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Holy Fire: Remarks About Revival

By James Nickel
December 31, 1998

I have continually expressed concern over the revivalistic fads of both charismaticism (e.g., Toronto Blessing, Holy Laughter revival) and fundamentalism (e.g., the revival held every year at Behemoth Baptist Church down the street). Knowing this, a charismatic friend of mine recently loaned me a book written by Dr. Michael L. Brown.1 Dr. Brown is the recognized “theologian in residence” overseeing and promoting the “Holy Fire” revival at Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida. My initial response to reading this hook was one of reluctance . . . “Must I waste my time reading this?” I eventually “hit the bullet” and began to read what turned out to be a fascinating and somewhat bewildering cacophony of revivalistic jargon, quotes from authorities on revival, grave warnings to critics of revival, and passionate exhortations to remove all hindrances to revival and “get right with God.”

Let’s dig into some of his comments and see what we can unearth. In the Preface, Dr. Brown announces this book is “meant to challenge the cavalier and the critical, while at the same time encouraging the cautious.” Note how he defines the critical:

The critical response dismisses the whole thing as either demonic, fleshly, or both. “This is not from above,” it categorically declares. It denies that God is in the waters at all, often without getting anywhere near the river. It has no need to investigate the facts; it is right. Often acting as a “ministry,” it is adept at critiquing whatever new thing God is doing, specializing in throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Note the logic here. Dr. Brown misrepresents those who express criticism of revival (as he understands it) by implying that they are against revival.2 This, as they say, “ain’t necessarily so.” Those critical of modern revivalism (whether in its charismatic or fundamentalist expression) are not against Biblical revival; they are against pseudo-revival. They do not want to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” God’s doing a “new thing” does not mean that the Holy Spirit generates activity that is contrary to or cannot he established by his word.

Dr. Brown has conveniently established a straw man: If you are critical of what he perceives God to he doing, then you are against revival. Note how he castigates critical people on page 13-14, putting them all in the boat of “religiosity.” Note the use of emotive and twaddling phrases like “religious spirits . . . it’s not to their theological liking . . . doesn’t fit into their denominational straightjackets . . . know-it-all judgmental spirit . . . spiritually stiff. . . critical believers who can only seem to pout.” Therefore, any attempt at “critique” is met with criticism. If, in my attempt to critique this book I must clothe myself with this drivel of straw, then so be it.

Revival and Orthodoxy

On page, 20 Dr. Brown makes the following tirade against orthodoxy:

“Orthodox” critics should put up or shut up. Abstract, theological “truth” that teats down without building up is of no use at all. To quote James 2:18b, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. Or, in the words of Ecclesiastes, “even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! (Ecc. 9:4b). Let’s see the fruit of your “orthodox” faith—in your ministry, in your church, and around the world. The gospel gives life.

Orthodox means “straight talk” or “true glory.” Should we not desire the “glory that is true?”3 If this is so, then what is so had about it? Dr. Brown seems to imply that orthodoxy is a dreaded thing and that “orthodoxy” and “soundly asleep” go together like the proverbial horse and carriage (see page 33). Again, Dr. Brown is guilty of fabricating a straw man and then demolishing his creation.4 Many of those dreaded “orthodox” believers have the deeds to back up their faith. They have “put up” and thereby do not need to “shut up.” Look at the manifold expressions of obedience to Christ around the world: charity ministries. Christian schools, home schools, evangelism, missions, etc. Dr. Brown, look at what God is doing in the world! Expand your vision! Look beyond the borders of your charismatic world! God’s orthodoxy (glory that is true) is being manifested through the faithful obedience of his people around the world.

Is it possible that Dr. Brown’s diatribe against orthodoxy is a subtle (probably unconscious) way to circumvent a full-orbed commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture as the standard for life and practice? I hope not. But, throughout the text. Dr. Brown seems to imply that you need to forget doctrine and come get the blessing that God has for you. On page 33, he does say that God could never refresh his church through a “rank heretic.” And, he does list non-negotiable points of absolute essentials (e.g., “inspiration of Scripture, nature of God, person of Jesus, His virgin birth. His atoning death. His resurrection, salvation only through Him, the resurrection of the saved and the lost, to name just a few”). But, and more importantly, Dr. Brown never acknowledges that Scripture is to be the standard whereby all things (including revival) are to be judged.5

For example, on page 220, Dr. Brown sets up an epistemological test case with these questions:

What happens when godly leaders come to opposite conclusions and made their conclusions known publicly? Then who do we follow? How do we know who’s right?

