The Literature Relating to Revivals

Part One. General Considerations

When one considers the literature relating to the entire history of evangelical awakenings and revivals, it is very difficult to make any more than very general comments, when we are considering the trends, peculiarities and features of this literature, and the extent to which it might be available now to anyone who wishes to study parts of it.

More detailed statements can more easily be made only when we make in-depth studies of particular individuals who feature in the story, or when we are much more selective about which happening or movement we are going to consider.

Before 1700

It was about the year 1700 that the subject of evangelical revivals and awakenings became identifiable as a distinct and separate matter of concern. Before this, if one wished to find out what various people thought about the substance of revivals it was necessary to look at the various theological subjects which are related, such as the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, or the teachings and practices in Christian living emphasised by the notable saints who lived in the period. Or, one could try to isolate factors which might tell us something about the impact of the Gospel on the society of the day.

Thus, if one wished to benefit from a study of the Lollard movement in England to discover to what extent it might be classed as an evangelical revival, the whole range of available literature would need to be studied, especially information about the theology of John Wycliffe, the impact that his translation of the Bible had on individuals, and on English society in many parts of the country, the extent to which copies of the Scriptures were spread around, the impact of the Lollard preachers, and the efforts made by the various authorities to persecute them.

If one wished to study the Protestant Reformation in order to find out to what extent it could be called an evangelical awakening or revival, it would again be necessary to look at the relevant doctrinal teachings of the various reformers, and the Anabaptists, and others who were considered to be even more extreme. Then one would need to try to trace the spread of their teachings, and to make a judgment about how widespread evangelical conversion experiences were, as a result, and to what extent these things influenced the societies in which they occurred..

The same study could be made of the Catholic Counter Reformation, especially looking into the impact of men like Ignatius Loyola on the spiritual experiences of others. Protestant Evangelicals might not look upon this as an example of evangelicalism, but such matters would, nevertheless, need to be classed as a very significant area of Christian experience.

The main body of English Puritan literature, also, does not talk about "revival". The powerful writings of John Owen about the Holy Spirit, for example, do not raise the subject of "revival" in the way we might do it today, although he speaks at length about all the relevant aspects of the subject in other ways. Despite this, very fruitful studies have been written by people like Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones and Dr. J. I. Packer, which see Puritanism as a great movement of revival.

Revivals of the Eighteenth Century

With the great and widespread movements of God which occurred in the Eighteenth Century, however, we begin to see the appearance of a vast range of literature, including many different types of writings, which relate to these revivals, in one way or another.

Richard Owen Roberts' massive bibliography "Whitefield in Print" reveals a huge range of materials of many kinds, on many aspects of the Great Awakening. There are also many Methodist works which contain a wealth of bibliographic details about the Methodist movements of the period. These, perhaps, receive their ultimate expression in Kenneth E. Rowe's unfinished "Methodist Union Catalog." Another interesting relevant publication is the bibliography "Anti-Methodist Publications Issued During the Eighteenth Century." prepared by Richard Green.

If, however, we speak of the more popular books which received the widest circulation, and had the greatest influence, we would have to speak about the many biographical writings of the period, books of sermons, pamphlets issued in the course of arguments about contentious matters, and early magazines issued to spread stories of the revivals, as they happened in different parts of the world.

Revivals in the Nineteenth Century

In this century, again, an enormous variety of materials relevant to various aspects of the revivals of the period were published. The whole range has not been dealt with in an adequate manner, so far as bibliographies are concerned.

The best effort so far at an adequate bibliography largely relevant to the Nineteenth Century has again been prepared by Richard Owen Roberts. It is entitled "An Annotated Bibliography of Revival Literature." This bibliography is a mine of information, listing over 6,000 titles. Roberts discusses why he chose some titles, and not others, in his Introduction. In this selection of which titles to include he made a greater emphasis on the spiritual factors involved in revivals. An academic historian would probably have produced a much larger and diverse list, more multi-disciplinary in nature, but might have missed, or under-emphasised, some of the spiritual aspects which Roberts has managed to include.

