Lateral Thinking about Revivals


In order to pursue this subject, it will be necessary to develop personal study habits, if you do not already possess these. These habits of study and of thinking should be brought under the umbrella of your private devotional prayer habits.

Regarding book materials, it will be necessary to start building a small personal library of books relating to the subjects under review, and also be involved in the use of a local public library. Today, theological libraries owned by any of the denominations are generally public libraries, but, if you are not close to one of these, or if the cost of obtaining borrowing rights from it is too great, you will need to use the services of a general public library. Your church may have a little library which can be pressed into use also.

A Basis for Lateral Thinking.

No form of creative thinking is possible without a good basis of knowledge in the subjects about which one hopes to do this creative, lateral thinking. Several factors are required.

Learning the Bible, and about Theology and Revivals.

As a starting point, it is necessary to make sure that you have as good a knowledge as you can of :-

(a.) the contents of the Bible, and of

(b.) the various parts of evangelical theology.

Some knowledge of the overall features of Christian church history would also be very useful. Really, no amount of knowledge of these subjects is too great to possess, or is too large a burden to carry.

Next, a good knowledge is needed of the whole range of subjects relating to evangelical revival movements, and the great awakenings. So, you are directed to the other study leaflets in this series which open up the various aspects of the whole subject of evangelical revivals. These include:-

(c.) What is a revival?

(d.) Revivals in the Bible.

(e.) The modern history of revivals.

(f.) Prayer and revivals.

(g.) Revivals as a force to transform society.

(h.) Theological factors related to revivals.

(i.) Psychological factors.

(j.) Counterfeits, deceptions and problem areas.

(k.) Literature about revivals.

(l.) Revivals and the history of missionary work.

The most important of these is point (g.), where revivals are considered as a transformer of society. Once again, no amount of knowledge in any of these areas is too much to store in your mind, or keep for reference.

World-View Philosophy.

The second general area which is needed to lay a foundation for lateral and creative thinking about revivals is to become acqainted with world-view philosophy. Every thinking person in the world, as well as most of those who do not think, perform their life's functions on the basis of a world-view.

A world-view is a set of ideas about the nature of things, and the purpose for our existence. This set of ideas provides the framework for our daily outlook on the world, and determines what we do. A world-view contains many assumptions and beliefs, as well as many things we know to be true. Many people, regrettably, do not analyse their outlook on religion and life. They do not think enough about serious matters, and they do not realise the fallacies and mistakes in their own outlook. Perhaps, for many, it is easier for them to recognise what they don't like about the opinions of others than to be enlightened about the short-comings and stupidity of their own views.

All world-views contain a number of basic components. Most basic of all in any world-view is some set of religious ideas about whether or not there is a God, thoughts about what this God might be like, thoughts about life after death, and some views about the ultimate nature of things. World-views also contain a system of values, and opinions about what is right and wrong. This will lead a person in judging what they think is important, and what they should do with their lives. The world-view will also provide them with the reasons for all these views.

World-views also contain some political opinions, and views about what society should be like, and how it should be changed. So, implied in this are opinions about human nature, education, health, and many other aspects of life on earth.

The purpose behind this part of the exercise is for you to discover what you believe, and why, and to become critical about your own ideas, opinions and beliefs. Firstly, you may be able to improve your own world-view. Secondly, you have a better chance of realistically thinking creatively about the world at large, how evangelical revivals can play a role in the world, and what you can do about it.

For some helpful reading matter, a simpler introduction to world-view philosophy is found in Colin Chapman's "Christianity on Trial."

Another excellent source is Albert Schweitzer's "The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization.", and his "Civilization and Ethics." These two books are published separately, but have recently appeared combined under the title "The Philosophy of Civilization." (The first of these titles is much easier to read, unless you have a grasp of general philosophy. Schweitzer's approach was that of a rationalist, but the questions he poses, and the possible answers he discusses, are of great importance in the modern world.)

Other excellent introductions are found in the following three books, which are all written from a Christian stance. Schaeffer's book also appeared as a television series.

The present author also prepared a "desk-top" production some years ago, entitled "An Evangelical World-View Philosophy", which covers areas from the theory of knowledge and the philosophy of science through to revivals as a transformer of society, seeking to make a unified view overall. Copies can be purchased upon request to the author, as the book was not "published."

Comments upon the Impact of World-Views

Since about 1500, the forces flowing from the Renaissance, and especially from the Protestant Reformation, have produced a number of world-views. Within Protestant circles, the main group of these world-views has given rise to the first elected parliamentary democracies in the modern world. Pre-Reformation ways of thinking tended to create despotisms, autocracies, military dictatorships, and, generally, governments which were not responsible to the people.

Today, most people around the world want to live in such a democracy, although the previous history in many countries does not provide a good basis for the practice of such forms of government. Many countries, nevertheless, try to copy some version of the governmental institutions in the United Kingdom, and the United States, with more or less success.