He then gives an example of two men who came to different conclusions based upon their respective experiences. Then he makes some sweeping statements: “Using the Bible alone as a guide, it is impossible to draw any definite conclusions here,” and “it is impossible to prove from Scriptures alone that twentieth-century tongues are or are not from God.” You know where this is leading . . . you cannot make a judgment about revival or experiences based on Scripture alone. You must follow your own inward convictions and feelings.

Is not Scripture sufficient? Is 2 Timothy 3:16-17 lying to us? Does not Scripture train us to be a “man of God fully equipped for every good work?”6 If we just follow our inward convictions, then we will open the door to subjectivism and deception. Dr. Brown has to circumvent the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in order to validate what goes on in Brownsville’s revival meetings. I believe he is sincere in this (not trying to deceive his readers). But, as a theologian and doctor, he has no business playing around with the sufficiency of Scripture.7 Telling a good story to illustrate his point or giving a personal testimony (proof or disproof of tongues) does not suffice! We are dealing with the Faith, the unity of the Faith (Eph. 4:11-13), and Christian living. We are sanctified by truth, not inward feelings! (Jn. 17:17). A test of our love for Christ is whether we obey his objective word, not whether we say, “Jesus is so sweet to me.”8 God’s pure word always has and always will set the standard for life and practice. The Holy Laughter and Holy Fire “revivals” have laid hare the glaring deficiency of modern charismaticism: the leaders of these respective movements (and those that follow them) have absolutized subjectivism and narcissism in the guise of “experiencing the blessings of the Holy Spirit.” Concomitant to this is the curse of antinomianism. To them, being “spiritual” (or “open to the Spirit” or “following the leading of the Spirit”9) is more important than being “Scriptural.” It is no wonder, then, why Christians who are committed to Scripture as the standard for life and practice look at the majority of their charismatic brethren askance! The crying need of the hour is that God would revive the church and renew her in her God-given mission of studying and applying the “glory of truth” as revealed in his holy word. Oh, by the way, fulfilling this mission does require of us hard work . . . something most in the church find unappealing.10

Revival and Revivalism

On page 30-33, Dr. Brown quotes Charles G. Finney as an authority on revival. He also mentions elsewhere that Finney has his “critics.” You cannot help but hear Finney speak through Dr. Brown, though. He has drunk deep from the well of Finney’s theology11 and from others who also have absorbed his teachings.12 Unfortunately, Dr. Brown has not paid heed to a book written by Iain Murray entitled Revival & Revivalism.13(Beware! He is one of those dreaded “orthodox” people!) In this book, Murray shows Finney’s real motives behind introducing his view of theology and his “new measures” of revival. He did not like and was not willing to submit his mind to the Biblical Calvinism of the day. He twisted this belief and portrayed it as a horrific monstrosity. The truth is—under Biblical Christianity, God refreshed his people with revival many times before Finney came on the scene (something Finney never mentions in his writings). Before Finney, revival was considered a supernatural and miraculous work of the sovereign Spirit of God. After the leaven of Finney’s Revival Lectures14permeated the evangelical church, revival became revivalism . . . something that man can promote and work up by hype, manipulation, technique, and creating the appropriate atmosphere. Those at Behemoth Baptist have the audacity to “advertise their revival meetings” where the story-telling evangelist, with decision cards in hand, makes stirring and weepy “altar calls.” Those at First Church of Charismatic “fall under the power” as the evangelist cries, “Take another drink!” or “Belly up to the bar!” or “Now Lord! More! More! Fire! Jesus! Fire! Now! Fire!”

Revival and Pietism

The titles of Chapters 8, 9 and 10 are “God Wants All of Me,” “Conviction,” and “Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory” respectively (pages 81 to 118). Dr. Brown exhorts the reader give “your all” to God and warns the reader of the sin of “not loving God enough.” He then documents the “unspeakable joy” that comes to the heart as a result of revival.

I do not question Dr. Brown’s sincerity in these exhortations, but he does make some abstruse misrepresentations. In essence, he is guilty of absolutizing piety (a common malady infecting many Christians). Who can argue with the exhortation to “love God more” and “repent of sin”? But, unless we carefully define these phrases, we will he left with nothing more than good feelings about “the altogether lovely Jesus” (page 103).15 If we don’t put the button in the right hole at the start with these issues, then the “joy unspeakable” shirt will flap wildly in the breeze of “every wind of doctrine.”

