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What To Make Of The Asbury Revival?

An extraordinary movement of the Holy Spirit at a Kentucky college chapel -- is it for real?
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My inbox has been lit up all week with notes from Evangelical friends telling me about the "Asbury Revival" at Asbury University, a Methodist school in Kentucky. Tom McCall, head of the theology department at affiliated Asbury seminary, writes in Christianity Today about what's happening. Excerpts:

Most Wednesday mornings at Asbury University are like any other. A few minutes before 10, students begin to gather in Hughes Auditorium for chapel. Students are required to attend a certain number of chapels each semester, so they tend to show up as a matter of routine.

But this past Wednesday was different. After the benediction, the gospel choir began to sing a final chorus—and then something began to happen that defies easy description. Students did not leave. They were struck by what seemed to be a quiet but powerful sense of transcendence, and they did not want to go. They stayed and continued to worship. They are still there.

I teach theology across the street at Asbury Theological Seminary, and when I heard of what was happening, I immediately decided to go to the chapel to see for myself. When I arrived, I saw hundreds of students singing quietly. They were praising and praying earnestly for themselves and their neighbors and our world—expressing repentance and contrition for sin and interceding for healing, wholeness, peace, and justice.

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By Thursday evening, there was standing room only. Students had begun to arrive from other universities: the University of Kentucky, the University of the Cumberlands, Purdue University, Indiana Wesleyan University, Ohio Christian University, Transylvania University, Midway University, Lee University, Georgetown College, Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, and many others.

The worship continued throughout the day on Friday and indeed all through the night. On Saturday morning, I had a hard time finding a seat; by evening the building was packed beyond capacity. Every night, some students and others have stayed in the chapel to pray through the night. And as of Sunday evening, the momentum shows no signs of slowing down.

Some are calling this a revival, and I know that in recent years that term has become associated with political activism and Christian nationalism. But let me be clear: no one at Asbury has that agenda.

One more clip:

As an analytic theologian, I am weary of hype and very wary of manipulation. I come from a background (in a particularly revivalist segment of the Methodist-holiness tradition) where I’ve seen efforts to manufacture “revivals” and “movements of the Spirit” that were sometimes not only hollow but also harmful. I do not want anything to do with that.

And truth be told, this is nothing like that. There is no pressure or hype. There is no manipulation. There is no high-pitched emotional fervor.

To the contrary, it has so far been mostly calm and serene. The mix of hope and joy and peace is indescribably strong and indeed almost palpable—a vivid and incredibly powerful sense of shalom. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is undeniably powerful but also so gentle.

A Baptist friend in Alabama texted me last night to say it has spread to the chapel at Samford University there.

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One thing that interests me about this phenomenon is what it says, or might say, about Christian enchantment. As many of you know, I'm working on a book about that topic now. I have been frustrated that I don't have nearly as many examples of enchantment in the Protestant tradition as within Orthodox and Catholicism. By "enchantment," I mean visceral experiences of the presence of God. Seems to me that the Asbury Revival would qualify, assuming it's a real thing, and not just something ginned up by preachers skilled at crowd psychology. What Tom McCall reports is encouraging on this front.

Tucker Carlson is paying attention:

Here's more testimony:

And look at this!

This is awesome. No celebrity pastors did this. Just ordinary people hungry for God. I read that the college has said that NO celebrities would be allowed onto the altar for as long as this lasts. "No celebrities but Jesus," they said. I mean, y'all, how can you not love it?

Here is a link to the chapel service that set off the Asbury Revival.

It's not my church, it's definitely not my worship style, but the Holy Spirit surely doesn't need my permission to show up and change hearts. I hope and pray that's what's happening here, and that those young people are having a dramatic experience of the reality of the Holy Spirit -- an experience that deepens their conversion.

For a somewhat contrarian voice, here's a 2020 essay by the conservative Anglican theologian J. Brandon Meeks, who wrote three years ago in Mere Orthodoxy against the claim that "we need revival." Excerpts:

“We need revival.” ~The Teeming Masses

This phrase, ubiquitous among broad evangelicals, has transmogrified from banal cliche to axiomatic mantra. Having been chanted with such frequency that there is virtually no quarter among popular Christianity where it doesn’t reverberate, it has at long last been universalized, memorized, and canonized as the programmatic agenda for all successive ecclesial endeavors. Thus for many, the watchword is now, “revival or ruin.”

