Who will lead a Third Great Awakening?

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, October 19, 2011, at 5:12 pm

As American mainstream culture continues to enshrine the religion of secular humanism in our metamodern world, there is hope that someday there will be another Great Awakening in this country. Preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield led the first one, while James McGready and Charles Finney were at the forefront at the second. A possible Third Great Awakening will only come about if the laity leads it, because too many of today's pastors are caught up in celebrity pastor narcissism.

The seduction of becoming a famous, celebrity pastor is too much of a temptation for those who have fallen prey to the belief that the only way to be effective is to build an empire and legacy around oneself. The explosion of conferences and events built around particular pastors' personalities to gain a following could be evidence of this seduction. As such, many pastors are so caught up in gaining Twitter followers, writing fluffy books, and making a name for themselves as an "author, speaker, teacher, pastor" that they have disqualified themselves to lead cultural renewal.

An example of a lay-led movement is the Cal-Pac Prayer and Repentance conferences emerging in the United Methodist Church on the West Coast (see conference video below). In the spirit of the Methodist-influenced Second Great Awakening, lay leaders like Eaar Oden are on a mission to lead his church to revival on the basis of gospel-driven repentance and prayer. On the movement's Facebook page you'll find references to J.C. Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, and Bible quotes from the ESV.

Oden explains the importance of these conferences this way:

"Two-hundred and thirty-four years ago in 1767, John Wesley preached a sermon titled 'the Repentance of Believers,' where he preached on the continual need for repentance, beyond the initial repentance unto salvation. These are his words: 'There is also a repentance, which is required after we have believed the gospel, and in every subsequent stage of our Christian walk, or we will not be able to run the race which is set before us. And this repentance and faith is as necessary to continue to grow in grace as the former faith and repentance were to enter into the Kingdom of God.'"

Such conferences led by the laity are not for the purpose of hosting celebrity pastors to speak. Instead, participants spend 80 hours of interrupted Bible reading and prayer, followed by a total of two hours of listening to speakers, culminating in a huge fellowship meal.

We live in an American culture that breeds narcissistic celebrity pastors who want a following (1 Corinthians 3:4), so if any Holy Spirit-driven movement is going to bring about revival, it's going to happen among those who are not exalted (Matthew 23:11-12). Perhaps it will be regular, non-famous women and men who simply read the Bible, pray together, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Imagine the possibilities.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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