Devotion to God can never he defined subjectively.16 The danger of being theologically non-devotional or devotionally non-theological is always present. We are never to put a wedge between the heart and the head.17 We all need to love Jesus more, as Dr. Brown’s passionately pleads. Question: How is this “more love to Jesus” to be evidenced? What are the positive marks? On page 229, Dr. Brown unveils his understanding of those marks of true revival:

Has Jesus become more precious to His people? Has He become more highly exalted in their eyes? Do they believe in Him more fervently, love Him more deeply, and long to commune with Him more and more? Then the Spirit did the work!

Note the phraseology used: precious . . . highly exalted . . . fervently . . . love deeply . . . long to commune. Where is obedience to his law-word a test of our love for Christ?18 It is not either/or here. Yes, we should love Christ with a passion. But, that passion must be reflected by adherence to his revealed word (all of it, not just the sections that charismatics like to emphasize—the Gospels and Acts included). What about Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Romans, etc.? Let us be whole Bible Christians (the Gospels and Acts included). We must CBEY it! ALL of it! Dr. Brown proudly announces that “the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement has remained extremely conservative in its view of Scripture” (page 229). Note that you can be a conservative Christian (believe the Bible to be inerrant and infallible) and not obey all of it. This is where we need teaching on “the whole counsel of God.” Unfortunately, Dr. Brown has a myopic view of the “whole counsel of God.” This flawed vision is caused by Dr. Brown’s charismatic glasses. These glasses see the “whole counsel of God” in the primary context of the charismatic gifts and manifestations (i.e., the “Full Gospel”). There is so much more to “God’s counsel” than this! (see Heb. 5:12-6:3). To borrow a phrase from J. B. Phillips, “Your view of God’s word (and God) is too small!”

In the chapter entitled “Conviction,” Dr. Brown talks much about the Holy Spirit and quotes from many “authorities” on revival.”19 He does mention God’s word a couple of times. But he never defines what sin is. Sin is lawlessness (1 Jn. 3:4). In fact, the first time Dr. Brown mentions God’s law is on page 227-228 and that is in the context of “hell-fire” preaching. He never exhorts the reader to ponder the requirements of God’s law and our duty, as Spirit-empowered Christians, to obey it.20 We are not just “sinfully sick” and in need of healing refreshment from God’s Spirit; we are covenant (law) breakers. In Biblical revival, the Spirit of God will take his holy law and pierce our entire lives with it.21 The law exposes much more sin than Dr. Brown mentions.22 Doing drugs, watching “R”-rated movies, divorce, etc., are symptoms of a deeper problem—we are antinominian rebels.

To give Dr. Brown credit, on page 230 he makes a passing remark about restitution.23 Most Christians are shamefully ignorant of this teaching of Scripture. This was made evident by the recent controversy in Christian circles over the execution of born-again Christian and Houston axe murderer, Karla Faye Tucker. I am amazed at how few Christians realize that God’s forgiveness of sin (in this case murder) does not necessarily authorize a release from civil punishment. One Christian told me this, “Did not Christ come to set the prisoners free? Karla Faye is a prisoner and the state of Texas, by Christ’s authority, should set her free!24 I could not believe how that person could apply that Scripture to this situation! This Christian also said, “We need to be simple in our reading and interpretation of Scripture.” This is nothing but an excuse for not wanting to work hard at rightly dividing the word. With Karla Faye Tucker’s execution, we have some good, but grim, evidence of widespread Biblical illiteracy in the church (no surprise, though).

Revival and Reformation

On page 231-232, Dr. Brown attempts to validate the Finneyan theology by quoting from a magazine article:

Finney spent six months in Rochester and converted hundreds of residents—lawyers, doctors, judges, tradesmen, bankers, boatmen, workers, master craftsmen—to born again Christianity. He scorched their consciences and urged them not to follow the selfish ways of the world. Finney angrily denounced the evils of selfishness and deliberately aimed his message at the wealthy and powerful. . .
Having converted the affluent, Finney’s final step was to get them to direct their energy and wealth into beneficial philanthropies. He was amazingly successful. Rochester embarked on a church-building boom. Rochesterians went on to establish a university, organize charities and self-help agencies, build a public school system, fight against slavery (the city was a station on the Underground Railroad, which smuggled slaves into Canada), form unions and a reform prison system. Rochester became a city where love for one’s fellow man was more than an empty phrase.25

