At once spiritually stimulating and very challenging is the way I would describe Henry and Richard Blackaby’s book, Fresh Encounter. This year was a good year to read this book as it has been called the year of disaster because of the eleven natural disasters so far this year that have cost our country a billion dollars or more. In addition, our church has been studying the prophet Joel with his call for sacred assembly and genuine repentance. These factors have made the Blackabys’ discussion of the true nature of revival all the more meaningful and intensely relevant.
There are some underlying concepts that need to be grasped if the book is to be appreciated. One of them is that revivals are intended for Christians; that is to help believers recover a normal Christian life. Awakenings on the other hand are times when God mightily moves to bring unbelievers to faith. Revivals precede awakenings. “Revival is for those who previously experienced life but whose spiritual life has grown barren and anemic because of sin (p. 17).” “Conversions are a repercussion of revival (p. 18).”
What is a normal Christian life? The eight characteristics listed by the authors (p. 3) are all very Biblical descriptions of the mature Christian. They provide an ideal but not an unreachable one. It is toward this goal that God is moving us by means of revivals.
Because we so easily drift from God’s ideals for us, another basic idea strongly developed in this book is, “there will be no revival where there is no repentance” (p. 15). “When the Spirit of God moves among his people to revive them, they view their sin with the same holy repugnance God does (p. 61).” This leads them to confess their sins, turn away from evil and return to God.
One chapter I really appreciated was the discussion of God’s discipline of Christians in chapter 9. “God is an active, participative, caring Father. God vehemently opposes anything that robs us of enjoying a close relationship with him. When we as his children opt for destructive activities and attitudes, God actively disciplines us (p. 110).” As an Arminian, I disagree with Blackaby that “they cannot lose their salvation” (p. 108), however, this minor variance in doctrine does not affect the excellent material in this chapter.
There is also an excellent chapter on worship and revival (chapter 15) which every pastor and worship leader should read. “When self-centered churches experience revival, their focus changes from what pleases them to what satisfies God” (p. 199).
I highly recommend this book. It will be both a boon to personal spiritual renewal and an aid to understanding and facilitating revival in congregations. It has certainly impacted me personally. It has also impacted our church as it helped me to understand the purpose of a sacred assembly and lead our church in one.