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Biblical theology of revival cited in Midwestern lectures

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–“Do not neglect the revival dimension in your ministry,” urged Ray Ortland Jr., a former professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, as he delivered the Sizemore Lecture series at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Ortland, currently pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Ga., spoke of a former colleague at Trinity who had told of a minister who “was never granted a place at the heights of ecclesiastical preferment.” It was known, however, that at every church he served “the touch of God was clearly evident.” This man “did not neglect the revival dimension in his ministry,” Ortland pointed out in his Nov. 3-5 messages at Midwestern, based in Kansas City, Mo.
Similarly, those who are committed to the “divine reviving of the church,” and who “long to see the touch of God on your ministry, must yield to God in your thinking, praying and doing,” Ortland said, emphasizing the importance of developing a biblical theology of revival.
Calling for a proper understanding of the “validity of human agency in the revival equation,” Ortland said a hyper-Calvinistic view which dismisses human agency and means must be adjusted. God’s sovereign presence pervades all of history and all of human activity, he maintained, but Christians should turn to the Apostle Paul as an example and not be squeamish about God’s use of human agency and means, even in revival, Ortland said.
Noting several definitions of revival from such thinkers as J.I. Packer, Richard Owen Roberts, Malcom McDowell, Alvin Reed and John Armstrong, Ortland proposed his own definition: “Revival is a season in the life of the church when the normal work of the gospel operates with unusually quickening spiritual power.”
As a season in the life of a church, Ortland said revival is not subject to man’s control. “Moreover, the engine driving revival is the normal work of the gospel.” That’s important, Ortland suggested, because if revival were by nature different from the normal work of the gospel, a “two-tiered church” would be created, consisting of both “drones” and “super-Christians” who have a” hyper-blessing different in nature from what God gives ordinary people.” Such a two-tiered understanding of the church would be a distortion of the gospel, Ortland said, inviting legalism and pride.
Nonetheless, churches in revival, while having the normal blessing of God, operate with unusually quickening power, Ortland said. “God hits the fast-forward button, so that five years of advance, expansion and deepening can take place in perhaps five weeks.”
Ortland expressed concern that much of the literature on revival “discloses a weakness in biblical work.” Though we have rich revival literature, work on revival from an exegetical, biblical base “is a bit thin,” he said. He then proposed to develop a biblical theology of revival starting, not, as is commonly done, from Old Testament historical narratives but from those “principal passages” in the Psalms and the Prophets.
These passages “unmistakably intend to teach us revival theology by their very vocabulary,” Ortland said, allowing Christians “to reason our way to other passages, which can then help to assemble a larger view of biblical revival.”
Ortland began his development of revival theology Nov. 3 with an exposition of Psalm 85, which was written, he said, “for churches who want a fresh touch from the Lord.” Noting people sometimes shift into an institutionalized religion, instead of really seeking God, Ortland pointed out how God is able to sharpen humanity’s hunger for him. As the appeal to “show us thy unfailing love” invites the Christian to cry out to God, Ortland asked how believers could ever be content with routinized religion.
He warned those who are not satisfied with the status quo and who seek the revival dimension in their ministries, will soon recognize some people will not like it. “Revival is upheaval if you don’t like it, or restoration if you do like it, but regardless, it will turn a church around,” he said. “The effect of revival is unmistakably felt. … [It] is the rejoicing of the people of God.”
In his Nov 4 address, Ortland moved from Psalm 85 to its “cousin,” Psalm 80, and then into Isaiah 63:14-64:12, which speaks of a man’s confidence in God and his contrition before God. Noting the theme of “hope and penitence woven together,” Ortland reasoned, “God wants both to quicken our faith and deepen our repentance.”
He suggested Martin Lloyd Jones’ warning be taken seriously: “Be careful how you treat God.” If you remain in disobedience, Ortland stated, you will sometimes find that you have become callous and can do nothing about your situation. The only solution, he said, is to turn back to God and “cast yourself utterly upon his mercy, upon his compassion.” Hope is found in knowing “our sinful condition is ultimately within God’s control,” Ortland said. “If it is his to harden us, then it is also his to make us tender once again.”
Isaiah’s model prayer “takes us down very deep into our sinful condition,” Ortland said, but it also “lifts us up very high to glimpse the majesty of God.”
“It is intended to shape our faith, enlarge our aspirations, and draw us near to God.”
In his final lecture, Nov. 5, Ortland examined Ezekiel 37, Joel 2:28-32 and Acts 1. The Ezekiel passage, he stated, shows the convergence of the Spirit and the Word in revival. It is, he suggested, the stepping stone to the Joel and Acts passages. The prophesies of Joel show us the “Spirit registers his power, not through raw, undefined spiritual voltage but through the knowledge of God abounding in the church.”
Adding “the time is coming when the familiar routines of earthly life will break down in dramatic upheaval,” Ortland said, “The day of the Lord will trigger awful convulsions in the apparently settled state of nature.” Thus, Ortland noted, revival does not necessarily promise smooth sailing, but survival. In fact, the Christian may “expect a rough ride on [his] way to the day of the Lord.”
Ortland explained the Acts 1 passage provides the Christological connections with the Old Testament. The entire Christian era, he stated, beginning at Pentecost, “is one extended fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32, leading to ultimate fulfillment in the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”
He concluded his series with some final admonitions, encouragement and warnings. “The Christian’s aim,” he said, “is not a normal life in this age, but an anointed life.” There will be time enough in heaven for peace and security, he said.
“What a dignity our position in history lends to our existence,” Ortland said. “God in his mercy did not have us born in some Sumerian village 4,000 years ago. He had us born in these last days, in that season of history when the Spirit is more copiously shed abroad … when the day of the Lord may appear at any time with wrath unmitigated, full and vast … terrifyingly final.”
Because of this, Ortland urged Christians to “make the most” of the time. “Let us not drift. Let us live fully; let us live intentionally. We don’t have forever.”
Ortland reminded, “We should always be filled with hope, because we live in the day of the Spirit. Nothing can frustrate God’s purpose whenever he chooses to renew a season of spiritual fruitfulness.” Thus, there is always promise and hope for the people of God, he said.
The Sizemore Lectureship was established in 1978 in memory of Burlan A. Sizemore Jr., professor of Old Testament interpretation and Hebrew at Midwestern Seminary from1968-76. The annual lectures bring noted biblical scholars to the campus to acquaint students and the local community with a variety of biblical disciplines and interpretations.

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  • Kyle Roberts