You’ve probably heard about the revival happening at Asbury University by now. It’s a pretty interesting phenomenon on a number of levels, both in terms of what’s happening and in terms of how people are responding to what’s happening.
It hasn’t even been happening for two weeks, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it yet, so I’m hesitant to issue proclamations about it one way or another, but in case they’re helpful, and with great fear and trepidation, here are a few provisional, barely-edited thoughts I have about this:
1) I have no reason to doubt the Holy Spirit is at work in this.
I often have powerful experiences with God during worship at the church I co-pastor (they don’t look like Asbury, mind you). But people often comment that God was powerfully working during a worship service to bring comfort and consolation in Word and Sacrament. My call to ministry took place at an event much like this 29 years ago.
Perhaps it’s inaccurate or premature to call it a revival (Should we call it an outpouring? A glorious marathon worship service? A chapel service that hasn’t ended yet?), but just because we don’t see everything we might come to expect or hope from a “revival” doesn’t invalidate the experience these students are having.
2) God’s work isn’t a zero-sum game.
I also have no reason to doubt the Holy Spirit is also at work in many other places and in many other ways. It almost goes without saying, but God can work in more than one place and in more than one way.
God bringing conviction and consolation to a group of young people in Kentucky does not mean that God is ignoring the victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, for example.
3) It’s well worth examining the socio-political dynamics of “revivals”.
My friend Seth Richardson (who runs Gravity Congregational Transformation) is particularly good at this . There is a kind of “one track mind” that can kick in for evangelicals when it comes to “revivals”, a collapsing of faith and hope into this one thing that’s happening in this one place that will make all our dreams come true and fix everything and bring America back to God! (See also the “He Gets Us” ad campaign, and The Passion of the Christ, and… and…)
For example, some people have driven for hours across state lines to be part of what’s happening at Asbury. Do they also drive for hours across state lines to stand in solidarity with marginalized and oppressed people in need? Why do we think of the sustained singing of a group in Wilmore to be a “revival” but don’t think of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 that demanded justice and accountability for police brutality to be a “revival”?
Again, it doesn’t invalidate what may be happening locally at Asbury, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the “under the surface” work that “revivals” do in the (white) American evangelical imagination: getting us “off the hook” for the deep repentance we need to do in, e.g., detangling our faith and practice from the toxic tendrils of racism, patriarchy, and mammon.
4) At the end of the day, the attention we’re giving it might ruin it.
So far it seems to just be a sustained, powerful worship service. Which is not to belittle it at all. I’ve been part of gatherings like this, and they can be wonderful experiences that change people’s lives!
But I’m not sure the national spotlight on this “revival” is helpful, because instead of just being an unusual extended experience of worship and prayer for a group of university students, all kinds of different people are now projecting their own expectations, experiences, and agendas onto it.
I fear that the immediate national news and social media coverage of the Asbury event may end up ruining what could have been a sustained, powerful worship experience for some kids at a Christian college in Kentucky.
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