This essay is an original work by AddisonDM. Please comment only on the talk page.
I believe that in the near future, there will be another Christian revival, like the Great Awakenings of the past, or failing that, something like the Jesus Movement. Here I set forth some of my ideas about why I think this will happen and how it will happen.
Historically, the passing of every few decades has seen what has been called a Great Awakening. These were lively Christian revivals which were led by charismatic preachers and fueled by an intangible source of spiritual fervor and renewal. It has been at least 30 years since we have experienced a Great Awakening. To some, the Jesus Movement was the Fourth Great Awakening, but this is not conventional.
The major point is that there is nothing preposterous about suggesting that another Awakening is coming. It is in keeping with history, and, in my view, the current social climate.
The Awakenings of the past
- First Great Awakening: The First Great Awakening was a religious revival lasting from the 1730s to the 1740s and led by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. Its focus was on mans' sinfulness and need for redemption, and its preaching employed “fire and brimstone.” It also focused on the emotional and personal element of spirituality instead of the traditional, doctrinal elements. It was strongest in the American Northeast and affected the colonies.
- Second Great Awakening: Lasting from about 1800 to 1830, the Second Great Awakening was a religious revival movement largely concerned with reaching out to the "unchurched." It also encompassed many pre-Civil War reform movements, such as temperance and abolitionism. Its leaders are not as iconic as those of the First Great Awakening. The famous tent revivals on the American frontier were part of the Second Great Awakening.
- Third Great Awakening: The Third Great Awakening, from about 1850 to 1900, focused more on social reforms and outreach work than the past Awakenings. It was largely categorized by political activism. It gave birth to the Social Gospel and several new Christian traditions, most notably Pentecostalism and the Holiness Movement.
- Jesus Movement (Fourth Great Awakening): The Jesus Movement lasted from the 1960s to the 1980s. It focused on personal conversion, and the outreach ministry that categorized it was largely untraditional. Most of its converts, often referred to as “Jesus Freaks,” were former hippies, rock and rollers, occultists, and eastern religion practitioners. The well-known Protestant denomination Calvary Chapel was formed during the Jesus Movement, and the Movement gave rise to the now-popular Christian Rock and Contemporary Christian Music genres.
How do I know an Awakening is in the works?
This is perhaps the most important question you can ask me, or that I can ask myself. Let me say it again- how do I know there is an Awakening in the works? Well, history can help determine the future and explain the present, so to begin we’ll go back to the 1990s and early 2000s.
Three Christian-themed websites rose up during my proposed period of transition (2005-2007): Tangle, (formerly GodTube), MyChurch, and Conservapedia. Tangle, a Christian version of YouTube, is the most successful of the three, and in July 2008 became one of the top 500 online websites. Conservapedia, a Christian-friendly online encyclopedia created as an alternative to Wikipedia, is growing, and in all likelihood will continue to grow.
Most importantly, Barack Obama won the Presidency based on some of the most forward-looking, inspirational, and sometimes even vaguely religious (leading to his being mocked as the “Messiah”) rhetoric ever. He commanded what was almost faith in a promise of a better future. While his policies were in my view completely wrong, his style was extremely important and will be mentioned again.
Of course, there are other events and occurrences of Christian value, but for this section I have chosen to discuss only the greatest examples.
The epicenter: the concepts, styles, and organizations that will be at the forefront of the Awakening
Unlike the old Awakenings, which were begun and fueled by an intangible source of fervor, or by individual preachers, this Awakening will be fueled by a more centralized source. An organization or umbrella of organizations will be the center, from which the most important and influential elements of the Awakening will proceed. I don't mean to say that an Awakening cannot happen without a centralized organization, but I believe that a central organization, using modern technology, is the most viable means of orchestrating an Awakening.
The Gospel and how it must be preached
The First Great Awakening’s Jonathan Edwards was a famous "fire and brimstone" preacher, and his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is one of the best examples of fire and brimstone preaching.
However, the future Awakening is not going to be about fire and brimstone. Like the Jesus Movement, the driving force, the “mission statement,” is going to be salvation and conversion, from a positive perspective. The phrase that comes to mind is “Out of the darkness.”
