Book Review: Reviving New England by Nate Pickowicz; foreword by Steven J. Lawson
Nate Pickowicz’s call for Reviving New England may surprise you, and in a good way. When I contacted Pastor Pickowicz to request a review copy, I expected to read lots of practical tips, hopefully derived from sound theology, but like a how-to manual, complete with a schematic for a detailed program to accomplish the goal. Although the book does not lack practical application, Reviving New England is not ultimately about what any of us can do to ensure revival in a land no longer known for the love of Christ, the preaching of the gospel, and holy living. Instead, the book defines revival as something that is an extraordinary and “surprising work of the Spirit of God” (112). This work produces an increased number of conversions, a regathering and strengthening of backslidden believers, and a deepening devotion in faithful believers (16-17) and is to be distinguished from revivalism, which reduces revival to a mechanical consequence of human manipulation.
The Northeastern United States were once alive with a vibrant Christian witness, which liberalism, rationalism, and Unitarianism significantly eroded. Pickowicz chronicles the birth and decline of Christian influence in New England and gives a prescription that may seem overly simplistic to some: expository preaching. It is the primary task of a faithful preacher to “stand before the people of God to faithfully discharge his ministry of reading, teaching, and exhorting with the Scriptures” (33). Churches need pastors who will passionately and clearly proclaim the gospel of Christ as they continually expound the message of the text of the Bible. New England needs individuals and churches to hate sin and vigorously pursue holy living. They must have an accurate view of God, which entails a healthy understanding of and opposition to sin. “If God were to fail to oppose and punish sin, He would be guilty of aiding and abetting sin, which would impugn His righteous character” (42). Rather than a common cultural independence and extreme self-reliance, New England needs churches that understand the glory and beauty of unity in a local body that seeks to enjoy fellowship, service, intergenerational discipleship (cf. Titus 2), biblical counsel, and church discipline.
Churches must understand that revival is not about preserving tradition or historic buildings, but about the glory of God. God is glorified as Christ is preached, sinners are converted, and believers grow. The church must proclaim the gospel, make disciples by teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded (Matt. 28:18-20), and bear witness for Him as living displays of His ongoing work. “Our testimonies give powerful evidence that God is still intimately involved with this world to the praise of His own glorious grace” (82). Personal rededication, church revitalization, and church planting are needed in New England, solidly based on the foundation of God’s Word, seeking to conform ourselves to His character and our local expressions of His body to the pattern laid out in His Word, including attention to standards for church leadership and membership. The book ends with a call to pray for the Lord of harvest to send laborers who will work side by side, focusing on their area and then helping others, to be a faithful gospel witness who look for God’s gracious blessing.
Reviving New England lays a robust foundation of history and sound, Christ-centered theology for its practical application. At 140 pages, the book is concise, but meaty enough for a good discussion group or church class to study. The author selectively and intentionally sprinkles helpful quotes and explains theological language. His calls for expository preaching, discipleship, and prayer are firmly grounded in biblical mandates and an awareness of the present need. These features make the book both clear and convicting. I came away spiritually enriched and encouraged by it.
The bulk of Reviving New England focuses on true revival and what a genuine work of the Spirit produces in people and churches. The book is certainly flavored by its overview of Christianity in the region and the historical and cultural comments presented throughout the book. If I could make a suggestion for revision, I would love to see some stories of what God has done in particular individuals and churches. Whether intermingled in the chapters or added as an additional appendix, such testimony could further illustrate some of the points in the book and witness to God’s continuing work in New England and the potential for what may be yet to come.
The message of Reviving New England is applicable to any individual, any church, and any place in need of revival, and that was a good surprise. The need for good theology, a clear presentation of the gospel, repentance, faithful Christian living, biblical ecclesiology, and a reliance on God in prayer are clear and are desperately needed in New England and throughout the world in every place and every generation. I highly recommend this book for all who long for the Spirit’s surprising work to send forth a mighty renewal in the land.
PERSONAL NOTE: My connections to New England prompted much of my interest in the book. I greatly desire to see revival there. I am from rural Appalachia (Northeast Tennessee), but my wife is from Massachusetts, so we travel there regularly. I spent three months as an intern with the New England Center for Expository Preaching in 2008, meeting many New England pastors and church members at various church meetings, conferences, and tours of historic sites, and had the privilege of preaching each week in a different pulpit throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts. I hope to be of encouragement to those who are continuing to labor for the gospel there, encourage others to consider going there, and, if the Lord so directs, join them myself one day. Let us pray for the Lord to bring revival to New England and raise up laborers for the fields that are ready for harvest.