Is the Asbury 'revival' a real revival?
I've been to more “revivals” than I can count. I grew up in churches where “revivals” were the norm, not the exception.
I actually became a Christian during a “revival” at a youth retreat. After a weekend of preaching, “prophecies,” prayers, and “casting out demons,” most of the people at the youth retreat accepted the altar call, repeated the sinner’s prayer, and made professions of faith in Christ.
Within weeks, however, the vast majority of the people who professed faith in Christ had returned to unrepentant sin. So I’ve seen firsthand how the emphasis on “revivals” instead of repentance harm so many.
It’s with that in mind and the authority of the Bible that I hesitate to call what is happening at Asbury University a “revival.”
That hesitancy, however, is offensive to people who seem to think it’s Satan, not God, who said:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1-2).
Over the past week, seemingly anyone who shares any caution or concern over some of what’s happening at Asbury University is immediately labeled a “Pharisee,” a “Doubting Thomas,” a blasphemer, and other silly accusations by people who hypocritically attack their brothers and sisters in the name of defending brothers and sisters at Asbury University.
In some ways, just as woke Christians weaponized the George Floyd incident to pressure some Christians into accepting their definition of racism — some Charismatic Christians are trying to weaponize the Asbury “revival” to pressure others into accepting their definition of a revival.
But whether it’s Charismatic Christians or woke people — anyone who demands only submission or silence on their opinions over debatable issues isn’t operating in love.
Love does not insist on its own way. Godly people try to persuade others who disagree with them. Ungodly people, however, try to pressure others who disagree with them.
Nevertheless, the Asbury “revival” started after a 10 am chapel service last week Wednesday when a group of about 20 students and the worship team said they felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to continue worship past the end of the chapel service.
According to one of the students I talked to, a few hours later, the president of the seminary sent an email to the students encouraging them to visit the chapel to join the 20 students on what he described as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Apparently, 200 students arrived for worship at the chapel soon after, and there has been non-stop worship ever since.
The student maintains the “revival” wasn’t planned. But it’s worth noting that Asbury University is part of what is known as the revivalist movement — a group of Charismatic Christians who consistently attempt to produce revivals.
This is why the university’s website says:
“Asbury University has been known through the years for its history of great revivals. There have been several occasions when significant moves of the Holy Spirit have swept the campus and reached across the nation.”
In fact, besides this current “revival,” Asbury claims they’ve had 8 revivals.
I’ve talked to current students, recent graduates, and several people who’ve visited the chapel to experience the “revival” and there are unquestionably several reasons why we should be concerned.
Though one student says the Gospel has been consistently and explicitly preached since the beginning of the “revival,” others contradict that claim. In fact, one former student who was at the chapel this week told me he rarely, if ever, heard a clear presentation of the Gospel at the school.
Another student said: “Attending the few chapels I have at seminary, apart from one [or] two chapels that preach a biblical message of repentance, it’s always been about ‘being who you are’ and God loving you ‘as you are.’ There are a lot of messages that are about being ‘true to yourself.’”
I’ve watched hundreds of videos of the “revival,” and I still haven’t seen any clips showing a clear preaching of the Gospel. Of course, that isn’t evidence that people aren’t preaching the Gospel.
Still, progressive Christians like Tim Whitaker at The New Evangelicals have essentially endorsed the “revival” after his visits to the chapel this week. Moreover, he says LGBTQ students at the school told him the university protects them from “conversion therapy.” According to Whitaker, the LGBTQ students who were “worshipping” at the chapel also say they’re especially hopeful the “revival” will create (progressive) change at the school.
That lines up with what one student said to me: “Unfortunately, I have first-account experience and conversations with people who are attending and speaking on the ‘greatness’ of revival who are actively living in sin (to be blunt).”
Furthermore, some of the preachers at the chapel are women. And there are also several people “prophesying,” speaking in tongues, “casting out demons,” and “faith healing” at the chapel.
So with that said, is the Asbury “revival” a real revival?
Because of the seemingly little or no Gospel preaching, the female pastors, the disorderly and charismatic chaos, I’m inclined to say, “no.”
But in a sense, whether I think it’s a revival or not doesn’t really matter, anyway. The word “revival” isn’t a biblical term.
And interestingly, although some people are strangely offended by people who do not think what’s happening at Asbury is a “revival,” the president of the seminary and especially the pastor whose sermon apparently started the “revival,” Zach Meerkreebs, said they’re not ready to call what’s happening at the school a revival. Yesterday, Meerkreebs actually said no one will know it’s a real revival until months from now.
And yet, just because some of us do not think it’s a revival doesn’t mean we believe God isn’t regenerating people at Asbury.
There are plenty of reasons why we should be concerned about some of what’s happening — or not happening — at Asbury. But as I suggested earlier, I became a genuine Christian at a fake revival.
God saved me in spite of a mostly heretical series of sermons by a prosperity gospel, female pastor. If God can save a wretch like me in that chaotic environment, I don’t doubt that he can save anyone anywhere.
It’s concerning, however, that so many of us are seemingly bored by ordinary worship at a local church that produces an extraordinary change in one’s soul.
Ironically, if we actually cared about simply preaching that God became a man, lived a sinless and righteous life, suffered on the cross, received our sins, gave us his righteousness, died to satisfy the wrath of God, and rose again for our justification — so that God would declare us righteous by faith: there would probably be more repentance that would lead to a real revival.
Finally, however, this is probably my biggest concern. I think one of the reasons why so many people are eager to call what’s happening at Asbury a “revival” is that some people are desperate for change in our culture. Frankly, for some people: idols are being exposed.
After centuries of Christianity influencing our culture, many of us have now accepted that not only do we live in a post-Christian culture — we live in an anti-Christian culture.
Whether they’re locking down churches while they keep abortion mills open, whether they’re imprisoning pastors in Canada while they promote social justice prison reform for murderers, or whether they’re celebrating Satanic performances while they cancel Christians — we know our culture is in desperate need of change.
For that reason, in desperation for any semblance of hope for our culture — some Christians have abandoned all discernment and they’re eager to idolize anything or any “revival” that professes Christ.
But our hope isn’t in a change in our culture. Our hope isn’t in a revival. Our hope isn’t in a Christian culture. All of these are good. We should earnestly pray that God would change our culture.
But our hope isn’t in the return of Christian culture. Our hope is in the return of Christ.
Originally published at Slow to Write.
Samuel Sey is a Ghanaian-Canadian who lives in Brampton, a city just outside of Toronto. He is committed to addressing racial, cultural, and political issues with biblical theology, and always attempts to be quick to listen and slow to speak.