The migration from adage to axiom has been a subtle (though predictable) move. If a thing is said long enough, loud enough, and often enough people soon forget to bother asking whether it should be said at all. At the last, the proposition becomes a presupposition. After having become ingrained in the religious psyche of the masses, that notion requires something closer to exorcism than explanation to extricate the host from possession. It takes quite a while to convince the entire species of something; it takes even longer to convince them that something is specious. So here I am with a crucifix and half a gallon of holy water; the power of Christ compels me. Shall we renounce the devil and all his works?

He goes on:

Just as we need not have a repetition of Calvary in order for atonement to be made for sinners not yet born in the first century A.D., just as Jesus need not rise a second time from the grave in order to vindicate himself and his people before his Father, neither must there be another Pentecost in which the Spirit is made available in power to the people of God. To suggest that we need revival, if revival is conceived of as being a “fresh Pentecost,” is to make hash of the words of Peter, Paul, the Four Evangelists, and anyone else who may have mentioned the cross or the Spirit in the canonical Scriptures.

However, if by “revival” they simply mean that we need Christians to be what we already are, use what we already have, and do what we are already able to do by the help of God, then I have no objections. I have no objections because there is now no “revival” of which to speak.

Of course the proper word for the activity described above is obedience. Faithfulness is supernatural insofar as it is birthed in us by grace and worked out through us by the Spirit, but it isn’t the sort of thing that requires sawdust and gospel quartets. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the real reasons that Christians have been so quick to parrot the phrase in question is that it is much easier than admitting that we are lazy. If we have a mandate, the resources, and a field in which to labor, we can’t very well blame our slothfulness on a breakdown somewhere in the supply line. We can’t blame God for not sending us the revival we needed to get the job done. As long as “we need revival” to do virtually anything meaningful for the kingdom, we are pretty much free to sit on our pious rears and pray for the kingdom to come. I say enough is enough.

I don't know enough theologically about the concept of "revival" as it is used in Evangelical experience, so I don't know how to judge Meeks's words. I would say simply that if "revival" is having our eyes re-opened to what is already there, then yes, I am for revival. (Seems like Meeks is too.) It's another way to think of Christian re-enchantment. But if we don't move from the re-enchantment/revival experience, from the hierophany to repentance, it will all have been in vain. Revival will have done its job if it sends its participants back into the everyday world of Christian life and practice with a new awareness that what we do there has everlasting meaning -- and it changes how we live. The revival is not the point; it is only valuable insofar as it leads to repentance.

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JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
If "revival" means some fast-talking preacher who whips up a shallow, performative pep rally for Jesus, no, we don't need that-- those passions fade as quickly as they surge. But it doesn't at all sound like that's what's going on in this case. So let us be cautiously glad that the Spirit moves in the world, and those seeking God find Him.
schedule 1 year ago
    Frans
    Frans
    👍
    schedule 1 year ago
Lee Podles
Lee Podles
Liturgical Christians are suspicious of revival, as understood in America, but similar movements occurred in medieval Europe, and in the nineteenth century the Catholic revival in Germany relied heavily on emotional preaching of the Four Last Things.

