We devoted last Wednesday's Bradford on Avon Ministers' Fraternal to reviewing and discussing this title. Robert Oliver gave a review paper and then we weighed up the strengths and weaknesses of the book together. Here are my impressions for what they are worth.
I should have liked this one. After all, I'm from 'Wales, Land of Revivals'™. And there are many good things about Bayes' treatment of the theme. He helpfully shows how the New Testament draws on Old Testament prophecy to raise our expectations concerning the reign of Jesus and the advance of the kingdom of God in the power of the Spirit. The writer relates genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17 to what the psalms have to say about 'Great David's greater Son' in Psalms 72 & 89 and the salvation of the nations in him.
Good stuff. But as the book progresses you begin to think to yourself, 'Is this a New Testament theology of revival, or an attempt to argue for postmillennialism?' You perhaps wouldn't think it from reading Bayes, but you can have one without the other. Amillennialists may even believe in revival. Premillennialists can speak for themselves.The author gives the game away in the chapter on Revelation, where he 'outs' his postmillennial predilections. Never would have guessed,
It's a pretty extreme version of postmillenniallism at that. You know those great texts that you always thought were about the world acknowledging Jesus as Lord when he returns in glory, like Philippians 2:9-11? Well, that's really for the millennium. And those passages you always thought were about the consummation redemption at the end of the age such as Ephesians 1:10 and Colossians 1:19-20? You guessed it, they are about the millennium too. So much is reserved for the millennium that it is even hinted that Revelation 21-22 is about that supposed golden age, rather than the final state of glory. Talk about over-realised eschatology with postmillennial nobs on. Please.
Bayes admits that we can expect opposition and setbacks when it comes to the advance of the kingdom in this age, but he is so full of heady optimism that he gets carried away with giddy talk of unimpeded gospel progress. The New Testament never says that. We could call the planting of the church in Thessalonica a revival situation, 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6, but there were very real hindrances to the work, 1 Thessalonians 2:18. When Paul used triumphalistic language, it was always chastened by the reality of suffering and hardship for the gospel's sake, Romans 8:37-39, 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 cf. 1:8-11.
Rather than envisaging the whole history of the church as being one of constant revival as the norm, Paul warned Timothy that in the last days (the whole New Testament period), perilous times would come (2 Timothy 3:1-9). In those times many would turn away from the truth and it would be hard going for faithful preachers of the gospel. Such tensions are pretty much overlooked in Bayes' treatment.
Paul regarded the Old Testament prophecies concerning the salvation of Gentile peoples in Christ as fulfilled under his own ministry, Romans 15:7-21. So much so that he regarded his work in the Roman Empire as complete and planned to head for Spain by way of Rome, Romans 15:22-24. Old Testament prophecies such as Psalm 72 would be better understood as speaking about the global mission of the church from the Pentecost to the Parousia, rather than pointing to what may happen in the millennium. That mission is sometimes carried forward as a result of intense revival blessing, sometimes not. Think of William Carey plodding away in India.
More fruitful materials for developing a New Testament theology of revival might be found in giving attention to the relationship between word and Spirit in preaching and the apostles' prayers for greater boldness and fruitfulness in their gospel proclamation, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Ephesians 6:19-20. Bayes' handling of the Acts material is more sure footed, especially Acts 4:23-31. When it comes to prayer for a revival of believers' love for Christ and a deepening of their experience of his love for them, we could do little better than look to Ephesians 3:14-21. Oddly, the writer makes no mention of this passage. Something of an omission given his definition of revival as, "a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit leading to the rekindling of love for Christ on the part of his people, and an explosion of gospel effectiveness with a visible impact on the nation and the world."
Bayes' attempt at discovering a theology of revival in the Gospels, would have been strengthened had he not jumped straight from the death of Jesus to the Great Commission. Was not the resurrection of Christ from the dead the ultimate reviving work of the Spirit? The Israel of God personified dead and buried. Written off by the world and mourned as a lost cause by his people. But up from the grave he arose. Israel's return from exile, depicted as the resurrection of a great army, (Ezekiel 37) was a prophetic anticipation of the literal re-vival of Jesus. The God who who raised up our Lord Jesus is able to breathe new life into dying churches.
I accept the writer's argument that the New Testament rather than our current experience of gospel work in the UK should be allowed to set our expectations of what God can do. When it comes to revival, I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan Edwards who said,
It may here be observed, that from the fall of man to our day, the work of redemption in its effect has mainly been carried on by remarkable communications of the Spirit of God.Though there be a more constant influence of God’s Spirit always in some degree attending his ordinances, yet the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on this work, always have been by remarkable effusions, at special seasons of mercy.
Yes, we should long and pray for a 'remarkable communication of the Spirit of God' in our day. How we need that if we are to re-evangelise our land. But loose talk of a postmillennial paradise doesn't reflect the tension we find in the New Testament between gospel advance and opposition that the church can expect to face in the world until Jesus returns in glory.