Ray Ortlund was on cracking form at Keswick this year. If You don’t know him, he’s the pastor at Immanuel Nashville (here), and the author of a ton of brilliant books. If you don’t know Keswick, it’s an annual Christian convention that’s been held in the gorgeous English Lade District for 140 years or so. Yes, you read that correctly. Thousands go each year.
Dr Ortlund was speaking on Romans 8, and I loved it – but there was one phrase he used a couple of times which stuck in my brain. Because he’s right.
We need non-weird revival.
We need non-weird revivalRay Ortlund
‘Non-weird’ in the Jonathan Edwards sense: we need people who are passionate about the gospel, and who therefore may well come across as ‘weird’ to a secular sceptic. But ‘non-weird’ in that they love tor read their bibles and to pray, they love to meet their fellow Christians, and sing God’s praises. They live healthy, balanced Christian lives, but with full hearts.
1 Corinthians 13 Christians.
Because we all know ‘weird’ – weird is effect without depth, theological novelty seeking, status driven, performance measured. Weird values gifts over maturity. Weird values visible over invisible. Weird values spooky quasi-supernatural over normal biblical supernatural.
‘Weird’ devalues, decentres, dethrones, love of God as the primary mark of revival.
‘Non-weird’ too in the Warfield sense. Edwards is having his day in the sun at the moment, thanks to the advocacy of John Piper in particular. Rightly so. But Warfield needs some airtime too.
Warfield wrote a famous, notorious, book, called ‘Counterfeit Miracles.’ Personally, I’m not entirely happy with it – I’m not a Cessationist in the way he outlines it, nor do I find all his arguments persuasive.
Nevertheless, the word ‘Counterfeit’ in the title is enormously important, as is the context in which (against which) he was writing.
Take the context first. His great anti-hero is C. G. Finney, a man who has a reputation as a great evangelist, but if you read his lectures or sermons you will discover was theologically self-taught and highly eccentric. He had a deep dislike of Reformed orthodoxy, and had a unique position which sits in the same kind of areas as Arminius and Pelagius. The result was that he had a series of practices, or ‘New Measures’, that he developed which he predicted would guarantee ‘Revival’. Some of these are quite unexceptional: deep prayers of repentance by the church for its lack of gospel passion, is unsurprising and something we would cheer. More surprising to me, was his frequent ante-bellum denunciating of slave-ownership, which he thought was the principal reason God was withholding his blessing.
But, Finney went much further. His deep belief in human agency meant he thought almost mechanistically about conversions: set things up this way, and you will increase the number of people who become Christians; in a population of X thousands you should expect Y to believe.
That’s what Warfield loathed, and so should we. Conversions that are produced, almost guaranteed, by means. It’s Revivalism, rather than proper Revival.
Because we fall into the same trap. People are becoming Christians in this church – so if we copy their courses, sing the same songs, use the same lighting system, and dress the same way, they’ll become Christians here too. Thinking I’m joking? Look how generic some of our church plants are, desperately mimicking alleged success, and buying into a brand.
I’ve said I’m not a Cessationist. I will pray for people be healed – and I don’t mean just by the doctors. I believe some people have that gift of speaking striking truth, that I can only call prophetic.
I simply don’t believe a ton of stories I hear. Call me westernised, secularised, rationalistic, right-brained if you will, but when I hear stories of angel feathers, glory clouds and golden dust, my first, second and last reaction is, ‘Nah. Fake.’
Let me let you into a secret, which I shouldn’t.
When you go to see a stage magician, particularly one who specialises in mind reading kind of effects, be very careful what you talk about in the lobby. Because the person selling the programmes, the ice creams – even the audience member standing next to you at the bar – is listening to your inconsequential social chit chat. The holiday in France. The next-door-neighbour’s cat. The dodgy back. All that fluff is hoovered up, and taken back stage.
Because two hours later, that’s how the performer will start to ‘mind-read’ the audience. ‘Somebody over here..’ (waves vaguely stage-right at the stalls – he knows your seat number, remember) ‘is working hard on their French, I think. Anybody there learning French? A man, mid thirties?’ Of course you are. You were talking about the Dordogne in the lobby – but you’ve forgotten that, so – wow!
It’s a trick. You know it is, really.
Let me let you into another secret, which you and I should yell from the rooftops.
Fake pastors, fake evangelists, fake prophets use the same tricks. They buy the books from the same outlets, they buy the equipment (radio receivers and so on) from the same online suppliers. They use exactly the same cold reading techniques.
But where you bought a theatre ticket knowing you were going to be fooled, you gave money to a collection to support a ministry.
And we do not show belief in miracles (which I believe can happen) by being gullible dupes.
So let’s pray for a non-weird revival, and let’s be ready to call the weird for what it is too.