To which Dr. Brown adds his hearty amen: “That’s what you call lasting fruit! One hundred sixty years have passed, and the effects of the revival are still being felt. How’s that for proof?” These remarks engender as many questions about the fruits of Finney’s efforts as apparent “proof in the pudding” answers! For example, what does the Bible say about charity, education, unions, prisons, and the philosophical underpinnings that motivated the Abolitionist movement? Some of the Rochesterian activities may have reflected obedience to the commands of Scripture while other activities may have reflected disobedience to the commands of Scripture. The only way to determine this is to thoroughly “understand the times of the nineteenth-century” in the light of God’s full-orbed word. Dr. Brown, in his zeal to document the veracity of Finney’s revivals, turns a blind eye to this important point.

To illustrate this further, consider the education issue. Is the public school system to be seen as the fruit of Biblical revival? To answer this, one must understand the Bible’s teaching on epistemology (how do we know what we know?). Without Biblical faith, knowledge is impossible. One cannot know a fact truly (e.g., 2 + 2 = 4) unless one presupposes Biblical faith and its revelation of the Creator of all things (including a world that reflects mathematical relationships and the human mind that has the ability to think mathematically). If one rejects Biblical faith, he still must live in the world created by the God of the Bible. He still must “live and move and have his being” in God’s world, not in any other kind of world (e.g., the “chance” world as the theory of evolution posits). An unbeliever must borrow from the Bible (as much as he does not like to) in order to live in this world. His knowledge of the world is consequently short-circuited; it is a pseudo-knowledge. The Christian who establishes his epistemology self-consciously upon Biblical revelation is the only one who can truly know anything.26

One fruit of Biblical revival is the emphasis and practice of Biblical Christian schooling (whether day schooling or home schooling). This quiet revival (I prefer the word reformation) has been an increasing and enduring one for the past 30 years.27 Do not Christians need to repent of sending their children to a place that denies God and rejects his word of authority? Do not parents understand that sending their children to “Rome” will make them “Romans”? Are not parents double-minded in their faith when they excuse their actions by saying that they are sending their children to public schools as Christian witnesses? Do not parents understand that Biblical faith speaks to all the disciplines? Do not parents understand that they are responsible to train their children (Dt. 6:6-9) in the Faith that speaks to all of life?

Dr. Brown says, “If it does not ultimately affect society, it is not revival.” He goes on to say (pp. 235-236):

In revival, the Holy Spirit moves deeply and widely, supernaturally and powerfully. He goes into the homes and the schools, into the places of business and the places of sin, and He brings the sense of the reality of God. He brings conviction! It is impossible to flee from God during revival.

To this I add some questions. What is meant by the “sense of the reality of God”? Just how is revival going to “affect society”? What is meant by saying that the Spirit moves “deeply and widely, supernaturally and powerfully?” Dr. Brown’s answers are as short-circuited as his views on “loving Jesus more.”

Note carefully the following words:

Abortion, statism, euthanasia, socialism, secular capitalism, relativism, pornography, drunkenness, sodomy, feminism, egalitarianism, materialism, nihilism and other flagrant, pervasive instances of law-breaking threaten to unravel the social order. The church is hardly less antinomian, worshipping religious entertainment, cheapening the gospel, despising (or monopolizing) the tithe, profaning the sacraments, slandering church leaders (or members), oppressing the weak, neglecting the poor, and omitting the “weightier matters of the law” (Mt. 23:23). The family suffers the two-pronged onslaught of internal disunity and external distraction. Internally, wives are pressured by man-(and woman-) hating egalitarian feminism, husbands by irresponsible and unloving “machoism,” and children by two-income (and thus two-job) households and godless TV and other “entertainment.” Externally the godless state requires the parental tithe of the children to God-hating government schools, subsidizes immorality in its several “welfare” programs, extorts a level of taxation that requires two-income households, and prosecutes parents intent on godly child-rearing. The dominant culture in almost every sphere is at war with Christ and his faithful.
As a result, from superficial sectors of the modern church rise whiny, hollow calls for “Holy-Ghost revival.” This usually denotes stunning (and often entertaining) public repentances, emotional hot flashes from the balcony, multitudinous “born-again” experiences, and expanding church budgets (or at least long-term mortgage payments). The logic seems to be that if we can just get the saints “fired up for Jesus” and a number of former sinners packed into the church pews, evil will miraculously subside.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The entrenched evil of the modern secular age will not be dislodged by spine-tingling pulpiteering or weepy altar calls; it will be overthrown by a wholesale reformation of the most searing kind, plumbing the depths of all of modern life and society, reinstalling the Christian Faith and Biblical law in all areas of life.
The only solution is theonomy (the law of God), or, more specifically, biblionomy (the law of the Bible). A “revival” that does not re-orient man in the very core of his being to the entire word of God is futile, a chimerical solution. Man must be saved not principally from his sinful ailments, but from his covenant-breaking. And he will be saved from his covenant-breaking as he is sanctified by the Holy Spirit to more faithfully obey and apply God’s law. When a significant segment of society trusts Christ alone for salvation and his law-word for sanctification—sanctification in all areas of life, not merely individual life—true reformation will penetrate the land.28

