A Reasonable Look at Revivalism

Rev. Dr. John Kennedy

  John Kennedy of Dingwall (1819-1884) examined the revivalistic preaching and techniques of Dwight Moody during Moody’s tour of Scotland. Though his analysis might seem stark to those who have never had a second thought about the desirability of crusades and revivals, he provides clarity we could use in our own day. The whole article is worth reading. 

1. Those who, ere the movement had been developed into its abiding fruits, hastened to declare it to be a gracious work of God, must have laid claim to inspiration; and only if that claim is good can their judging be allowable. It may be legitimate to form an unfavorable judgment, even at the outset of a religious awakening, if the means employed in producing it are such as the Lord cannot be expected to bless; but a favorable verdict at that stage, no man, not a prophet, has any right to pronounce. …It is not enough to justify such a verdict, that souls are anxious, that anxious souls attain to a faith that is assured, and to a joy that is exceeding, and that a change of conduct and zealous service are for a season the result. …

2. One is not compelled to affirm that a religious movement is not a work of grace, if he refrains from saying that it is. This is a position into which some men, more zealous than discerning, seek to drive those who do not share their own blind sanguineness. I am not to judge, at the outset, except of the means employed, and if these are unscriptural, I am forbidden to expect a good result.

5. Of the means employed in promoting such a work, one is bound to judge. I am not to be blinded by dazzling results. A worthy end does not sanctify all the means that may be used in attaining it, nor does a seemingly good result justify all the means employed in producing it. Many seem to think that if they choose to call a religious movement a work of grace, no fault should be found with any instrumentality employed in advancing it. All must be right, they think, if the result is to be regarded as a revival of the work of God. To censure any doctrine preached or any mode of worship practiced, seems to them to be opposition to the good work, and to tend to mar its progress. They may be of the same opinion, as to the impropriety of some of the means which are employed, with those who do not refrain from condemning them, but for the work’s sake they tolerate them. As if the Lord’s work could receive aid from ought that was unscriptural!

7. …There are two reasons why I cannot regard the present religious movement hopefully. 1. Because the doctrine which is the means of impression seems to me to be “another gospel,” though a mighty influence. Hyper-Evangelism I call it, because of the loud professions of evangelism made by those who preach it; and because it is just an extreme application of some truths, to the neglect of others which are equally important parts of the great system of evangelic doctrine. 2. Because unscriptural practices are resorted to in order to advance the movement.

…If a hearty intelligent turning to God in Christ be the result of conversion, it is utterly unwarrantable to expect that, as a rule, conversion shall be sudden. Indeed, the suddenness is rather a ground of suspicion than a reason for concluding that the work is God’s. The teaching of Christ, in the parable of the sower, warrants this suspicion. They who are represented as suddenly receiving the word with joy are those who, in time of temptation, fall away. Suddenness and superficiality are there associated, and with both ephemeralness.


Filed under Revivalism

20 responses to “A Reasonable Look at Revivalism

  1. Richard

    Take a read of John Williamson Nevin’s “The Anxious Bench” when you have a chance; it’s available free via Kindle; it’s devastating stuff on Finney.

  2. Lily

    His words make me want to hug him. I love sanity. Thanks, MM. 😉

  3. Lily

    Well… sure ’nuff… but… it might be better to hug the blogger who posts these lovely words! Hugs to you and have a happy Saint Paddy’s day!

  4. Lily, isn’t insane people who claim to love sanity?

  5. Lily

    Yep, there you go seeing right through me again.

    Check out Darryl’s clone (my OL comment with link for DGH is still hung up in moderation).


    He’s adorable.

  6. Lily

    My current favorite:

    • Sending teens to the mission field for $3,500.00 (or whatever) does seem inefficient if the idea is to translate dollars into maximum impact on the recipients of the missionary’s work. But there’s another angle. Such trips can be encouraging to the missionaries themselves and they may solidify the teens in their faith. If that’s what happens, there are worse ways to spend a few thousand dollars.

  7. Lily

    Am I the only one who thinks that talented adorable young man couldn’t be DGH at 20 in 2012? The gift for satire and sharp insight doesn’t ring bells? Is the lack of a bow tie? Come on, guys… do lack imagination? 😉

    • Sorry for the late response, Lily. I was at our Presbytery meeting. It’s possible Darryl was at his too. Good theology, good order, and good humor; I actually think you would find our meetings interesting and encouraging. But when you put in the hours, a couple nights in a hotel and a long drive there and back it’s sneaky-tiring.
      Funny stuff in the vids, but shouldn’t kids in their young twenties be naively idealistic and then only later be that critical? That’s mostly a joke. Who are they?

  8. Lily


    Church governance is a huge work and I am encouraged that you are one of the men overseeing. Please take care of yourself and have a blessed Sabbath.

    I don’t know who these lovely young men and ladies are, yet. I do know the young man was home schooled. Kinda makes me want to abuse the 3rd use of the law and make it mandatory – lol.

