Revival itself is a confusing metaphor for spiritual life. It suggests someone who was alive, died, and is now brought back to life. How helpful can it be to use this image with reference to a person who is not regenerate?
D. G. Hart at OldLife.org has a post critiquing Tim Keller’s support of “revival” and “conversion” as biblical, “Charles Finney Wasnâ€™t the Only New York Pastor to Defend Revivals.” As it is, Hart questions not only the soundness of the terms, but also the validity of its theology:
Revival itself is a confusing metaphor for spiritual life. It suggests someone who was alive, died, and is now brought back to life. How helpful can it be to use this image with reference to a person who is not regenerate? And just as pertinent, can it ever be used for a saint? Do saints die spiritually and then need resuscitation? If so, doesnâ€™t revival imply that saints wonâ€™t persevere? This might explain the appeal of revival to the likes of [Charles] Finney.
He says that revivalism, far from building up the church, has actually undermined it. Reformation, not revival, is what the church needs today:
I am interested in the ways in which revivals have undermined reformation. I would contend (and have) that the better word to use for improvement in the church is not revival but reform. The rise of Protestantism was not a revival. It was a reformation. Meanwhile, the interior turn that experimental Calvinism nurtured and that gave rise to revivalism, acted as a solvent on those marks of reformation by which we identified a true church â€” proclamation of the gospel (creeds), rightly administered sacraments (liturgy), and discipline (polity). If revivalists were not inherently anti-formalists, they might be more willing to consider the importance of these formal aspects of church life. But ever since George Whitefield, revivalists have been more concerned with â€œthe heartâ€ than they have with the churchly qualities that manifest the heart and unite believers to the body of Christ.
Hart mentions two of the great preachers of the so-called First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, who attempted to return the church to its Reformation roots through revivalism. Alas! Their brand of incipient revivalism was followed by the so-called Second Great Awakening led by Finney, a Pelagian heretic, who plunged the church into the bottomless pit of emotionalism and doctrinal bankruptcy of Arminian revivalism.
Today, as much as the church is in dire straits needing a Second Reformation after the First Reformation in the 16th century, a Second Reformation should not be unlike the First: a return to the Five Solas of the First Reformation. But unlike the First, it should be directed not primarily against Romanism, but against Arminian, dispensationalist neo-evangelicalism and revivalism.