Apart from this publication, students will have to forage for information about relevant publications in the bibliographies which have been appended to other publications which relate to the revivals of this period, and in more general bibliographic resources. Examples of such lists are found in many recent publications, especially the ones of better academic quality.

Twentieth Century Revivals

Students of revivals in this later period are more dependent again on the bibliographies which are appended to books about these revivals, and any other general lists of books that they can find. No general major bibliographic publication has been produced relating to revivals in the Twentieth Century, although the revivals in the first half of the century have been covered in a basic way in several of Dr. J. Edwin Orr's writings.

Thankfully, several bibliographies have now been published about Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement. For example, there is Watson E. Mills' "Charismatic Religion in Modern Research: A Bibliography." A modest number of other more limited bibliographies have also appeared to help us.

Part Two. Comments on Historiography

Historiography is the study of the way history has been written. It explores, for example, the different ways a certain subject has been analysed or understood, over a period of time.

For example, the Protestant Reformation was firstly understood as a certain kind of religious movement by the Protestants, but as a completely different kind of religious movement by the Catholics. Then, there came more secular understandings of the Reformation, when historians saw it as a movement of a more political nature, or as a power struggle between the German states and the Holy Roman Emperor. It was also seen as a part of an evolving struggle between church and state. It was also seen as a vehicle of changing social and economic structures, and as a factor in the rise of Capitalism. It was also seen as part of a widespread class conflict, and as a feature in the rise of German literature, culture, nationalism and militarism.

The Protestant Reformation also played a variety of roles in Switzerland, France, England, Scandinavia, and even in places like Italy and Spain.

An example of a publication which effectively lists a great many of the aspects and insights relating to the Reformation is the "Bibliography of the Continental Reformation: Materials Available in English." by Roland H. Bainton and Eric W. Gritsch.

Another publication which includes a collection of documents, entitled "The Reformation: Revival or Revolution?" edited by W. Stanford Reid, shows some of the approaches taken in recent times by major historians in trying to understand and portray the Reformation. So, it can provide an introduction to the historiography of the subject, and it also indicates where other insights can be found.

Thus, in more modern times, there is still a struggle to gain a balanced understanding as to what, exactly, the Protestant Reformation really was. So, the historiography relating to the Reformation is a complex, ongoing and developing story.

The historiography relevant to English Puritanism has been described at some length in the Introduction of Margo Todd's "Christian Humanism and the Puritan Social Order."

In referring to the Eighteenth Century, mention has been made of the vast range of literature about different aspects of revivals which were then available, but to discover how the history was being written, what emphasis was being made by the different writers, in what ways they might have presented a distorted picture, or served purely their own interests, it is necessary to look closer at the different bits of the story.

There is a very developed historiography about how the life of John Wesley should be understood. Much of this has been done by very competent Methodist historians.

Arnold Dallimore discusses the historiography applying to George Whitefield at the beginning of his definitive biography of Whitefield.

Each aspect of the revival story, and each person who was involved, has been treated differently by historians, and so what we now know about these persons and events has to be judged each on its own merits. To some we have been fairer than to others.

Overall, it should be said that "warm-hearted evangelicals" normally tended to have a sympathetic understanding of revivals, and wrote of them accordingly, whereas Christians who belonged to other strands of the Church, understood the revivals in other less favourable ways. And if an unbeliever wrote about the religious movement, then, other insights would probably be offered, and different aspects would be emphasised.

The Nineteenth Century

During the Nineteenth Century, revival movements occurred much more on a world-wide stage, as the Protestant evangelical Gospel was spread far and wide. Revivals affected most countries around the world, to some degree at least. The writings of Dr. J. Edwin Orr provided the initial literature and bibliographic resources about the world-wide nature of these movements.