As children’s educations suffer in public schools, as teenage girls choose abortion out of fear, as teens and adults alike turn away from traditional Christian values in an effort to be “accepting” and “tolerant,” as too many girls- and guys- go to bed hurt and unsure of love, the last message anyone needs is fear and condemnation. Some will be shocked into faith, but more will feel disenfranchised.
We don’t need the vision of Hell that Our Lady revealed to the children of Fatima; we need to hear the words of Christ, “I have called you each by name,” “Be not afraid,” “Come to me, ye heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest.”
We need to see Christ extending His arms in love and blessing, we need to see His suffering on the Cross, which brought darkness over the land but opened to us the everlasting light of Heaven. We need to visualize, and hope towards, and help build, the future when nations will be at peace, when animals will not kill each other, when there will be no more pain or suffering, when the Earth and the heavens shall be transformed.
We need to go out into the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. The Gospel is uplifting and enlightening- and in addition to its own intrinsic characteristics, the Gospel, compared to “false prophet” means of enlightenment, is the real thing, and its own light will shine even brighter when surrounded by darkness. Simple enough, right? A Christian revival preaching the Gospel.
But it’s not the Gospel alone. It’s a combination of Gospel verbatim along with soaring rhetoric, like that of Barack Obama. To put it succinctly, style of Barack Obama, the substance of the Gospel. Combining these two, we can attract record crowds like Obama, yet we can effect real and true change in hearts and minds with the truly transformative message of Christ.
Specific ministries and issues
I also see social ministry work being at the center of the Awakening. Obviously, not abortion and contraceptive services and gay rights, but social ministry of other, orthodox Christian sorts. We need to apply faith to everyday life. Too often, faith is seen as a parallel life that takes place on Sunday morning and is then forgotten. Exactly the opposite must be true. Faith must be the center of life- but this faith must not seem depressing, anti-fun, highfalutin, or carry with it any sentiment that makes one afraid that life is all sin, or that life cannot be enjoyable. Faith must first be adapted to life- not by watering it down but by making it relevant- and then we can make it the center of our life.
The actual social ministries I see are help to the poor and homeless (the image of a tall man in a coat in a big city, with a pocket New Testament in his hand, bringing a homeless man out to lunch and reading him John 3:16, is a powerful and recurring one), Christian messages about relationships for teens, help for the divorced, and more generally active participation projects like letter campaigns.
Related to concepts is the list of actual issues that we work with, when it comes to activism. Definitely traditional marriage, pro-family, and pro-life messages will be at the forefront. Religion in the public square, and educational methods such as public school vs. homeschooling are almost definitely going to be important too. Christian unity is going to be a focus. A very contentious issue I am not sure about is creationism vs. evolution. I do not see this issue coming up, and I do not want to take a side here.
“Exclusivism” vs. “Inclusivism”
Exclusivism and inclusivism are two terms I use to refer to two different general viewpoints regarding Christian unity and Christianity in general. Exclusivism is the tendency to make an enclave of similar people, to stay inside it, to refuse to go into the world or cross denominational lines, and the like. In sum, I define it in the phrase, “If it isn’t explicitly Catholic / Christian / etc, it’s bad.”
Inclusivism is the tendency to include everything unless it is explicitly opposed to Christianity, Catholicism, etc. Thus, while exclusivism is “anything not explicitly Christian is bad,” inclusivism is “anything not explicitly anti-Christian is good.” Scriptural basis for inclusivism is found in Christ's words, "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40).
I believe that inclusivism must govern the Awakening. In order to form our broad coalition (discussed below), we must include everyone and everything we possibly can without violating our Christian beliefs. We should expand Christianity and its influence and we should make even what is not explicitly Christian work for our goals.
There is too much anti-Christian sentiment and bias in entertainment and the media for us to condemn anything that contains or exemplifies Christian morals and values, even if it is not outwardly or explicitly Christian. What we want is anything that is substantially Christian. It’s truly the message that counts; though we must also rely on ourselves to spread a Christian message, and not rely on others.