  9. Lily

    The way I understood it, the young man made the point that if you want to go on a trip that was fine, but was pointing out some of the nonsense of the short missions trips. There is a huge eeevangelical (to use Zrim’s word) industry that serves up short overseas missions trips for youth groups and adult groups. I read about it a couple of years ago and wanted to gag. Living in the bible belt in general and the ostentatious Dallas metro in particular, and surrounded by eeevangelical mega churches, I thought he was spot on about the pretensions surrounding it and it being the Christian version of spring break. I also thought parody with the millionaires’ club’s obtuseness was hilarious – we actually have trust fund idiots like that here. I also live in Sodom with one of the largest gay churches in the nation… need I explain more why I have a warped sense of humor? Do I really have to admit it’s in my gene pool too? 😉

    I see your point about the value of encouragement. In our synod, we already have synod leaders and others who travel and seem to do a lot of good in that way. Based on the needs I’ve heard about, I’d love to see the kids and adults give the travel money for medical, schools, wells, buildings, and so forth at the missions. 10 people at $3000 a head = $30,000 which would be a huge help for some of the confessional church plants overseas. If a teen needs their faith strengthened, would volunteering in local missions and non-profits be an option? Or is it better done overseas and why? I guess I’m baffled why it would need to be overseas. Some of the indian reservations, areas in the Appalachian mountains, and other areas could use encouragement and a hand too… if that makes sense?

  10. Lily

    Here’s a sample similar to I read a couple of years ago:

    EPIC Missions
    Custom Missions Trip Planning for Orphanages, Migrant Farmers, Habitat for Humanity, Prison Aftercare, Elderly Ministry, Needy Families, Care net Abortion Alternatives, Prison Visitation, Evangelism, Urban Ministry, Teen Challenge

    ☺Air Conditioned Facilities ☺ New Beds ☺16 Acres ☺ 7000 Sq Feet ☺3 Meals per day! ☺Beach Activities

    Epic Missions announces its’ 2012 incentives to Missions Teams! [iPads for ministry team leaders]

    Short term Missions Trips are an experience that you will never forget! Friendships are formed that will forever last and you experience an opportunity to reach deep down inside yourself and discover what you can really do with God’s help.

    The beauty in a custom missions trip to Florida with Epic Missions, is that you experience this call of God upon your life while surrounded with folks who love you and care about you.


    • Well, that is a little gross, isn’t it?
      Tina Turner didn’t do anything nice, and the OPC doesn’t do anything big. What I have in mind was a trip to Uganda in coordination with a missionary who has filled our pulpit and stayed in town for a week as our kids played with his. Then, instead getting an iPad there was a realistic chance of getting malaria on this mission trip.

  11. Lily

    This one actually advertises this catch phrase:

    I don’t want to brag, but…
    I’m going on a missions trip this summer.

    To Ireland
    (also have 11 other countries)


    Google “short term mission trips” – they sound like travel agents.

  12. Lily

    Apologies, MM. In no way did I mean anything disparaging towards either the OPC or you. My impression of the OPC is that it is solid in doctrine and not plagued by the inroads of adverse movements. What you are speaking of are worthy efforts that I would think all confessionals would support. I am thankful for men like you who work to guide and keep your presbytery on track in these challenging times.

    On one side, my synod has some very solid confessional programs and on another side, we have movements that have made inroads within a good portion of the synod that are not good. One of the movements is the kind of evangelicalism represented by the linked short mission trips. I find myself becoming more and more troubled by the times we are living in and the young man’s video provided encouragement about our youth and a welcome outlet for push back and comic relief. Again, apologies.

    • Lily, you have accumulated a reservoir of good will here. No need to apologize, especially since the humor has a lot of validity. It’s a topic worthy of discussion, and my latest point of view is that such trips can be a good thing. But there’s the devil again in those details, so one trip may be a good thing and another may be on the frivolous side.

  13. Lily

    I’m thankful for the goodwill. Sometimes things don’t come off in the comboxes the way one intends.

    I know there are worthy mission trips for laity and wish you well, but I’ve pretty much become a cynic about the kinds of laity trips that seem prevalent anymore. I love the medical mission trips. My old doctor (now long retired) and his wife (a nurse) used to go overseas every year and work for 2-3 weeks caring for people. And in my old home town where I used to live, there was a group of dentists who each gave one Friday afternoon a month giving free dental care to those who couldn’t afford it. I also love the work our synod does. I especially like that they find men overseas, sometimes send them to seminary here, and then send them home with support for a church. There are so many good things to be thankful for. Perhaps I like them so much because they are small and aren’t flashy and fly under the radar – kinda like your trip.

  14. Lily

    Thanks for straightening me out. Somehow I took “What I have in mind was a trip to Uganda in coordination with a missionary who has filled our pulpit and stayed in town for a week as our kids played with his + malaria” and ran with it fearing for your safety! Well… my prayers were answered. You didn’t get malaria. 😉

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