From the back cover of this book, we have the following summary: "Richard Lovelace gives a history of spiritual renewals in light of biblical models. Isolating the elements of live orthodoxy, he proposes a comprehensive approach to renewal. Lovelace looks at such practical issues as renewal of the local congregation, the ways revivals go wrong, the evangelical thrust toward church unity, and Christian approaches to the arts and social concern. A book for all concerned to revitalize the church."
This book helps us to see the big picture of the historical development and the current challenges in the evangelical movement. Lovelace covers a broad range of historical church movements. He begins with Jonathan Edwards; then moves to the Great Awakenings and other revival movements over the past 400 years. He examines models of renewal and the need for continuous renewal by fighting our common enemies of sin, the flesh and the world. Spiritually, the church needs to have a deep understanding of justification, sanctification, the empowering or filling of the Holy Spirit and exercising the authority of Christ in spiritual warfare through prayer.
Second, Lovelace examines missions and prayer and their importance for renewal. He also emphasizes the importance of a unified community of believers, theological integration (not allowing minor issues to divide us) and "disenculteration". This last term means that we need to see our societal culture for what it is and our particular church culture for what it is; and deepen our understanding of our collective strengths and weaknesses.
In the second half of the book, Lovelace examines the local congregation and its need for renewal. He criticizes the lack of sanctification in individual believers and how that can lead to division and a drifting away from renewal. He examines the concept of "live orthodoxy". He says that live orthodoxy is the way in which we live out our faith coupled with the way in which we think (having sound doctrine and a renewed mind). He contrasts live orthodoxy to dead orthodoxy. That is, it is possible to have the correct creeds and confessions and have lives that are still unrenewed. On the other hand, it is possible to have personal commitment to Christ without any clear doctrinal commitment. Lovelace advocates that we must have both to have an effective witness to the world. His vision comes from Ephesians 4:12-16 which calls for unity and a deep theology that is thoroughly biblical and essentially normative.
Lovelace goes on in the final chapters to examine issues such as church unity, apostasy, separation from corrupt denomination structures, ecumenical dialog and the development of a healthy unity that presents a united front to the world, while not doing away with the existing denomination structures.
Given all the above discussion, Lovelace asks whether or not it is possible for western culture to be renewed. Can we see springs in a dry land, roots nourishing the tree? Are we in a trough that will soon be a mountain-top? Are we at the point of no return? Lovelace is optimistic. He sees renewal happening across the globe. The church is alive and well on the whole, even if the West has in recent times rejected the church as the answer to its problems.
Finally, Lovelace tackles social renewal in the structures of society that help the poor and educate our children. He says we have a duty to help the poor even with our higher duty to preach the gospel. We must not lose sight of either mandate. Jesus ministered to the poor. He did not simply come to preach and train up 12 disciples and then die on the cross. He had compassion on the real needs of people.
In the final chapter, Lovelace examines eschatology. He says that no matter what the personal views are of when Jesus will return to claim the Bride of Christ, that churches have the responsibility to be missional. We must push for the spread of the gospel in the world with a sense of urgency and excitement. In this push, we will eventually see the Lord fulfilling his plans for his people and the world at large.
I believe this book is important for Christians to consider. We need to have an understanding of church history, especially the history of evangelicalism. We need to see where we fit in and gain an understanding of the big picture and how we can help to further the cause of the gospel and the building up of the church. Our mandate from our Lord demands it. He told us to "Go and make disciples of all nations". I think this book can help us to understand our past, rightly assess our current challenges, and gain insight and motivation for where we need to concentrate our efforts going forward.
One point where I would criticize Lovelace is that he is fine with mystical practices and that they may be helpful in personal renewal. He seems to think that they are okay as long as we avoid extremes. I would hold to the view that mystical practices such as contemplative prayer and inwardly focusing on the presence of God are unsafe and not helpful in our spiritual growth. Paul tells us to renew our minds in Romans 12. This requires that the Word of God become central in our thinking and the prime motivator of our actions.
I would recommend this book to everyone. I believe it will inspire you to a deeper commitment to Christ, a better understanding of the church and a deeper commitment to do your part in expanding the kingdom of God.