In order to safeguard our faith, we must clearly and forcefully distance ourselves from anything which truly is anti-Christian. We need a broad line, but as soon as that line is crossed, we need to be vigilant.
We said above that an effective preaching style should draw on "The style of Barack Obama" and "the substance of the Gospel." While this style would be effective if well executed, some will view the phrase “style of Barack Obama” with understandable skepticism, or cringe at the fact that I uphold Barack Obama at all.
Barack Obama made himself the subject of faith and hope, and he did it with very inspiring rhetoric. To make legitimate, Christian use of his style, the subject of faith and hope must, of course, be God and Christ.
What I really mean by “Style of Barack Obama, substance of the Gospel,” is that our preaching and speaking must be just as emotionally appealing and exciting as Obama’s speaking; it must (in homage to Chris Matthews) give us tingly legs. But in an Obama speech, and for that matter in most any political speech, as soon as the emotion is gone and you wake up the next day, there’s nothing left. The excitement is over. In the end, after all the talk about how we can all change things, after all the rhetoric of a new time dawning upon us, the only thing you really take away is “Vote for me.”
We must deliver that emotional appeal contained in a good political speech, but we must knock it home with some Gospel. We’ve got to say to people, “You can change the world,” but we’ve got to give a real game plan, some real Christian advice on how an average person really can. We must add to the wish and the resolve that comes from hearing the speech the ability to really do, to really want to do, what we feel like doing as we are listening. We must join together the emotional desire in hearing a good speech with the mission that comes with faith- not only will we make change possible, we will make it enjoyable and uplifting. Ultimately, the goal would be to have such a combination of substance and style that the substance (Gospel) reinforces the style (emotion). That is, to make real, orthodox Christianity very uplifiting and emotionally appealing.
For concrete examples, let’s look at this quote from Obama’s June 3 speech in Denver, and compare it with an example of the kind of speaking I’m talking about:
- Obama- “Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals.”
- My style- "At this hour of decision which weighs upon us and upon our world, we must decide who we are going to work for, we must decide, whose side we are on, and we must dedicate our lives on this day and every day for the Kingdom and the Glory of God. And that done, we cannot allow ourselves to spend one day, one hour, one minute of our lives, without doing something for God or neighbor. For though many, we are one. Though different and individual, we are united. Though we possess each our own gifts, we dedicate them all to the common purpose of building the Kingdom of God. We have been called a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people unto God, and so it will be we who the future looks back on, it will be we who those in need look up to, and most of all it will be we who God looks down upon, making sure that we remember Him; for our work, our memory, and our legacy, are ultimately His."
These two passages are very different in their content, but similar in form and underlying style. The greatest similarities are the use of repetition in phrasing (“This was the moment” vs. “It will be we”) and conjuring a sense of urgency, of importance. That is, a focus on the importance of the present moment, a here and now. And yet at the same time, a focus on the better future that awaits if we actually work for it in the present.
The nature of the foremost organizations, as I said in "Concepts", should be centralized. There will be one or two organizations which specifically ally with others to form one united Christian body. They will not necessarily work together in terms of projects or ad campaigns, but they will work together on a high level.
There must also be a broad coalition. There must be some diversity of less important views ideas. The focus cannot be on a partisan liberal vs. conservative divide. For example, “liberal” ideas like vegetarianism and environmental responsibility are going to be accepted and promoted, along with pro-life and pro-family views. The average person does not think liberal vs. conservative. They have their views, and they must not feel pushed away or disenfranchised, or hit with claims of "liberal bias," "fascism," or the like. The coalition must have principles, but I do not think it can be rigidly identified with political conservatism.
Political arrangement of the central organization
Let’s go back once more to Barack Obama, or more broadly any political campaign. (Here’s where it gets interesting!) Political campaigns are both top-down and bottom-up. They have a central office, a central logo, a central statement, and of course a central candidate. But they also have offices in every small town in America, where volunteers from schools electioneer and teach passers-by about the political climate and why their specific candidate must be elected. Of course, there is no true political component to the Awakening, at least in terms of a presidential election.
