Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism (1750-1858), by Iain H. Murray. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994. 455 pp. $27.95 (cloth). [Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.]
Added to the list of important books which Iain Murray has written is this current volume on revival. Murray’s thesis is that the revivals of the 17th century, which began in New England at the time of Jonathan Edwards and were common on the Eastern Seaboard of America during the visits of George Whitefield, were genuine outpourings of the Spirit of God. They were, however, followed by revivals sparked by the labors of Charles Finney which were not works of the Spirit at all, but caricatures of true revivals. The former, according to the title, were revivals; the latter was revivalism; the former, the making of American Evangelicalism; the latter, the marring of it.
This is an important book from many viewpoints. Although Murray speaks of 17th century revivals as indeed being the work of the Holy Spirit, he is not averse to criticism of the revivals in some respects. He is critical of the excesses and emotionalism which characterized the revivals, and even admits that these excesses led to departures and schisms in the church, and opened the door to cults which did harm to the Presbyterian Church: “… an almost total desolation in the Presbyterian church in Kentucky and part of Tennessee” (p. 172). He also speaks of the fact that under Methodism’s influence, revivals gave impetus to Arminianism (p. 182) and its altar call—which Murray clearly detests. While Murray approves of the ecumenical character of revivals (i.e., that they were to be found in Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist Churches, which often cooperated in the work) he also recognizes that this very ecumenicity led to doctrinal decline (p. 360).
But the real enemy of true revival was the revivalism of Charles Finney and New School Presbyterians. Of them Murray is sharply critical, and he blames them for destroying true revivals and giving revivals a bad name. In fact, Murray finds today’s revivals to be more revivalism than the work of the Holy Spirit. Rightly, Murray’s critique of Finney and the New School is chiefly doctrinal. And this doctrinal critique opens the way for many interesting and helpful discussions in the book of the issues surrounding Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism, Arminianism, and Antinomianism. It is of more than passing interest that even in those days the orthodox in the Presbyterian Church, who often opposed revivals, were called Hyper-Calvinists.
But the extensive treatment of this subject sharply underscores what in my judgment are the basic, arguments against even revivals, not to speak of revivalism.
In the first place, although Murray makes an effort to define what he means by revival, he nevertheless does not clearly distinguish between revival and normal ways in which the Spirit works, e.g., at the time of Pentecost not only, but also in times of reformation in the church of Christ (including the Reformation of the 16th century) when spirituality is very high among the faithful in the battle of faith.
A more serious aspect of revivals was their ecumenical character. While Murray deplores the influence of Methodism in revivalism, e.g., he speaks without criticism of the fact that Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists fully cooperated in the revivals of the 18th century (see pp. 68, 69, e.g.). This ecumenicity was manifested in a disregard for doctrine; obviously this had to be true, for how could such different groups cooperate in revivals unless doctrinal differences were overlooked. Yet, with some ambiguity and contradiction, Murray is quite frank in condemning revivalism for doctrinal departure, while approving of the disregard for doctrinal distinctives in the revivals of which Murray approves.
It is in connection with this tension in Murray’s book that he seems to say that some doctrines of Calvinism, such as predestination and limited atonement, are not important for evangelism (p. 363).
The book highlights what are other serious errors in revivals. Revival doctrine is based on a wrong view of conversion—surely within the covenant, but perhaps outside covenant lines as well. For example, Murray approves of the idea that conviction of sin is not the work of the Holy Spirit. Some, busy in revivals, wanted those under conviction of sin to come forward as an aid to a decision for Christ when they were distressed, but Murray registers his disagreement with this idea of coming forward on the grounds that conviction of sin is not evidence of .regeneration (pp. 213ff.).
Revivals show a disregard for the doctrine of the covenant and the place of children in the covenant. The Reformed and biblical doctrine of the covenant insists that children “as well as, adults are included in the covenant and church of God” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 74).
The doctrine of revivals misunderstands the work of the Holy Spirit in teaching that revivals result in mass conversions, spectacular evidences of the Spirit’s work, and special outpourings of power through unusual ways in which the Spirit works. Scripture teaches that the work of the Spirit is unlike earthquakes, fire, and powerful winds, but is like a still small voice that works quietly, unnoticed, unaccompanied by fanfare, but powerful and irresistible for all that.
Murray talks about revival as it affected Princeton and even mentions Charles Hodge’s criticism of the excesses. But there is more in Hodge than Murray reveals. Murray should have referred to Hodge’s “The Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the USA” and told his readers of the scathing indictment of revivals which Hodge offers.
