A History of Revival, Part I

A History of Revival, Part I

Here at Global Awakening, we entered a particularly exciting time in the year’s first quarter with strategic planning. We’re resting, listening to the Spirit, and aligning ourselves with what we hear God say. As we begin this two-part blog series on revival history, I would like to invite all of us to prayer. Let’s ask for discernment and increased receptivity as we tune our ears to the Lord’s frequency and hear what He has to say about revival right now, as well as in the future.


Revival is usually seen as a time of renewal in devotion among Christians as well as an increased zeal for God’s work and His Kingdom. It impacts people in churches, cities, regions, and nations in many ways. One of those ways is social change. Compassion for the sick to be healed, as well as the start of hospitals and clinics is the fruit of revival. Concern for orphans, widows and the poor is a product of revival too, as is ministering freedom and deliverance to those who have been considered alcoholics, drug addicts and homeless. The start of Christian colleges with an education which reflects the values of Christ is also linked to revival. The Holy Spirit has been known to increase all of these ministries during and after His outpouring.

In this article, however, I want to primarily focus on an aspect of revival that is not often spoken about and give “a bird’s eye view” of the theological changes and insights associated with these times. I am going to hone in on the New Testament and Protestant church revivals from the 1700s through the 20th Century.


What are some of the more important theological changes and insights that were connected to the teaching of Jesus, the apostles and evangelists of the 1st Century?

Jesus and His followers experienced a time of movement revival recorded in The Gospels and the Book of Acts. With Jesus’ first coming came the understanding that the Kingdom of God had also come. In other words, the Kingdom of God would not wait to come until Jesus’ second coming because it began with His first coming. Also: God’s Kingdom will continue to increase and grow until it consummates with Jesus’ second coming.

Jesus changed the understanding and expectation of what it meant to be the Messiah from what was prevalent in 1st Century AD. Identifying Himself in Isaiah 53 as the “Suffering Servant”, Jesus shifted the meaning of Messiah from being a deliverer who would destroy government power and establish Israel as His Kingdom to One Who would deliver all people through the advance of His Kingdom primarily through His Church. In His first coming He would be known as “Server”; in His second coming He would be known as “Ruler”.

Jesus also changed the New Covenant from being a future event to being a present-day reality. The New Covenant was ratified by His blood and inaugurated by His death and resurrection. Now the Spirit can come not only upon priests, prophets and kings but upon all of His followers. The establishment of the Church – the One New Man including both Jew and Gentile – revealed this mystery.

Understanding of the Church and the Kingdom of God is also an understanding of the Age to Come. The Age to Come started in the Last Days that commenced with Jesus’ first coming. It would continue until His second coming. Between these two points was the Age of the Church.
These radical theological changes and insights would be followed by others through the ministries of the apostles and evangelists of the 1st Century Church. Then more theological changes and insights would occur during the revival that began on the Day of Pentecost and continued into the 3rd Century.

One of the main insights was the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Church without having to become Jews or obey the ceremonial laws of the Jews. This was one of the major themes of the book of Acts, especially Acts 8 the inclusion of the Samaritans during the revival under Philip, and Acts 10 the inclusion of the Gentile God-fearers through Peter at Cornelius’ house. This was also a major theme of Acts 15 where the first Church council was held to hash out this issue. It is a theme that Paul will deal with in many of his letters, especially Galatians.

Now let us move our attention from the 1st Century to the 18th Century to study revivals within Protestantism. This is not to imply that there were no major revivals during the intervening centuries within the Catholic Church, for there were many. Most of those revivals eventually ended up forming an order within the church to sustain the emphasis of the revival (i.e., Franciscan, Jesuit, Dominican orders).


A revival broke out on the continent of Europe in Germany known as the Pietistic Revival. Its leaders were Philip Spener, a theologian and professor, and August Franke, a pastor in the same city as the university. Their emphasis was not only on justification that Luther had emphasized two centuries earlier at the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation. They gave special attention to sanctification, emphasizing not just believing correct doctrine but also experiencing the Holy Spirit. They also stressed the importance of knowing we have genuine faith that results in the New Birth.

