Revival. This word makes Christians light up with excitement. Or roll their eyes with suspicion. Regardless of where you lean, might revival be something God’s people ought to pursue, not with frenzied pragmatism, but with chastened, prayerful hope?
There is, after all, a Reformed heritage of revival, Don Carson notes in a new roundtable video with TGC co-founder Tim Keller. And revival for both men, it turns out, isn’t just something they’ve heard or read about. It’s something they’ve experienced.
Keller was converted in 1970 at a central Pennsylvanian college where the InterVarsity chapter experienced an unprecedented “awakening” that they soon realized was occurring on other campuses throughout the region. Likewise, Carson witnessed “a singular movement of the Lord” while pastoring in Canada around the same time. Almost two decades later, Keller witnesed in his first couple of years at Redeemer Presyberian Church (1990–91) a reminder of what he experienced in college. “We grew to almost 1,000 people in about two years in the middle of Manhattan at a time when people were leaving the city because of a recession and high crime.”
Though Keller and Carson could both be described as “pro-revival,” they are clear about unique dangers that have historically attended outpourings of God’s Spirit. “There is the danger of domesticating, of packaging, that can often end up making it feel phony,” Carson observes. As Keller adds, “Some are attracted to the glitz, others just want the attention.” He cites Jonathan Edwards’s little-known Thoughts on Revival for a sober-minded reflection on the false experiences that sometimes attend revival because of human sin.
Watch the full 12-minute video to hear Keller and Carson discuss revival dynamics, the potential within sleepy Christians, what two things Carson will do if he’s near a revival again, and more. (For additional resources on the topic, check out Keller’s TGC13 workshop on “A Biblical Theology of Revival” and Kevin DeYoung, Bryan Chapell, and Rick Phillips’s roundtable video tackling the question “Should Christians Pray for Revival?” You could also see chapters 4 and 6 in Keller’s Center Church or Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge’s A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir.)