Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Monthly Archive: June 2011



June 2011



On Revival: Five Questions with Collin Hansen

Written by , Posted in Books, History, Ministry, Missions, Theology

As a church historian, one of my favorite areas to study is the history and theology of spiritual awakenings. I’m blessed to teach courses on this topic at Southeastern Seminary. An important recent book addressing these questions is A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir (Zondervan, 2010), co-authored by Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge.

John Woodbridge is one of the imminent historians among evangelicals, as well as a staunch defender of orthodox doctrine, particularly biblical inerrancy. Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition. He was previously an associate editor for Christianity Today. Collin is perhaps best known for Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (Crossway, 2008). This influential book (and the CT article that preceded it) provided the name for an important movement that has been gaining momentum for almost two decades.  

Collin kindly consented to be interviewed for this blog on the topic of revival. I appreciate his helpful thoughts on the nature and history of spiritual awakenings.   

Nathan Finn: Since you co-authored a book on revival, that makes you an expert. How would you define revival? Do you make a distinction between revival and spiritual awakening?

Collin Hansen: To paraphrase an American hero, Dick Winters, let me confess, “I’m not an expert, but I’ve studied in the company of experts.” Chief among them is John Woodbridge, my co-author, who originally proposed that we write about the history of revival. We do not distinguish between revival and spiritual awakening. We sought to follow the example of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jonathan Edwards, and many others in rooting revival first in Scripture, where we see God’s people experience a fresh outpouring of the Spirit for faith and repentance from the days of Hezekiah and Josiah to the fledgling church following Pentecost. Then we trace revival historically, noting examples among the forerunners to the Reformation, the Puritans, and Scottish Presbyterians, but giving special attention to more recent events starting with the Great Awakening of the 1740s in North America. In the process we define revival as a time when the church goes about its ordinary work of worship, prayer, preaching, and evangelism with an extraordinary sense of God and greater capacity to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners. 

NAF: Historians like David Bebbington and Mark Noll argue that modern evangelicalism was birthed out of the First and Second Great Awakenings. Do you agree with them? 

CH: To a point, yes. No doubt we find the particular evangelical emphasis on the new birth taking shape with the preaching of George Whitefield, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards and other preachers during the Great Awakening. We see believers crossing ecclesiastical boundaries to support one another with or without sanction from church authorities. During the Second Great Awakening we see lamentable developments such as the “anxious bench,” which morphed into the practice of altar calls still prevalent in many evangelical churches today. 

But I cannot say the awakenings invented evangelicalism. Rather, scholars such as W. R. Ward and Thomas Kidd have helped to see the significant continuities between modern evangelicalism and its forebears, chiefly Scots-Irish Presbyterianism, English Puritanism, and Continental Pietism. Each of these movements, of course, traces its legacy to the Protestant Reformation, as evangelicals do today. Timothy George describes the origins of evangelicalism better than anyone else, I think: “At its heart is a theological core shaped by the Trinitarian and Christological consensus of the early church, the formal and material principles of the Reformation, the missionary movement that grew out of the Great Awakening, and the new movements of the Spirit that indicate ‘surprising works of God’ are still happening today.” 

NAF: Historically, the modern missions movement in the English-speaking world was a direct fruit of the Transatlantic Awakenings. Do you see revival having a similar effect in the non-Anglo world today? 

CH: Absolutely. Let’s take just one example, South Korea, which now sends more missionaries to spread the gospel than any nation except the United States. The church’s formative event there was the Pyongyang revival of 1907, which we describe in the book with the help of observers such as Presbyterian missionary William Blair. Anyone familiar with Korean Christians zealous for prayer today will recognize his description of the revival more than 100 years ago: “The prayer sounded to me like the falling of many waters, an ocean of prayer beating against God’s throne. It was not many, but one, born of one Spirit, lifted to one Father above.” 

Korea suffered greatly during the 20th century, enduring Japanese occupation and war between the United States and Communist forces that resulted in the present division. But the revival was a means used by God to strengthen the church for these grave days ahead and prepare his church to take the gospel to the nations.

NAF: Billy Graham, Harold John Ockenga, and even Carl Henry preached and wrote a lot about revival. Do you think the postwar New Evangelical movement in America was a revival? 

CH: I do, and we include this movement in the book as an example of revival. We’ve been criticized for this, because Billy Graham’s crusades do not fit the definition of revival, as even contemporaries and friends of Graham such as J. Edwin Orr admitted. These evangelistic campaigns follow the example set by preachers such as D. L. Moody and Billy Sunday, but do not meet the criteria for a spontaneous working of the Holy Spirit as we’ve seen at other times. 

That said, I do see revival in the remarkable, unexpected confluence of leaders and events that produced the new evangelical movement following the Second World War. Think of the renewal God brought to his church, which had suffered schism and the decay of liberalism during the early part of the 20th century. The leaders you mention, along with others such as Bill Bright, built so many of the schools, publications, and parachurch ministries that continue to support the evangelical cause more than half a century later.  

Ockenga recognized the remarkable evangelical upsurge in the late 1940s and early 1950s as a revival. He wrote in 1950, “God is sending the revival for which his remnant all through America—the true Bible-believing Christians who never bowed the knees to the Baal and Ashtoreth of Modernism or Secularism—have been praying. God is moving as he has not moved in America at least for four decades and as he has not moved in New England for two centuries.” 

