On Asbury and Revival Again
More reflections on what is happening in the US:
The activities taking place in Kentucky and elsewhere continue. As I said in earlier pieces, it is real easy to find polarisation here. Some Christians love what they see at Asbury and elsewhere, believing God is fully at work. Others are ready to dismiss it all as the work of the devil. And various others are somewhere in between, not fully sure what to make of it all.
Here I will again look at revival in more general and historical terms, and not focus exclusively on Asbury. As I keep saying, when we have such incredible insights of previous revivalists such as Jonathan Edwards, there is no need for us to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch. We can draw upon the wisdom and expertise of folks like these.
In this piece I will offer five bits and pieces – some of them gleaned from the social media.
Obviously the centre of all true revival should be God himself. One person who I do not know of, Kelli Leavens, posted this a few days ago and it is worth sharing here:
The main takeaway from the Asbury revival is this:
There is a piano player, a guitar player, and a single drum.
The lights don’t dim.
No one is serving donuts.
Not a single smoke machine.
No fancy lights.
No perfect productions.
No leader and no ‘teams’.
No hierarchy or competition.
No kids class.
Nobody greets you in the parking lot.
Literally no structure whatsoever.
Apparently the only thing needed to attract people to GOD is… God.
Why have we made it so complicated?
Time to get back to the pure and simple.
An altar and a sacrifice (Jesus).
Let’s give Him back His house. Just worship HIM and see what happens.
PRAISE HIM. He inhabits the praises of His people.
**btw., none of those things are bad. The point is we need HIM more.
If all that is true – and I hope that it is – it immediately brings to my mind an important remark made by A. W. Tozer in his book, Man: The Dwelling Place of God. He said this:
It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to attend a meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.
A big part of the controversy over Asbury (and all revivals) is how we understand the role of emotions, manifestations, reactions to the work of the Holy Spirit, and so on. If one extreme to avoid is to fully run with emotions, the other is to deny all emotions.
We all know that Martyn Lloyd-Jones was certainly no wild-eyed fanatic, but he wrote terrific biblical stuff in praise of emotion and the Spirit working in the lives of believers. I discuss his important insights here – please have a read: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/10/11/emotion-the-spirit-and-the-christian-life/
Getting the balance right
Three things are always relevant when assessing revivals and related matters:
-We must remember that all genuine moves of God will have elements of satanic counterfeits trying to sneak in.
-As in all things, we must try to eat the meat while leaving out the bones.
-We must guard against throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Fear of revival
A social media friend posted something based on a book by Ian Malins, Prepare the Way for Revival. I do not have this volume, but this fellow said that in it Malins offers seven reasons why pastors and church leaders fear revivals:
1. Fear to confess publicly that they [and their church] have wandered and grown cold.
2. Fear of change.
3. Fear of disorder.
4. Fear of emotion.
5. Fear of excesses.
6. Fear of error.
7. Fear of losing control.
I think there is certainly something to this, but of course the other side of the story must also be kept in mind. Some folks are rightly concerned about counterfeits and too much emphasis on emotion and various manifestations and the like. As I have been saying all along, we must constantly be on guard against various extremes.
On the one hand we certainly do NOT want to quench the Spirit. But on the other hand we do not want to be led away by false doctrines, counterfeit practices and experiences, or human activities only that are being claimed to be of God. Discernment is always important.
Keener, Scripture and history
New Testament scholar Craig Keener often has worthwhile things to say about these sorts of issues. In a recent article he looked at Asbury in the light of both church history and what the Bible has to say. Here are some quotes from his helpful piece:
Some voices in social media are hotly debating whether this should be called a revival or not. Since the term is an extrabiblical one, my thinking is, “Who cares what we call it? Let’s celebrate what God is doing!”
Different events labeled revivals in the past few centuries have looked different—from dramatic weeping to dramatic joy, from massive conversions to empowerment for missions, leading to even more conversions.
