Doug Wilson contrasts the difference between what a revival is, and what revivalism is. He says,
Revival, which is a gift of God, has been turned into a work of man through theological confusion. The result is revivalism, not revival…
In a true revival, doctrine is the emphasis, and the doctrine is God-centered. In revivalism,… man is [at] the center, [and] feelings are emphasized. In [true] revival, truth overwhelms the mind, resulting in an emotional response — inexpressible joy. In revivalism, the emotions are excited directly, and any number of teachings, true or false, can do that…
In a true revival, the change in the moral behavior of those blessed is significant and lasting. With revivalism, very little is done to teach the people to restrain their passions. In fact, because the “revival” encourages a lack of restraint in the church, it is not long before a lack of restraint is evident elsewhere, usually in the area of sexual immorality (1)
I couldn’t agree more with Wilson. Revivalism is about emotions, the show, the lights and the smoke. But it is all mustered up. It is all planned, without any consideration that God’s Spirit is the One who brings about real revival.
But, in true revival, God is at the center, with healthy teaching, and a biblical emphasis. And true revival is brought about through the Word and prayer by God’s Spirit, bringing about conviction, salvation, and passionate repentance.
For more consideration of this, here is a great conversation between Keller and Carson on revival. Some great thoughts here:
(1) Easy Chairs, Hard Words, Doug Wilson