Previously, I wrote a few provisional thoughts on the Asbury revival (or is it an outpouring? an awakening?), which has recently stopped its meetings on campus. I wanted to name a few more observations about the revival, as well as the responses I’ve seen to the revival on social media.
The revival itself seems to have been led well, especially in an era where “going viral” is often thought to be an assumed good. At every turn, the leaders, while being receptive to what seems to be a move of God’s Spirit, also seem to have chosen humility by resisting the impulse to capitalize on the attention by “hyping” the revival. The recent decision to wind down the revival services on campus is evidence of this.
In many responses to the revival I’ve seen on social media, I’ve noticed a resistance to exploring the complexity of this event (and revivals in general). A few people are upset that anyone would think God is involved in this at all (“This is nothing more than emotional manipulation!”). Others are upset that anyone would ask critical questions of a revival at all (“Why are you complaining about kids worshiping God?”).
Why is it difficult to recognize that things can be more than just one thing? Why is it difficult to simultaneously affirm that God may be genuinely meeting these kids in their sincere spiritual hunger, AND that we need to think critically and historically about the socio-cultural phenomenon of revivals, and the work they do “under the surface” that can actually undercut the stated theology of a revival?
Why is it so rare to find places where we can simultaneously repent of the ways that “revivals” have been used as entertaining distractions from engaging in the long, hard work of justice for the oppressed, AND rejoice in the simple beauty of thousands of kids longing for God?
I think I know why, actually. It has to do with our histories, our traumas, our survival mechanisms, our resistance to allowing an alternative perspective to change the stories we tell ourselves about events like these. We’re afraid of crossing a bridge that may lead to a place where we don’t have all the answers, where we have to rethink our histories, where we have to repent.
It’s complicated, though, because there are both personal traumas and social power dynamics at work in an event like this, and it’s important to take all of that into consideration as we process how God may be at work in this to draw us more fully into liberation, justice, and abundant life for all.
But repentance is where the life is, so let’s do it! (Plus it’s Lent.) Let’s explore the dynamics of these kinds of events with openness to being surprised and changed. Let’s be curious about our responses to the revival, and our responses to other people’s responses, what makes us upset and hopeful, angry and filled with joy.
Let’s listen especially to the perspectives of people of color, whose communities were so often left disappointed in wake of revival. Let’s open ourselves to discovering God at work in the most unlikely of places.