I ONCE HEARD A LEARNED SOCIOLOGIST, by confession an evangelical, explain with considerable erudition why even a major revival, should the Lord choose to send one to a country like America, could not possibly speedily transform the nation. The problem is not simply the degree of biblical illiteracy in the controlling echelons of society, or the extent to which secularization has penetrated the media, or the history of the Supreme Court decisions that have affected the curricula and textbooks of our schools, and countless other items, but also how these various developments interlock. Even if, say, a million people became Christians in a very short space of time, none of the interlocking social structures and cultural values would thereby be undone.
To be fair to this scholar, he was trying, in part, to steer us away from shallow thinking that fosters a glib view of religion and revival — as if a good revival would exempt us from the responsibility to think comprehensively and transform the culture.
The element that is most seriously lacking from this analysis, however, is the sheer sweep of God’s sovereignty. The analysis of this sociologist colleague is reductionistic. It is as if he thinks in largely naturalistic categories, but leaves a little corner for something fairly weak (though admittedly supernatural) like regeneration. Not for a moment am I suggesting that God does not normally work through means that follow the regularities of the structures God himself has created. But it is vital to insist that God is not ever limited to such regularities. Above all, the Bible repeatedly speaks of times when, on the one hand, he sends confusion or fear on whole nations, or, on the other, he so transforms people by writing his Law on their heart that they long to please him. We are dealing with a God who is not limited by the machinations of the media. He is quite capable of so intruding that in judgment or grace he sovereignly controls what people think.
As early as the Song of Moses and Miriam, God is praised for the way he sends fear among the nations along whose borders Israel must pass on the way to the Promised Land (Ex. 15:15-16). Indeed, God promises to do just that (Ex. 23:27), and promises the same for the Canaanites (Deut. 2:25). So it should not be surprising to find the evidence of it as the Israelites approach their first walled town (Josh. 2:8-11; cf. Josh. 5:1).
God may normally work through ordinary means. But he is not limited by them. That is why all the military muscle in the world cannot itself guarantee victory, and all the secularization, postmodernism, naturalism, and paganism in the world cannot by themselves prevent revival. Let God be God.