“The Heart of the Global Resurgence of Christianity”
A Review of Global Awakening:
How 20th Century Revivals Triggered
A Christian Revolution.
By Mark Shaw.
Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.
A Review of Global Awakening:
How 20th Century Revivals Triggered
A Christian Revolution. Mark Shaw.
Paperback: IVP Academic, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
For many of us, the very word “revival” brings images of tents filled with folding chairs on a hot summer night and a preacher wiping his brow in the heat as he makes emotional pleas for us to avoid hell and accept Jesus today so we can go to heaven if we should die tonight.
Revivals? Aren’t revivals quirky folk rituals associated with rural America and nineteenth-century camp meetings? Didn’t they pass out of fashion with hula hoops and Edsels? For many, revivals are little more than relics of a distant past. They belong more to an age of ploughs and prairies than of postmodernity and globalization. And like King Arthur’s sword in the stone, the term may be so deeply embedded in American folk culture that any attempt to extract it is doomed to failure. Yet the sword in the stone is moving. The news of revivalism’s death has been greatly exaggerated. Revivals like forces of nature are protean, constantly adjusting their features and ferocity to new times and to new places… They learned to speak Spanish, Portuguese, Yoruba, Korean, Mandarin and Gujarati…and crossed the equator (12).
It will be difficult for some to think beyond their little box and see revival in a new and different light because of those old preconceived ideas and notions. What an incredible study the author has done here as he has closely examined the working and moving of God in many places in our world over the last century. He has truly “done his homework” and given us much to chew on and think about in this writing.
Mr. Shaw begins his work with his description of the state of our world during the last century. “It was a century of volatile political and military earthquakes and consuming ideological fires. The result was violence. Historian Niall Ferguson states that “the hundred years after 1900 was without question the bloodiest century in history.” There were many causes behind this violent century but Ferguson highlights one in particular: volatility. Volatile empires rose and fell. Volatile economies created uncertainty about the future. Volatile encounters between ethnicities produced assimilation on the one hand and new levels of racial hatred on the other” (9-10). The author makes the observation that, mostly unnoticed by historians in our past century, is the great resurgence of Christianity around the world during this time. Although there was great decline in the West, Christianity in places like Asia, Latin America and Africa underwent dramatic growth. To what do we attribute this? Is it due to the translation of Scripture, the great numbers of missionaries everywhere, the indigenization of Christianity into new people groups? Mr. Shaw believes that all of those things had a part as God has been working behind the scenes orchestrating this great “religious revolution”.
He, however, believes that one piece missing from the conversation is that of revival. “Global revivals, I want to contend in this book, are at the heart of the global resurgence of Christianity.” (12)
Mr. Shaw does a very extensive and thorough job of setting forth his understanding of revival, which turns out to be so much more than can be condensed into a few meaningful words. Fortunately he takes us on a journey to Korea, Africa, India, Brazil, China, and even back in time to the Billy Graham era here in the United States as he draws us a picture of the work God’s work in bringing about His purposes on this earth. “Twentieth century global revivals have produced an altered religious landscape. That altered landscape created by these explosive revivals requires investigation. Seeing is believing. We need to visit the scene of the action. We need to sift through the ruins of the recent past to reconstruct these mighty movements.” Over the course of the book, we come to see a much broader and deeper picture than most of us hold. The author’s knowledge, experience and research make his writing and his thoughts worth serious consideration. He does a great job of sharing his understanding of revival and the forces and dynamics that bring it about, shape it, identify it and result from it.
This book offers a good opportunity to think seriously about God’s call. What are we called to? What does being “saved” really mean? What are the “signs of the kingdom”? How do we think outside our little cultural box and remember that the kingdom may look a little different in other places than here? “Global revivals have the power to take what is alien and transform it into the indigenous” (51).
Three things that he specifically mentions in his discussion of revival struck a chord with me. One is that true revival results in greater vision. We move from personal and human kingdom-building to the vision of God’s kingdom come in all its fullness – a new way of looking at history and the human story. A second dynamic he mentions is radical community. True revival brings a sense of connectedness and dependence on our brothers and sisters. We are called to be part of a story – part of a work that has been going on since the beginning of time – not a lone ranger building our own little Christian following and kingdom. Third, the author states that: “with few exceptions, global revivals are movements of justice”. Because God is a God of justice and scripture speaks much about justice, it is hard to imagine any true movement of God that didn’t result in greater love and reconciliation – bringing transformation to our world and among those claiming to have experienced God’s reviving touch.
For most of us, our knowledge and understanding of the story of God’s people in other places and times is, sad to say, extremely limited. It is so very true of me. Many of us here at Englewood Church are making attempts at correcting that. I’m ashamed to say that much of what was shared in this book was new to me. In our little corner of the world, I think we have experienced somewhat of a revival over the past few years. I don’t think it happened in one fell swoop but has been a slow and gradual process, both joyous and painful. There has been a strong and renewed sense of our selfishness and self-centeredness as a people and our failure to truly be the people of God. Along the way, we have re-discovered the path of community as opposed to our culture’s radical individualism. Many of our hearts are being touched in a new way with the injustices that are taking place not only around us but in so many places of the world. We are spending time thinking and talking and seeking God as to ways we can involve ourselves in his work of bringing justice to the marginalized and the oppressed. We are beginning to see ourselves as part of a big story and not here to build our own little spiritual kingdoms. We have far to go and continue to fail in many ways but it seems that we have turned a corner. I would imagine that as generations pass, revivals are necessary (depending on your definition of revival) because of our humanness and our tendencies to wander and lose our way.
This book, however, is not what you’d call an easy read. It is full of information that needs to be thought about and digested as you work your way through. The writing is good and easy to read. The author thinks deeply, gathers facts, interprets and evaluates. I appreciate that. Whether you end up agreeing with all his conclusions or not, the book is well worth reading. Thank you, Mark Shaw, for an important and thought-provoking book. May we all have eyes to see and discern God’s work in His world and may we be open to all His creative ways.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com