The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever: A Book Review
written by: Liam Watts
As students who were born mostly in the late 90s, we have had the great privilege of entering society at a tumultuous time. Exciting, confusing, and at times disorderly, I think tumultuous is a good word that sums up the last few years of American history quite concisely. Exciting, as we are seeing great advances in science, faith, and technology; and at the same time, confusing and disorderly as we are continuing to wrestle with large complex social issues within and without the Church. Marriage, pastor protections, and immigration are areas that can and do divide us.
So where do we go from here? How does we, as members of the Church, reconcile these issues? As our apprehension towards the disunity of the Church grows, I believe that the path towards reconciliation lies with revival, looking towards the Spirit of God as the force that will reunite the body of Christ. I didn’t come up with this idea on my own, however, for I was inspired by Elmer Towns’ book The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever. Now, you might be wondering, what exactly is revival, and where does it come from? These questions and more are answered both directly and indirectly in the book.
Towns starts his book by digging into the meat of what a revival really is and attempting to explain where they come from. He does so by looking at revivals throughout history and taking personal experience from his own life. Towns formulates his working definition for revival as:
An evangelical revival is an extraordinary work of God in which Christians repent of their sins as they become intensely aware of his presence in their midst, and they manifest a positive response to God in renewed obedience to the known will of God, resulting in both a deepening of their individual and corporate experience with God, and an increased concern to win others to Christ. (Towns 11)
Towns then further breaks revivals down into nine categories while also laying out his criteria for greatness. For a revival to be great, Towns says that it must fit the Biblical portrait of revival, demonstrate God’s presence, provide an awakening to New Testament commandments, influence the surrounding culture, have reliable sources, and most importantly it must have had a long-lasting generational impact. After explaining these things, Towns dives right into his top ten historical revivals.
I won’t spoil the rankings where Towns places the revivals, but it was while reading these histories that I became convinced that revival is the vehicle that God wants to use to restore the Church. For example, looking at the General Awakening and The World War 2 revivals, one can see that after times of radical change, God likes to step in and restore the direction of the Church. In many areas, America and the wider world are going through transitions that will have far reaching effects for years to come. Additionally, it is remarkable how far reaching these revivals can be as well. The 1904 revival, which started with just one man in Wales, traveled all throughout America, Africa, Europe, and Asia, causing hundreds of thousands to return to Christ. God uses revivals to restore and return his people to him.
Overall, I think The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever is not just a good book, but a relevant book. I was personally inspired by Towns’ recounting of the revivals in this book, and I believe the point of this book is to examine the root causes and impacts of revivals with the hope that one could bring revival to their own time. In fact, what Towns reiterates repeatedly is that all revivals start somewhere, with someone. What Towns is trying to say is that we shouldn’t just wait around for the next great revival, because who knows? Maybe the next great revival starts with you.