The vast preponderance of existing literature about these revivals applies to happenings in English speaking countries, where many of the revivals took place. Many of the other revivals in other parts of the world happened as a result of the work of English or American missionaries, who published accounts at their home bases describing what God had done in their field of activity. Literature about Nineteenth Century revivals in languages other than English can be hard to trace, and there may not be much of it.

Generally, the revivals were ecumenical in nature, as was much of the evangelism which flowed from the revivals. Thus, most of the denominations benefited from these movements.

Roberts' "Annotated Bibliography", mentioned above, is much stronger on literature about American revivals, and to a lesser degree about revivals in the United Kingdom. It has very little about revivals in other countries, and even less about literature in languages other than English.

By the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, different schools of theology, and different approaches to the practice of revivals, had developed amongst evangelicals in the United States. They had arisen at first because of the influence of the first Great Awakening of 1742, and the impact of George Whitefield. Tensions between these schools became accentuated as the Nineteenth Century developed.

Various factors contributed to this tension. One was the widespread impact of Methodism in the United States, with its Arminian emphasis, and also the growing impact of the open-communion Baptist denominations, which were Arminian, as well.

Another important factor was the impact of the early ministry of Charles G. Finney. Related to this, Congregational, or "New England" theology, especially, went through an evolution, culminating in the theology of Nathaniel W. Taylor, which also increased the tensions with many of the Presbyterians, who were trying to be faithful to the Westminster Confession, as they then understood it.

Iain H. Murray's "Revival and Revivalism: the Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism" seeks to outline some of these tensions, along with some of the results which he believed flowed from them. Some of the comments which Roberts made in his "Bibliography" bear in the same direction.

By the end of the Nineteenth Century, American evangelicalism had become more simplistic and man-centred in its flavour. The degree of real revival power in the evangelism declined as more emphasis became placed upon organisation, and the charisma of the main preacher and the song-leader.

Academic Interest in Revivals

Much academic interest had been paid to revivals early in the Nineteenth Century, at least in the United States. As the world entered the Twentieth Century, however, the situation became very different. Academic interest in revivals was something which was clearly lacking, in the first half of the new century. The secular nature of most universities, and the widespread view amongst secular historians that religious subjects were beneath their academic dignity, made a proper study of revivals impossible.

The disregard for evangelical religion amongst academics generally was accentuated by the ascendancy of Modernist and Liberal theologies in academic institutions. This disregard was increased by the bad odour in which Fundamentalism was generally held in such circles.

Thankfully, this changed in the United States around 1950, through the influence of historians like Perry Miller and William Warren Sweet. Theologians like Karl Barth and Reinhold Neibuhr helped to break the stranglehold of theological liberalism.

Since 1950, the revival movements in the United States have been studied at major American universities as part of the national heritage. As a result, many of the older titles about revivals in the previous century have been reprinted, and many new titles of high quality have been published. Many of these new titles are inter-disciplinary in nature. Some of these studies did not show much sympathy or insight into evangelical religion, with its heart-felt devotion to God. In many cases, later historiographical insights improved the quality of the views these books presented, and in this way, wise, thought-provoking and valuable studies appeared describing what happened in and around the revivals, and the evangelistic activities.

Thankfully, this inter-disciplinary academic interest in research about evangelical movements has now spread to other countries, since about 1980, and much valuable work is starting to appear in these other places.

The Twentieth Century has also seen the first serious studies of revivals in the Bible, and the first efforts to understand some of the movements in the Middle Ages in terms of evangelicalism. In many ways, Biblical and Medieval events were unlike modern revival movements, but many similarities also existed.

Once again, some effort had already been made to understand the events of earlier centuries by writers like Merle d'Aubigny, with his large-scale histories, and John Foxe, with his famous Book of Martyrs. While these books were valuable in many ways, and exercised a profound influence for many years, in the Twentieth Century, new efforts were made to understand the previous ages of church history in the light provided by modern evangelicalism, and with a greater feeling for modern academic standards. So, new steps were being made in historiography.

