An Interview with Author Richard Lovelace
“Revival is an infusion of new spiritual life imparted by the Holy Spirit to existing parts of Christ’s body.”
Richard F. Lovelace (Th. D., Princeton), professor emeritus of church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is the author of Homosexuality and the Church,The American Pietism of Cotton Mather, and Dynamics of Spiritual Life. He has written numerous articles and has recently written Renewal as A Way of life.
The following comments were made by Richard Lovelace in an interview with Christianbook.com on August 26th 1999.
CBD: Could you describe yourself, your background, your hobbies and interests?
Lovelace: Ok. This is sort of a first! I am 68 years old. I am a graduate of Yale College with a BA in philosophy, as well as a Graduate of Westminster Seminary and of Princeton Theological Seminary. I am emeritus professor of Church History at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, a writer, and still teaching. I am married [and have] three children.
I have a great interest in music. I was a classical DJ for a year on Boston’s WBAQ before we moved, and I would still be doing that if there were a place to. I am an avid fisherman. My son has converted me to fly fishing trout!
CBD: Could you describe the overall premise of your book The Dynamics of Spiritual life, as well as your current book Renewal as a Way of Life ?
Lovelace: Certainly. I would encourage people to read the second book as well, which is can be downloaded on the web at http://www.overit.com/lovelace/lovelacebooks/index.html [Link is broken] I wrote The Dynamics of Spiritual Life, published in 1978, because I wanted to set forth what I call the unified field theory of Christian Spirituality that would make use of insights particularly on the Reformation, the Puritans, the Great Awakening movements, catholic spirituality, and other areas. It is a very catholic book. It really endeavors to reach out everywhere to come upon Biblical principles of spirituality. It is a book on what is called spiritual theology or the historical theology of Christian experience. I started out my own Christian life absorbed in a Christian community which was an offshoot tracing back to the Welsh Revival—the overcomer conference in England. The name of the group was Peniel, it’s still in existence, and I am still working in it. It has devoted itself to the production of pastoral theology, and practical theology of the Christian life. It was there that I got interested in the subject of spiritual awakening, revival, and renewal in the Church. The Dynamics of Spiritual life book attempts to set forth both a Biblical portrayal of individual spiritual life, but it also attempts to deal with the great movements of spiritual awakening, because in my opinion these things are related. You can pursue individual spiritual growth but inevitably you will come up with the realization that there is a corporate aspect to this. Christians grow as they are immersed in currents of spiritual life that are larger than individual or local congregations for instance.
CBD: Could you give a definition of what you think revival is, and what it would be distinguished by?
Lovelace: As used by all the historians of revivals, it means an infusion of new spiritual life imparted by the Holy Spirit to existing parts of Christ’s body. In other words, it happens to a church or community that has already been brought into spiritual life in the past in which that life is ebbing or is at a low ebb. These are also simply communities that are in covenant with God. I would say that God’s covenant embraces over the generations groups of persons moving through history in what are called denominations. So that in the Presbyterian or Baptist churches for example, you have a collection of people whose grandparents were vital Christians, and God is faithful to his covenant and will strike again and again [to ignite revival] in those lines.
In my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church, we were born half-dead in America. People with a somewhat dead orthodoxy came over and a powerful movement of Revival through the Log Collegemen (people trained in William Tennent’s in New Jersey) carried the message of not just having orthodox beliefs, but also being born again, and having the vital presence of the Holy Spirit. That divided the Presbyterian Church for 17 years, but it also was a powerful movement of multiplying Christians and the church reunited and that was the first great Awakening from about the 1730’s and 1740’s. There was another powerful movement again in the congregational and Presbyterian Church’s called the Second Great Awakening from about 1795 to roughly 1838. You see splits occur again and again in revival periods. Yet, I don’t see this to be an evidence of revival nor an end goal. This is a very counter theory to the idea that you become more and more revived the more you split. I don’t see that in history although everything that splits is still on the board, still operating. If you take a great movement such as the Anglican Communion, there are still streams of life pouring into it, especially from Africa. You could do this with a local congregational history too. If you could go back to a local congregation that started in 1745, which would be in the middle of the First Great Awakening, you would find that it went though periods of decline in renewal.
CBD: In your book you see great prospects for either Christian Revival or anti-Christian movements. How important is Revival in terms of the outcome?
