that can be written to the whole church today:
We will want to have a part in praying for the awakening in the widest sense of the term, a world awakening. We see that that is just what the world needs now, more than anything else. Many of us are asking almost despairingly, “Where will it all end?” Where will it all end if we do not have a revival so far reaching in general that it will stem the tide of sin in all parts of the world, and open up new avenues for the Gospel in the frivolous and wicked generation which today peoples our earth?22
Before reading on, you might find it helpful to look over appendix 1, asking:
- What difference would it make in any one of these issues, trends, or peoples if the church were so saturated with the presence of God that we were experiencing all that Christ is to us, for us, in us, over us, through us, and out ahead of us?
- All things considered, is there any greater hope for reversing these dark prospects apart from world revival in the church?
- In light of the difference we believe world revival could bring to any of these categories, how should this hope begin to change the way we actually pray for our nation, for our world, and for revival in our churches?
- How should it change the way we prepare for revival, if we believe revival is ordained of God to impact these concerns in practical ways with the kingdom of Jesus Christ?