Part Three. Classes of Literature

There are many classes of literature which are relevant to the study of revivals. Only very brief comments can be made about some of them here. Some of them have, of course, been mentioned already.

(a.) Primary Sources

These are accounts of revivals, or descriptions of experiences of many kinds, which have been provided by those who had the immediate first-hand experience of them.

For example, of particular value are accounts of revivals, or biographical details about a person involved in a revival, provided by someone who was actually there.

(b.) Secondary Sources

These are documents provided by people who did not actually see and hear what they were writing about, but who, nevertheless, can contribute some insights of great value. They may rely upon primary sources which have not survived, or may simply try to provide extra information to give a better perspective on the past.

(c.) Academic Histories, or Studies in other Disciplines

The secular character of much academic work can create a bias in this kind of research, but academic studies of revivals can be very valuable, providing insights which might not be arrived at in any other way. The hopefully superior talent, intelligence, training, and ability to perceive new insights, of the academic can be uniquely valuable.

(d.) Biographies

Autobiographies and biographies provide a great proportion of the information that any student of revival movements has to handle. They can vary greatly in value and perception, but they are all important.

(e.) Devotional and Inspirational

Many books on revivals are not simply meant to inpart information, but are meant to stir the soul, and to prompt action. In many cases, the purpose of the book is directed in the hope that God will stoop to use the book in bringing about the next revival.

(f.) Apologetic

A modest number of books have been written in order to defend revival movements from criticism and attack. The most important of these were written many years ago by the New England theologian Jonathan Edwards. Others have appeared since.

(g.) Polemic

Some books about the revivals have been written as part of an argument. They can be written to defend some theological views, to defend someone's reputation, or to argue a case. In the past, a great many pamphlets were written with these purposes in mind.

(h.) Antagonistic

These books can fall into two categories.

Some books are written by people who are opposed to all forms of revivalistic religion, and are written from the point of view of someone probably completely opposed to all forms of Christianity.

Others are general attacks on a particular revival movement, but not necessarily on all revivals. Or, they may make an attack on some aspect of a revival, such as bad theology, emotional outbursts, or other happenings which are considered by the author to cause more harm than good.

(i.) Theological

This class of books deals with the theology being taught in a revival, or being taught by a particular person involved in a revival. It can also deal with these theological subjects in the wider context of Biblical theology, Systematic theology, or of some aspect of the history of theology.

(j.) Sermons

This form of literature has been used very widely in revivals. They can reflect teaching of a person, or a movement, or have a more didactic purpose. They have also often been used as evangelistic tools.

(k.) Partial

Some books aim to discuss one particular aspect of a revival, without giving a whole picture, or even a full-orbed picture of that one aspect.

(l.) Reductionist

Some writings try to reduce a revival movement, claiming that it can be explained in terms of some other discipline of study, without remainder. The expression "nothing but..." is the give-away. For example, a specialist in psychology may describe a revival movement, or at least the psychological aspects of it, trying to make out that this explanation presents a complete picture of what went on. In other words, the revival was "nothing but..." experiences which can be totally explained in terms of the theories of human psychology. This implies that the experiences which believers imagined were experiences of God were nothing of the kind, but were simply in the mind only. The author may believe that there was no content to the supposed theological aspect of what was happening.

This should not be confused with the fact that there is always a psychological aspect to every religious experience, which should never be denied. The reductionist says that the psychological aspect (for example) is the only real aspect, and all other aspects can be reduced to this one.

The reductionist may, of course, be quite sincere. But, reductionism is a philosophical fallacy which is easy to recognise.

(m.) Fiction

Not much fiction has been written about revivals. The most notable example is really about cruder forms of mass evangelism:- it is Sinclair Lewis' "Elmer Gantry."

(n.) Analytical and Evaluative

This class of book can be very valuable indeed. It is the class of book which tries to evaluate what is going on, perhaps using a number of different vantage points in order to gain perspective and insight. It can often be inter-disciplinary in nature.