As Sandlin so eloquently and prophetically declares, covenant-breaking can only be fixed by radical reformation—a return to obedience to God’s law-word as it applies to all of life. This is the only kind of reformation that will bring healing to cultures. Sin will not be driven from the land by some subjective sense of the “reality of God’s presence” or by “laughing or lying on the floor for six hours.” Sin will be expelled from cultures29 by the Spirit-empowered godly work30 of faithful Christians over the “long haul.”

Revival and Eschatology

On page 249, Dr. Brown announces that “the time is short.” The implication is that we need to get to business and get to it fast. We have no time to argue over doctrine, etc. We cannot miss this opportunity! We need to get into the “flow” or we (and America31) will miss out. He pleads, “Now—not never.”

On page 254, he says:

Forget about date-setting prophecy books and Second Coming speculation. Forget about trying to figure out exactly where we stand on the end-time eschatological calendar (or else make sure that you write in pencil!). Forget about even wondering whether these verses in Revelation [Rev. 19:15 –JN32] have anything to do with the United States specifically.

A few words later he confesses that “we are getting closer to the end of the age.” It is obvious that the underlying “last days” mania still governs Dr. Brown, no matter what he says to the contrary.33

God will give us the time to complete his assignment for us (in our own lives and in the life of the church in history). Succumbing to the “time is short” mentality frustrates long-term planning and obedience to God. Those who cry “Revival now! A t any cost!” are the ones who will miss out on this glorious opportunity!

Question: How many people would flock to Brownsville if sound teaching takes place—teaching that instructs God’s people how to radically restructure the individual, the family, the church, and society in terms of God’s authoritative law-word? People are not coming to Brownsville for teaching; they are coming to Brownsville to meet “Jesus” in the context of some new or extraordinary experience. But, there should not be a dichotomy here! Teaching sound doctrine will result in transformed lives (Rom. 12:1-2). People will then have the wonderful experience of considering and implementing objective truth, not some isolated “jumping, jerking, blow you to the floor” feeling to revel in, or try to add to.

There is a glorious future ahead of us, in time and on earth, for the kingdom of God. It is important that we understand what the Bible teaches about the goal of the Gospel (e.g., Is. 11:9; 65-66) and work this perspective out in our day-to-day lives. Let us not import emasculated, powerless, and defeatist views into the text of Scripture.34

Conclusion

I would recommend that every charismatic begin a serious reading and study program; to embark on the wonderful and illuminating journey of reforming yourself in truth.35 First, read two books by the late Reformed scholar and pastor Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.36 Dr. Lloyd-Jones confesses that he is a “Bible Calvinist,” not a Calvinist by system. His God-centered perspective is refreshing and his warnings clear. Second, read Iain Murray’s Revival & Revivalism.37 Third, expose your mind to God-centered theology.38 This God-centered teaching will unmask the narrow and shallow foundation (a mile wide but an inch deep) of modern charismaticism and evangelicalism. Only the holy fire of God’s uncompromising truth will change lives by his Spirit for his glory.

You cannot discount Dr. Brown’s heart-felt passion for revival. He is an example of a man zealous for revival “at any cost.” Biblical Christians want revival, but not “at any cost.” Dr. Brown’s plea for “revival now or never” is superficial at best. A t worst, this “either/or” scenario is bogus. Biblical Christians want revival, but not at the expense of throwing out the sufficiency of Scripture and sound doctrine. Biblical Christians want revival, but not at the expense of being castigated as having a “religious spirit” by charismatic zealots who ridicule anyone who dare criticizes a supposed “move of God.” Biblical revival “at any cost”? Yes! Any kind of revival “at any cost”? No!