But there is an extremely valuable lesson to be learned from a presidential campaign, and Barack Obama’s especially. Barack Obama compiled huge email lists and was able to send alerts to millions of people. He was able not just to get the votes of half the nation, but to mobilize the nation behind him. To be effective, we have to learn from this. The Awakening may feature both a central office and multiple local ministries and coalitions affiliated directly, indirectly, or nominally with the central organization.
Importance of the media
Another extremely important aspect is the media. There must be a professional ad campaign behind the Awakening. We must also learn how to get media attention. There is already a substantial Christian media, which we can mobilize and utilize, but we must bill ourselves as mainstream as well. In order for our movement to be truly sweeping, the newspapers and news shows are going to have to feature it.
But when we fail to garner media attention, that’s where the ad campaign comes in. If they don't give you publicity, make it yourself. Internet ads, radio ads, “salvation phonelines”, bill boards, and cable television ads are all going to play an indispensable role. There is one more kind of ad which is relatively rare, which I also see being a substantial part of the ad campaign: “bulletin board” ads. These are inexpensive ads created on graphic designing software that can be printed out and placed in churches, on bulletin boards, and in public places. This is an inexpensive way to get a message out, transmit a simple lesson, or advertise for a specific cause or website.
Specific functions of the centralized organization
What are the functions of this centralized organization? Will it bill itself as a force in a Great Awakening, will it even be founded by those who believe in a coming Awakening? For the last two questions, no, yes. For the first, let’s investigate.
The organization will act as a sponsor and headquarters for local ministries, for example one working for Christian unity among individual congregations, and the social ministries I mentioned above. But the actual execution of these ministries will be on a more local level.
The major function of the centralized organization is going to be sponsoring what I call “projects” instead of ministries. These are larger, high-profile activities such as large scale boycotts, nationwide tours, and the like. Their focus will be to gain media coverage and to reach large amounts of people. An example is something I have thought of that I call the "Faith Tour": a nationwide tour of large buses presenting evidence for Christianity and the existence of God. So let’s add a new line to our slogan: The style of Barack Obama, the substance of the Gospel, and the media genius of Disney. With all that, there can be a well-publicized, sweeping Christian revival in our nation.
Keeping the Awakening going: The challenge we will face
So we have our rough plan:
- An organization or set of organizations operating both top-down and bottom-up
- An ad campaign and other means of garnering media attention
- Preaching the Gospel in a relevant, modern, appealing, uplifting way, without watering it down
- A focus on ministry and outreach
But how long can this revival last, and how can it be kept going? Will it even be great enough for people to identify a time when it began and ended; will it end, and should it?
The great challenge we face is not getting the Awakening started- history and the current leanings of society are behind us. The challenge is keeping the movement going once it begins- that is, to make it timeless- more a permanment change in society than a passing revival of fervor. In order to find out how to do this, let’s investigate similar movements that have already ended.
Old movements and why they didn't last
Since we have drawn from the Obama Campaign, we should investigate it. Its style and means of mobilizing supporters were very effective, and we will need to make use of them. It got going because of that. It ended because it had to end. It was put up against a deadline, like all political campaigns. Every four years people come together and get excited, and then on November 5th (this year) it's all forgotten.
The lesson to carry away here is to not base the Awakening on time limits, make specific predictions, or put a fixed duration on the most successful activities. We must let the Gospel do its job, and not place artificial time barriers of any kind on it. We cannot impose limits on the Gospel.
The 1950s are renowned as a time when traditional values and morals were practiced. Political policies aside, the moral character of society was probably more conservative, while the backlash against these values in the 1960s was liberal.
Why did the '50s give way to such completely opposite and harmful ideas? Why are these ideas still popular today? The 1950s were (this is important) not based enough on Christian values- the behavioral standards were set by unwritten societal rules, which, if transgressed, gave someone a bad name. The actual standards were largely right, but they were based on the wrong foundation. The '50s were a house of rock built on a foundation of sand.
The liberal backlash of the '60s and '70s carried with it the Sexual Revolution, feminism, legalized abortion, and in general a message of "liberation" and freedom. Of course the backlash was not right either. The liberation and freedom it offered were in sin, and sin is slavery, not freedom.
