Essay / Theology

Mark Shaw on Christian Revival

I imagine most Christians would agree that they would love to see revival come to their local church and, more so, to the worldwide Christian church. In fact, there are still a handful of churches out there that schedule a weekend or week of “revival” meetings each year. Yet most of us have likely never actually seen a revival, much less been part of a full-blown Holy Spirit-led revival. Is it that we are in the wrong place at the wrong time? Could it be that our faith in God’s working in our lives and churches is too small? Is God still in the revival business? According to Mark Shaw, the answer to the last question (at least) is “yes”! And an emphatic “yes” it is! In his great new book, Global Awakening: How 20th-Century Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution, Shaw, director of the world Christianity program at Africa International University in Kenya, demonstrates that the twentieth century was the century of Christian revivals while, at the same time, offering a paradigm showing what characterizes all of the revivals that he studied.

Shaw writes that global revivals are “charismatic people movements that seek to transform their world by translating Christian truth and transferring power” (p. 28). Moreover, says Shaw, global revivals are characterized by five dynamics: spiritual, cultural, historical, global and group. Each of these dynamics corresponds to an important question:

Spiritual: What makes a revival Christian?
Cultural: What are the essential elements that make up a local revival?
Historical: How do revivals develop over time?
Global: How do global trends influence local revivals?
Group: Why are Christian revivals so different in content and character?

Shaw’s book and case studies (he looks at the Korean Revival of 1907, the African Aladura revival of 1930, the Dornakal revival in India, the East African revival, the post-WW II revival of American evangelicalism, Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal revivals in Brazil, African Pentecostalism and Chinese house churches) are explications of these questions with attempted answers. Combining insights from sociology, anthropology, theology and biblical studies, Shaw’s study is a pleasure to read and very instructive. Though I know a bit about Christian history, I learned a lot from this book, and Shaw’s synthesis of the information is incisive and concise. In fact, it will make its readers long for revival in their own churches!

Shaw not only sees five dynamics at work in revival, but he also sees a “typical historical pattern” to global revivals. First there is the “problem stage” where there is a recognized failure of the “old ways” and the “old lights” (i.e., those promoting, supporting and upholding the “old ways”). Then comes the “paradigm stage” in which new leaders, “new lights” and new movements are born. Lastly comes the “power stage” where the new movement experiences conflict, followed by resolution, resulting in a wider impact. It is the way a movement handles conflict that spells success or failure for a revival. Shaw uses case studies to support this analysis as well, choosing global revivals of the twentieth century that illustrate each stage. Though I am no expert on global Christianity, I am convinced that Shaw’s analysis is solid and well-founded, especially in light of the evidence presented in the case studies. Finally, in the last chapter Shaw asks two concluding questions: 1) why do revivals come in such different flavors? and 2) are revivals works of God, creations of men or some combination of both? Without giving too much away, Shaw’s answers to these questions are as perceptive as the rest of the book. Though this book is more a history of global revivals than theology text on revivals per se, scholars, pastors and lay people alike will benefit from Shaw’s study, and his simple prose makes the book a rather easy read.

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