For the past two weeks, reports of a spiritual revival at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, have spread around the world. If you haven’t read about it, you can find information here (yes, the revival already has a Wikipedia page).
I wasn’t in Wilmore, and I’m not personally acquainted with anyone who was involved in what’s been happening at Asbury. But allow me to share a few thoughts on the subject of “revival.”
I’m coming from the perspective of a pastor for 20+ years, and perhaps more importantly, a former college pastor (for nearly ten years). These types of movements and events often happen among college students, perhaps because they aren’t yet so jaded as to believe that God no longer works in extraordinary ways (like some of us older folks can be).
(If you have never read about the Haystack Prayer Meeting, for example, Google it. It’s an amazing story of how 5 college students essentially launched the North American missions movement in the 19th Century).
There’s been a lot of debate and a lot of concerns surrounding these events at Asbury:
First, is this revival “real”? Here’s the challenge: “Revival,” as we tend to think about it, isn’t necessarily a biblical category. Clearly, there are moments in the Bible in which the Spirit moved in powerful ways at a particular point in time (Pentecost, for example). But there isn’t some list of qualifications in the Scripture that makes something a revival. Perhaps the more important question is whether this is a real movement of the Holy Spirit, or something else? It’s impossible for any outsider like me to really know that. But if it leads people to belief in Jesus, deeper engagement with the Scripture, a closer walk with God, repentance from their sins, a passion for sharing the gospel, and greater compassion and faithfulness in the world, then those are marks of the Spirit’s work that we see in the Bible. That’s what we pray is going on. To some extent, time will tell.
Second, there are some concerns I’ve seen raised that don’t really hold water for me. For example, one post I saw called into question the sincerity and legitimacy of this “revival,” because one of the college students quoted a verse out of context. I saw his quote, and the verse was indeed quoted badly out of context. But, again, I’ve worked with college students for many years, and it’s really important to remember that immaturity isn’t the same as insincerity or guile. It doesn’t mean that the whole thing can be classified as “unbiblical” and therefore just dismissed. Truth be told, many adults quote verses out of context. Even pastors do it! The solution isn’t to call into question their love for Jesus or their status as Christians or the reality of what God is doing in their lives; the answer is to help them pursue discipleship. They need instruction and correction, not dismissal and cynicism.
“Revivals” don’t automatically make people mature, accurate readers of Scripture. That takes time; it takes a lifetime, in fact. Immaturity simply means there’s growing to do. It doesn’t mean the Spirit is absent from whatever is going on in this moment. I can be filled with the Spirit, genuinely pursuing Jesus, repenting of my sin, and yet still have a long way to go in terms of spiritual maturity.
Similarly, people have questioned the emotionalism of the event. And I get that. If it’s *mere* emotion and frenzy without any other substance to it, then we should raise questions. I’ve been at manufactured “revivals” like that, and they are icky (that’s the theological word for it). We should always be cautious about interpreting emotional manipulation as the work of the Spirit. I don’t actually know the truth of Asbury, as I wasn’t there. I will say, though, that without *any* emotions involved, I actually would question the sincerity of those present. You can’t be moved by the Spirit of God toward a deeper passion of Jesus, awe of the Word, and love for the gospel in some sort of dispassionate, unemotional, robotic way. I get the difference between “emotionalism” and “emotions,” but we’re often way too suspicious of emotions in and of themselves.
Some people have expressed concerns that hucksters and opportunists have attached themselves to this movement. Of course they have. That’s what opportunists do; it’s the very definition of opportunist. Again, in and of itself, that doesn’t mean this movement isn’t genuine. If you doubt that, go read Acts 8, about “Simon the Magician.” The presence of hucksters doesn’t call into question the genuineness of the Spirit’s work.
Questions are good. Discernment is needed, of course. We shouldn’t rush to judgment one way or the other. But sometimes knee-jerk skepticism isn’t really rooted in a fair assessment of the facts, nor a truthful assessment of what the Bible actually says about human beings and the nature of God’s work. I don’t know what’s going on over there, but I’d hate to prematurely judge things one way or the other, based on inaccurate perceptions or unbiblical opinions.
Third, movements of the Spirit don’t always look like this one (if that’s indeed what it is). Sometimes awakenings/revivals or whatever you call them happen more slowly and quietly. They aren’t always a matter of one long, drawn-out worship service. Often the Spirit convicts a generation of its sin and moves them toward deeper growth and commitment over a period of years instead of mere days. Or over large geographic areas instead of centralized in one spot. Either way, these types of movements are simply a beginning. They aren’t meant to produce spiritual maturity in an instant. They’re just a catalyst for more to come, if what’s happening is genuinely the work of the Spirit. To bear fruit over the long haul requires ongoing discipleship and commitment from mature leadership.
And last but not least, it seems to me that the proper response is for us to look inward more than outward. What I mean is that perhaps this should cause each of us to ask ourselves how God might be moving in our own lives, our own churches, and our own communities. We should seek to walk with Him more closely, to repent of our sin, to tell others about Jesus, and to show compassion for those in need. We should always be praying that God will transform hearts and minds right here in our own cities and our own congregations! Whether we call that a “revival,” or just the fruit of the Spirit, it’s certainly what God wants for us, and definitely what we should pray for.