From the Renovaré Newsletter Archive

The selection below is from a May 1995 Renovaré newsletter. Download a PDF of the original newsletter.

Dear Friends,

Many Chris­t­ian lead­ers world­wide — myself includ­ed — are sens­ing that we may be enter­ing the first stages of a great, new move­ment of the Spir­it of God. There are numer­ous ear­ly signs worldwide:

  • a mas­sive long­ing for spir­i­tu­al real­i­ty from all kinds of peo­ples, Chris­t­ian and otherwise;
  • a deep hunger for a life of prayer that extends beyond the super­fi­cial­i­ties of pop reli­gion, seen par­tic­u­lar­ly in two-thirds world countries;
  • seri­ous con­cern (as opposed to pub­lic pos­tur­ing) over racial rec­on­cil­i­a­tion seen in the dis­solv­ing of the Pen­te­costal Fel­low­ship of North Amer­i­ca and the for­ma­tion of the inter­ra­cial Pentecostal/​Charismatic Church­es of North Amer­i­ca, the renewed con­ver­sa­tions between the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Evan­gel­i­cals and the Nation­al Black Evan­gel­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion, and the aggres­sive posi­tion on racial rec­on­cil­i­a­tion by Promise Keepers;
  • a great new surge of His­pan­ic Chris­t­ian wit­ness seen in the for­ma­tion of groups like Alian­cia de Min­is­te­rios Evan­ge­lios Nacionales (AMEN) which embraces 26 nation­al­i­ties, 27 denom­i­na­tions, and 21 para­church organizations;
  • man­i­fes­ta­tions of signs and won­ders” (both authen­tic and man­u­fac­tured) stem­ming from the Toron­to Bless­ing” expe­ri­ence which is dra­mat­i­cal­ly affect­ing many Chris­t­ian groups, espe­cial­ly on the British scene;
  • reports from numer­ous Amer­i­can Chris­t­ian col­leges (Howard Payne, East­ern Nazarene, Hous­ton Bap­tist, Gor­don, Olivet Nazarene, Wheaton, etc.) of pro­tract­ed meet­ings marked by repen­tance and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion; and more.

The jury is still out as to whether these ear­ly signs” will blos­som and flower or with­er and die. Many things can hin­der this work, and oth­er things can nur­ture it — more on that later.

CLAR­I­FY­ING THE TERMS

Three terms — revival, awak­en­ing, and renew­al — are often used to describe var­i­ous aspects of these mas­sive expe­ri­ences with God, and it is help­ful to clar­i­fy what we mean by them.

Revival sim­ply refers to a reviv­ing of the peo­ple of God. Think of a per­son on an oper­at­ing table who is near death, but through the skill of the physi­cian is brought back to life and restored to full health. Well, his­tor­i­cal­ly the Church — the peo­ple of God — fre­quent­ly has looked like that per­son on the oper­at­ing table. In fact, more than once observers have declared her dead. But time and time again Christ, our Mas­ter Teacher and Great Physi­cian, has reached down in sov­er­eign grace to revive his Church. His­tor­i­cal­ly these move­ments have been char­ac­ter­ized by a deep repen­tance of sin (pride, lust, bit­ter­ness, racism, faith­less­ness, and more) and a white-hot love for God (pray­ing, wor­ship­ing, singing, cel­e­brat­ing, and more). Most of what we have seen up to this point can be prop­er­ly thought of as in the pre­re­vival stage.

Awak­en­ing refers more broad­ly to the life of God break­ing into seek­er groups and oth­ers with sov­er­eign, sav­ing grace, ush­er­ing them into life in the king­dom of God. Peo­ple every­where are awak­ened — born from above” as the Scrip­ture says — and rec­on­ciled to God. Awak­en­ings are accom­pa­nied by a seri­ous impact upon the cul­ture in gen­er­al. Through­out Chris­tians are engag­ing the cul­ture on var­i­ous lev­els of art, music, dra­ma, pol­i­tics, and intel­lec­tu­al thought, all of which is done in a proac­tive rather than reac­tive manner.

Renew­al is an ongo­ing process, renewed day by day” as the Apos­tle Paul put it. This involves the spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion of the dis­ci­ple of Christ into the image of Christ, the imi­ta­tio Chris­tus. It is a train­ing in the spir­i­tu­al life with dis­ci­plines appro­pri­ate for each indi­vid­u­al’s per­son­al needs and spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ment. Through­out renew­al move­ments the cul­ture becomes pro­found­ly affect­ed. His­tor­i­cal­ly, these are times of great intel­lec­tu­al life and Chris­tians become among the most cre­ative thinkers and shapers of ideas.