I leave my readers with some “food for thought” as a conclusion:

  • God always brings revival in a way that will glorify him, honor his word, and thereby further his kingdom on earth. God will revive his people as they commit themselves to reformation—in the individual, the family, the church, and the world. Why revive a people not committed to the love of truth? Why revive a people who would just continue in their man-centered and erroneous ideas and practices? Reformation is a precondition of revival. Many books have been written that spell out how this reformation is to be worked out (note the books put out by the Chalcedon Foundation over the past 30 years as one example). God has called many ministries to do the groundwork for reformation and to model it . . . the training and instruction materials are available. If and when our Sovereign God is pleased to send the fire of revival, it will be only after the church has done the preparatory homework of preparing the altar.
  • In the past 30 years, a “quiet” reformation has taken place—as evidenced by the commitment of Christian families to Biblical Christian education. Through this, God is preparing future generations of church and societal leaders.
  • Biblical revival will never find focus in a man, a ministry, or a church (he will use men, ministries, and churches—but they will not call attention to themselves or to what they are doing). There will be no need to make “pilgrimages” to specific churches in order to “catch the wave.”
  • There is much confusion and disorder in the church at large ( in doctrine and practice). As a precursor to Biblical revival, God’s Spirit will clean out what is false and establish what is true (1 Cor. 11:19). God will send a strong delusion to those who do not love the truth (see the principle illustrated in 2 Ties. 2:9-12 and the clear warning in 2 Tim. 4:3-4). The Holy Spirit of God will send “a famine for His word” in the land as a way of sifting out the false from the true (Am. 8:11-12).39 Note the subjective temper of the revivalistic fads of charismaticism. Note the stress on change by mindless experiences in the guise of seeking God’s blessings.40 This emphasis yields a perilous harvest. The crop consists of weeds of neglect—a disregard of God’s authoritative and uncompromising word, a laxity regarding the systematic study of Scripture, and a lack of commitment to regulatory standards reflected by adherence to sound doctrine. Instead of producing a love for truth, these fads result in famine for hearing God’s word. In this context, I do not dismiss the recent revival trends promoted by the leaders of charismaticism as merely “demonic, fleshly, or both.” You can discern the work of the Sovereign and Almighty God, but not according to Dr. Brown’s thesis. Let me explain this using a Biblical illustration (see Jer. 4:11-12). God’s Spirit is blowing like the wind and in God’s hand is a winnowing fork. He is tossing the grain mixture into the air and letting the wind of his Spirit blow the unwanted chaff away. What remains on the threshing floor are the heavy, fruitful ears of grain. A s James I. Packer says, “He is sorting us out; the division between authentic Bible-based Christians and those who aren’t such is going to get deeper and deeper as time goes on.”41
  • God will use persecution and tribulation to purify his people (as much as I do not like that idea). What does this mean? What are the ramifications? Western civilization (post-modern and post-Christian) is at the brink of collapse. God is shaking the humanistic world order now (a reflection of the judgment can be seen in the leaders we have—including church leaders). It may take time for it to collapse (like the Roman Empire) or God may “pull out the rug” all at once (the spin-off of the Y2K bug?42). As God’s judgment works itself out in time and on earth, God will revive his church in the midst of it—his kingdom will triumph through his judgments. When his judgments intensify, he will shut the doors in Toronto, Brownsville, or any other place that claims to be the repository of “revival.” It will be time for “his truth to triumph through us.” It will be revival then . . . not at any cost, but at great cost.

For when Your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness (Is. 26:9).

O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid;
O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years!
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy (Hab. 3:2).

