Revival is good. Reform is better.

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I hear the word “revival” thrown around in a lot of churches. Seeking revival. Praying for revival. Singing about revival. Even trying to schedule revival. It’s one of those buzz words that gets people excited and makes them feel like they’re doing big things for Jesus, and it’s often made to seem like “revival” is the pinnacle of the church’s effectiveness.

But I can’t help but think that if we want genuine cultural change, revival alone isn’t the answer. Most “revivals” suffer from being a flash in the pan—an electrifying encounter or movement that burns really bright but quickly fizzles. It gets a lot of attention and gets a lot of people pumped up, but often fails to do much more than that.

“Revival” is the initial act of bringing something back to consciousness, or back to life. Like when a lady is revived after fainting. Or when doctors revive a man whose heart stopped beating. Similarly, a spiritual revival is meant to bring dead sinners to life in Christ. Which is a wonderful thing, and something we should strive for.

But Jesus didn’t just send us to make converts, He sent us to make disciples (Mt. 28:19). The Great Commission calls us to train people in a whole walk of life; to build men, women and children on a gospel that infiltrates every area of thought, emotion and practice. Revival is a good thing. But it’s only the starting point—what we really need is something deeper. Something that moves beyond a fleeting moment or one-time experience. We need something that transforms the entire way people see life and alters the whole of their worldview.

What we need is reform.

While revival is an act of resuscitation, reform is a thorough and ongoing change. It is, in its technical sense, “the amendment of conduct, belief, etc.” Reform is a total overhaul of the way we see life. The issues in the world, and even in the church, are not magically fixed by getting people to say the sinner’s prayer. That starting point of revival and conversion must lead to an all-around transformation in the way we perceive things, the way we think about things, and the way we respond to things. In order to see real, lasting change, our theology, politics, personal conduct, work ethic, family structure, priorities, entertainment choices, and day-to-day habits must all be conformed to the image of God’s Son.

This is called reform. It’s to reshape the way we look at life, thus reshaping the way we live. That’s why the work of men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin in the 16th century is known as the Reformation. These men didn’t just seek converts (which, I cannot stress enough, is a good thing), but they went above and beyond that by biblically reshaping the whole of how the church viewed every area of life.

Scripture says, “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.” (Jeremiah 18:11) Scripture also discusses the reforms of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:1), King Asa (2 Chr. 15:1), King Jehoiada (2 Chr. 23:16), and others who led the people in a godly shift that called for loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. And when Jesus sent His apostles to advance the kingdom of God, He did not just send them to revive people, but to reform their lives.

Was there revival? Certainly. But it was a part of a much greater process. It was a part of reform. Today, as the kingdom of God continues to spread, He calls us to do the same.

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Recommended Reading from 2016

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I had the privilege of reading some great books in 2016. Here are five that were particularly impactful, which I recommend you to consider for your own reading list in 2017.

Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung has been one of my favorite speakers and writers for several years now. Personable, practical, humorous, and always theological, he brings a fresh energy and relatability that reflects his pastoral spirit. In Just Do Something he addresses an issue that I’ve personally struggled with and that, as a youth pastor, I’ve seen countless young people struggle with: what is God’s will for my life?

DeYoung avoids the sappy, emotionally driven approaches you often hear. Instead of encouraging his readers to sit in a quiet place and wait to feel God’s direction, DeYoung proposes several principles that involve holy living, searching the Scriptures, seeking counsel, and applying the wisdom of God to make informed, Christ-honoring decisions. He claims that sitting on our hands and doing nothing while we wait to “hear” from God often produces laziness and ineffectiveness in our kingdom work. He’s absolutely right, and it’s a message more people need to hear, especially as we begin a new year.

In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture by Alister McGrath

My wife came from a KJV-only background. I did not. In fact, I was the exact opposite. I was so upset by the KJV-onlyists that I held a bit of a grudge against the King James Bible itself. It wasn’t until the past couple years that I began to appreciate the historic, linguistic, and even doctrinal significance of this translation.