The balance between God’s free gift of imputed righteousness and the importance of experiential righteousness has been brought to us through the role of the Holy Spirit. In the pursuit of experiential righteousness people become holy, consecrated, delivered, and have power over sin rather than sin having power over them. This put a focus on worship, the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, as well as accountability in small groups.

A young man named Count Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, who went to university and attended Franke’s church, would later lead a great revival movement himself. He would become the leader of the Herrnhut Community, or the Moravians. This revival broke out at midnight during the Lord’s Supper and the 24/7 prayer meeting that began at that time would continue for 100 years⁠—long before the 24/7 prayer meetings would be hosted by Mike Bickle’s International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri.

In addition to the emphasis of the Pietists, this movement would be known for its missionary enterprise. They would send out more missionaries in twenty-five years than all the Protestants of the world had sent out during the preceding 200 years of Protestantism. This is incredible when you realize this community was never over 300 at Zinzendorf’s estate. There was a strong emphasis on the power of prayer and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Moravians would have a powerful impact upon our next revival: the Great Evangelical Revival in England under John Wesley and George Whitefield. Wesley experienced his conversion at a Moravian meeting on Aldersgate Street. He and Whitefield were filled with the Holy Spirit around 3 a.m. during an observance meeting of the Lord’s Supper on Fetter’s Lane. Wesley’s concern for experiential sanctification as a second definite work of grace was heavily influenced by the Moravians, as well as his class meetings (small groups).

Though Wesley and Whitefield were the two greatest evangelists of this revival, the ministry of John Fletcher brought about a theological change. Wesley was an Arminian and Whitefield was a Calvinist. Fletcher’s writings were published in the newspapers dealing with the following issues: Did Jesus die only for the elect, or did He die for everyone? Was the election of God based upon His foreknowledge of people’s acceptance or rejection of the Gospel or was it an unconditional election only on God’s part? Could a person lose their salvation or apostatize? Wesley was going to turn over to John Fletcher the movement he had started, but that did not happen because Fletcher died ministering to parishioners during the outbreak of a fever. However, Fletcher’s writings turned England from primarily being Calvinist to the majority being Arminian.

Deism, the religion of third U.S. president Thomas Jefferson, had taken over the minds of many in the universities with less than three percent of the population attending church. Anti-Christian societies had formed in which people entered the churches and would tear away the large pulpit bibles and take them to the streets to be burned in large fires. Drunkenness was epidemic; it was dangerous to walk many of the cities’ streets at night. People thought the Christian faith would die out in a generation; there was little growth in the churches and less Christian presence in the universities. Reverence for God, fear of God and belief in His judgments had diminished.

Yet, despite such horrible circumstances, revival broke out! Preachers spoke about God as the sovereign King, about the necessity of new birth, about God’s judgments and His plan of salvation to avoid His judgments. There were many manifestations during these revivals, especially trembling, falling under the power, and weeping under the deep conviction for sin. This revival was not called the Great Awakening when it was occurring, but rather the Great Clamor or Noise. The theology was primarily Calvinistic in nature. As a result, scores of thousands came to the Lord at a time when the population of the colonies was about two million.


The Second Great Awakening began in America’s universities, which were once again a hotbed of unbelief and skepticism. From the universities it spread through the nation and, like the First Great Awakening, lasted a few years.

The culmination of revival was a meeting on the frontier in Cane Ridge, Kentucky. Beginning in the context of preparation for the annual Lord’s Supper celebration among the Scottish Presbyterians, the Holy Spirit fell as He had in Cambuslang, Scotland while George Whitefield was ministering. Before long, word spread. People came from long distances by foot, horse, wagon and train. It is estimated that crowds of 20,000 came to camp out in tents and wagons for the meetings at Cane Ridge. Manifestations of the Holy Spirit included crying, shaking, jerking, falling under His power, as well as children preaching and sharing biblical knowledge they did not have in the natural. Within one to two years from the start of this revival, one-fourth of all Christians in the south had experienced these manifestations.

The theological change birthed the New Light Christian in contrast to the Old Light Christian. There was a moving from Calvinism and its five points: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints to Arminianism. Arminianism agreed with total depravity but also believed the atonement was limited to the elect and that election was conditioned upon faith.

