God in Our Midst

James I. Packer, God in Our Midst: Seeking and Receiving Ongoing Revival (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Books, 1987)

Goal of the pamphlet: “to formulate a clear view of what the renewal of the church really is, and then to say what needs to happen in order to get us there, starting from where we are.” (5)

“Renewal in all its aspects is not a theme for dilettante debate, but for humble, penitent, prayerful, faith-full exploration before the Lord, with a willingness to change and be changed, and if necessary to be the first to be changed, if that is what the truth proves to require… to enter into renewal could cost us everything we have, and we shall be very guilty if, having come to understand renewal, we then decline it.” (6)

“It would be better for us not to touch the study of renewal at all if we are not ourselves ready to be the first to be renewed.” (7)

“Our basic need in studying renewal is for categories and criteria that are neither sociological nor historical but theological… biblically based.” (11)

“In biblical thought and experience, renewal is linked with divine visitation, purging judgment, and restoration through repentance, and no amount of hustle and bustle qualifies as renewal where these notes are absent.” (13)

The Theology of Renewal

  • Renewal is eschatological.
    • Renewals are a foretaste of the passions and activities that will characterize heaven.
  • Renewal is Christocentric
    • There is a subjective awareness of the gracious and loving and well-intentioned presence of Jesus himself.
    • There is an objective experience of dying with Jesus and rising with him in new power that is deepened in every believer. This is evidenced by real moral change and authentic ministry to one another.
  • Renewal is Pneumatological
    • It is accomplished through the action of the Holy Spirit.
  • What place does renewal have in God’s overall purposes?
    1. It brings “the ending of God’s wrath, the termination of the impotence, frustration, and barrenness which have been the tokens of divine displeasure for unfaithfulness.” (22)
    2. God’s people are exalted. Sorrow and distress over God’s displeasure is replaced with joy.
    3. God’s kingdom is advanced.
  • God’s initial visitation sparks a renewal. All depends on this. << So we don’t make this happen. So we must start by prayer and pursing what we already know God wants us to do.
  • Then there is a state of renewal that continues until the original power of the renewal is withdrawn.

The Elements of Renewal

There is no cookie-cutter pattern, but there at least 5 constant factors in all renewals:

  1. Awareness of God’s presence. Is. 64:1-5. “The Spirit of revival in the consciousness of God.” (27, citing Duncan Campbell)
  2. Responsiveness to God’s word. Hebrews 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:5;2:3.
  3. Sensitiveness to sin. Acts 2:37-41.Not just feeling guilty, but vigorous repentance in pubic.  This makes the Gospel loved as never before.
  4. Liveliness in community.
  5. Fruitfulness in testimony. Revival spills over into ministering to the world.

The Quest for Renewal

Theme 1: Our guilt at not being renewed. “Biblical theology knows of no middle condition, for churches or for Christians, between spiritual advance under God’s blessing and spiritual decline under his displeasure.” (37) God is unhappy when we leave our first love (Rev. 2:4ff), are spiritually dead (Rev. 3:1), or self-satisfied and self-deceived (Rev. 3:15-17). “The root of decline is always human unfaithfulness.” (37) “Marks of decline include high tolerance of half-heartedness, moral failure, and compromise; low expectations of holiness in oneself and others; willingness to remain Christian pygmies; apathy about the advancement of God’s cause and his glory, and contentment, even complacency, with things as they are.” (37)

Theme 2: Our inability to renew ourselves. It won’t happen due to our feverish activity (Isaiah 22:8-14). We can’t make it happen. But no one can limit God’s ability to revive us in any situation. The way forward is to plead for it and wait on God.

Theme 3: Our obligation to remove the hindrances to renewal in our lives, now. Church-wide hindrances include:

  1. Clericalism as a leadership style vs. empowering everyone in the body to serve.
  2. Formalism: more interest in following an established pattern than meeting God when we gather.
  3. Complacency.

Steps to renewal

  1. “The first step, perhaps, to the renewal of the Christian people is that leaders should begin to repent of their too-ready acceptance of low-levels of attainment both in themselves and in those who they lead.” (43) “Send a revival—start the work in me.” (43, citing Edwinn Orr)
  2. Leaders challenging their people the way Jesus challenged the Laodiceans.
  3. Leaders and those they lead are more “serious, expectant, and honest with each other as we look to god in our use of the means of grace.” (44)