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Great Awakening: Is a new one taking place outside the West? November 16, 2009
 

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By Ken Camp
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Members of a Messianic Jewish congregation in Almaty, Kazakhstan, worship at
a Saturday-evening service.

DALLAS (ABP) -- Some observers of religion assert a socially transforming
spiritual movement is sweeping the globe, resulting in 82,000 conversions to
Christianity a day. But only 6,000 of them are in Europe and North America.

"I believe we are in the midst of a great spiritual awakening. But when it’s
mentioned in the United States, it’s generally met with blank stares,
because it’s not happening here,” said Jim Denison, president of the Center
for Informed Faith, based in Dallas.

Denison, theologian-in-residence with the Baptist General Convention of
Texas, believes “there is a Fifth Great Awakening occurring in our world
today.”

Some historians debate whether two, three or four awakenings have occurred
previously, and Denison has no interest in splitting hairs over the number.
He’s more concerned about why it’s happening now in the developing world and
not in Western Europe and North America.

* *

*Common conditions*

In a nutshell, he sees two conditions common to previous awakenings --
concentrated prayer and a tremendous sense of desperation.

“In the United States, we’re not desperate enough -- at least, not yet,” he
said. “We live in a culture that views God as a hobby.”
Rebecca Niogotsi (center) and other members of Sharon Baptist Church in
Pampierstad, South Africa sing and dance outside after worship..

Spiritual awakenings “always seem to start in small groups,” church
historian Alan Lefever observed, noting that spiritual movements often begin
in Bible study groups or small prayer groups.

But the groups of Christians don’t stay small. When the First Great
Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s swept through colonial America, altars
filled with penitent sinners who responded to the appeals of George
Whitefield and to sermons such as Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of
an Angry God.” Some historians assert up to 80 percent of the colonial
population became identified with a Christian church during the period.

During the Second Great Awakening of the early 1800s, Baptists and
Methodists in the United States doubled in size, Lefever noted.

“The numbers say something significant happened,” said Lefever, director of
the Texas Baptist Historical Collection. Spiritual awakening results in
increased religious interest, and that is reflected in numerical growth, he
said.

* *

*Social transformation *

Positive societal change also marks genuine spiritual awakening, Lefever
noted.

“In the Second Great Awakening, bars closed, and houses of ill repute shut
their doors,” he said, adding the change in moral climate generally was not
legislated. “People quit going to those places.”

Denison similarly points to two marks that distinguish spiritual awakening
from localized revival: “Awakening is an enduring movement, as opposed to a
single specific event. And awakening is a spiritual movement that produces
social transformation. It’s across society, not just in a single community.”

Clearly, the First Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening met both
criteria. Beyond that, historians and students of spiritual awakening lack
consensus.

Some church historians trace the beginnings of a Third Great Awakening to
the businessmen’s prayer movement that produced 1 million Christian converts
in 1858. During the Civil War, about 100,000 soldiers came to faith in
Christ.

Others claim the Third Great Awakening began in the late 1800s and ushered
in the Progressive Era and the Social Gospel movement. Social reforms such
as child-labor laws and the anti-alcohol movement grew out of that
atmosphere.

The spiritual movement that swept through Wales in 1904 may have been a
continuation of that awakening. Or, according to some experts, it may have
been a Fourth Great Awakening.

Other observers assert a Fourth Great Awakening occurred in the mid-20th
century, beginning with the youth revival movement after World War II and
continuing through the rise of the Jesus Movement and charismatic renewal.
Two former Muslims pray to Jesus in Nairobi, Kenya.

*
*

*Hunger for justice*

Count evangelical social activist Jim Wallis among that group. And he
believes the time is ripe for another socially transforming spiritual
movement in the United States.

“I regard the black church’s leadership of the Civil Rights Movement in the
1950s and 1960s as another ‘great awakening’ of faith that changed
politics,” he writes in *The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a
Post-Religious Right America*.

Wallis stresses the link between spiritual renewal and social justice.

“Two of the great hungers in our world today are the hunger for spirituality
and the hunger for social justice,” Wallis writes. “The connection between
the two is the one the world is waiting for, especially the new generation.
And the first hunger will empower the second.”

Wallis points out that, during 19th century American evangelist Charles
Finney’s altar calls, when new converts expressed their faith in Christ, he
also enlisted them to work for the abolition of slavery.

* *

*Justice Revivals*

Wallis hopes a series of what he's calling “Justice Revivals” can recapture
that marriage of spiritual dynamism and social justice. The first citywide
event, involving more than 40 churches in Columbus, Ohio, birthed
church-based employment services in areas plagued by poverty and
unemployment, he noted.

Another Justice Revival scheduled Nov. 10-12 in Dallas has been endorsed by
churches across the theological and political spectrum, including leaders of
the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Dallas Baptist Association and
Dallas Baptist University.

Organizers hope the event will inspire at least 200 churches to create
partnerships with public schools and advocate for 700 new permanent housing
units for the city’s homeless population.

Both aspects -- spiritual grounding in prayer and worship, along with
concrete acts of social justice -- are essential, Wallis noted.

“Apart from the accountability of a commitment to social justice,
spirituality can too easily become narcissistic. It can become spirituality
as a commodity serving only me,” Wallis explained in an interview.

“On the other hand, social activism that exists without it being grounded in
spiritual soil can degenerate into despair that leads to frustration, anger,
hatred and even violence.”

Reflecting on Denison’s observation about prayer and desperation being
conditions common to previous awakenings, Wallis suggested desperation
exists in the United States, and prayers have been offered, but the two have
not been wedded.

“Maybe we haven’t been praying about the things we ought to be desperate
about,” he said.
An evangelical church in Nairobi, Kenya, attracts thousands of worshipers
every Sunday.

*
*

*No easy recipe *

While students of revivals believe certain conditions lead to genuine
spiritual movements, they emphasize great awakenings cannot be manufactured.

In the United States, nothing in the 20th century -- or so far in the 21st
century -- has matched the early great awakenings, Lefever observed. He
believes in part the tendency of over-analysis -- “dissecting how the Lord
is moving” -- may have played a role.

“No one in the middle of a spiritual awakening ever says it is a spiritual
awakening,” he said.

But in recent decades, some Christians have been so quick to try to
replicate results and find a formula for spiritual success that they may
have squelched genuine renewal, he asserted.

“We want cookie-cutter everything. If XYZ works in one church, we think
anybody who does it will have the same results,” Lefever said.

* *

*Different cultures*

Perhaps even the way spiritual awakening is defined should be reexamined.

The social transformation that accompanies renewal in one part of the world
may look totally different on the other side of the globe, Baptist World
Alliance General Secretary Neville Callam said.

The “ripples are easier to see” in some societies than in others, he noted.

“We cannot tell God how to operate,” Callam said.

Whether they ultimately will be seen as great awakenings may best be judged
in hindsight, but unmistakably, the church is “on fire” and experiencing
tremendous growth in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, he noted.

In Argentina and Brazil, young people have been the first to embrace the
movement of the Holy Spirit, he pointed out, suggesting perhaps they feel
less apprehension than their elders about the negative baggage of
Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement.

“We do not need to fear the Spirit,” Callam said. “After all, is he not the
third person of the Trinity?”

Ken Camp <kenc...@baptiststandard.com>This e-mail address is being
protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it is
managing editor of the Texas *Baptist Standard*.

--
Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.
First Baptist Church of Pocasset
Post Office Box 1080
Pocasset, MA 02559
Church: 508-563-3164
Fax: 508-563-3020
www.pocassetbaptist.org


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