(o.) Evangelism Confused as Revival

This is more common amongst books about American evangelism since about 1860, which either talks widely about "revivalism", and using it as a term which includes both evangelism and real revival, without distinction. Or else it may use the term "revival" to apply to a series of evangelistic meetings, as is still done in many parts of the U.S.A.

(p.) Other Activities Confused with Revival

Efforts at church growth can be confused with revival by some. Others may think that good results from a stewardship campaign, or a healing mission, may be revival. There are a host of possible candidates which might cause this confusion.

(q.) Multi-disciplinary Literature

This class has already been mentioned several times. It refers to the use of information and research techniques from several disciplines of enquiry combined in order to produce a valuable series of insights about revivals. For example, insights and techniques might be used from history, politics, law, education, sociology, psychology, theology, philosophy, anthropology, art or any other discipline.

(r.) Children's Literature

This class includes books written for children, telling them about revivals, or it may include books written about ways in which children have been active in revivals. An example of this second group is by Harry Sprange, entitled "Kingdom Kids", and relating many details about the involvement of children in Scottish revivals over the years. Many well known preachers who were active in revivals have ministered to children, and published books about this work. One such was the evangelist Edward Payson Hammond.

(s.) Hymns and Music

Literature in this area is considerable, and illuminates an important area of revival activity, and evangelistic work, as well as normal church life. Much Methodist literature in this class emphasises the role of Charles Wesley.

(t.) Bibliographies

Some attention has already been paid to this class of literature, which is of enormous importance for any in-depth study of revivals.

The ultimate aim in any respectable discipline of study is to bring the entire literature relevant to that subject under proper bibliographic control.

(u.) Theses and Manuscripts

Since 1950, many theses have been written on subjects relevant to revivals. These can be very valuable, but it may be hard to discover what exists in this area that will help you. Major theses are usually available on microfilm from such companies as Xerox. All theses are available in the libraries of the academic institution where they were completed.

Manuscripts can be very difficult to know about, or to find, once you know that they exist. Getting access to them, once you know where they are, can be another problem. They are a very valuable source of information.

(v.) Limited Editions, Rare Books, etc

Many old books have become rare simply because very few of them have survived. Nobody cared for them. Old magazines, papers and pamphlets tend to become rare easily because they are not in a form which can be preserved so easily as a bound book. Many of the older publications which have survived are now held in major libraries, and are becoming more available through modern microform reproductions.

All books are limited editions, because a finite number are printed. But the term "limited edition" is usually reserved for very small printing runs, where each copy may have a number written in it.

Thankfully, there are not many limited editions in revival literature. The most notorious is William Couper's "Scottish Revivals", of which only 37 copies were printed. The copy in the National Library of Scotland still exists, but the copy owned by the British Library has been lost. Richard Owen Roberts reprinted much of it in his book "Scotland Saw His Glory."

The Rev. D. E. Jenkins' "Life of the Rev. Thomas Charles of Bala" fills three volumes. Only 300 sets were printed.

(w.) Languages Other than English

Some reference has already been made to this class of book.

This literature has importance in two ways. Firstly, there may be important publications in other languages which contain information about revivals, probably in the country where that language is used. Because the language may not be widely used, this information may not be available to speakers of other languages, and this may be a serious loss.

Secondly, for the sake of the Christian Gospel, it is important to have a good range of Christian literature available in as many languages as possible, for the spiritual benefit of the speakers of that language. Books on revival ought to be seen as having an important part in that whole programme.

There are, of course, substantial literatures already available about revivals in some languages, such as Welsh, Gaelic and German. More modest literatures exist in other leading languages.

Bibliographic control of all this literature should be seen as an important priority.

Build Your Own Collection

Everybody seriously interested in the great works of God, as seen in the great evangelical awakenings and revival movement should feel encouraged to build their own library on the subject, and to make it a collection which will help them to be as wise as possible in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prepared by Rev. Robert Evans OAM