A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Asbury Revival One Year Later: A Divine Visitation or Fake Feelingrama?

It's been one year since the "Asbury Revival." It was a two week experience of continual worship on the campus of Asbury University. Some were skeptical right from the beginning suggesting it was fake. Now, Samuel Sey, after making phone calls to local churches in the Wilmore, KY area, and based on his own experience has concluded that since the fruit of the revival has not resulted in growth of the local churches, the revival was indeed fake (his word). He writes about it here.

Please read the article and give the writer the hearing he deserves; but I have some thoughts to offer.

First, Christians in America have for many reasons become jaded and skeptical of our own, and at times for good reason. We all know of abusive congregations and pastors, and there are days when the egregious is so front and center, we forget about the good and faithful ministry churches are doing all over America. So, we tend to default to naysaying rather than open-mindedness and encouragement. It is not good to be naively accepting, but callously critical is not a good alternative.

Second, the skepticism from the beginning has come, for the most part, from progressively oriented Christians.* Since Asbury's theological and social bent doesn't fit the progressive Christian posture, immediately there was questioning. I dare say, we would not have seen such questioning had the "revival" taken place at a Mainline Protestant seminary.

I have said for years that one of the great problems with the church in America is that Christians are theologically and morally formed more by what it means to be liberal/progressive or conservative than what it means to be Christian. I have no doubt that had such "revival" broken out at a United Methodist seminary, evangelical Christians would be just as skeptical as the Asbury progressive naysayers.

Third, the writer of the article concludes the "revival" was fake because churches in the area had not experienced growth. It certainly is a fair concern that in reference to numbers, the churches don't appear to have been effected by what happened a year ago, but we must not forget several things. While the Day of Pentecost added people to the church, we know that over the decades Christianity did not take hold in Jerusalem. It did take hold in distant places, perhaps from the fact that many of those Pentecostal participants were "from every nation under heaven" and took their "revival" with them when they left the Holy City. How many at the Asbury "revival" took their experience with them?

Fourth, Jesus is clear in his parables that the Kingdom moves and increases in small and at times almost unnoticeable ways. The Kingdom grows like a mustard seed, it works like yeast in dough and you have to dig for it to find it, like a treasure in a field, or search for a lifetime like the merchant in search of that one priceless pearl. So much ministry in the name of Christ bears fruit quietly and slowly. No one can read the parables of Jesus and conclude that one year is enough time to discern fruitfulness. As the New Testament reminds us, God is faithful and does not discern time the way we do.

Fifth, one of the things we human beings do (and yes, ALL of us do it) is that we read our experience of events on to similar events. Sey concludes that the Asbury "revival" was fake because, as he writes, "I became a genuine Christian at a fake revival." I am in no position to question his experience of revivals; but I question whether his experience should be normative for all "revival" events.

Finally, Sey is certainly correct that Christians need to refrain from seeking every ecstatic event and hyped up worship. If the mustard seed and yeast apply to the fruit of the Asbury "revival," it must also apply to the worship and ministry of the church that can be described as normally routine. If the Holy Spirit brings revival, and I believe the Spirit does, it is extraordinary and therefore not the common ordinary way God works. A little revival is good. A lot of ordinary is the way the Kingdom of God moves through the world.

In Luke chapter 9:49-50 we read,
"‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’"
Stanley Hauerwas has said that what it means for Christians in America to be liberal/progressive or conservative is more determinative than what it means to be Christian. Perhaps regardless of which labels we embrace, we need to heed the words of Jesus that those who are not against us are for us, even if they do not follow us as liberal/progressives or conservatives. 

Perhaps we should be cautious that our skepticism does lead to false accusations of being drunk with sweet wine (Acts 2:13).
*Let me state that the discussion over the "Asbury Revival" need not be framed only in a liberal/progressive, conservative framework. There are other ways to see it. I am responding to the context I have experienced.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for an excellent analysis.

Anonymous said...

Revival I clearly meant to bring alive that which was dead. We are neither judge, nor jury for what God manifests deeply within our souls. Humility has always been met with humiliation, and attempts to discredit the real moving from God. In a similar revival experience at SAGU, there were all night prayer meetings. Powerful singing and testimonies from many. Since Revival is spiritual awakening in the believer, it spills over on others for spiritual change. When God moves, it is for eternity, and eternal values are imparted. Years from now those who were affected will be able to tap into that experience because it is from an Omnipresent God.

John Mark said...

In brief, I have benefited from the 1970 revival though I wasn't there. I've been deeply influenced by people who were. I will leave it at that.