I happened to stumble upon In the Beginning at the library last summer, and in light of my recent appreciation, I gave it a shot. McGrath is a master historian, and he goes into great and valuable detail about the background of European religion, politics and culture to set the stage for the creation of the KJV. He discusses the evolution of the English language up until that point in history. He deals with preceding English translations, like the Geneva Bible, and how these forerunners impacted the KJV. He provides a helpful background on King James himself, and he goes into great detail about the extensive interpretive process and even the backstories of the interpreters involved.

Even if you don’t use the King James Version, it has unquestionably played a good and vital role in English Christianity. In the Beginning helps us to better appreciate that role. It also reminds us how God providentially works through the means of history to both preserve and spread His Word.

The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More Than a Memory by Richard C. Barcellos

In an effort to avoid the Roman Catholic error of transubstantiation, we often downplay the spiritual significance of the Lord’s Supper. For many churches, communion is little more a commemorative nod to Christ’s death. Richard Barcellos seeks to bring balance to this error by reminding the church that the Lord’s Supper is “more than a memory”; it is a very real, very sacred process whereby Jesus is spiritually present with His people as the benefits of His finished work are administered by the Holy Spirit. This is a short read, but a much-needed one for the church today.

Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ edited by Thomas R. Schreiner

I’m a Reformed Baptist. Which must seem like a contradiction to my Reformed friends (many would prefer I use the term “Calvinistic Baptist” or “Particular Baptist”). After all, Reformed theology historically goes hand-in-hand with infant baptism. Although the majority of my theological views have shifted in a thoroughly Reformed direction over the past decade, including eschatology, soteriology, and ecclesiology, I still fundamentally disagree with the theology behind infant baptism.

This terrific read reminded me why. Believer’s Baptism is an anthology from various Baptist heavy-hitters (most of whom are Calvinists) like Thomas Schreiner, Shawn Wright and Mark Dever that deals with the systematic, biblical and historical theology of credobaptism. It examines the examples of baptism in the Gospels and Acts, the statements about baptism in the epistles, the relationship baptism plays between the old and new covenants, what the early church believed about baptism, what issues have surrounded baptism over the years, and, finally, the significance of baptism in the local church.

Whether you’re a credobaptist who wants to explore the background of your church’s practice, or you’re a paedobaptist who wants to better understand your credobaptist brothers and sisters, get “immersed” in this one (see what I did there?).

Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation by Dennis E. Johnson

After growing up in staunchly dispensationalist churches, I reached a point in life where I was sick of eschatology. I didn’t necessarily know what I believed about it, but I knew what I didn’t believe. Dennis E. Johnson helped change all that. I had developed an interest in the amillennial, idealist interpretation of Revelation but I was unsure if it had any real merit or biblical support. So I gave Johnson’s idealist, amillennial interpretation a try. I must say, he makes his case quite convincingly.

Revelation is a book of imagery. It makes constant use of symbols and pictures, the majority of which actually have their basis in earlier portions of Scripture. Whereas many preachers try to see these images fulfilled in news headlines or technological inventions, Johnson draws from the biblical sources themselves to reach a conclusion. He interprets Scripture with Scripture. Rather than some distant, seven-year period, he argues that the apocalyptic “tribulation” represents the cosmic battle between good and evil inbetween Christ’s first and second coming. He portrays the church as both persecuted and yet victorious throughout history, physically, economically and socially suffering but spiritually advancing the kingdom of the risen, reigning Christ, until at last Christ returns and consummates His kingdom once and for all.

If all you’ve ever known is a Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye version of the end times, or maybe if you’re not sure what to believe and you’re looking for some clarity, this is a phenomenal resource. As another year begins, Triumph of the Lamb reminds us that history belongs to Jesus and will culminate in the total victory of Jesus.