  1. Michael L . Brown, From Holy Laughter to Holy Fire: America on the Edge of Revival (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 1996), 278 pages.
  2. On page 31, Dr. Brown approves of the equation: criticism = carnality. What about carnal reasoning? Carnal reasoning is thinking that is not willing to submit doctrine, practices, and methods to the entire word of God. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20, NKJV).
  3. In fact, a good definition of revival is the return of the church to the “glory that is true.”
  4. In the nineteenth century, revivalist Charles G. Finney also used this argument (put up or shut up) to silence his critics and it was an argument from silence. Why does Dr. Brown not want to consider the many ministries that have “put up”? Is it because many of them do not share his views on revival?
  5. Those who try to make such judgments are labeled by Dr. Brown as “heresy hunters” or “religious hypocrites” or “faultfinding, stiff traditionalists” (more straw men to bash). On page 49, he says that the outlook of these straw men is “always negative.” There is a legitimate place for judging. On what basis? Scripture. And, there are legitimate ministries that, by God’s grace, do build up without embracing the presuppositions that buttress modern-day revivalism.
  6. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NKJV). Emphasis added.
  7. Even though he defends his position with an impressive resume of 25 years as a student of Scripture (221).
  8. Listening to rhetoric about “sweet Jesus” gives me a “sugar overdose.” Good Doctor, I need a shot of insulin, please!
  9. To be “led of the Spirit,” according to Romans 8, means to be free from sin as master in your life. It has nothing to do with subjectivism or guidance. As a parenthetical note, practical matters of personal guidance (Whom should I marry? Where should I live? What church should I attend? Where shall I go to school? What vocation shall I choose?) are much easier to prayerfully discern when a person really knows Holy Writ.
  10. Offer a class in your local church on “How to Study the Bible” and see how many people show up. On page 37, Dr. Brown applauds the “unschooled” miracle ministry of Smith Wigglesworth (“God’s Word is the only book he read”) comparing him to Peter and John (Ac. 4:13). Peter and John were schooled (in the seminary of Jesus)—much more than Mr. Wigglesworth (but, according to Dr. Brown, I am being “spiritually stiff” with this “judgment”). We need trained and skilled theologians in our day. The faith is simple; its implications complex. Paul appreciated and used “the books and parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). God wants men and women of learning, schooled in the Spirit, who passionately obey his word and apply it to all areas of life. Our generation of microwave Christians want instant blessing, instant power, instant solution to problems . . . push the “power button” and in 60 seconds we are “cooked” and “on fire for Jesus.” Microwave Christians are ignorant and lazy (my apology if I have inadvertently created a false “straw man”). The book of Proverbs (v. 2:1-5) speaks about obtaining wisdom and knowledge by hard work. We cannot have knowledge without the precondition of humble, diligent, and prayerful study.
  11. For a reprint of the unabridged text of the complete 1878 edition of his Lectures on Systematic Theology, see Charles G. Finney, Finney’s Systematic Theology (Minneapolis, 1994).
  12. Dr. Brovni refers to the late Leonard Ravenhill (died in 1994) as his mentor in the faith. I have personally heard Mr. Ravenhill speak and can verify that here was a man whose passion in life was for revival in the church. Mr. Ravenhill also drank deep at the well of Finney’s theology.
  13. Iain H. Murray, Revival & Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858 (Carlisle, PA; 1994). Murray also documents the disheartening long-term “fruits” of the Finney revivals. Even Finney acknowledged serious problems in his lessor known work entitled Letters on Revival. This book was reprinted under the title Reflections on Revival, com. by Donald Dayton (Minneapolis, 1979). For a detailed investigation of the theological roots of modern revivalism, see Cal Beisner, Evangelical Heathenism? Examining Contemporary Revivalism (Moscow, ID, 1996).
  14. Charles G. Finney, Revival Lectures (Old Tappan, NJ, n.d.)
  15. A sincere love for the Lord without the ability to define who the “Lord” is or what “loving the Lord” requires and a bubbly enthusiasm for the Christian life. Note, I am not negating the place of joyful emotion in the Christian life.
  16. God will not ask us on judgment day how we feel about him. In the final analysis, God will judge us all by this standard: “Did you do what I said?” (Mt. 7:15-27). A careful reading of this passage will reveal what good fruit is and what it is not. It is not good works; it is not “signs and wonders.” Good fruit is truth (“these sayings of mine”) and obedience to it.
  17. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Pr. 23:7, NKJV).