Lovelace : This depends on what is called your eschatology. Whether you are pre mill, post mill, a mill, or don’t even know what mill is. But during the 18th and 19th century it didn’t matter what you were, pre-mill or post-mill or a-mill, everybody expected a triumphant increase. Just think of the Hymn “Jesus Shall Reign from Shore to Shore.” That is a declaration of war on the powers of darkness. That is according to Psalm 72 that the gospel will spread to the ends of the earth. Jesus says “the gospel will be preached in every nation and then will come the end. Generally, during the 18 th and 19th centuries people believed that there would be increasing degeneracy as the end drew near, ultimately seen in the coming of many Anti-Christs and then the Anti-Christ. But also, they believed that there would be great outpourings of the Holy Spirit as Joel predicts and simply on the basis of Acts 2; that as Christians pray, they will be equipped and enabled to move out and advance the kingdom. The great historical example of that was the early Church in the first four centuries. They really did not expect that they would conquer the Roman Empire. God didn’t let on that they were going to do it either. Nevertheless, it occurred. Christianity became so powerful a force that the people at the top had to change. We see that happen over and over again in History. We have seen this bring a quiet infusion of life in the Church that has brought about at least nominal Christianity to a lot of places. Right now, we are sitting here looking at I don’t now how much of the planet under the veil of Islam, the Moslems, that’s where I would expect Spiritual Awakening to spread to. If you are going to say that the Gospel is preached to every nation, I would say a powerful lot of Web site, internet, or radio and TV communication would have to take place in the Moslem area. Also there is China, in which one recent figure said that 28,000 Christians are being made there everyday. If you project that for a decade or so, it will mean a very powerful spread of the gospel there.
CBD: What specifically is your eschatology and your current view of the prospects for Revival?
Lovelace: Here is my eschatology basically. It is a quote from a conference held in 1801. “The world is coming to either Christ or to Beelzebub, and the parties are arming on both sides.” In other words, what is seen as a decline in American culture, is just an extremely obnoxious upsurge of the Beelzebub party so to speak, which is much smaller than it appears at times. What happens in such an upsurge is usually that the people of God began to call out to God in prayer for a revival. That is what is happening today. The most exciting things going on today are with David Bryant’s prayer ministry, and other things related to the prayer movements that are bubbling up everywhere on the planet. There are huge numbers of these that are now interlocked by the Web. This is also seen in Bill Bright’s movements of fasting and prayer for revival. The Bryant people are trying to get a praying area called a lighthouse for every one of those nine digit zip codes in America. This is human methodology, but it reflects a tremendous upsurge in a burden for revival. I would say where you see this kind of fireplace being built there is going to be a fire. There already is a fire.
CBD: A current modern day revival is documented in Jim Cymbala’s book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. The striking note of his account is the dominant role of prayer in the church ministry of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. How is revival linked to the prayer ministry?
Yes, also you have areas of this planet in which simultaneously horrific disasters are occurring, in Africa particularly where the AIDS virus is just ravaging the continent, but also there is every evidence of very, very deep spirituality and growing Christian influence there. In all of this, one of the things to bear in mind for today is Jonathan Edwards prediction which was that just as the printing press was a catalyst for the Reformation, so new methods of communication and travel would be used by the Holy Spirit in a great outpouring.
CBD: That’s fascinating!
Lovelace: What we are dealing with today on the Internet is this: it is changing everything. It is changing business, it is changing the economy, and what happening there is literally a big footrace between the “Beelzebub forces,” and the “Christian forces.” The question is, how much good stuff can we get out there on the Internet because of course it is accessible all over the planet. Everybody speaks English. They have to in order to do business. In addition to this, one can easily translate languages- for example I have this $99 program that translates Swahili web sites!
CBD: In your work you speak of Jonathan Edwards, Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. Among those, where do you see the Church going?
Lovelace: Jonathan Edwards said a work of the Holy Spirit will have a strong renewed interest and emphasis on Jesus Christ. It will renew faithful reading of Scripture. It will damage the Kingdom of darkness. It will lead to a rebuilding of strong Orthodox theology, and it will generate love towards God and man. He later revised those to some degree in his treatise on the Religious Affections. Basically, there was a strong emphasis through Evangelicals on solid Biblical study and orthodox Reformation theology. Evangelicals have not been so strong on experience. They tend to be rationalistic at times.
The Wesleyan quadrilateral, which is like a baseball diamond, has Scripture as its home plate. The first base is tradition. The second base is reason, and the third base is experience. According to Albert Outler in John Wesley, you had to run around that diamond and keep coming back to Scripture. So, it starts with Scripture, followed by tradition, which is orthodox theology. Then reason, that is applying things to what we know now, and experience—that’s the impact of the Holy Spirit in your life. Finally, you come back to Scripture.
Evangelicals are very strong on Scripture, tradition, and reason. Charismatics and Pentecostals have been real strong on experience, to some degree also on Scripture. They have not been at all involved deeply in tradition, and sometimes don’t make enough use of reason. But what I see coming is a balance of all of this. My hope is that we will not have glossolalic and non-glossolalic communities all absolutely isolated from one another, but that we will have communities in which the nine gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 are displayed. Evangelicals could use some of these, words of knowledge, words of wisdom. I see more of a vanilla-fudge mixture coming in the future, where you can’t tell the Charismatics from the Evangelicals. You have a lot people in the Roman Catholic Church who can’t tell what they are either, but when they talk you listen.
