From Your Pastor: Presbyterian Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition

Reformed teacher Robert Davis Smart asks an important and pointed question in the book Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition: “What Presbyterian today is there who prays for the outpouring of God’s Spirit?”[1] Let us prayerfully consider his question. Is there anything particularly unusual about having the words “Pentecostal” and “Reformed” in the same title of a book made up of Reformed scholars teaching on the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in revival? Though the term “Pentecostal” has been abused by well-meaning Christians, it is actually a biblical term that should be used more often by scholars, pastors, and laypersons in the Reformed tradition.

We should be reminded that “Pentecostal” simply refers to Christ, who is the Source of all Holy-Spiritual benefits and blessings for His Church. We who are confessional and Reformed, who seek to be Christocentric (Christ-centered) in our emphasis on the Person and Work of Christ, should understand that “Pentecostal” first and foremost refers to the Source of all power and blessings on God’s people as the Ascended-Enthroned Christ continues His work in and through us to the ends of the world (Acts 2:33-41; Matt. 28:18-20).[2] The book Pentecostal Outpourings is an outstanding book of essays by various scholars, pastors, and teachers in the Reformed Tradition to “promote the knowledge of God, the gospel of Christ, and the great outpourings of the Spirit through a variety of Reformed authors reflecting and applying historical and biblical lessons for today’s Christian leader”.[3]

What are genuine revivals? Revivals are genuine movements or outpourings of the Spirit upon the Church when God does a mighty work above His normal working through the ordinary means of grace (preaching, sacraments). It is important to note that a revival is foremost the “sovereign, extraordinary, saving activity of the Holy Spirit and is characterized by an intense sense of God’s presence.”[4] Yet a revival can be confused with “revivalism”. A revival refers to the genuine and sovereign work of God’s Spirit in contrast to the counterfeit work of man in “revivalism”.[5] To use a popular distinction: Revival is “prayed down”, through humility and faithfulness to God’s means of grace in the Church; Revivalism is “worked up”, through the plans, powers, and techniques of man to produce certain quantifiable results.[6] As Pastor Eifion Evans wrote helpfully, revivalism tends to deny “God’s sovereignty and providential order”, and the essentially “inward nature of regeneration and substitutes an outward profession or response for the evidence of a transformed lifestyle.”[7]

Revivalism has at least three important characteristics: 1) It is man-centered. The focus is a man-centered “decisionism” rather than the preaching of Christ, His Person and work; 2) It is “worked up” through emotions. There is a focus on entertainment, particularly in emotional and sentimental music; 3) It tends toward individualism away from a visible, orthodox congregation of saints. There is a separation from, and sometimes complete neglect of the visible church, the importance of church membership, and the important submission to pastor-elders.

We should note that the experience of God’s love, and true emotions of joy and praise of God are important, and are legitimate responses to revival, but these must always be tethered to God’s Word. The Spirit works through His word. Therefore, the reactions and experiences of folks to the Holy Spirit, like the revival itself, must always be tethered to God’s holy, breathed-out Word. We must see to it that genuine revival never devolves into revivalism. Though there are abuses and misunderstandings, true and genuine revival ought to be sought out by those in the Reformed tradition. In fact, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) commented that

“There is no subject which is of greater importance to the Christian church at the present time than that of revival. It should be the theme of our constant meditation, preaching and prayers.”[8]

The book Pentecostal Outpourings defines a genuine revival specifically as the time when the “presence of God’s Spirit has been experienced by His people in a particularly powerful way.[9] Additionally, a genuine revival represents

The powerful work of the Holy Spirit in which there is recovered a new awareness of the holiness of God among His people. This heightened knowledge brings in a new season of the conviction of sin, which, in turn, leads to heartrending repentance. This lowly humility ushers in an awakened love for Christ. Believers begin to pursue personal holiness. Love for other believers intensifies. The gospel spreads like wildfire. Sinners are brought to faith in Christ, and the church is enlarged and empowered.[10]

Note the characteristics of a genuine revival here. If KCPC experienced a genuine revival, what would it look like? Both personally (individually) and corporately (as a congregation), because of the Holy Spirit’s powerful working, there would be a deeper awareness of God’s holiness and character. This would produce a greater fear, awe, and reverence for God. This deeper awareness of God would cause us to see more clearly the depths of our depravity and need for more Christ, and a deeper repentance. More particularly, a “heartrending” repentance because we would be sorry not merely for the consequences of our sins, but because our sins offend God and hurt others. There would be a deep, spiritual humility that would love Christ more, and desire to be holy, gentle, more like Him. This would cause us to overflow in love for one another, and more of a concern for the souls of men, that would cause the gospel to spread. The church would grow both spiritually and numerically.