POTEN­TIAL HINDRANCES

In the nat­ur­al course of things, revival and awak­en­ing will draw dis­ci­ples into the work of renew­al. But, of course, we all know that the nat­ur­al course of things is some­times hin­dered, and when­ev­er this hap­pens, the indi­vid­ual is left with reli­gious expe­ri­ences devoid of the sub­stance of faith and the life remains firm­ly root­ed in destruc­tive habits of anx­i­ety, bit­ter­ness, and sin.

What are some things that might hin­der a great work of God in our day?

  • An obses­sive pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with end time sce­nar­ios. The clos­er we move to the mil­len­ni­al mile­stone — A.D. 2000 — the more we will see this. Such pre­dic­tive games are often tied to con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and deep-seat­ed fears. And often mixed in is an unbe­liev­able lit­er­al­ism, as one per­son said to me, Well, Jesus says we can’t know the day or the hour, but we can know the month and the year!” Friends, Jesus made it unmis­tak­ably clear to any­one will­ing to lis­ten to his words that the tim­ing of his glo­ri­ous return is none of our busi­ness. Our busi­ness, our only busi­ness is to live lives of lov­ing faith­ful­ness and see the life of the king­dom of God brought into the human sit­u­a­tion every­where pos­si­ble. And we live this way whether Jesus returns today or ten thou­sand years from now.
  • The dis­cred­it­ing of gospel min­istry through immoral­i­ty, sin, and rebel­lion. Chris­t­ian lead­ers are to be an exam­ple in word and deed of right­eous­ness and peace and joy in the Holy Spir­it.” Infi­deli­ty and adul­tery are wrong and are not to be tol­er­at­ed among those in lead­er­ship. Lying and cheat­ing are an affront to God as is pride and arro­gance. Nor is the Chris­t­ian leader to mim­ic the world’s sys­tem of posi­tion and pres­tige, but rather to take the role of a ser­vant and car­ing under-shep­herd. Hon­esty, integri­ty, com­pas­sion, faith, hope, love — all this and more should be the dis­tin­guish­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of the ser­vant of Christ.
  • Chris­tians who vicious­ly attack oth­er Chris­tians over incon­se­quen­tial issues. Today there is a trag­ic inabil­i­ty to dis­tin­guish between issues of major sig­nif­i­cance from minor mat­ters. As a result, we have numer­ous self-appoint­ed heresy hunters who are with­out any seri­ous the­o­log­i­cal train­ing and who con­demn any­body and every­body who dis­agrees with them over any­thing. These peo­ple want to pre­serve the puri­ty of the faith, but they lack the his­tor­i­cal van­tage point of the defin­ing moments in the­ol­o­gy such as the for­mu­la­tion of the Nicene Creed, the great doc­tri­nal posi­tions artic­u­lat­ed by Augus­tine and Luther, the West­min­ster Con­fes­sion, and more. To be sure, it is impor­tant to con­tend for the faith once deliv­ered to the saints,” but this must be done from a clear his­tor­i­cal, the­o­log­i­cal, and bib­li­cal per­spec­tive. Oth­er­wise peo­ple will end up major­ing on the minors and dam­ag­ing the Chris­t­ian cause.
  • An anti-intel­lec­tu­al pos­ture which unnec­es­sar­i­ly pits faith against rea­son. Faith is not opposed to rea­son; it is opposed to sight. We need a well-artic­u­lat­ed faith that is ratio­nal­ly cogent and intel­lec­tu­al­ly defen­si­ble. To the ancient ques­tion, What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” we answer, Plen­ty.” It is not wrong to show the insuf­fi­cien­cy of intel­lec­tu­al­ism, but a pos­ture that ridicules the work of the mind dam­ages the Chris­t­ian cause.
  • The wed­ding of the gospel mes­sage to any par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal per­sua­sion. The gospel has much to do with pol­i­tics, but it can nev­er be iden­ti­fied with any sin­gle polit­i­cal par­ty or move­ment. To do so threat­ens its prophet­ic role over all polit­i­cal par­ties and move­ments. The Chris­t­ian is to be the con­science of the State; com­mend­ing it when it pro­vides jus­tice for all peo­ples and cri­tiquing it when it fails to do so. To be co-opt­ed by the State for any polit­i­cal agen­da is to threat­en the integri­ty of the gospel and to flirt with idolatry.