The point is this: we must clearly convey that the Gospel provides true freedom, and we must judge all conduct by the Gospel, not by other standards. The Gospel is timeless. Before the foundation of the world was the Word, and He shall remain when the heavens and the earth have passed away. Our substantive foundation must be the Gospel alone, not societal whims which will inevitably be replaced with opposing societal whims.
The focus on the Gospel is so important because it is the message that truly fills us. One trend gets boring, and contains in itself the opposing backlash. But the Gospel is not a trend; it is the objective and eternal code of behavior and message of salvation. When properly preached, it will satisfy much of the need for something new.
In short, the Awakening must be more than a movement. It must be a centralized, unified effort to continually preach the Gospel in an appealing, relevant, and absolutely faithful manner. It will be an impetus and an occasion for an effort towards Christian unity never before seen. It will bring Christianity proudly into the public square once again. It will satisfy the wants and the needs of those who are overlooked and forgotten by the government and society, and of those who cry out for help and receive no answer. It shall once again make heard the voice of Jesus, "Behold, I am coming soon," to which His faithful shall reply, "Come, Lord Jesus."
The Awakening must also:
- Not focus on durations, or use time limits very much at all
- Focus on the Gospel and always base its message clearly and solidly in the Gospel alone, which is alone unchanging
- Bill itself as the true answer to our desires and need, and the true object of our faith. Our love is hurt, our trust is broken, our faith runs out. Yet we still hope. The Awakening, through the Gospel, must once again claim our faith and hope, but truly deliver.
The specific purpose and vision of the Awakening: what exactly will it do?
In discussing other elements of the Awakening, I have already mentioned several goals and objectives. Here, however, I list them cohesively, and also add some not previously mentioned.
- Christian unity: A new Great Awakening will both require and be an impetus to a renewed effort towards Christian unity. By this I mean more than holding hands and singing Kumbaya. I mean inter-denominational discussions, and opportunities for all Christians to work together, inspire each other’s faith, and ultimately reduce and eliminate the unfortunate barriers that exist in the Body of Christ.
- National renewal: Not only will we borrow rhetoric and organization from politics, but we should also work towards realizing the vision of an election year. What with the promises of change and betterment and the eradication of poverty, the American people feel empowered, if only between August and November. We feel that these goals really might be reached. I think a Christian revival should work towards these goals, and through the Gospel, truly empower the average person, and let them know that they can contribute to a better future- even if they do so little as eat or drink for the glory of God. One day, I hope that the media, that our political system, that our schools, and that Americans- and people from all the ends of the earth- will be transformed.
- Legitimization and mainstreaming of Christianity: Of course Christianity is legitimate already-in fact, most Americans are Christians- but we must make Christianity legitimate and mainstream in the general public eye and in the media. Christianity must become, in the public eye, something like a corporation. You think “Wal-Mart,” you think “Always low prices.” When someone thinks “Christianity” they should think something like “Forgiveness” or “Kindness” or some other positive idea. Thus the ad campaign discussed above will advertise not only a single Christian organization, not only a handful of Christian ministries or projects, but it must advertise Christianity itself.
Mission statements, slogans and examples
Mission statements and slogans
- The style of Barack Obama, the substance of the Gospel, and the media genius of Disney
- Devoutly Christian, thoroughly modern (In reference to being both Christian and mainstream)
- How can we preach from the rooftops if we don’t enter the city? How can we be the leaven if we are not part of the bread? (In reference to the tendency to form a Christian enclave to the point of not going out into the world and preaching the Gospel)
- Those whom we would first criticize, are those whom we must first help (In reference to the focus on love and forgiveness as opposed to condemnation)
- Change is not static. It is an ongoing process through which we conform ourselves to God, and so transform the world (Speaking of the process of conversion and spiritual change)
More examples of our style
On beginning a new phase of the Christian mission
...And when all this seems too great to achieve, let us remember, that it has been done before. In the beginning, 12 men, inspired by having known our Savior personally, embarked on a mission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and it was not 200 years before this tiny sect began to become influential. When a new world was discovered, missionaries sailed with haste and fervor to distant, foreign lands to preach the truth, and all too often to shed their blood for it- and their sacrifice and blood have not gone to waste! And many times throughout our history, there has been a priest or preacher who challenges the status quo, an elderly man who gives a little more in the basket than he thinks he can afford, a street preacher who changes the mind of a criminal or a sinful man. And whether we know it or not, all of these contribute to a better future. And so can we.