  18. On page 228, Dr. Brown does say this: “God’s purpose for mankind is to get himself an obedient, holy people, recreated in the image of his Son. If the end result of a revival is a godly, devoted Bride, then the work was from heaven!” What is important to note again is the lack of objective definition and the focus on subjective devotion. Devotion to Christ is evidenced by obedience to his full-orbed word (Jn. 15:9-17) and reflected by love of the brethren and commitment to sound doctrine (Rom. 6:17; 16:17; Eph. 4:11-16; Tit. 2:7).
  19. I found it fascinating to observe how Dr. Brown culled quotes from so many authorities (e.g., Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield, A. W. Tozer, Charles Spurgeon, and, of course, Finney) in order to support his revival thesis. Some of these men would “turn over in their graves” if they knew what Dr. Brown was trying to endorse with their writings!
  20. Note the emphasis on obedience to the law in Psalm 1 and Psalm 119 and the fruits of such obedience. The Holy Spirit •writes God’s law on our hearts (Heb. 8:10) so that its righteous requirements might be fulfilled in us (Rom. 8:4).
  21. On page 246, Dr. Brown approves of this definition of Holiness: “Holiness is pure love.” This smacks of perfectionism (what Finney embraced). The law is holy (Rom. 7:12). God, by his Spirit, makes us holy positionally by setting us apart to him in salvation and progressively (but not perfectly) as we work out our salvation by obeying his law. Love is reflected by obedience to God’s law (Rom. 13:8). Dr. Brown does say that holiness “is grounded in the Word of God” but he never explains what this means (he is adept, though, at using all of the standard charismatic and evangelical buzz words). He says holiness is a “radical change” without defining radical or change.
  22. A short list of items that God’s law deals with would include: how we vote, how we educate our children, how we spend our money, how much debt we incur, what we do with our elderly parents, and how we structure our families and churches.
  23. Sadly, he refers to restitution in the context of a fictitious person who “shrieks, shakes, lies motionless for six hours.”
  24. Note, this person is an ardent supporter of the “Holy Laughter” and “Holy Fire” revivals. However, one cannot reason inductively in this case and conclude that all such ardent supporters of the revivalism of charismaticism are that ignorant of the Bible.
  25. John S. Tompkins, “Our Kindest City,” Reader’s Digest, July 1994:55.
  26. In Your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9, NKJV). “The fear of the Lord is the foundation of all knowledge” (Pr. 1:7, NKJV).
  27. Sorry, this “revival” has not been accompanied by “shrieks, shakes, and jerks”—just a lot of hard work.
  28. Andrew Sandlin, A Postmillennial Primer (Vallecito, CA, 1997), 46-47.
  29. Not completely, but substantially.
  30. Supernaturaliy affecting all of life—deep and wide.
  31. There is a tendency among American Christians to ignore the state of the church in the world.
  32. Dr. Brown understands Revelation 19:15 as a final eschatological battle. This is a popular notion among modern evangelicals. The truth is—Christ has been judging the nations with the sword of his mouth ever since he sat upon the throne at God’s right hand. He is doing the same now.
  33. See Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness (Brentwood, TN, 1991).
  34. As an introduction, read A Postmillennial Primer.
  35. My advice: Put all the books written by your favorite charismatic or “Word of Faith” author on the shelf for one year.
  36. Joy Unspeakable: Power & Renewal in the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL, 1984) and The Sovereign Spirit: Discerning His Gifts (Wheaton, IL, 1985).
  37. Also read Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope: Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (Carlisle, PA, 1971).
  38. I would highly recommend, as an introduction, Douglas Wilson, Easy Chairs, Hard Words: Conversations on the Liberty of God (Moscow, ID, 1991).
  39. Note especially Amos 8:12, “They shall wander from-sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it.” Anyone with any cognizance of the charismatic scene will find in this verse an uncanny application. Note the great multitude of people who have been globe-trotting across the ocean, trekking to Toronto, bellying up to the “Holy Ghost bartender,” and migrating to Brownsville with the goal of getting “the blessing” or “the word of the Lord.” One astute charismatic pastor has labeled all this somewhat frenzied activity as a “charismatic nervous breakdown.” See also Proverbs 1:20-33.
  40. I am not negating the fact that God, in his gracious sovereignty, can truly bless some of these people. But, unless these people ground themselves in God’s word and become sound in their understanding of the Christian Faith, they will either fall by the wayside or be useless to God and to the long-term furtherance of his kingdom (see Mt. 13:19-23).
  41. James I. Packer, “At Last, A Reformed Study Bible,” Reformed Quarterly, Winter, 1995: 17.
  42. See Edward Yourdon and Jennifer Yourdon, Time Bomb 2000 (Upper Saddle River, NJ, 1998).

Topics: Church, The, Theology

James Nickel

With decades of combined professional experience as a mathematician, systems analyst, and educator, James Nickel also holds B.A. (Mathematics), B.Th. (Theology and Missions), and M.A. (Education) degrees and is the author of Mathematics: Is God Silent? (available from Ross House Books).

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