What I am expecting is a stronger emphasis on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but also a renewed Christology. This is where the battle lines are being drawn in the mainline denominations now. There are these skirmishes over homosexuality and sexuality in general, but the real skirmish is over the deity and salvific work of Christ, and also over Scripture. All of those things, you are going to see the screen come into better focus if God continues to give us a reviving work.
Incidentally, I wrote an article which so far has not been published, in which I analyze the last forty years and I consider that a low key but real revival has taken place during this time. That has especially proceeded from the work of the likes of Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and Intervarsity for example. There’s been a lot of proliferation of real Christians during this time. Christians may currently be partially disarmed or unarmed for Christian warfare, but if they tensed up the society would feel the brunt of this.
CBD : If Christians were to “tense up”, react, and take their stand, what kind of responses would you suggest should take place?
Lovelace: Well, historically the Second Awakening was the high water mark of cultural impact of Protestantism. In that awakening decades of evangelistic growth was the basis of what ever occurred. Out of that came home and foreign missions as a first level or phase.
¨ The first phase of response is seen in the great missions movement and great number of Evangelicals who fill pulpits in America. This is evident in the Presbyterian movement, which has been colonized with people from Gordon-Conwell and Fuller Seminary.
¨ The second phase is the production of edifying literature, some of which is not so edifying, but Christian writings could totally absorb the New York Times book review all the time.
¨ Thirdly, there is an educational movement. This is occurring all over the place, especially as it is seen in the homeschooling movement. This is also evident in the proliferation of lower level Christian schools. We haven’t yet created major Christian Universities, but I really like what Regent University has done. We have colonized the Notre Dame department. This is amazing! They are all Evangelicals there. If you are going to see this whole society revived the way it was in the first fifty years of the 19th century (1800-1850), you are going to have to have a massive educational revival. Because if you are going to find one toxic drip that has been dripping into us, it is our school systems.
¨ Fourthly, great solid crusades against moral depravity must take place. We have had a couple of groups take a whack at this, but they often appear to be the Republican party at prayer, which is not a broad enough base.
¨ The fifth phase would be great crusades for social justice, where a mass of born again Catholics, Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals, get mad at some things that are wrong. I have a list of things that are really bad in this country, from campaign finance reform to the gun situation, from our education, to a whole bunch of other stuff. The generation of righteous indignation in the 19th century abolished slavery. . We are not doing well with this. Probably because our leaders have been told that you can’t manage social reform, you just have to evangelize. Maybe that was right for a while. But when you get enough Christians that are alive and they get mad about something like abortion, or other deformities on the scene. They are probably going to start praying about it and there are going to be changes.
Some people have said that the anti-abortion crusade is the equivalent of the anti-slavery crusade. The evangelicals in England whipped out slavery essentially.
Other issues in need of attention would be the low level of health care in this country. There are so many poor people who don’t have it. That’s an atrocity. What are we going to do? Let all the humanists in Sweden beat us on this? So, I do see those five phases that we might expect or aim at.
CBD: What additional thoughts have you contributed to The Dynamics of Spiritual Life in your recent book Renewal as a Way of Life?
Lovelace: The one thing I did do in Renewal, is to develop more a theology of renewal based on the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Christ. I tried to make it kingdom centered prayer and renewal. Recently, I was out in Holland Michigan, the land of what is sometimes called “frozen chosen,” and I discovered that they weren’t all frozen. There were people translating Abraham Kuyper and Herman Baavinck. I read some Kuyper and I was amazed at the spiritual vitality of Kuyper. It was like reading Andrew Murray or Mrs. Penn Lewis. There was a real strong sense of spiritual conflict and the Holy Spirit’s operation in history. Kuyper has a very positive attitude towards culture, event the French revolution which is a black beast for him had elements in the revolution which to him reflected elements of the resurrection. We would not have what we have in the Western world had it not been for Christ’s resurrection.
Kuyper went to Keswick, a great spiritual growth center in England. He was spiritually hungry and said that got fed there, but there are a couple of places there that are not running on all cylinders. One of them is that they have become somewhat introverted in their spirituality, and they don’t realize the necessity to conquer in the realm of ideas. The famous statement that he made was that “there isn’t a square inch of territory in this planet in which Jesus Christ is not Lord now.” He says that we have got to be able to out think the forces that are broadcasting material inimical to Christ. So, firstly we have to get our minds filled with the spirit, and secondly, Kuyper said, we cannot surrender any areas of our society to the forces of darkness without putting up a fight in prayer. Kuyper started up a newspaper, a University, a Political part, and he is elected premier of Holland for decades. It is a case study of what happens when there is a real spirit filled renewal in a local area. What happens, as Phillip Schaff and Alexis de Tocqueville in the 19th century said when they came to America. “This is amazing! There are no established churches, but Christianity in all these denominations, they hand together enough to make Christianity rule the roost. Back in 1850 we ran the store in this country. I hope to see at least a movement in that direction in the next century.
CBD: Thank you for sharing these comments with us.