Further, Arminianism made the assertion that Jesus died for all, therefore, there was not a particular atonement (only for the elect), but a general atonement (whosoever believes could be saved). They also believed that receiving the grace of God is a choice and would not violate the free will of humans. It also asserted the possibility of “falling away from” grace and losing one’s salvation.

This theological shift split the local Presbyterian denomination. A few years later, some of the leaders of the revival began the Restoration church movement which birthed the Church of Christ, the Christian Church and the Disciples of Christ denominations. As a result of the Second Great Awakening, and during the next four years, the number of Presbyterians in attendance doubled, the number of Baptists in attendance tripled and the number of Methodists in attendance quadrupled. Also during this time, the well-known Christian Missionary Movement of the 19th Century Missionary was born.


Charles Grandison Finney was converted to Christianity at twenty-nine years of age. He was a lawyer by profession, and his preaching characterized a lawyer making his arguments to a jury. He saw 500,000 people accept Christ in his revivals. Finney rejected Calvinism, the predominant understanding of Christianity in his community. He developed modified Arminian theology. Finney also was noted for what became known as “new measures”, which included such things as “an anxious bench” where the awakened sinners who were worried about their souls were instructed to come and sit. This developed into the altar associated with today’s altar calls in which people come to accept Christ.

Directly appealing to people to get right with God, the new measures approach focused on the belief that people could choose to believe in Christ or choose to reject Him. In a mere 100-year time span, the new measures became recognized as the “old time religion” (the tradition I grew up in). Finney also emphasized the post-conversion experience in which we experience greater victory in the Christian life. He called this the baptism in the Holy Spirit, though for Finney there was no relationship between baptism and speaking in tongues.


The 19th Century was a great century for the advancement of Christianity, opening with the climax of the Second Great Awakening at Cane Ridge and ending with a renowned revival in the Holiness Movement. Two streams of Holiness people gathered together during the last twenty-five years of the century in Holiness camp meetings. The largest was held in Massachusetts.

Many came from the more Calvinist stream – the Keswick Movement involving many Reformed and Baptist – as well as from the more Wesleyan background, especially from the Methodist. D.L. Moody would be a major supporter of these meetings bringing notable speakers from the continents of Europe, Africa and North America. The attendance at some of these meetings was in the scores of thousands.

During this period about twenty-five new Holiness denominations were formed as many left the Methodist Church believing it had left its Wesleyan roots and had become theologically liberal, or denying many of the basic beliefs of the Christian faith. These conferences were a place where the old Wesleyan emphasis would be re-emphasized; the well of holiness would be re-dug. The emphasis upon sanctification as a means of experiencing greater holiness would be restored to the Church. This sanctification was seen as a second definite work of post-conversion grace.

New theological beliefs also grew out of these large Holiness conferences. Two such doctrines were introduced into the Holiness mix. These two doctrines became so controversial that near the end of the large conferences, they were not taught due to their believed divisiveness.

What were the two theological viewpoints that were so controversial? One was healing; specifically that healing was in the atonement and was available today. The other was the pre-millennial, pre-tribulation rapture, which was believed to contradict all the main views of the historical church regarding The Last Days. This latter doctrine was first introduced in 1830 in Port Glasgow, Scotland.

The traditional view the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches have held of the end times is the Amillennial eschatological viewpoint which states there is no actual millennial reign and that Christians will be raised in the air to meet Jesus when He comes back. The other view, held by the Baptist and other Reformed churches, is the post-millennial view which states the Church would advance the Kingdom through missions and revivals. This view also states that Jesus will come at the end of the millennium to establish His reign, and that He will meet in the air the raised and transformed believers who will come with Him to earth and consummate the Kingdom.


In our next issue, I will finish the subject of revival’s effect upon theology as we turn to the 20th and 21st Century revivals.

Action Point: Many opportunities are coming in 2020 for expanding the Kingdom and equipping the saints. I’m particularly excited about our Greater Things event August 5-8 in Nashville. I believe God is going to do some amazing things. Please pray for a massive outpouring of the miraculous during this time.

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P.S. Do you know what God’s will is for us? God-empowered living where the supernatural becomes our expectation. This is our inheritance in Christ. This is God’s will for us, for such a time as this. Come join me and others at an upcoming Greater Things event.

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