The European Enlightenment, which Schweitzer rejoiced in so much, has been influenced by the Reformation far more than its spokes-persons realised. But, Schweitzer was emphatic that the kind of world-view needed to hold the world together in these modern times is one which will give solid reasons for people to believe that life and the world are worthwhile, and which also provides a reasonable basis for a system of values, and for beliefs about what is right and wrong, which can unify people around the world.

The ability of these world-views to unify the world depends upon them being believed and practised by enough people worldwide.

Schweitzer thought that if enough people around the world could be got to embrace similar outlooks which placed great value on life and the world, it would provide a basis for civilization to progress, instead of destroying itself, as has tended to happen so much in the Twentieth Century.

The major wars of the Twentieth Century, and the enormous price paid in the destruction of human life and property, along with the enormous destructive power of modern weaponry, has placed a high price on peace. So, it is even more important now than it was in Schweitzer's time, for us to have a common basis of understanding which will enable us to live together. This basis comes from world-view philosophy, and the religious and ethical foundation which lays underneath every world-view.

Special Attention to Certain Areas of Thought

As my "Evangelical World-View Philosophy" shows, there are certain areas of thought which require much more attention than others.

(a.) The first of these is bound up in the theological issue of "Faith and Reason", or, to describe it another way, it is found in understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology. There is a long history of attempts to solve this problem, down through the history of theology.

The key issue is in showing that God is known to exist, with the same degree of certainty, and on the same basis, that anything else can be shown to be true. For the Christian, it is necessary that the God Who is shown to exist is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and not simply any God at all.

A second part of this issue is to show that the witness to God, and to Christ, in the New Testament, is known to be true, in the same kind of way.

Once these issues have been explored, and solved, a solid basis exists for the truth of the system of Values, and the standards which determine what is right and wrong, which are found in the New Testament.

The solution of this group of problems then provides a challenge for "unbelief", and for other major religions like Islam and Hinduism, as well as cults and minor religions, which become shown up as not having the quality of intellectual foundations possessed by the Christian message, and therefore as not having reasons why anyone should believe them.

(b.) The second area needing emphasis is the theory of human nature, and of human sin. Thankfully, this has been largely explored earlier in the 1900s by the American Lutheran theologian, Reinhold Neibuhr, who showed why all the atheistic and secular outlooks on life and the world, as well as many of the religious ones, fall seriously short in this area of thought. English Puritan theologians were also strong in these areas.

(c.) A third area requiring much attention is Christian social theory, and the practice of justice in the human situation. Some theologians in recent times have contributed well to this area, such as the brother of Reinhold, H. Richard Niebuhr. An older contributor to this area, who is well worth much study, is the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.

Of course, much of what passes for social theory in the modern world is blatantly humanistic, and has limited use for a Christian. It is also of doubtful quality as a remedy for the ills of modern society. A Christian sociologist, or social worker in any area, has to re-think his or her whole outlook on the subject, in order to practise Christianity, and be a professional, at the same time.

Although much work has been done recently in the areas of justice, and social theory, from a Christian point of view, a good deal of it has not taken evangelical theology seriously, having used other types of Christian theology as its starting point. As a result., it has not been as useful as it might have been to anyone seeking to be an evangelical.

Most Lateral Thinking Will Be Done In Smaller, Detailed Areas.

What has been said so far simply puts down the foundation for the main task, which is to think creatively, prayerfully and laterally, about the parts of life and the world with which you have to deal, and in which your expertise might be found.

This will occur in many smaller areas of concern, from detailed matters from daily existence, politics, government, economics, business practice, education, law, medicine, art, aged care, bringing up children at home, running and feeding a family, agriculture and food production, protecting the environment, investment practices, banking, sport, entertainment, supporting efforts for refugees, famine relief, international aid, military concerns, national defense, police work, crime prevention, and drug rehabilitation, to all the areas of academic and scientific research.

It is not fair to say "You are now out on your own!" But, you certainly have the task in front of you, in doing what you can for God, and for the world He loved so much.

A Modern Sickness - Too Much Specialisation.

The day is long past, of course, when one person could know everything that it was possible to know. Particularly in the last one hundred and fifty years, the sum total of human knowledge has been increasing at an enormous rate. At the end of the Twentieth Century, human knowledge seems to double in quantity every few years.

One result of this great increase in knowledge is that people have to specialise in small areas, and become experts in subjects which are only a tiny part of the whole. When a student attempts a Doctor of Philosophy degree, and has to make an original contribution to human knowledge, the result usually is that the student has to concentrate on ever smaller areas of knowledge, and go into greater detail in that smaller area.

World-View Philosophy teaches us, that, while this increasing specialisation may be inevitable, it is also bad in certain ways. A result is so often that a person has good knowledge about one subject, but knows next to nothing about almost everything else. This is very undesirable, if we are to learn wisdom, which requires perspective and balance. When the Scriptures tell us that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", a blow is being dealt in favour of breadth and truth, more than specialisation and being ignorant of many parts and areas of life. Over-specialisation does not yield truth or wisdom in the way these things are needed in the modern world.

