Perhaps you have heard reports of a revival at Asbury University. A few people have reached out to me, asking what I thought about it. The usual question is, “Do you think it’s real?” I won’t go into all the reasons, but I think we have reason to hope it is real.
A former classmate of mine, when I was studying at Southern Seminary, was on Asbury’s campus for a few days, and he reported nothing to cause doubt concerning the validity of a revival. On the contrary, he is convinced of a genuine revival happening at Asbury. Of course, the real test is time.
As is often the case, there are two ditches to avoid here. On the one side, we should avoid believing everything we hear without nuance or thought. On the other side, we should avoid cynicism. I think many of us probably err to the second ditch – overly cynical, so that is what I will write about in this note.
Some possible reasons for the temptation to be cynical about the validity of Asbury’s revival:
1. Asbury University is of another “tribe,” so to speak. We indeed have some theological differences with the Methodists. Yet, I’m reminded of when the disciples protested to Jesus that people different from them were casting out demons in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:38). Jesus told them, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Just because we have some differences with the Methodists does not mean revival can't be at Asbury.
2. We are unclear on what a revival is. Our country has previously experienced revivals on both large and small scales. The Great Awakening of the 18th century, led by George Whitefield, and The Second Great Awakening, led by Charles Finney, in the 19th century are just two examples. There were significant differences between Whitefield's and Finney’s approaches to preaching and ministry. Yet, God used them both. (I recommend Iain Murray's Revival and Revivalism for a good comparison)
Jonathan Edwards wrote a letter in 1743 describing The Great Awakening. It’s a fascinating letter (which you can read here). Time seemed to prove the legitimacy of the revival. Sustained prayer, confession of sin, a desire to hear the word preached, and Christian joy and unity were some of the manifestations of the revival.
In another place (The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God), Edwards outlines what he believed to be signs of a genuine revival (based on 1 John 4):
Jesus is exalted.
The Holy Spirit combats Satan’s influence through preaching and repentance.
The Bible is valued and esteemed.
The Spirit of understanding and truth opposes the spirits of falsehood.
Increase of love for God and man.
(Here is a more modern article that may prove helpful in determining a true revival.)
3. We are suspicious of youth. Those beyond youth (you decide the threshold) tend to get suspicious of youth and their zeal. Sometimes this suspicion is for good reason. Older people have experienced more life and the pain and difficulty accompanying life. Those experiences sometimes lead to skepticism or cynicism about those who have not yet had the same experiences.
C.S. Lewis once wrote about the person who has moved beyond youthful idealism. In Mere Christianity, Lewis calls this person the Disillusioned "Sensible Man.” Look at how Lewis describes this person: He soon decides that the whole thing was moonshine. "Of course," he says, "one feels like that when one's young. But by the time you get to my age you've given up chasing the rainbow's end." And so he settles down and learns not to expect too much and represses the part of himself which used, as he would say, "to cry for the moon."
So it is easy to look at a college university and think that “revival” would be much easier for someone who has not yet experienced life. “Besides,“ we wonder, “what college student wouldn’t want their classes canceled for a few days?” Yet, if you read Edwards's letter describing the Great Awakening, it seems that the youth of his day were particularly influenced and influential in the revival.
4. We don’t really think God will bring a revival to our land again. Sure, we pray for revival from time to time. But do we believe God will bring a revival to our nation again? When we see how anti-God our country has become and its direction, it is easy to doubt that God can turn us back to Him. But God can bring revival.
5. If it's organic it must be Satanic. I'm thankful to Bill Mattox for this fifth point. He told me, "We are more liturgical than we think. Our instincts tell us that if it is organic it is Satanic. Only time will tell if we can call it revival but it is clear at this point that we can call it renewal…. 2000 years ago a baby came into our world and the Pharisees said, “This can’t be of God. It doesn’t fit our paradigm." That's a good word.
So, I don’t know if what is happening at Asbury is real. I truly hope it is. Only time will tell. But, at the very least, many more people are talking about and praying for revival today than a week ago. For that, we can praise God – and pray for revival to come to us.