Book Reviews -- Reviewing Titles from Dr. John H. Armstrong
|Copyright © 2002 - All rights retained by author|
|Reviews Written by: C. W. Booth|
Notation Added March 24, 2007: Dr. John Armstrong for many years represented the best and finest of practicing pastors/theologians. He had been known for his careful defense of the faith, even organizing apologetics conferences. In recent years he has come out in public defense of both the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and the theology driving the Emerging Church. Though I would take issue with these recent doctrinal positions which he has chosen to adopt, many of his earlier works, such as reviewed below, retain his earlier zeal for scriptural accuracy and integrity of biblical interpretation.
To be made alive after once being dead, or after being nearly dead. This is one definition of "revival." When applied to the church, the body of Christ throughout history, the concept can become a raging controversy to some, a simple footnote to others, or even perhaps, the hope of the modern church.
Dr. Armstrong takes the initiative to describe the concept of "revival" from biblical and historical perspectives. No small task given the absence of the word itself in the New Testament with regard to a broad-based event. The author then makes a bold step and evaluates the modern North American revival movement in light of the Bible, modern doctrines of revival, and the methods of the "father" of modern revival meeting techniques, Charles G. Finney. Finally, Dr. Armstrong concludes with a comparison of premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism as they relate to expectations of a true future revival.
Through this in-depth examination of "revival" Dr. Armstrong shares his heart and his research. He also explains what the church should and should not be doing to foster a new American revival. On the whole, this is an immensely biblical book and can be put to very practical use by laymen and clergy alike.
Analysis of the Book
Given the obstacle that the New Testament does not use the word "revival," Dr. Armstrong nicely surmounts this potential difficulty by demonstrating that a biblical history of the events of revival are recorded in numerous passages of Scripture. While the word is not used, the demonstration of God’s sovereignty and the influence of the Holy Spirit are readily discernable in such events as exemplified at Pentecost.
Revivals are defined by the author as the work of the Holy Spirit in providing extraordinary blessings of conversions, renewed interest in God’s Word, and revitalized commitment of the church to love one another, to love God, and to service. Revival is different from the normal operation of the Holy Spirit in magnitude alone. More conversions, more love, more service--and all without apparent "natural cause" except that it pleased God to so move the hearts of men.
Key to Dr. Armstrong’s thesis is the understanding that revivals cannot be planned, organized, earned by way of meeting conditions and criteria, nor can we force God to impart one. They occur at God’s good (and mysterious) timing, on the peoples and churches He alone chooses.
As theologically proper as the entirety of the book is, Chapter Twelve, Revival and Revivalism: The Birth of the Modern Movement, deserves special attention. In this chapter and the next, Dr. Armstrong defines what he feels is the difference between true revival (the sovereign choice and work of the Holy Spirit) and "revivalism" (the evangelistic techniques and methods of men designed to spark and/or imitate revival).
Dr. Armstrong conducts a revealing, if not unpleasant, examination of Charles Finney’s theology and his practical implementation of that theology. While unflattering, this critique of flawed doctrine and the impact it has had on modern revival movements ought to be mandatory reading for all seminary students. Clearly an unhappy task for the author to have taken on, this analysis is of great use and importance, and alone is worth the time and energy anyone might spend to read the book.
Consider the following thought-provoking statements regarding the influence that the errors of Charles Finney’s theology has had on the world:
I know this sounds intolerant to our age, but I humbly submit that these errors have dishonored God and brought discredit upon the name of Christ. It might well be that real revival is actually so rare in our time precisely because God will not grant another great outpouring of His Spirit until His people are better prepared to respond properly to the gift itself. It could be, if I am correct, that revivalism actually hinders revival! -- Armstrong, page 183
In two isolated instances the author does miss an opportunity to define for the reader what the Scriptures mean when they say "filled with the Spirit". In one such case on page 137 it is unclear whether he is chastising today’s preachers for not being "Spirit filled", or even who he feels may be at fault: "I would submit that this [revival] work of the Spirit is exactly what is missing in most preaching today." Again on pages 225 and 226 he laments a quote of Dr. Bill Bright’s as being an inadequate explanation on how to be "filled with the Spirit". While it is likely he feels that the quote represents an approach that is too formulaic or Finneyesque, it would have been beneficial to have Dr. Armstrong’s own exposition on being "filled with the Spirit". Nonetheless, such small omissions detract little from the power and insights provided in this book.
Reading this book, especially chapters 12 and 13, will help defuse many of the incorrect concepts of revival movements. Anyone interested in evangelism will benefit tremendously from this doctrinally sound and Biblically-based book. Additionally, anyone with an interest in seeing a contemporary revival in the modern church, or even those who despair of the last days and fear the apostasy to come, will find this book to be both challenging and comforting.
Please purchase a copy of True Revival for your pastor or seminary student, and before you give it to him, read it once for yourself; he won’t mind.