Let us remember what has been done in the past through Him, let us know that we may do the same. Let us remember that one drop of martyrs’ blood has converted nations, the prayers, and tears, and works, the faith, the hope, and the love, of countless individuals, have effected change, and conversion in the lives of countless others...and so can ours! Because when we join ourselves with God, and with each other, there is no limit to the worth and efficacy of every single word of kindness or caring gesture. There is no limit to what we can do through, with, and in Christ our Lord.
Don’t let anybody’s detractions or criticisms limit your abilities, or dampen your ambitions. Don’t let them tell you, that there is anything you can’t do, through Christ who strengthens us. Don’t let them tell you, that you can’t stand up, and put aside the doldrums of everyday life, and change the world! We know that God will not let our works and hopes amount to nothing, we know that if we follow the Christian example, if we take control of our lives instead of our lives controlling us, if we dedicate every day, every work, every breath and heartbeat to the glory of God- that He will use us to do unimaginable things.
Prayer is a very important thing- indeed, a gift. Prayer, is the tool which God has given us, to connect with Him, and talk with Him, and help us to realize that while He is the supreme and most splendorous being in the universe, He is merciful and caring enough to listen to our voices, and hear our requests. When in pain, we may receive some comfort; when we are down, just a little assurance. A feeling, a sense, perhaps even a voice, so intangible that we can’t pinpoint it, yet so real we could never deny it.
Prayer, indeed, is one of the great means we have at our disposal to bring about change and conversion in our society. Prayer is the gift which has opened the hardest hearts, the blessing which has softened the blindest anger. It is the instrument by which some indescribable sense of protection and love has alighted upon some person in need, the tool used by missionaries and evangelists to help every soul they meet to be better disposed to the Truth. And while we can’t trace its path or measure its efficacy, we believe, we know- indeed we have been promised- that prayer is indeed all these.
From the record crowds of millions drawn by Pope John Paul II, to the simple, timeless testimony of Christine Cloud, we must shout our message and declare our heroes and saints from the rooftops. Change is coming.
From Christ’s declaration of Saint Peter as the Rock of the Church, to the writing of the Gospels, to the missionary effort in the New World; and from the man who holds open a door, to the child who gives a dime or a quarter to the homeless man, to the boy who listens to and comforts a girl in pain, to the everyday person who says to another everyday person “God bless you”- the Church is growing, the influence of Christ in the world is growing, and the time for a renewal of evangelism and outreach is at hand.
Jesus is coming again. He will come some day in glory to judge the living and the dead, but in the meantime, He comes everyday through us- He visits the prisoner through a prayer or prison ministry associate; He clothes the naked and feeds the hungry and gives drink to the thirsty through soup kitchens and consignment shops and charities; He shelters the homeless and buries the dead and visits the sick through good Christians all across our nation every day- and as often as these good Christians have done these works- through Christ- they have, indeed, done them unto Him.
And so let us pray, let us hope, let us believe, let us love, let us be absolutely certain that the power to renew the faith and transform our world lies in us, through Christ. Let us pray that He will guide us and unite us and employ us in building and renewing His Church. And let us say, let us pray, with confidence and faith and absolute and loving submission to our Lord and Savior, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of God’s people. Amen.
Resources, Similar Projects, Websites
- Catholic Bridge: http://www.davidmacd.com/catholic/index2.htm (Explanations of Catholic teaching, with an eye towards reconciling Catholicism and Evangelicalism)
- http://www.fifthgreatawakening.blogspot.com (Blog about such a proposed "Fifth Great Awakening)
- http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0310/p09s01-coop.html (Article containing a premise opposite to this essay, but containing some similar insights)