NUR­TUR­ING THE FUTURE

What things can we do in coop­er­a­tion with God to nur­ture a poten­tial great, new move­ment of the Spirit?

  • Pray with sen­si­bil­i­ty, under­stand­ing, and inten­si­ty. It is com­mon and right to urge Chris­tians to pray for revival, awak­en­ing, and renew­al. But this needs to be done with good sense and under­stand­ing. We do not pray for some nation/​state to ascend to great­ness when we should be pray­ing for the king­dom of God to advance. We do not pray to be deliv­ered from prob­lems when we should be pray­ing for endurance to live through them. We do not pray against the demons when we should be pray­ing for the angels. Through­out our prayer work we should be seek­ing (and expect to receive) dis­cern­ment and prudence.
  • Influ­ence our great uni­ver­si­ties for Christ and his king­dom. One of the great lacks in the ear­ly signs” I men­tioned at the begin­ning of this let­ter is sub­stan­tive Chris­t­ian influ­ence in our great research uni­ver­si­ties. To be sure, there are many fine Chris­t­ian pro­fes­sors, espe­cial­ly in the hard sci­ences, but over­whelm­ing­ly our great uni­ver­si­ties are cen­ters of agnos­ti­cism and unbe­lief. This defi­cien­cy is sig­nif­i­cant for these places are the foun­tain­head for the great intel­lec­tu­al fer­ment of our cul­ture. To lose the bat­tle here is, most sure­ly, to lose the war.
  • Seek out lov­ing, non-manip­u­la­tive forms of Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty and wit­ness. We are in the midst of a spir­i­tu­al cen­trifuge” where old den­si­ties are break­ing up and new den­si­ties are being formed, and peo­ple need to see new par­a­digms of faith and prac­tice. Jesus observed that the watch­ing world will know us by our love. And in new and liv­ing ways Jesus Christ is bring­ing forth an all-inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty as its prime sus­tain­er and most glo­ri­ous inhab­i­tant. It is a com­mu­ni­ty of cross and crown, of coura­geous mil­i­tant action with suf­fer­ing love that redeems. It is a com­mu­ni­ty of unselfish love and wit­ness with­out com­pro­mise. It is a com­mu­ni­ty buoyed up by a the­ol­o­gy of Christ’s ever­last­ing rule, not only immi­nent on the hori­zon but already com­ing to birth in our midst.
  • Encour­age a lead­er­ship which is equipped to labor in the move­ment of God. The day of the super­star is over. In the new move­ment of God it will not mat­ter who is up front or who gets the acco­lades. The new lead­er­ship under God will be free to give way to one anoth­er. It will be a lead­er­ship who has a con­tin­u­ing hunger for God, a deep sat­is­fac­tion in prayer, and the abil­i­ty to for­give oth­ers at great per­son­al loss. It will be a lead­er­ship who has a real­is­tic assess­ment of per­son­al abil­i­ties and lim­i­ta­tions, a fun­da­men­tal free­dom from boast­ing about spir­i­tu­al accom­plish­ments, and a demon­strat­ed abil­i­ty to live out the demands of life patient­ly and wise­ly. Above all it will be a lead­er­ship who has a deep sense of being estab­lished” in God for oth­er­wise such lead­ers are too dan­ger­ous to be allowed into the soul space of oth­ers to influ­ence their spirits.
  • Trust in our lov­ing Lord who sov­er­eign­ly pours out his Spir­it where he wills, when he wills, and upon whom he wills. One of the clear­est signs that any move­ment is from the hand of God is that no sin­gle human being is in charge of it. No manip­u­lat­ing, no man­ag­ing, no con­trol­ling. God is in charge of this oper­a­tion from start to fin­ish. In truth, He’s got the whole world in his hands.” We do not need to fear. And we must be pre­pared for God to work his work among whomev­er he choos­es and in what­ev­er ways please him. Most cer­tain­ly his ways will sur­prise us, but we can come to live in, and even enjoy, God’s great sur­pris­es. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

Peace and joy,

Richard J. Foster

Text First Published May 1995 · Last Featured on Renovare.org May 2022

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