It is striking that David Wells in his book, No Place for Truth, quotes Sidney Mead with approval when Mead says: “The ascendancy of pietism that accompanied the Second Great Awakening had the effect of undercutting the place of theology…. The passion for truth was replaced by the passion for souls, and . . . during the 19th century and well into the 20th, religion prospered while theology went slowly bankrupt” (p. 110). This was indeed the fruit of the disregard for doctrine which characterized revivals at their best.
Dispelling the Tyranny, by Piet Prins. Tr. Paulina M. Rustenburg Bootsma. Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 1994. 152 pp. $9.95 (Can), $8.50 (US) (paper). [Reviewed by the Editor.]
This is the eagerly awaited sequel to When the Morning Came (reviewed in the April 15, 1990Standard Bearer). It continues the story of young Martin Meulenberg in the Netherlands during the terrible persecution of the Reformed by the Roman Catholic Church and Spain in the late 1500s.
Forced by the persecution to flee to Emden, Germany, Martin joins the army of Count Lodewyk, brother of William of Orange, in order to fight the invading army of the cruel Duke of Alva and to drive the tyrants from the Netherlands. After many adventures, including being captured when spying out the City of Groningen, Martin shares in the defeat of the army of Count Lodewyk by Alva at Jemmingen:
. . . the little group diminished fast from the furious attacks of Alva’s many troops. Martin defended himself with his short pike. Sultan fought right beside him attacking a Spaniard at the throat when he came too close to Martin. Mr. Meulenberg also tried to ward off any danger from his son, but got hit in his left arm by a lance (p. 143).
Although defeated in this battle, the Dutch patriots and Reformed Christians do not lose courage:
. . . Mr. Meulenberg detected a holy zeal in the Count’s eyes . . . . “Maybe it will be a long contest, and maybe we will be required to sacrifice our lives for it. But we must never give up. If God wills, the tyranny shall be dispelled from the Netherlands. The Lord shall not forsake His oppressed Church” (p. 145).
The book ends with Martin obtaining permission from his parents to enlist for service with one of the ships of the “Sea Beggars,” the famed Dutch fleet that played so important a role in the struggle of the Netherlands for freedom. The next volume, then, in this “Struggle for Freedom” series will have Martin on the high seas with the “Beggars.” Inheritance Publications must not wait so long to bring out volume 3. ‘This is the kind of fiction that Reformed children and young people should read, and will enjoy reading. Our Christian schools should have this series in their library.
Many Christian book stores carry the book, including the Reformed Book Outlet, 3505 Kelly St., Hudsonville, MI 49426 (telephone: 616-669-6730). Canadians can order from Inheritance Publications, Box 154, Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada TOG IRO. In the United States, this and other Inheritance publications can be ordered from Inheritance Publications, Box 366, Pella, IA 50219. The toll-free number in both the United States and Canada is l- 800-563-3594.
Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary, by Geerhardus Vos. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994. pp. xii-296. $15.95. (cloth). [Reviewed by Prof. Robert D. Decker.]
Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949), best known for his Biblical Theology, emigrated to the United States in 1881. After intensive theological training Vos declined an invitation to teach Old Testament Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam. Instead he taught at Calvin Theological Seminary (Systematic and Exegetical Theology) from 1888-1893. From 1894 until he retired in 1932 Vos taught at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1894. His wife, Catherine, is the author of the well-known and loved Child’s Story Bible.
Grace and Glory is a collection of sermons preached by Dr. Vos in the chapel of Princeton Seminary. Vos, as these sermons indicate, was a keen exegete of the Scriptures. His insights are profound. The sermon titled “Rabboni!”, based on John 20:16 (the appearance of the risen Christ to Mary Magdalene), is itself worth the price of the book
Ministers, Christian School teachers, Bible study leaders, and lay members of the church will find a veritable spiritual feast in this book. It is not easy going, but if one takes the time to read it through at his own pace, he will be edified.
The late John Murray described Vos in these terms, “Dr. Vos is, in my judgment, the most penetrating exegete it has been my privilege to know, and, I believe, the most incisive exegete that has appeared in the English-speaking world in this century.” Those of us who were privileged to know Herman Hoeksema and hear his preaching and teaching would no doubt disagree with Murray. Nevertheless, Geerhardus Vos was a gifted, erudite theologian and certainly ranks among the best preachers in the Reformed tradition.