Friday, 22 February 2013

What happens in a religious revival?


Here is what I think happens - stimulated by the ideas of Martyn Lloyd Jones, but going considerably beyond what he said.

In a (genuine) Christian revival, God opens the minds of people - in a certain place, and for a limited time - to the workings of the Holy Ghost.

In practice, this means that he opens minds to spiritual influences.

But God does not influence free will.


So, in a revival, minds are opened to spiritual influences both divine and demonic and each person must choose.


So a revival is characterized by new insights, new truth; and also by new delusions and deceptions - by great good, and by amplified evil.

And these effects are seen not only in different people (goodies and baddies) but in the same mind - a person may become both more divinely spiritual and more wicked.

The longer a revival continues, the more that the dark forces will tend to prevail - in aggregate and in individuals. 

This dual-effect is the reason why revival is not a permanent state of human society,  why revival is limited in time and space.


So, God chooses a time and place as ripe for revival (for reasons which may only be later apparent) and opens minds - but then does not control what happens from that point, because what happens is the result of human agency, and numerous individual human choices between the spiritual forces to which minds are opened.


Think of the Eastern USA in the early 19th century when spiritual experiences became commonplace and many Christian denominations were revitalized; and at least five major 'religions' began: the Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists and New England Transcendentalists.

Minds were opened, choices made. Good and evil became stronger - both within and between people. Then minds were returned to 'normal' sensitivity.

The consequences unfolded through the following decades. Much good eventuated, much wickedness too.

In sum, modern Western spirituality was established at that time.


The possibilities of revival are constrained by the humans involved.

A revival in unpromising soil is a high risk business - indeed the more necessary a revival is, the less likely it is to succeed - because the more likely it is that people will make the wrong choices, the bad choices.

The mini-revival of the mid-1960s on the West Coast of the USA happened at a time when revival was very much needed, due to the rapid corruption of Western Society - yet that corruption acted to influence people such that the 1960s revival was mostly anti-Christian.

A people already advanced in corruption had their minds opened by God and were were given the chance to choose the influence of the Holy Ghost.

But, on the whole, most of them made the wrong choices, most chose Satan in preference to Christ - so a lot of evil and not much good came from the mid-twentieth century religious revival.


On the one hand, we need periodic revivals - such as the Reformation; on the other hand, the later the days, the less chance that revival will will do more good than harm.

Thus, we have never needed a Christian revival more than we do now; yet the chances that a revival would lead to more good than evil are lower than they ever have been - if modern minds were opened to spiritual influences, they are more likely than ever before to choose the demonic in preference to the divine.

Still, despite the highly unfavourable risk profile, I expect a Christian revival will come because it is our only chance - be prepared...



JP said...

But God does not influence free will... a revival is characterized by new insights, new truth; and also by new delusions and deceptions - by great good, and by amplified evil. (emphasis added)

That is the answer to the problem of "extreme pain" right there. Extreme pain is possible (and even inevitable) because we have free will. Pain and suffering could only be limited if He placed limits on our free will.

Bruce Charlton said...

But that isn't true. It does not answer the question of intensity of pain, and leaves out the natural hazards of the world.

A personal example: About 15-20 years ago I used to suffer weekly three day migraines that - without treatment - would have been almost unbearable (luckily, I had pretty effective treatment, so never had to suffer these for three days, week on week).

This was only a tiny taste of the intensity and duration of possible human suffering.

Why did my migraines have to hurt *so much* - an ordinary headache (or migraines like I now get them) would have been enough for any reasonable purpose.


This is the problem of pain. It is excessive.

The world has been set-up like a childrens' playground with big and little kids, bullies and the helpless - all mixed together; and in which guns and swords and whips are left lying around, and instruments of torture; and where the scope for terror, misery and suffering are vast.

And then there are natural disasters - volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, extremes of temperature, droughts - and there are predatory and parasitic animals and diseases, and genetic defects...

All of which can cause extremities of suffering.


So free will, yes - but extreme suffering, why?

And what about the natural world as a source of suffering?

These are real, tough questions - and the answers (if omnipotence is regarded as necessarily true) are not easy to explain. An omnipotent God has deiberately set-up the world to make much of this inevitable (and has deliberately not set up some other kind of world), yet chooses to allow all this.

Wurmbrand said...

God doesn't create generic spiritual awakenings. No way.

God sends forth His Word. He sends out preachers who declare His truth, and His Word does not return to Him without effect. For those who receive it, it brings pardon and peace. For those who really do reject it, it brings greater condemnation. And in any given individual, God only, I suppose, really knows which of these has happened.

Now when God sets up His Church, the devil sets up his chapel next door, out of envy, rage, hatred, spite, though what he dangles in front of deluded men may look holy, good, and hopeful.

A touchstone always is, What think ye of Christ? Does the message exalt Christ, and not some generic Christ or cosmic Christ or "humanitarian" Christ, but Christ crucified, Christ slain as the Lamb of God, Christ risen for the justification of sinners? (Romans 4:25)?

Read Romans all the time. In Lent, read Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Romans, 1 John, and 1 Peter again and again. This I mean to do, so there's one person who'll join you if you-all do.

Wurmbrand said...

My error just now -- 1 John is well worth reading, but I meant John's Gospel.

Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Romans, John, and 1 Peter

JP said...

Every incidence of extreme pain and suffering is not a "learning experience" or the result of the free choice to sin. Nevertheless, extreme pain and suffering must be possible or we would not have free will.

If helicopter parents create a playground in which all possibility of danger and pain is eliminated, and constantly intervene to prevent fights and "unfairness", then the kids won't learn anything, least of all how to make moral choices. The choices will already have been made for them.

