10.6 The Three Rails Of Revival.


We want to engender a deep spirituality in our disciples that rejects a facile triumphalism. Disciples realize there will be hard times ahead. The journey we’re on is fraught with pain, difficulties, and the onslaughts of the enemy. They also learn we can benefit from trials. From my reading of the Bible (and church history), Christianity doesn’t guarantee heaven here on earth. We’re going to Heaven – but we may go through hell here. John Wimber


Many of those who study past revivals or spiritual awakenings throughout church history believe that there are three vital components to any successful move of God.

When God decides to move powerfully during human events (i.e., send an awakening upon his people), there will tend to be three common threads found within that particular move of God.

I’d like to give you a quick overview of these three components to “revival” and then apply them here to the move of God that birthed the Vineyard movement and so many other Spirit empowered, Kingdom-driven churches during the 1980s. When I teach about these three components to spiritual awakening, I like to call them the “Three Rails of Revival.” Below, I list the three rails; followed by a short explanation on how these three components were clearly evident in the move of God that John Wimber and others found themselves being a part of in the 1980s and beyond.


Every legitimate work of revival begins in the recovery and restoration of a long-lost, ancient truth about God, a truth that is solidly grounded in God’s unchanging Word. In the case of Wimber and the move of God’s Spirit in the 1980s, this recovered theology based out of God’s word was called “Kingdom Theology.”

This worldview, which is solidly established throughout the New Testament text, allows followers of Christ to hold onto and experience the amazing promises of God (Kingdom Theology would call this “the future breaking in on this present age”), while also being honest with the fact that we still live in a “time between the times” when all suffering has not yet ceased, people still die from diseases, and troubles still exist in the daily lives of Christians and non-Christians alike. Kingdom Theology would call this age where Christ has already come, but suffering still exists as “living in the not yet of God’s promises.” Wimber’s quote (above) encapsulates “the now but the not yet” worldview of Kingdom Theology, where disciples of the Master are encouraged to hold onto the unshakeable promises of healing and hope from the gospels, while still being totally honest with that fact that we will always live in a difficult world of suffering and pain until the day Jesus makes his second return to earth a reality.


The move of God John Wimber and others were involved in the 1980s was pegged, by some, as the Third Wave of the Holy Spirit. The first wave, occurring in the earliest part of the twentieth-century and carrying through into the 1950s, was the Pentecostal movement. This was a world-shaking phenomenon that many believe rivaled the outpouring of God’s power found in the Book of Acts. A second wave of the Spirit in the twentieth-century actually began in Catholic circles in the early 1960s and swept through the Protestant church throughout the late 60s and 70s. Some called it the Jesus Movement, a sweeping move of God, which touched thousands of young people during this time, birthing a whole new church culture across North America. Most of what we now call “Christian pop music” was birthed during this time frame. This second great move of the Spirit is sometimes better known by most church historians as the Charismatic movement.

The Third Wave was called such by some because they saw it as a third major move of the Holy Spirit in one century; something unprecedented in church history. While there were many men and women who contributed to this move of God, John and Carol Wimber and the Vineyard movement were instrumental in bringing much of the reformation during this time. As I see it, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement had stirred great interest in the Spirit, but it also brought a large divide between those receptive to the Spirit and those who thought that much of the activity in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles had become too excessive, thus, distancing itself from many practical truths found in Scripture. This “third” move of the Holy Spirit in the 1980s, and John Wimber particularly, had an amazing ability to bring a well-thought out theology and methodology to the things of the Spirit, thus giving a lot of skeptical pastors a comfortable place to land when it came to opening themselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit in both their personal lives and in the life and ministry of their churches. The ten basics we’ve been covering throughout this book formed much of the methodology many pastors needed to step into the sometimes uncertain and often choppy waters of following the Holy Spirit wherever he might go.


Both the Bible and church history show us that no spiritual awakening, revival, or renewal of God’s people is something humankind can do for themselves. It’s evident to those who study revival that it’s only the on-going power and presence of God, which can indwell and empower any move of the Spirit in people’s hearts.

I spent a lot of my sixty-plus years in Chicago. Folks who live in the Windy City know what I’m referring to when I say the “Three Rails of Revival” is similar to the “L”: the three-railed public transportation system that weaves its way through the streets of Chicago. Revival, you see, consists of two basic rails on which the “awakening” train runs. These two solid ribbons of steel (Theology and Methodology) are established by godly men and women who are listening carefully to God and are determined to keep the basic truths of a new movement Christ-centered, Kingdom driven and Biblically sound. Take away one of these two rails and you have, of course, a train wreck! But just as it is with the “L” in Chicago, while these two iron rails are vital in keeping the train on its tracks, absolutely nothing will happen unless the train is connected to the electrified third rail that runs between the two outer rails. When the “L” train establishes contact with this middle electrified rail, the whole system works, delivering people wherever they need to go throughout the Windy City. But turn the electricity of that third rail off and passengers are stuck, going nowhere fast. So it is with the third rail of revival. When the Holy Spirit power is on, the awakening spreads. Turn off the power, and the movement comes to a screeching halt. Pastors familiar with Third Wave experiences with the Holy Spirit reasoned that this is why Jesus told his followers to stay in Jerusalem until “the third rail” (i.e., the Holy Spirit) was established within them. So it is with every move of God since then and will be until the end of time.

We can have both a Biblically-based Theology and a well-tuned system of Methodology in their proper places, but if little or no power is brought into the church through the indwelling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we are left with a beautiful edifice that looks very effective on paper, but sadly, of little or no use to God’s Kingdom purposes in our world.

So it is with so much of the church across North America today. We can read and reflect upon the Scriptures, seeing how the first century church was able to accomplish all it did. We gaze at church history and see how Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Billy Graham, and yes, even John Wimber, were used by God to touch past generations. But here’s my question.

Who, in our midst, will embrace the “Three Rails of Revival” and allow God to, once again, pour his Spirit out upon his church, awakening our souls and sending the first major move of God for the twenty-first century? My heart tells me that the fields are ripe for renewal and revival. Maybe you, my dear reader, while reflecting on the ten truths that Wimber once held dear, might be one that God uses in this generation to light the fires of awakening once more!


Father, it’s my prayer that awakening will once again come to your church and to your world. A powerful presence of God that is so evident in the lives of your followers that even the skeptics will look at the fruit of that awakening and admit that only Jesus could do such amazing things in the hearts and minds of men and women. You’ve done it before, Lord. I pray that you’ll do it once again! For your name’s sake. Amen!


  • What long-lost God-truths need to be recovered in our generation?
  • What simple and easily reproduced methodology might be birthed so that millions can easily access the Kingdom of God and all Jesus has for us today?
  • Finally, what might we do to clear the way for the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower all Jesus desires to do
 in this generation? Is there anything I’m doing to shut down the power or derail the locomotive of God-awakening in my life?

So what is God speaking to you today as you ponder the Wisdom of Wimber?

Between Easter 2016 and the end of August, we are sharing with you a blog series we call The Wisdom of Wimber: As I See It. In order to keep all 64 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Wisdom of Wimber page for ease of use. Might we also suggest that you order a copy or two of our book by the same title! It’s available in both paperback and e-book formats…and will soon be available in Spanish! Click here for more info. ENJOY!

If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others! 

Click here to go on to the next blog in this series…

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