WRF Member Dr. Clair Davis Discusses "Reading the Bible for Revival"

The article below was written and submitted by WRF member Dr. D. Clair Davis who may be contacted at


Reading the Bible for Revival

For Revival to happen, folks need to hear about Jesus. For people to trust Jesus, they need to hear the gospel. It used to take an itinerant specialist to make it clear.  Back then when you looked at the numbers for ‘adult professions of faith,’ there would be those spikes in the yearly stats: 2, 3, 1, 45, 62, 37, 3, 0, 1. The spike was when the evangelist came to town and spelled out how to become a believer. The rest of the time the preacher and everyone else talked about what Christians do and don’t do:

Rootitee-toot, rootitee-toot
We are the boys from the Institute
We don’t drink and we don’t chew
And we don’t go with girls who do

           It’s some different today but not much. People tell each other what a Christian is:  Oh, they hate gay people. They think only whites are human.

It seems to be hard to focus on the gospel. I finally heard it when I was 14 and the kid preacher preached only on Galatians and 100 of us in high school came to know Jesus. But the church moved him on since he neglected the old folks.

The rest of the Bible isn’t Galatians.  Is the gospel there or not? A lot of people don’t find it there.  That’s how we got into that ‘Christians don’t do that’ stuff, as a summary of everything you needed to know about being a good boy.

Is it possible to find the gospel and Jesus all over the Bible?  Can we all do it? I didn’t think about that until I started Westminster Seminary back in 1954. Ed Clowney ran the preaching class and my turn came up. David and Goliath was my job. I worked and worked at that, and then the day came. Ed dozed (night classes at Union NY) but was still alert enough. He told me what I’d done right, and what still needed work.  Then he paused (pregnantly?) and said: “ A rabbi could have preached it.”

I don’t remember everything I’ve ever heard, but that one sticks and always will. What’s the point if you leave Jesus out? We learned about that wonderful reality, ‘biblical theology.’  Not the greatest label, but definitely the greatest content. The Bible isn’t a lot of random truths after all, but one story, the story of our kind and patient Lord, who loves us to the end. That story is the story of love, and sin, and grace; and more love, and deeper sin, and greater grace. Then comes the end, that we all of our lives have yearned for: Jesus died on the Cross, taking upon himself the wrath, and was raised and gave us his Spirit. From then on we battle world, sin and Devil, but always with Jesus and his Spirit at our sides. It’s not an easy life we have, but we’re not alone; the story is about us, about us with Jesus, and it’s a blessed yarn.

Doing biblical theology, redemptive history, isn’t a cure-all, not when it’s done wrong. Sometimes it comes out like this: isn’t it neat that Jesus is here in this strange place, Amen. Sometimes it leaves out what Jesus has to do with these very real issues in my life. I learned from Jay Adams that a sermon has to tell you How, How to deal with this issue that the Word tells you about, and sometimes people try biblical theology without any How at the same time.

It has to be the Story, but also the paragraph you’re in, definitely the Hope in Jesus, but also the How when you just had a terrible fight with your spouse. That’s not easy for the preacher to do in half an hour, and he has to cut some corners. (I just wish I could fix that, we preachers need 45 minutes, that’s when we really prioritize. Bring back the evening service, when Jesus used to be big, and leave the morning for How? Take out the pipe-organ and get 10 minutes that way?)

But it can and must be done, and people are doing it. My class and I have been working through (WRF member) Harry Reeder’s From Embers to Flame, and there’s sure a lot of “Repentance” and “Preaching the Gospel Always” in there. I love it.

But can you do BT and How and also pay enough attention to the details of the original story? I think so, but there are folks who miss those details, even wonder about what you think about inspiration if you keep jumping ahead to Jesus. Can you still recognize it as the verbally inspired Word if you keep saying it makes still more sense when you see it through Jesus? I guess we should be talking about that, working through that together. But for me my colleague (WRF member) Dan McCartney has already done it:  http://www.bible-researcher.com/mccartney1.html     

I have been so blessed, so stimulated, so helped to understand God’s Word, to understand God, to understand that Jesus, the Beloved Son of the Father, loves me the way he is loved. How could I live if I didn’t have that to feed on daily?  I went to Westminster for Van Til and Murray and Young and Stonehouse--and I got Ed Clowney too!  When I came back to teach, my amazing colleagues and I were all on that amazing BT page, and we had Revivals all the time in class, when Jesus made himself so present, day after day. PTL for Ed Clowney, definitely.  But also for Bob Strimple and Jay Adams and Ray Dillard and Dick Gaffin and Sam Logan and and Sinclair Ferguson and Harvie Conn and Al Groves and Mike Kelly and Doug Green. What a joy to be on that team, working together to see our Jesus in God’s developing and fulfilling Story.

Let’s keep working at that, till all of God’s people are so blessed. That’s what my student and friend Joe Fitzpatrick does in Puerto Rico. Those pastors come to him and say, I have only three sermons, can you help me? He does, all the time.  I see a dark world around us all these days--but because of that darkness we can’t possibly do that moralism anymore. The light of the world is Jesus, don’t you agree?