A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir

Written by Colin Hansen and John Woodbridge Reviewed By John Mark Yeats

Revival stirs the imagination of evangelicals like few other topics. The privilege of partaking in a radical move of God goes beyond our wildest dreams. Increasingly, however, our humanistic explanations of what happens within revivals paired with the theological extremism of certain modern-day “revivals” leaves us questioning whether God will ever move in our day.

It is this issue that authors Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge explore in A God-Sized Vision. Written in an engaging and moving style, the volume reintroduces the concept of God-ordained revival as a pervasive force within evangelicalism. The introduction and the first chapter reinvigorate a focus on what biblical revival is given the confusion about the nature of revival among many congregations. True to arguments both Hansen and Woodbridge have articulated elsewhere, the Word of God must remain central if the revival is truly God-ordained.

In the second chapter, the authors turn to selective events in the history of the church that highlight how God moved in certain times and specific places. Beginning with the First Great Awakening, the authors examine the role of the Bible and the gospel as foundational to every true awakening. The usual cast of characters is here-Edwards, Whitefield, Tennent-but the spotlight focuses on Edwards. It is Edwards's criteria of true revival-it exalts Jesus Christ, provokes Satan, prioritizes the Bible, and inspires love (p. 182)-that sets the stage for the examples selected for this particular volume.

It is in this decision that Hansen and Woodbridge tip their interpretive hand. The authors, heavily influenced by Martin Lloyd-Jones's work on revival, take a strong Edwardsian interpretation of what a true revival should look like. They hew to this interpretation in their particular historical selections to inspire the reader, yet this may lead to surprising choices. For example, when discussing the broad Second Great Awakening in chapter three, the conversation focuses on Yale and Edwardsian Timothy Dwight. While the Cane Ridge revivals and the “Burnt-Over District” are mentioned briefly (pp. 60-61), the authors largely ignore Finney, dismissing him as introducing problematic theology (p. 34), and instead emphasize Dwight's insistence that all true revivals are grounded in the Word of God and the work of the Spirit.

After covering the Second Great Awakening, the authors turn to the Prayer Revival of 1857-1858 before looking at the more global scene of revivals in Wales, India, Korea, and East Africa. It is in these more globally focused chapters that readers discover the broader work of God in nations that often are not included in the standard narrative of revival presented in the West. The authors also begin to insert more of their understanding of the nature of revival by arguing that the leading contributor to the demise of a revival is the movement away from Scripture (p. 115).

If the Bible and gospel proclamation anchor any true revival, Hansen and Woodbridge point to the essential nature of God's people confessing sin as a sign true revival has arrived. To demonstrate this, they point to the revivals that broke out in China at the beginning of the twentieth century through the ministry of Jonathan Goforth. After the Boxer Rebellion left many missionaries embittered following the tragic losses of family and close colleagues, God brought a powerful revival as missionaries began confessing their sins to each other and to the Chinese. The authors tie this to the rise of evangelicalism in the mid-twentieth century in America by closing out their historical narrative focusing aptly on Billy Graham.

While never fully offering a full definition of “revival” for the readers, the conclusion does bring together the central threads of the narrative accounts. The authors present five key evidences of a revival in addition to the Edwardsian hallmark: persisting in prayer, repenting from sin, preaching the gospel, acknowledging God's authority with humility, and serving God with boldness.

This volume is perfect for pastors and lay-leaders alike. The retelling of the historical events is clear, inspirational, and God-focused. Readers will be challenged to rethink our human, limited expectations of God and the realities of his promises in his Word. It is only when we are able to attain a “God-sized” vision for what God can do that we will ever truly see God move in revival during our lifetime.

John Mark Yeats

John Mark Yeats
Normandale Baptist Church
Fort Worth, Texas, USA

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