In times of true revival in church history, it was not the opposition to the revivals that were as problematic as the so-called “friends” of the revival. One tremendous problem of revivals in church history has been the problem of a counterfeiting of the Spirit’s holy work.[11] Revivals have been criticized in church history because of emotionalism, and because personal testimony time could replace the preaching of God’s Word, and sound, biblical exposition.[12] Furthermore, revivals could be too “emotionally driven” and downplay the good of denominational distinctions, “watering down” theological truths.[13] Jonathan Edwards (1703-58), sometimes called the “Theologian of Revival”, was mightily used by God’s Spirit as a minister of the First Great Awakening in North America (ca. 1730s-40s). Edwards is remembered for faithfully defending revival on two fronts: (1) The rejection of fanaticism (or “friends” of revival) and, (2) Anti-revivalism (“opposers” of revival, or those suspect of all revivals). Edwards’ revival theology was to encourage ministers and churches to seek God for more “outpourings of the Spirit”, and to defend this as a Presbyterian credenda (something believed and confessed) and agenda (something done, or lived out).[14] Edwards rightly warned critics of genuine revival when he said, “To oppose a genuine revival is to oppose God Himself”.[15]

Against both counterfeit fanaticism and anti-revivalism, Edwards wrote that a genuine and true revival could be recognized by a few important characteristics:

  1. Christ-centered: True revival makes much of Jesus Christ, not a focus on self;
  2. Humble, Other-worldliness: True revival operates against Satan, the world, and the flesh;
  3. Use of Means of Grace: In true revival there is a higher regard for Scripture and preaching;
  4. Witness and Seal of the Spirit: The Spirit of truth witnesses to genuine revival’s validity;
  5. Personally, Congregationally, Culturally Transformative: A change of heart evidences itself in love to God and others (this has societal and cultural implications).[16]

Prayer is of utmost importance for revival. The grand object of prayer is to be that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the saints edified, the interest of religion revived, and the name of God glorified. Prayer, because it is a weapon common to all who are friends of truth and holiness, is one sphere in which Christians can present a fully united front against Satan.[17] Jonathan Edwards wrote concerning the importance of prayer:

When God is about to bestow some great blessing on His church, it is often His manner in the first place, so to order things in His providence as to show His church their great need of it, and to bring them into distress for want of it, and so put them upon earnestly crying to Him for it.[18]

Edwards’ pastoral-theological instinct was “simply to prayerfully seek and expect from God ‘outpourings of the Holy Spirit’ as the central means of spreading Christianity until the Consummation”.[19]

We ought to pray for revival as Reformed folks at KCPC. In fact, without true and genuine revival, we can never be continually reforming as we necessarily need to be doing! The main point of this fine book Pentecostal Outpourings is that both true reformation and genuine revival should be part of the Reformed church experience. Let us at KCPC be characterized by faith and prayer, and particularly faith in prayer, and more particularly faithful prayer to God for the Sovereign working of God’s Spirit. True revival will never depend upon techniques and the self-centered works of men. We must seek God for outpourings of His Spirit, while remaining ever faithful to the preaching of God’s Word, and the means of grace He has graciously provided for His church to accomplish the mission He has given us. Let us pray and wait upon God to bring revival. Let us be full of hopeful expectation, while acknowledging God’s sovereign Spirit and perfect timing.  Further reformation will hopefully come through revival as we pray that God’s Spirit would be pleased to grant us His power and grace.

As God’s people at KCPC, let us prayerfully and discerningly remember that though Pentecostalism and revivalism are counterfeits, and therefore not from God, we do not want to overreact to the terms Pentecost, Pentecostal, or Revival, and so prejudice ourselves against, or perhaps oppose the legitimate and genuine work of God’s Spirit. Let us remember the warning of Edwards that to oppose true revival is to oppose God. Yet let us seek a true Christian experience rooted in God’s Word, bathed in prayer, filled with the Spirit, and let us desire the pure fruits of the Holy Spirit as we live out our lives. Let us be thankful to God for revival, as we wait upon the LORD through faithful ministry and prayer.

Let us pray for revival, dearly beloved! Only God can grant genuine revival to us, our larger presbytery, denomination, and other faithful, Gospel-preaching churches in our community. Amen and amen.


In Christ’s love, and for a Presbycostal Revival and Reformation! Amen and amen.

Pastor Biggs



[1] Robert Davis Smart, Michael A. G. Haykin, Ian Hugh Clary, eds. Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016), Kindle Loc. 3545. Note: I also used the Kindle version of this book. Location numbers rather than page numbers will be used in footnotes if I’m referring to Kindle version.

[2] Perhaps “Presbycostal” would be a helpful term?

[3] Ibid., x.

[4] Ibid., 18.

[5] Kindle Loc. 2787.

[6] Kindle Loc. 1239.

[7] Ibid., 19.

[8] Ibid., vii, from forward by Steve Lawson.

[9] Kindle Loc. 707.

[10] Ibid., vii.

[11] Kindle Loc. 806.

[12] Kindle Loc. 1128.

[13] Kindle Loc. 1144, 1216. In fact, it was the excess, emotionalism, watering down of theological truths, and undermining of the local church and her ministry in some of the so-called revivals that caused the Presbyterians to split between Old and New School divisions in 1837. Old School Presbyterians who opposed revivals were concerned about what they observed to be merely city organizing and marketing and celebrities being used with revival techniques outside the authority of regional presbyteries, and incorporating a mixture of theologies and an element of entertainment. As a pastor who would be theologically and ideologically characterized as an Old School Presbyterian, I nevertheless, believe true and genuine revivals are most important for the church. We should be concerned about the counterfeits, but seek for the authentic and genuine revivals of God’s Spirit.

[14] Kindle Loc. 3150.

[15] Kindle Loc. 4109.

[16] Kindle Loc. 4099.

[17] Kindle Loc. 2049, 2109.

[18] Kindle Loc. 4147.

[19] Kindle Loc. 3116.