In 1734 an awakening spread throughout the town of Northampton, Massachusetts,. From there it moved up and down the Connecticut River valley. This “Valley Revival” served as one of the early flames that would eventually be stirred into a revival inferno called the First Great Awakening. The central human figure in Northampton was Jonathan Edwards, while a key figure in fanning the flames of local movements into a great revival across the American colonies was George Whitefield. Both young preachers at the time – Edwards was 31 when the Valley Revival erupted, Whitefield 26 at one of his most effective itinerant journeys – and were ready to challenge the status quo religion of their day.
The message these men preached, and the message preached by others like John and Charles Wesley in England, was justification by faith. They preached the gospel. No, they did more. They RECOVERED the gospel in church settings where tradition, ritual, and in some cases awful theology had supplanted the gospel message.
Today a growing movement of gospel recovery spreads across the landscape of the church. This is obvious in the dramatic rise of books being published around this theme and is particularly apparent in young adults. Weary of a factory-like church where the basic expectation is to: confess Jesus verbally, show up every week at church services, and be moral, increasing numbers want to believe in something that changes everything in their lives, not just their church or otherwise compartmentalized “spiritual” lives. They hunger for a gospel recovery not unlike we witness in earlier movements of God.
These prior movements pushed believers to a gospel-saturated vision for life, leading many to radical obedience. From the two Moravians sold into slavery to reach the slaves in the West Indies to the college guys led by Samuel Mills at the Haystack Meeting in 1806 who traveled to Asia, these movements led to dramatic change in both the moral behavior and social awareness of those touched by the work of the Spirit as well. But the heart of these movements was gospel fervor. The gospel becomes central when God moves among His people. Today we have often confused the outward effects of the gospel with the gospel itself. As a result of the gospel’s change in a person’s heart our morality changes, not vice versa.
Another clear sign of a gospel renewal is The Gospel Project http://www.gospelproject.com/ by Lifeway Christian Resources. This new curriculum offers one of many examples of a renewed focus on the gospel’s power to change lives and the gospel’s prevalence throughout all Scripture, and thus all of life.
This past Wednesday a webcast introduced The Gospel Project formally, and for a period of time that afternoon #theGospelProject was trending worldwide number two on twitter. That is not a small thing.
In his introduction on Wednesday, Trevin Wax noted well that information dissemination does not equal going deeper spiritually. Matt Chandler further noted how Paul sought to preach the gospel not only to the lost but also to the church at Rome as is seen in Romans 1. The gospel is not only for the lost to come to salvation but also for the saint to go deeper in sanctification. He continued to explain how there is one great story of redemption in all the Scripture, not 66 books with divergent stories.
I believe the wind of the Spirit is blowing in a gospel recovery, and I want to set my sails to that wind. I cannot predict that we are on the verge of a revival, but I am seeing signs seen in earlier awakenings before they broke forth; a dissatisfaction with that status quo, whether is be marked by abandonment of the gospel or replacing a passion for it with ritual, rules, or religious activity. Too many people today talk about revival as a form of behavior modification or as a means of putting a stamp on our current ministry practices instead of understanding it as a radical return to the gospel leading to remarkable surrender of lives for the purpose of living and sharing the mission of God.
Revival is not about getting people to support Sunday night services or to get people to be busier at the church building as a sign of changed lives. It is not about getting people to agree with you about musical styles-in great awakenings, the music is changed anyway. It is about meeting with the God who created the world and in particular made us in His image, who despite the brokenness that came through the Fall has made the way of Rescue through the substitutionary work of Christ and His glorious resurrection, and about the God Who will bring about a glorious Restoration. I love J.D. Greear’s statement that he said in the webcast and says in his book Gospel, that the gospel is not the diving board by which we jump into the pool-it is the pool! On a personal note, I am grateful for the men from SEBTS involved in the project: my colleague George Robinson who teaches evangelism and missions; J.D. Greear, lead pastor at Summit Church and my co-teacher in a PhD seminar; and our visiting prof, the guru of missional matters, Ed Stetzer of Lifeway.
I believe God is stirring. I believe He is especially stirring in a younger generation, which is why the book I am currently finishing is aimed at young people and those who work with them. We need a missional, Holy Spirit-led, gospel-centered movement of God.
There is an old joke about how many people it takes to change a light bulb.
How many Pentecostals? Ten: One to change the bulb and nine to pray against the power of darkness.
How many Amish? What’s a light bulb?
How many Baptists? WHAT DO YOU MEAN “CHANGE”?
Okay, I am a Baptist. Change is hard for us. I can only speak for myself as one Baptist follower of Christ, but this Baptist believes God is stirring in our time, and The Gospel Project is part of what He is doing.
I believe The Gospel Project can help to pave the way for a better understanding of the gospel and its effect, and by our recovery of the gospel we will receive a greater measure of God’s hand. I believe this. We may be seeing the start of something wonderful. If revival comes today, would it not trend on twitter?