Over the past week, my soul has leapt for joy as I have seen my alma-mater break out in a revival. My social media pages are flooded with dear friends and former classmates taking pilgrimages back to Wilmore to see firsthand what has been going on. The eyewitness accounts are unanimous: the revival is authentic, and God is good.
If you do not know why the Asbury revival is such a big deal, let me catch you up to speed real fast. On February 3rd, back in the 70’s, a revival broke out in Hughes auditorium at a chapel service. With a time of testimonies and confessions happening, students flocked to the alter to pray and worship. John Van Gelderen writes, “A long line of students began to form as each waited his turn to tell what God had done in his heart. Students in all classes from freshmen to seniors poured out their souls, asking forgiveness and exhorting others to heed the call of God. As the confessions were made, other students streamed to the front, filling the altar and front seats.”
Long story short, the chapel service did not stop, and with roughly 144 hours, and numerous other college campuses joining in revival, The Great Asbury revival came to its conclusion. Lives were changed, souls were surrendered to God, and battles with sin were defeated. The revival was a big deal, and very well known in evangelical circles. People often asked me about the it when they found out I attended Asbury. Alumni who were there when it happened share stories with such glee.
So, as revival now has broken out again as Asbury (beginning last Wednesday during the 10AM chapel), all eyes became glued to Hughes auditorium. Some skeptical, some overjoyed. So, I want to share some thoughts and cautions on this as a former student, and as a former critic.
Anyone who knew me at Asbury knew that I was very critical of the spiritual life at Asbury. I was extremely active in the spiritual life of the college, serving as the graduating class of 2019’s chaplain for three years (the year I was off, however, I did more chaplain work than my other three years combined!). But that did not stop me from sharing my opinions, or for pointing out needs of correction. I was critical and outspoken when an alumni came and spoke at a WHAM (Worship Him At Midnight) and declared that “our words have the power to set us free!” I was also critical of Asbury’s lack of pastoral messages that were brought into chapel (the Joe Pitts chapel, and the infamous 12 Steps of Intimacy chapel. If you were a student at that time, you know what I’m talking about), and extremely critical of Asbury’s hyper-fixation on recreating another “great” revival.
Constant begging with the Holy Spirit to be “poured out again like 1970,” and naming special worship events things like “Fall Revival” seemed to be counter intuitive to what an actual revival is supposed to be. In fact, I tweeted this my sophomore year: Perhaps, if Asbury stopped focusing on the revival of the past, we might be able to experience a present one.
Now, Asbury is wonderful and I absolutely loved the spiritual life there, but my point in all this is that when word of revival was spreading, I was naturally skeptical. I know I was not alone in this too. Many of my Calvinist and Southern Baptist brothers and sisters have also been skeptical, and with the false teacher/heretic Todd Bentley mentioning he was attending, that only fueled the fires of skepticism. Seeing Facebook comments and Tik Toks of people looking with theological binoculars onto Hughes auditorium from afar, are also quick to spout out their opinions, skepticisms, or concerns.
As time has progressed though, I have come to cast aside skepticism of this revival for numerous reasons, and I issue a call to my skeptical peers to pause and give thought.
Jonathan Edwards and the Spirit
Famous preacher Jonathan Edwards was no stranger to the concept of revivals. A man who titles sermons like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and “The Eternity of Hell’s Torment” might sound like someone who would deny spiritual movements such as a revivals. Yet, in response to such revival claims in his day, Edwards put forth an essay for which Christians ought to judge works of the Spirit. In short:
Does the instance elevate Jesus?
Does the instance fight against Satan and sin?
Does it point people to the Scriptures?
Does it point people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Do the people attending love God and love others?
As a card carrying Calvinist, Jonathan Edwards is on my Mount Rushmore of preachers. And I take this list with great weight and seriousness. I have seen first hand some “revivals” where the speaker is elevated over Jesus, where the charismatic gifts take priority over the Holy Bible, and where sin is not only rampant, but encouraged.
Friends, let me say this, the Asbury revival happening now checks all the boxes that Edwards puts forward. This is absolutely a work of God’s Spirit in our day and age. It has been tried and tested, and found to be authentic. But do not just take Edwards’s words for it.
I encourage onlookers to put down their binoculars, and listen to the first hand accounts of those who have attended, and to read the articles coming out of Wilmore. Listen to the words of my friend Chase who attended and said, “It is really hard to put into words…since I’ve gone I’ve just been praying constantly and have felt this awakening that the Spirit is just evermore present where I go.”
A Word to the Skeptic
To those who look from afar at my alma-mater and believe the revival to be false, scripted, or unauthentic, I want to offer a few brief words of encouragement that I have also had to let seep into my soul.
- Just because emotions are involved, does not discredit the experience. Yes, we must be cautious to not allow our emotions to manipulate us, and yes the prophet Jeremiah says the heart is deceitful. However, emotions need not be divorced from an authentic spiritual experience. I think back to sixteen year old me, who wept at the alter at Seneca Lake, and begged with all my soul and all my heart for God to forgive a wretched person like me. My emotions were valid and evidence of God moving inside of me. When I see the emotional responses of college students weeping with love for God and hatred of their sin at Asbury, I cannot help but praise my Lord.
- A few bad apples do not ruin the orchard. I do believe some are at the revival for wrong reasons, and Todd Bentley is definitely one of them. Yet we cannot discredit the thousands of men and women who have been apart of this revival, just because a few unfaithful people walk in. We do not discount the twelve disciples because of Judas.
- Pray. Simply put, if you are skeptical, that is okay. But pray to God that any falsehoods would be removed and that the Spirit would continue to work in the lives of these people. Rather than say things like “I cannot believe Asbury would allow men like Bentley in there.” Stop, repent, and pray “God I ask that Your Spirit moves inside Bentley, and inside every man and woman that is inside of Hughes.”
A Word to the Encourager
I want to close with a word to encourage those at the revival and those who are attending.
- I leap for joy with you. My heart overflows with joy to see souls on fire for God in Hughes auditorium. I praise God that He is working in you!
- Do not let your fire burn out. When the revival inevitably comes to a stop, what will you do? Do not let your fire and passion die out. Bear good fruit, and continue to preach the gospel!
- Stop asking for the Spirit to be poured out. The Holy Spirit has already been poured out over the Church. And the Holy Spirit is already alive and active inside each and every Christian. There is not a second pouring out of the Spirit. So, let us pray instead that The Spirit would move in us. That He would soften our hearts, convict us of sin, turn us to a better understanding of God, and open our minds to the Bible.
- Share your story. Do not keep your eyewitness experiences hidden! Share it with the world. Talk to the skeptic, the long time believer, and the infant believer! The work that God is doing through you must be shared, and God gets all the glory. If you have experienced an act of God during your time at the revival, I encourage you to share it with me, and with others!
I look forward to hearing more stories of the Asbury revival in the coming days, and I look forward to stepping into Hughes auditorium for myself tonight and tomorrow. To God be all the praise, glory, and honor for His work inside of His children. May we continue to press on faithfully until the Kingdom comes.
Lord Jesus, I ask: maranatha.
One thought on “To the Skeptic and the Encourager”
When I went to KY Wesleyan in Owensboro in 1971 for a semester & was planning to transfer to TN Temple in Chattanooga the fall of ’71, the Dean @ KY Wesleyan encouraged me to go to Asbury instead. I wonder how my life would’ve been different if I had. 💙