I gather you reject the arguments that natural disasters and diseases are the consequences of sin, i.e., expulsion from the Garden of Eden where no such things could happen, or the actions of demons.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - I seem to be having trouble communicating my point here.

Imagine a playground that is neither completely without risk, nor full of deadly tortures - imagine a playground of lumps and bumps but not hideous agony and torment.

Now, why couldn't God create that middle kind of playground, if he was omnipotent? The answer is that an omnipotent God could (by definition) have created the middle playground - but he didn't, he made a playground of torture, agony and torment.

*That* is the problem of pain.

Bruce Charlton said...

@W - Have you read about periods of 'revival' or 'awakening'?

They certainly sound very different from normal life. Gifts of the Holy Ghost breaking-out left, right and centre, running like wildfire...

I get this mostly from Martyn Lloyd Jones, who made a specialty of studying periods of revival.

josh said...

How do you know that ours is not a middle playground. Is pain really so painful?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Josh - Well I'm pleased for you that you can ask.

Adam G. said...

Extreme suffering.

Perhaps God is not just constrained by free will but *values* it. So one could argue that He values the extra arena of free choice provided by a world where extreme suffering is a real possibility. How does the sufferer respond? What efforts do others make to cure or alleviate the suffering?

A world without extremes of pain and evil is a world that probably doesn't elicit extreme heroism either.

The God-who-is-constrained-by-reality is still almost certainly able to cure migraines if He wishes, so arguing that God is not strongly omnipotent doesn't really help here.

The problem with arguing that God values choice to the extent of permitting extreme suffering is that it makes God emotionally quite remote, like a particularly callous drill instructor.

Mormons believe that in the Atonement Christ not only suffered for sin but that he also suffered each individual pain and sorrow. If God does deliberately let us suffer for his own purposes, something like that version of the Atonement may be necessary to reconnect him to us. I know "reconnect" is a vague gobbledygook word, but it really does get at something in this context.

Adam G. said...

If I understand you correctly you are identifying two facts and offering an explanation.

The two facts are that there are times and regions of spiritual ferment much greater than the ordinary; and that these ferments can produce some pretty nasty stuff.

Your explanation is that opening us to heightened spiritual influence from the Holy Ghost also opens us to heightened influence from the Devil.

I agree with your facts. I don't reject your explanation, but I don't accept it either, because I see alternatives. One alternative is corruptio optima maxima. Screwtape says that spoiled Saints are so much more delicious than ordinary sinners. Perhaps in a revival, where men are brought to a higher level, greater possibilities of evil exist if they fall. Your own previous post on the sin against the Holy Ghost hints at this possibility. One sings against the Holy Ghost, you said, by knowingly and consciously rejecting God. It follows that this gravest of all sins is only possible to someone who has received enough light to know God well. Another alternative is the Mormon explanation that the Holy Ghost acts on you by increasing your capacities and your feelings. Since what the Devil usually plays with are normal passions applied to undue ends, increasing your capacity for love (for example) also increases your capacity for the sins of love.

Wurmbrand said...

I have read about John Wesley and, so, about revivals, but I don't recall reading a book on the topic of revivals per se. I have Kurt Koch's book on the revival in Indonesia, etc.

I would expect that times of dramatic Christian revival will be times of intensified satanic opposition. For one thing, that is just what we see in the Gospels. When the Son of God walked the earth, there seems to have been a notable "outbreak" of demonic activity as well. My impression is that this period shows the perennial pattern. I'm not saying there must always be, in some mechanically concomitant way, an outbreak of demonism when there is a revival, but that is, it seems, liable to happen. Then too there will probably be various displays of "fleshly" behavior, in the sense of people indulging in bogus, though not necessarily demonic, "manifestations."

Perhaps sometimes the demonic activity surges up first and then God works in a way that seems unusual to us, to counter it. I'm wondering if the "Jesus People" movement wasn't -- in part -- such a phenomenon, considering what had preceded it.

JP said...

Bruce, I get it, I just don't have an answer for you off the top of my head. I am aware, though, that the problem of pain/evil has been the subject of considerable inquiry over the ages, and I need to do a good bit of reading about it.

Daybreaker said...

Why should a religious revival turn to evil as it continues?

I can think of some reasons. Do you have other ones in mind?

De-sanctified tribal life is an unnatural state. I think a religious revival is a revolt against de-sanctified life. That people feel such a revolt is necessary implies deep communal disturbance, though it may be at the top. (In the 1950s, a lot of people were living good lives, but society's definers of meaning gave them no support and told them and their children that the lives they were living were meaningless 'consumerism' and so on. The religious revival of the 1960s and early 1970s was necessarily ill-directed, because it was spurred by deception arising from corruption at the top. The definers of meaning had been defilers of meaning. They still are.)

A religious revival might become more wicked as it goes on for the same reasons any revolution does. The bad guys might win. (In the 1960s revival they did.) Protracted conflict leads to bitterness no matter who the bad guys originally were. And as an unsatisfactory situation drags on, people try to routinize and make technology out of what was exceptional and should remain so.

You can't keep it going at your own pleasure. Joan of Arc warned that she was good for a year and not much more. It's not enough to have a real saint or even the right saint for the job; you must have the right season too. Seasons pass.

When Joan of Arc was taken by the English and sent off to be burned, the Dauphin was not much disturbed. The French got themselves another holy war-guide better than the one before in every superficial point of piety. (You can always find a fiercer faster, a more effusive prayer - competition in public piety produces predictable results.) However, everything that she marvelously did, in a military way, he proved a dud at, so they tied him in a sack and threw him in a river.