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Books: Revivals true and not

Books | Charles Spurgeon strikes a careful balance needed today

Issue: "Building a better boycott," Oct. 4, 1997

Recently a furor has erupted within the ranks of the evangelical world over the nature and character of revival. On one side is radio's "Bible Answer Man" Hank Hanegraaff. His eye-opening book Counterfeit Revival argues that all too often evangelicals look for God "in all the wrong places." More interested in sensational manifestations than in genuine repentance, more concerned with style than substance, more inclined to follow the broad way of emotional fashion and fancy than the narrow road of biblical obedience and discipleship, modern revivalism has actually become a caricature of true revival.

As a result, gross excesses mar the reputation of the church; flash-in-the-pan celebrities play fast and free with the sentimental and the vulnerable; and bizarre fads suddenly distract thousands of believers from their scriptural responsibilities. Filled with anecdotes-often naming names and laying blame-Mr. Hanegraaff's book is a sobering look at the very worst of shallow religious hucksterism.

On the other side of this contentious tumult is the Hebraic scholar Michael Brown. His new book Let No One Deceive You asserts that whenever true revival occurs, some excesses are inevitable. Bright lights attract big bugs. Even the preaching of the apostle Peter attracted Simon the Sorcerer. At the same time, though, he warns against identifying all out-of-the ordinary manifestations and experiences that may accompany repentance and renewal as counterfeit. Indeed, he argues that when critics of revival paint with too broad a brush they become guilty of the very excesses they caution against.

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Combining keen scholarship, historical acumen, biblical fidelity, and prophetic zeal, Mr. Brown paints an entirely different picture of many of the people, places, and events than that of Mr. Hanegraaff. An outpouring of revival in our own time, he admonishes, ought to be met with grateful faith, not with cynical doubt.

In the century following his death, the books, ideas, and concerns of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1835-1892) have become even more relevant than they were during his remarkable life. He was heralded then and now as the "Prince of the Preachers," and his work continues to define many of the most critical issues facing Christians in the hurly-burly world of modernity-including this conundrum over revival.

In Let It Begin with Me, for instance, we catch a glimpse of this towering figure as an ardent advocate of heaven-sent manifestations of grace-breathing the words, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Spirit" as he climbed into the pulpit every Lord's Day. The sermons collected here demonstrate his commitment to the sometimes disturbing signs of true repentance, of heartfelt praise, and of expressive affection that accompany providential visitations. At the same time, they affirm his commitment to discern and discipline errant behaviors and beliefs-all in accord with orthodoxy. Mr. Spurgeon was endowed with a rare capacity for scriptural balance.

Of course, in a polarized world, balance is often the most dangerous position to take-fully within the crossfire of opposing combatants. And Mr. Spurgeon was hardly exempt from such hazards. In Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, Iain Murray demonstrates how the great man ably negotiated such a precarious position-defending the manifestations of revival on the one hand and dismissing its excesses on the other-affording us important lessons for our own day.


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