A voice of one calling in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
Every mountain and hill made low
The crooked roads shall become straight,
The rough ways smooth.
And all mankind will see God’s salvation
Yes, things will be made right and justice will be dealt out. People will become whole again. People will see God’s salvation. Yes!? Or maybe not?
Lectures, debates and articles abound on the particulars of the theologies coming from these movements. Schemas of their worldview are constructed and discussed. But digging deeper, reading the fine print, dusting off volumes brings one to imagine the theological principles and their effect on the actual historical figures. Social impact must be considered. Why am I content with only half the story? Am I afraid of what the rest might mean? To hope—would it be too much? So, I observe a renown theologian observing and recounting the history of a movement. It reminds me of the time I went through a pastor’s library and found significant amounts of books on Katherine Kuhlman and other revival and healer types. I never saw any evidence of such an influence in this pastor’s service to his community. Yet there lies the evidence, of something.
John Howard Yoder writes, in an introduction to a small volume of significant thoughts by Eberhard Arnold, concerning the Religious-Social movement within German Protestantism. Social concern and pietism are intermingled, where pietism is defined as the encounter with God that changes reality, through “prayer, guidance and miracle.” Yoder cites the ministry of Johann Cristoph Blumhardt, who was a young pastor, who in an event of grace, witnessed/assisted the freeing of a young woman from a depressive possession. “Blumhardt developed a particular pastoral ministry over the next half century which his son, Christoph Friedrich took on. Yet (in a way quite distinct from the individualistic or internalistic turn which such deliverance ministries can take)” Yes, these are Yoder’s words of evaluative commentary. It suggests he has had enough encounter and read enough Blumhardt biography and autobiography to make such evaluative commentary about extraordinary, perhaps miraculous events. Further, among the spiritual and intellectual successors of the Blumhardts is none other than Karl Barth. Kutter, also a successor of social-religious movement influenced Arnold.
Further, I’ve encountered stories like the following, in reading Wesley, Finney and Whitefield. There was a Welsh man I believe who also preached during the Great Awakening. I don’t recall his name but I do recall the account given of a young man who was raised from the dead after 2 days of prayer and weeping. The young man who had died had been close to this minister’s heart and they had ministered together. His body had been laid out in a bedroom of a house. All others had pronounced him dead, as they prepared for the usual funeral events. Yet this man of God wept and prayed over his body, rejecting all help from those who tried to convince him the young man was dead. They even tied a cord around the dead youth’s neck, forcing it into an unnatural position, supposedly to demonstrate the lifelessness of the body. After two days the young man received life back into his body. Everyone was amazed. He was fully healed of the illness he had died of but his neck troubled him for the rest of his life. Accounts like these are numerous. I ran across the account when researching Wesley. While I was doing a search for the story above, I ran into a well cited paper on miracles and other acts of grace and strange phenomenon occurring during the times of great revival.
To this I only wrinkle my brow in consternation. I’ve seen societies which follow various of these dead men’s theological legacy. Don’t these folks know if the dust was swept back entirely, amazing and shocking things would be laid bare? Could this stuff uncovered not become the material of a stand up comedy such as the number the Earl of Shaftesbury pulled in “Characteristics” mocking the Huguenot immigrants, commonly known as French Prophets?
Could it be true?
I imagine myself rallying around the next John, wearing sandals and a rough coat. I imagine entering into the words of the prophet Isaiah once again. I don’t care on iota about the nay-saying ridicules. I want to see God’s salvation. I want the straight path. I want to cash in my lot with the disheveled character who eats locust and honey. His words are like a stream in this desert.
Yoder’s quotations are from the Introduction of Eberhard Arnold’s God’s Revolution. Plough Publishing, 1997.