Should a revival promoted by essentially Calvinist soteriology look different than one urged by essentially Pelagian soteriology? And how different are their effects from those of emotion-provoking music? Mull over these questions as we consider four passages in chronological order.
1) “every Accent, every Emphasis, every Modulation of Voice, was so perfectly well turn’d and well plac’d, that without being interested in the Subject, one could not help being pleas’d with the Discourse, a Pleasure of much the same kind with that receiv’d from an excellent Piece of Music.(Source 1) ‘…There was a visible appearance of much soul-concern among the crowd that filled every part of the burial ground. Many were overcome with fainting, others sobbed deeply; some wept silently; and a solemn concern appeared on the countenance of almost the whole assembly…” (Source 2)
2) “It was too earnest to be called theatrical, but in the best sense of the word it was dramatic. Some of his rhetorical utterances are indescribable.’ As every seat was full, Park sat with five other men on a plank which had been put across chairs in an aisle. Such was the impression of the sermon, he says, that ‘The board actually shook beneath us. Every one of the men was trembling with excitement.’ (Source 3)
3) “She possessed her listeners; they swayed, they rocked, they moaned and groaned, as they felt the blues with her. A woman swooned who had lost her man. Men groaned who had been given their week’s pay to some woman but slipped away and couldn’t be found at the appointed time.. . . Some woman screams out with a shrill cry of agony as the blues recalls sorrow because some man trifled on her and wounded her to the bone.” (Source 4, pp. 24-25)
4) “Right than and there in my personal hell hole of a sauna prison on Fuller Ave in-between Hollywood BLVD and Sunset, John Lee Hooker killed me. Within my death everything became crystal clear. It felt spiritual, I had a knowing. In all of my doubt, and in all of my worry… In all of my clouded judgement and perplexed faith… In all of my burden and all of my pain I found him… I found the blues. With that I was re-born.” (Source 5)
The first quote describes the preaching and impact of evangelist and orator-extraordinaire George Whitefield. The second does the same for Charles Finney. The third is about early blues diva “Ma” Rainey, and the fourth is a kind of blues “testimony” from a contemporary twenty-something musician.
Obviously, a lot could be said about this, and I welcome your comments. Allow me to first pre-empt any notion that I am elevating the blues to spiritual conversion or, on the other hand, that I am dismissive of the emotions of any of the above audiences. People carry emotional burdens of all kinds that are hard to articulate until they show themselves. Moral guilt, the sting of betrayal, world-weariness, and aimlessness are human afflictions that could visit any of us.
Likewise there are settings, exhibitions, and techniques that draw out these emotions. Some are accidental and some are carefully packaged. For example, revivals and crusades use not only preaching but a certain kind of rhetoric and music to produce an emotional response. But an emotional response is not necessarily a Christian spiritual response, and it seems more than a little hazardous to evaluate our religious standing or anyone else’s by an emotional barometer.
And this is just where all the Presbyterian stuff comes in. The question is not “have you had, and are you having emotional experiences?” but other questions, like the following:
(1) Do you believe the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, to be the Word of God, and its doctrine of salvation to be the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation?
(2) Do you believe in one living and true God, in whom eternally there are three distinct persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—who are the same in being and equal in power and glory, and that Jesus Christ is God the Son, come in the flesh?
(3) Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone?
(4) Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your sovereign Lord, and do you promise that, in reliance on the grace of God, you will serve him with all that is in you, forsake the world, resist the devil, put to death your sinful deeds and desires, and lead a godly life?
(5) Do you promise to participate faithfully in this church’s worship and service, to submit in the Lord to its government, and to heed its discipline, even in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life?
Note the verbs: “believe,” “confess,” “acknowledge,” “promise,”“submit,” and “heed.” Not a word about how much we are required to emote. Revivalism, thankfully, has not invaded our Profession of Faith.