Jonathan Edwards, who presided over the First Great Awakening, preached in a monotone, because he wanted to be sure that the effect his preaching was having was not caused by human rhetoric but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Revivalism seems to be the American style of religion, and it has led both to changed lives and to church growth. So with Gamaliel, let us wait and see.
schedule 1 year ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    Well, yes, but American revivalsism has also led to charlatans, hucksterisn and the occasional Elmer Gantry. There's definitely a danger there- which, happly, this college chapel seems to determined to avoid.
    schedule 1 year ago
Dean Cooper
Dean Cooper
Until you've been to where God is truly showing up, you just have no idea what you're talking about. I went for several years to a revival that was happening in Pasadena and at its peak it was like experiencing a nuclear bomb of God's love exploding in my soul. It changed many lives and has had a profound effect around the world. But most people eventually return to the way things were before. No matter. A few are so transformed that they go on to win millions for Christ. And I'm dead serious. You really have no idea what a revival of God's glory showing up does. Read about Sarah Edwards. One day she realized that she could actually call God her father. That night she says she experienced more bliss in one night than in her entire prior life combined. She was so effected that she was insensible for 19 days afterwards, and if anybody mentioned the name of God she would fall to the floor overwhelmed by the returning flood of what she had experienced. I sincerely believe that it was because of Sarah Edwards that the first Great Awakening wasn't stopped and America was transformed. There was no way Jonathan could be critical of what was happening because he knew his wife. He knew her devotion to God (like a Mary). And he knew what was happening to her was real. He simply couldn't discount what God was doing. And so he supported what was happening by arguing that the physical manifestations did not prove either way -- either that God was doing it or that He wasn't. And because he didn't come out against the manifestations he implicitly gave them his blessings. And that's why America became what she was.
schedule 1 year ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    What millions? Maybe thousands, yes. But that's about it, unless you think the stats on religious belief and practice are dead wrong.
    schedule 1 year ago
      Dean Cooper
      Dean Cooper
      The millions are not in America or Europe, they are mostly in Africa and Pakistan. Reinhart Bonnke had over a million decision cards filled out in a single service in Nigeria. His successor, Daniel Kolenda, was transformed in the Brownsville revival. Heide Baker has planted tens of thousands of churches in mostly rural parts of Mozambique, and surrounding countries. She was a burnt out missionary transformed by the Toronto blessing revival. Leif Hetland was a Baptist pastor in Norway who was transformed when Randy Clark that started the Toronto revival came to Norway. He has converted over a million Muslims in Pakistan. There are others as well.
      schedule 1 year ago
        JON FRAZIER
        JON FRAZIER
        I just checked the stats for Pakistan. There are 2.6 million Christians in the country-- about half are Catholic, and most of the rest are either Anglican or Presbyterian. The numbers have grown by about a million over the last forty years despite some persecution, but it's not clear how much of that growth is due to conversion and how much is due to births to Christian families. And I doubt the evangelist you tout is responsible for more than a small fraction of those conversions (or that he;s bringing people to the Roman Catholic church).
        schedule 1 year ago
          Dean Cooper
          Dean Cooper
          People that convert from the Muslim faith are unlikely to show up in such stats. One, they don't want to be persecuted, and two, the government doesn't want Muslims to know how many are converting. But yes, I am simply relating what I have heard from people I trust, but who likely don't have "decision" cards from those converts. I do know also that Leif Hetland has made friends with the top Imams in Pakistan and had one speak at his church in Atlanta. The point is that they have given him a lot of favor.
          schedule 1 year ago
Adam X
Adam X
The people at Asbury seem sincere (though I don’t really buy their whole revival thing), but this is likely more of a last gasp last pagan generation thing than the start of a movement.
schedule 1 year ago
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    Been burned too many times by protestant claims of revival to find it believable. I'm sure it is true for some individuals, but what's behind this experience generally? Demons can cause such experiences just as much and you have to look at this and ask whether or not personal or cultural repentance is resulting.
    schedule 1 year ago
      JON FRAZIER
      JON FRAZIER
      See the words of Jesus: "A house divided against itself cannot stand". "You shall know them by their fruits."
      Above I am skeptical (extremely) about some extravagant numbers being offered with no support from any other sources. I am not skeptical that there are people. who seeking God, find Him.

      Personal repentance is the only kind.
      schedule 1 year ago
      Adam X
      Adam X
      What’s behind the experience is a big question. It has a certain “look at me” vibe that is concerning. Don’t get me wrong, people tend to talk about miracles and make them well known. But an apparition, weeping icon, etc ultimately points more directly to the divine than to an event like this. “Look at what God is doing here” in this instance at Asbury looks a lot like “look what God is doing just for us.” Maybe it’s all sincere, but it does have a “look at us” quality to it.
      schedule 1 year ago
ncube7
ncube7
Great piece, thank you!
As usual, Rod's words have been prescient. There is an enormous hunger in America. After being pent-up by Covid lock-downs and then abused by a negligent and usury government, we want to get back to our roots. The woke assault on Christianity should get the backlash that it deserves now, because Americans trust in the Lord. He comes first, not the feeble-minded state. That is in our DNA. With the right support, God will save our nation and we will be able to put false leaders, out to pasture.
schedule 12 months ago
VikingLS
VikingLS
I am originally from Lexington, Kentucky and actually lived in Wilmore, where Asbury is, for a year when I was about 12 years old. Wilmore is a really small town. Most people either are involved with the college in someway or commute to Lexington. There's no other economy in town. All the visitors have apparently overwhelmed the town including things like water and sewer, so apparently the city and college are trying to get things back to somewhat normal.

Asbury is still pretty conservative and open about its Christianity and this is not the first time that a revival has broken out there. My sister and a friend of mine who went to school there have both been and reported a really moving experience. What's most interesting to me is the spread of the revival to other campuses. I know that Northern Kentucky University, which is public, and Cedarville University (Baptist) have seen chapel revivals inspired by what's happening at Asbury.
schedule 12 months ago