NAF:  Besides A God-Sized Vision, what other books would you recommend for those interested in studying the history of revival? 

CH: I’ll recommend three books that have given me direction and encouragement when studying revival. Banner of Truth has compiled Jonathan Edwards’s Lectures on Revival, and there’s no one better to help you discern a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. More than two centuries later, Martyn Lloyd-Jones delivered a series of lectures on revival in honor of the 100th anniversary of the great Welsh revival of 1859. For a contemporary account I recommend Revival: A People Saturated with God by Brian H. Edwards. He treats the subject topically, examining the role of prayer, holiness, worship, evangelism, and giving in revival. 


Providentially, The Gospel Coalition has been talking a lot about revival in recent days. Be sure to check out “Lord, Do it Again,” which is a video conversation between Collin, Tim Keller, and Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Also, take a look at “TGC Asks: Why Do You Ask God to Send Revival?” In the latter post, Collin asks several pastors to weigh in on this important question.



June 2011



On Charles Simeon

Written by , Posted in History, Ministry

One of my all-time favorite pastors is Charles Simeon, the longtime rector of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge. Simeon was a leader in the Evangelical wing of the Anglican Church and was the most notable expositional preacher of his era. He ministered in a university context, where he mentored many future pastors. Simeon was a champion of orthodox theology and a devoted advocate of foreign missions. He is a worthy past role model for seminarians and young pastors to study.

If you want to learn more about Simeon, the place to start is the Charles Simeon website sponsored by Taylor University. There you’ll find all kinds of helpful resources, including a bibliography of works by and about Simeon. An excellent brief account of Simeon’s life and ministry is available on the Simeon Trust website. The Simeon Trust is a fine ministry devoted to equipping pastors to become better expositional preachers. In 1989, John Piper gave a biographical address on Simeon titled “Brothers, We Must Not Mind a Little Suffering.” You can listen to Piper’s address at the Desiring God website or read the published version in Piper’s The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce (Crossway, 2006). For a wonderful book-length biography of Simeon, I’d highly recommend Hugh Evan Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge (Eerdmans, 1977), which is regrettably out of print, though used copies are readily available via the internet.



June 2011



Adoniram Judson’s Letter Requesting Believer’s Baptism

Written by , Posted in Books, History, Missions, Theology

I’m currently writing a book chapter recounting Adoniram Judson’s years as a missionary in Burma (modern-day Myanmar) from 1812–1850. The chapter is part of a collection of essays commemorating the bicentennial of Judson’s departure from New England to South Asia. The book, edited by Jason Duesing of Southwestern Seminary, is scheduled to be published by B&H Academic next year.

Judson wrote the following letter to William Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward shortly after Judson’s arrival in Calcutta. The latter were British Baptist missionaries known collectively as the Serampore Trio. Carey of course had been in India for almost twenty years and is widely considered to be the father of the modern missions movement in the English-speaking world.

CALCUTTA, August 27, 1812.


As you have been ignorant of the late exercises of my mind on the subject of baptism, the communication which I am about to make may occasion you some surprise.

It is now about four months since I took the subject into serious and prayerful consideration. My inquiries commenced during my passage from America, and after much laborious research and painful trial, which I shall not now detail, have issued in entire conviction, that the immersion of a professing believer is the only Christian baptism.

In these exercises I have not been alone. Mrs. Judson has been engaged in a similar examination, and has come to the same conclusion. Feeling, therefore, that we are in an unbaptized state, we wish to profess our faith in Christ by being baptized in obedience to his sacred commands.


Adoniram and Ann Judson were baptized by Ward on September 6, 1812 at the Lal Bazaar Chapel in Calcutta. Three weeks later, Judson preached his famous sermon defending believer’s baptism by immersion.  Two months later, their colleague Luther Rice was also immersed as a believer. Soon thereafter, the former Congregationalist missionaries resigned their appointment with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The Judsons relocated to Burma and became the first American Baptist foreign missionaries, while Luther Rice returned home and became the most important promoter of foreign missions and denominational-building among the Baptists in America.


Letter reprinted in Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D., 2 volumes (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Company, 1853), 1:109. Italics in original.



June 2011



We’d Just Witnessed the Book of Acts

Written by , Posted in Missions

I recently helped lead a Southeastern Seminary missions team to South Asia. It was a wonderful trip. The Lord was faithful, and we saw much gospel fruit during our time there. I’m hopeful the Lord will open up an opportunity in the near future for me to take another team of SEBTS students to this same place.

I’ve written a blog post about our experiences titled, “We’d Just Witnessed the Book of Acts.” You can read that post at Between the Times or at Missions at Southeastern.



June 2011



Insightful Thoughts on the Present and Future of the SBC

Written by , Posted in History, Ministry, Missions, SBC, Theology

I want to direct you to two helpful insightful articles that address the present and future of the Southern Baptist Convention. The first article is by Jimmy Scroggins, who serves as the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Florida. He’s also the former dean of Boyce College and a current visiting professor of student ministry at Southeastern Seminary. Jimmy’s article, which was published on the website of the Florida Baptist Witness, is titled “SBC may be smaller — and better.”

Nathan Lino is the author of the second article. Nathan is the senior pastor of Northeast Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. He’s a SEBTS alum who is currently pursuing a D.Min. at Southwestern Seminary. Nathan’s article, titled “The State of the SBC,” was published on his personal blog.

Both of these articles are helpful contributions to this important topic. I commend them to you for your consideration.