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Revival Versus Reformation

By P. Andrew Sandlin
Published May 1, 2008

Talk of the need for revival in the church is all the rage these days. I receive announcements of and invitations to conferences designed to incite a burden for revival in America (oddly, the spiritual state of the world at large is usually ignored) and provide a strategy to accomplish that revival. The announcements allude to or provide examples of the moral degeneracy of our society, as well as the spiritual apathy of professed Christians. The opinion over on my side, however, is that it is reformation, not revival, that is our most pressing need.

Revival and reformation are not to be equated. Revival is a stirring of apathetic saints; reformation is an alteration of their very spiritual core. Revival (contrary to the beliefs and tactics of “revivalists”) is a sovereign, gratuitous outpouring of the Holy Spirit-not sweet, spiritual, “showers of blessing” provoked by a meritorious repentance and contrition of the saints; reformation is a revision of the very heart of religion, a conscious effort to make a full-scale break with all that is unscriptural, and to reinstall Scripture as the final authority of belief and practice; the effects of revival are temporary; those of reformation span centuries. Revival makes better Christians; reformation makes a better Christianity. Revival makes Christians more zealous; reformation makes them more knowledgeable. Revivals occur spasmodically; the work of reformation is never completed.

The mention of the term reformation immediately reminds us of the great Protestant Reformation, an historical event almost as significant as the Enlightment and more important than the Renaissance. It altered not only the course of the church but also that of society itself. In this point reformation differs from revival also: the latter greatly revitalizes a tepid church, while the former reorients society and the general social mindset. Its deep social effects are possible because reformation involves the reordering of thought, an occasion which, unlike the work of revival (necessary and potent though it may be) is able to altar the state of affairs beyond the sphere of the church. Thus, while Old Testament Israel experienced numerous significant revivals, as a society she experienced no reformation until the coming of Christ which, indeed, influenced not only that relatively small nation but the entire known world.

A revival would quicken the sleeping, worldly church of our time and give it fresh devotion to the God of the universe and his Son. A reformation, however, would dismantle the deadly secularistic/materialistic/humanistic axis that presently dominates the West. Not only religion, but also law, the arts, and politics would be reformed. The results would be as far reaching as those of the Protestant Reformation.

A.W.Tozer implied that reformation must precede revival because those who were not properly reformed are not worth reviving; and if they were revived, they would simply persist in their wrong ideas and practices, on an even dangerously larger scale. The revival at Pentecost was preceded by three and one-half years of careful training. It would have been foolish for Christ to spiritually revive the apostles, for they had virtually nothing in themselves worth reviving. When, nonetheless, he instructed them in a proper devotion to the Father and Himself, they were prepared for a revival from the former Judaistic hardness of virtually all Israel at Christ’s coming. The revival of Old Testament Judaism would never have turned the first century world “upside down.” It took a reformation to do that.

We don’t need revival; we need reformation.


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All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?

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Driving down a country road sometime, you might see a church with a sign proudly proclaiming: “No book but the Bible — No creed but Christ.” The problem with this statement is that the word creed (from the Latin: credo) simply means “belief.” All Christians have beliefs, regardless of whether they are written.

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The title of this book is a misnomer. In reality, I am not trying to get anyone to shut up, but rather to provoke a discussion. This book is a warning about the philosophy of “Christian postmodernism” and the threat that it poses not only to Christian orthodoxy, but to the peace and prosperity our culture as well. The purpose is to equip the reader with some basic principles that can be used to refute their arguments.

Part 1 is a response to some of the recent writings by Frank Schaeffer, the son of the late Francis Schaeffer. This was originally written as a defense against Frank’s attacks on pro-life street activism – a movement that his father helped bring into being through his books, A Christian Manifesto, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? These works have impacted literally hundreds of thousands of Christian activists.

Part 2 is a response to Colonel Doner and his book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. Doner was one of the key architects of the Christian Right that emerged in the 1980s, who now represents the disillusionment and defection many Christian activists experienced in the 1990s and 2000s. There is still great hope for America to be reformed according to biblical principles. As a new generation is emerging, it is important to recognize the mistakes that Christian activists have made in the past even while holding to a vision for the future.

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