So, do not be content with being a specialist in one area, either in our life's work, or in our thinking or reading. The Christian should be a wide and perceptive reader, and go as deep as time and opportunity will allow.

Judged By The Word of God.

Whatever we do in the future, however, whether in thought, practice, or both, we must return again and again to the Word of God, for God to judge what we are thinking and doing. This is one of the great principles of the Protestant Reformation which ought never to be lost sight of.

There will always be imperfections, and room for improvement. We will never reach finality this side of the judgment day. And Saint Paul's word to us will always be true, that, whatever we achieve, we should not think of ourselves any higher than we ought to think, and should always prefer others as better than ourselves. The things of lasting value in the Kingdom of God will be gracious gifts of the Spirit of God, which have not become too spoiled by our muddling efforts.

A Heresy!

While there can be no doubt that some people have more talent than others do, in being able to think creatively or laterally, the ability to think like this is nevertheless largely a matter of hard work and practise. There is the old saying about creative work of many kinds, that it involves two percent inspiration, and ninety-eight percent perspiration. This is definitely true for lateral thinking, whether this relates to thinking about revivals and the work of God, or about any other part of life.


In reviewing what has been said so far, we have perhaps recognised four areas which require much attention if lateral thinking about evangelical revivals is to proceed properly.

1. We have looked at the need for the Christian to have a good knowledge of the Bible, which is fundamental to all Christian growth and holiness, according to Protestant views of the Christian life.

To think about revivals profitably, a good knowledge of Christian theology is also needed. The best knowledge one can get of church history, in all its aspects, will also be very valuable.

2. World-View Philosophy provides an overall context, to help our ability to be wise. This not really an optional extra, as many people might be inclined to think. Everybody has a world-view, whether they are aware of it, or not. People pick up their world-view almost with their mother's milk, and include in it many of their parents' beliefs and prejudices, the rest coming from the various winds which blow in their culture and community. It is important to convert this uncritical kind of world-view into one which has been thought about, and prayed about. This is part of what it means to be "born again". A Christian has to learn to submit his or her entire outlook on life, and everything to be done, to the Lordship of Christ, and obedience to the Scriptures. So, this part of our preparation for lateral thinking is very important.

3. The third area of concern is the one which applies to our daily responsibilities, and the expertise that we gain from qualifications, work and experience. The Christian has to learn how to submit all of this to the Lordship of Christ, and how to practise all of the fruit of the Holy Spirit wherever the Christian is in the world. This, again, is of vital importance, and helps to save us from being "Sunday Christians", or Christians in theory only.

4. The last area is that involved in making sure we are not experts in one small area of life or knowledge, and with little or no understanding or other areas, or of as many of them as we can inform ourselves about somewhat. (a.) It helps us to undersatnd other people who are very different from ourselves. Also, (b.) it helps us to be wise, and gain a wider picture of life, and of reality.

Even owning, and reading parts of, a reasonable encyclopaedia, can help us to know what areas of life and experience are covered by other disciplines of enquiry which might not fit into our normal experience. But owning modest books on various disciplines can be even more helpful.

Imagine a micro-biologist, and the areas of expertise such a person might have. It is important for such a person to have some insights into other areas, such as art, aged care, personel management, business management, social work, etc., etc. The list could go on and on.

Again, someone whose learning and experience has been more in the direction of the humanities really needs to know something about how the scientific method actually works in practice, how a scientist tries to act like a detective in doing his research into new areas of enquiry, and so on. After all, the scientific method is used slightly differently in each of the disciplines.

Many who work in one area of science, for example, make the fundamental mistake of thinking that the scientific method, as it is practised in physics and chemistry, is also practised in the other disciplines in exactly the same way. Some imagine that the degrees of certainty which can be achieved in physics or mathematics can also be reproduced in the other disciplines. Nothing could be further from the truth, or be more misleading.

This means that Christians should learn a little of the basic principles and concerns in many scientific areas, such as physics, chemistry, astrophysics, cosmology, geology, biology, sociology, psychology, mathematics, and historical thinking, as well as in the more "applied" types of enquiry such as criminology, medicine, engineering, military science, agriculture, etc.

Anyone, regardless of their expertise, needs to know enough to make informed judgments on the great moral questions, and social problems, facing the modern world. That is part of our Christian responsibility. If we happen to agree with the prevailing social and economic theories that nations use at present, our acceptance of them should not be uncritical, and we should be aware of the shortcomings in these theories.

Particularly, we should be aware of ways in which the prevailing trends in our society use inadequate understandings of human nature, and ignore the deep-rooted nature of human sin. Most societies today see human nature as such that the problems of society can be lessened by secular education. While this may be true, to some degree, the Christian view of the corruption and sinfulness of the human heart has been lost in such a context. The value of the "new birth" is ignored, and the power of God is not taken into account at all.

So, width of knowledge is very important for a Christian, quite apart from any use it might have for a purely secular society.

Prepared by Rev. Robert Evans OAM