Anti-Scholasticism, Revival(ism), Pietism, Or The Reformed Theology, Piety, And Practice?

Why would those who actually subscribe to the Reformed confession pursue revivalism and pietism?

I and others have been trying to persuade the Reformed to recognize that the 18th and 19th century revivals are not as distinct (the first supposedly a good revival and the second supposedly a bad revival) as we have been told nor were they a natural outgrowth of the classical Reformed theology, piety, and practice. I am surprised to find that the author thinks that some are hearing this message. That is encouraging but I doubt that he is right. In truth, the Reformed do not confess a theology, piety, and practice of revival(ism).

 

In the last few days two different authors have published articles seeking to remind evangelical and Reformed readers first toward a “revival” model of piety and practice and then toward Pietism. These two movements are closely related historically and so I will address them together in this response. Before I proceed, let me make clear that I am not contesting the relationship between revival(ism) and Pietism to modernevangelicalism. I am completely disinterested in a political contest over turf or control of evangelicalism. I agree with Mike Horton. I wish evangelicals and the rest of us could think of evangelicalism—to the extent there really is such a thing. See D. G. Hart’s Deconstructing Evangelicalism—as a village green rather than a piece of contested territory. My intent in these essays is not to contest for territory. It is to discourage those who identify the Reformed theology and those who actually subscribe the Reformed confession from pursuing these alternatives to the Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

Revival(ism)
The first of these two alternatives is revival, which some (as I discuss in the book) want to distinguish sometimes from revivalism. I doubt that distinction works as an explanation of history and, as I showed in the book, even the proponents of the distinction agree with that. When push comes to shove, a bad revival (e.g., the 2nd Great Awakening) is better than no revival.  So I have been signalling the blurriness between revival and revivalism by using revival(ism). I agree with the author that revival(ism) is a mark of evangelicalism but I want to distinguish sharply between the original evangelicals, i.e., the confessional Reformed and Lutheran churches and evangelicalism as it came to be formed by Pietism and revival(ism). These are two distinct things.

Strangely, the author thinks that the great revivalists are being left behind.

Thus, while many appreciate Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and the First Great Awakening, they almost invariably write off later American revivals as hotbeds of human activism, heresy, cults of personality, and emotional extravagance. Better to leave all that in the dustbin and get on with the mission of preaching the gospel and building the church. Right?

I should very much like to see the evidence of such marginalization. Amandus Polanus (1561–1610) is not anyone’s “homeboy” but apparently, judging by what I see, Jonathan Edwards is. Indeed Edwards is a principal influenced upon the so-called New Calvinism and the Young, Restless, and Reformed movements. That hardly seems like marginalization. I and others have been trying to persuade the Reformed to recognize that the 18th and 19th century revivals are not as distinct (the first supposedly a good revival and the second supposedly a bad revival) as we have been told nor were they a natural outgrowth of the classical Reformed theology, piety, and practice. I am surprised to find that the author thinks that some are hearing this message. That is encouraging but I doubt that he is right. In truth, the Reformed do not confess a theology, piety, and practice of revival(ism). I am certain that the magisterial Protestants would have been horrified by both the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings and I do not think that most of the orthodox of the 17th century would have been entirely comfortable either with the rhetoric of the 1st Great Awakening nor with the practice and the associated phenomena.

I am grateful for the essay advocating a renewal of revival theology and practice because it puts the issues squarely before us. The author writes, “I advance the opposite thesis: Revivals embody the true flourishing of Protestantism precisely because they intensify and expand on central Protestant themes.” This claim is fundamentally false.

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