Why are some people so sceptical about revival?

There are three classic reactions to the gospel (the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ) and to revival. All three happened when the apostle Paul preached in Athens (Acts 17:32-34), after he mentioned the resurrection from the dead. Some laughed in contempt, some said “We want to hear more about this later” and some joined him and believed. It was ever like this.

There is a spiritual battle going on all the time, and especially when people need to be responding to the words and works of God evident to them. The spiritual opposition can be fierce, threatening at times even the life of God’s servants. It is very important, though, to recognise that human opponents of this kind are not the prime source of the opposition they display. Charles Wesley had success turning a few strong opponents to his open-air preaching into future supporters. Some of the strongest opposition can come from those who think they are serving God by doing so.

I suggest there can be the following reasons why some people are sceptical about genuine revival:

  •  A scientific approach that has not allowed for the limitations of science or the existence of an invisible spiritual realm. Science helps us to make good sense of the physical world and maximise its potential. Even there, its new findings are often somewhat tentative.

  • A psychological approach to explaining human behaviour, gaining all the more prominence these days, may claim to have an explanation for any spiritual phenomena that are presented.

  • Religious illiteracy can lead to scant understanding of religious phenomena. The objector might be someone who sees modern Christianity as little more than a cultural relic and has failed to engage with it as a living faith.

  •  Affront taken by some religious professionals at the appearance of uneducated and untrained people (cf. Acts 4:13). A true revival that impacts the poor is liable to make prominent unlearned believers who may seem immature and gaffe-prone.

  • Unrecognised misunderstanding of scripture. Early Pentecostals received strong opposition or were ignored by other Bible-believing denominations who thought that their teaching about the Holy Spirit was wrong - or worse. Absorption and identification with a previous revival can make someone very resistant to change that does not fit with their former expectations.

  • Dislike of disorder is made an argument for standing aloof, especially by those who like an orderly world and a form of Christianity that is more in maintenance mode. Revival can be messy, like a construction site.

  • Discomfort with displays of emotion. Some people are just not comfortable seeing strong emotions displayed. They like to deal with calm and logical arguments, and they reject phenomena that are not amenable to these. Their fears and anxiety can lead to hostility. The present atmosphere in the UK easily promotes this kind of reaction to almost anything that seems obstructive.

  • Generational resistance to change. Those who are older typically find change all the harder to cope with. It is rather like having hardened arteries.

In conclusion, I’m suggesting that the factors behind people’s opposition to revival needs to be carefully understood. Some mutual respect can be achieved with some who respond to revival with contempt. At best, a seemingly contemptuous person may become later much more open than ever seemed possible at first.

Nigel Paterson