A Biblical Theology of Revival

The Gospel Coalition Conference 2013

In this 58-minute session, Timothy Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and author of The Reason for God and Center Church, provides an overview of the idea of revival, discussing the marks of revival and the potential problems associated with it. In the second half of the session, Tim field questions from the audience on particular aspects of revival. 

Revival isn’t a ministry or an event. It’s the process of the Holy Spirit engaging individuals at their hearts and transforming the church. Tim argues that the definition of revival is simply the magnification of the every-day works of the Holy Spirit. During true revival, sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and non-Christians start exploring the gospel.

Tim also highlighted five marks of a revival:

  1. Revival recovers the gospel either from legalism or licentiousness.
  2. Revival prompts deep repentance and awe.
  3. Revival creates anointed, corporate worship in the church.
  4. Revival grows the local church body.
  5. Revival encourages extraordinary prayer. 

In the past, how have you defined revival? Is it an event? An experience?
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Have you seen revival like Tim describes? If so, where? What did it look like?
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Tim says revival is the Holy Spirit’s work—we can’t cause it. Do you believe that? What does Holy Spirit led revival look like in your words?
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 When asked if revival was an offshoot ministry of the church, Tim said no. Revival, he pointed out, is the work of the Holy Spirit, and He will bring it about when He sees fit. It’s misguided, then, to organize “revivals” in an attempt to force the experience.

Have you seen or participated in revival events? What did you experience? Did the experience last?
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After listening to Tim’s talk, has your view of revival changed? How?
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Tim wanted to avoid giving “how-tos” for revival. Revival, he said, is the sole work of the Holy Spirit, and we can’t make Him bring about revival. Unfortunately, churches and groups can get stuck pursuing the experience of revival and miss the point. “You can’t get into Narnia the same way twice,” Tim said, meaning the Holy Spirit often works in different ways and can’t be manipulated into forced revival.  

Where have you seen the church try to force revival? What did they do? What did they not do? What happened as a result?
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Describe true revival. Do you think you’d recognize it if it happened in your church?
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Though Tim avoided giving how-tos, he did say that a poignant role a church leader can play is preaching the Jesus-centered gospel and dealing well with issues of sin. Sex is perhaps the biggest sin issue facing today’s culture. We should preach the true gospel, but also deal with the problems that sexual sin can surface. But we’re to do so in a balanced and winsome way. 

Does your church deal with the reality of sin? Does it present a grace-filled, Christ-centered gospel in light of that sin? How have you responded to issues of sin in your life?
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What role does prayer play in the life of your church? In your own personal life? How have you seen the Holy Spirit respond to prayer?
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Based on Tim’s talk, what hinders revival in your life? In the life of your church?
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In a culture that’s rapidly declining, we often long for spiritual revival. Revival, however, is the Holy Spirit’s job. So while we wait for Him to move in our lives, our churches, and our nation, we can pray and preach the truth. Be ready to respond when the Holy Spirit decides to magnify His work in your life and in your church. 

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