Book Review: Fresh Encounter

by Henry Blackaby & Claude King

Fresh Encounter is not as interesting, shocking, or well written as the initial effort by these same two authors, Experiencing God. (See also The BDM Letter of May-June 1997.) Written in short, choppy sentences in a relatively simple style, full of Scripture (remarkably almost all misused), Fresh Encounter is sure to draw rave reviews from the many today who see revival as the only hope for the church and for America. But like most books on the subject of revival, this one has trouble pinning down a definition. Here are some of their efforts:

When your love for the Lord compels you to obey Him, then revival has occurred. When God returns to His people in power, His presence will be known and felt (p. 21);

Revival is a sovereign act of God; we cannot force Him to do anything. Yet in His sovereignty God has set forth the requirements for revival (p. 23);

Spiritual awakening occurs when large numbers of people (or a high percentage of people in an area) experience this new birth to spiritual life in a short period of time (p. 28);

God initiates revival and He brings it to pass when His people have met His conditions (p. 28).

Nevertheless, it is still unclear what these men believe revival to be. In order to illustrate revival, the authors use what they consider to be revivals found in Scripture, history, and modern times, but real problems emerge at this point.

Scripture first: many of the revivals cited were superficial and short-lived; most Old Testament (more on this later) and other so-called revivals are little more than calls to repentance (Revelation 2,3). The Bible does not call these events "revivals," and as a matter of fact, the Bible never calls for revival at all (by the definitions given). It does call for repentance -- but is repentance the same as revival?

Next, the authors showcase a number of famous revivals from the past, but without discrimination. The Cane Ridge Revival (1800) and the Welsh Revival (1904-5) are considered to be on par with the Great Awakening (1734). But a careful examination of these revivals shows the first two mentioned to be mostly emotional uprisings that led to major doctrinal error and experiential excesses. To the Fresh Encounter authors, as with most who call for revival today, any supercharged emotional outburst of God's people is considered revival, no matter how short in duration or errant in practice.

The book also highlights several modern-day "movements of God." The question that comes to my mind is, "Where was I when all of this happened? Have I lived right through these 'great revivals' and, in most cases, never even heard of them?" If so, I am not alone, for these revivals apparently have had little effect upon Christianity either (or America, for that matter, which is an important issue to revivalists).

Additionally, I wonder where those who were supposedly revived are today? Did the Wheaton students in the revival of 1995 repent of their doctrinal errors or just have a momentary fling with emotionalism? True revival should, I would think, lead to a move back to Scripture and away from the theological compromise that Wheaton College has long embraced. But no such thing has happened at Wheaton, nor is such reported to have happened in the lives of Wheaton's students.

What kind of revival is this? What should be the result of revival? Blackaby tell us:

The charismatic pastor said to John, "We have a group in our church studying Experiencing God. It is led by a Presbyterian, filled with charismatics, and has a Church of Christ pastor in attendance, and they are studying Baptist materials. That's got to be revival" (p. 120)!

Get it? Their evidence of true revival is not serving God in truth; it is ecumenism among those who have laid down their doctrinal distinctives to join hands over mutual experiences.

Not only is Blackaby's and King's understanding of revival flawed, but so is their comprehension of Christian living. In essence, everything these men say is bathed in charismatic jargon and approach. They speak favorably of being "baptized with fire" (p. 113); demolishing strongholds (spiritual warfare) (p. 168); confession of sins of our ancestors (pp. 39,186); not trying to control or organize a revival (i.e. "let the Spirit lead," whatever that means) (pp. 175,184); and Finneyism (p. 180). We are told to "go beyond Word-centered to being Christ-centered" (p. 182), although pastors shouldn't "stop preaching altogether" (p. 194). All of these are part of the agenda and theology of the charismatic wing of professing Christianity and will lead the unsuspecting believer in that direction. It is no accident that Charisma magazine gives Blackaby credit for bringing many Southern Baptists into the charismatic movement.

As with Experiencing God, this volume's most glaring error is mysticism. Over and over again, we are assured that God will speak to us outside of Scripture, directing our every step (pp. v,vi,79,97,107,131,149,152-3,175,183-189,194,204). A representative quote is found on p. 79:

A church may sincerely seek the will of God. A great number of members clearly sense a direction from God. Some in the church, however, may raise such a storm of protest that they decide not to do what God directed. This would indicate that the heart of the church had begun to shift. The next time the church senses God's directions, they may choose again not to obey. The heart of the church has begun to harden. (Emphasis added.)

Note the problem. A group of people "sense" a direction from God. God has not spoken verbally -- this direction is not found in the Word, just a group of people feels that God wants them to do something. The rest of that body does not agree. Usually this is called a difference of opinion, but not under the Blackaby system. No, to Blackaby a "sense" is a legitimate word from God. To not act on that "sense" is an act of disobedience. Thus, the Christian life is reduced to hunches, feelings, shivers, and senses. Our directives no longer come from the Word of God, but we are reduced to "liver quivers," and we are told this is "experiencing God." This may be experiencing any number of things, including indigestion, imagination, wishful thinking, or pure delusion, but it is not experiencing God and it is not a "fresh encounter."

The other prominent error in Fresh Encounter is the authors' constant confusion of the church with Israel (pp. 5,6,44,68,76,94,101,114). The authors believe that the church is the new Israel (p. 68), and as such, God deals with us exactly as He did with Old Testament Israel. God promised the Jews that He would physically bless their nation if they obeyed Him and that He would curse them if they disobeyed (cf. Deut. 28).

But such a covenant is never given to the church, which has already been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies (Eph. 1:3). Take this one step further logically. God said that He would punish Israel with earthquakes, locusts, famine, etc., if they failed Him. But the church is not a nation; God's people are scattered throughout the nations. There is no nation on earth outside of Israel (and never has been, even in the Old Testament) to which God made this blessing/curse covenant. God's people today are the church, not America. But we are confidently told repeatedly in Fresh Encounter (pp. 6,l0l,l02,l69,l76) that based on II Chronicles 7:14, "the healing of our nation is waiting on the repentance and revival of God's people" (p. 6).

This is a very common error, but an important one. God is not duty bound to do anything for America. He may bless her or curse her according to His sovereign will, whether or not God's people walk with Him.

Fresh Encounter is not without its moments of Biblical instruction and admonishment (even a stopped clock is right twice a day), but the overall thrust of this book is misguided and unbiblical. If one wants to have a fresh encounter with God, I suggest a solid reading and application of another Book which will have far greater effect -- the Bible.

[This article has been excerpted and/or adapted from an unpublished article by Pastor Gary Gilley, Southern View Chapel, Springfield, Illinois.]

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