Calvinists dominated the First Great Awakening, the Hebrides Revival, and the West Timor Revival. Wesleyans dominated the Second Great Awakening, the Azusa Street Revival, and the 1950 and 1970 Asbury Revivals. Witnesses from the West Timor Revival reported a sound like a rushing wind. Witnesses from the revival at Pandita Ramabai’s orphanage in India reported tongues of fire. Miraculous signs accompanied evangelism in the Shandong Revival.
Why should an infinite God fit our boxes?
What we find in the Book of Acts are outpourings of the Spirit (for that wording, see Acts 2:17-18; 10:45, but other terminology, like the Spirit falling on or filling people, is also used).
In Acts 2:17-18, Peter describes their new experience of the Spirit as prophetic empowerment to speak for God. In 4:31, God fills petitioners with his Spirit for boldness to continue speaking for him. Other collective experiences appear in 10:44, 13:52, and 19:6—not to satisfy our merely historical curiosity, but to whet our appetite.
One characteristic Luke reports in connection with the first two outpourings is concern for the needy (2:44-45; 4:32-35). This observation suggests that these outpourings involved not simply an initial emotional experience (though some did—see 2:13!) but a deep, long-range impact in how Jesus’s followers treated one another, related to what Paul calls the “fruit” of the Spirit.
During the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards noted visions and “manifestations” such as falling to the ground and weeping. He also noted that, while some manifestations were human responses to the work of God’s Spirit, some were imitations or worse. The long-term fruit of the revival, he pointed out, is about how we live….
What is happening at Asbury began spontaneously and unexpectedly. But spontaneity does not mean lack of preparation. Anna Gulick, a French professor at the university during the 1970 revival, reported that many students had begun praying among themselves before cries of repentance broke out in chapel. Similarly, people within the Asbury community have been praying for decades that God would get the campus ready.
Connection with prayer is a common (though not universal) characteristic of both corporate and individual experiences of the Spirit in Acts (see Acts 1:14; 4:31; 8:15; 9:17). When I teach on this theme in Acts, I first highlight Jesus’s promise in Luke’s first volume that God will answer prayers for the work of his Spirit (Luke 11:13)….
[A] lot goes on in the name of Christianity that isn’t very Christian. The same is true in the history of revivals. God is God, but people are still people. One generation’s unique behavior during some revival can become the next generation’s tradition—and the following generation’s legalism. Some claims of revival are attempts to stir up emotion or create hype. And those who want a name for themselves often hijack movements that God initiates among the lowly.
It’s no surprise, then, that there are threats to the integrity of what is happening at Asbury. Some may come for hype or to seek attention for themselves, though hopefully they will leave with something different. Administrators, campus ministry staff, and student leaders have been working overtime, sometimes on little sleep, trying to guard the movement’s integrity and focus. The leaders don’t want the focus to be about them or about Asbury…. https://julieroys.com/opinion-what-revival-happening-asbury/
There is much of value in that article. Please have a read of the entire piece. In sum, there will continue to be controversy and debate about Asbury in particular and revival in general. But as is so often the case, we can so easily go from one extreme to the other about such things, and miss the biblical balance.
I therefore have to keep repeating what I have been saying all along about these matters:
-We are all a mix of Spirit and flesh.
-There are no perfect believers or churches or religious movements.
-Thus we must all keep praying, we must stay on our knees and stay humble, and we must test all things in light of Scripture.
6 Replies to “On Asbury and Revival Again”
15 Some indeed even preach Christ because of envy and strife, and some also of good will.
16 Those, indeed, preach Christ out of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds.
17 But these [others] preach in love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel.
18 What then? Nevertheless, in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached. And I rejoice in this…
It is extraordinarily foolish for anyone to criticise a move of God. There will be plenty of time to work through the finer points of theology later.
I am from the more conservative wing of Wesleyan-Holiness doctrinal persuasion.
I will start with that.
As I almost always do I appreciate your approach.
I would welcome, no, I would love to see Revival in the Catholic Church, The Calvinist arms of the Reformation divisions, The Methodist (first Wesleyan-Holiness Church), The Charismatic branches of Christianity or even outside the organized church.
I an convinced that God sends true revival to those who hunger and pray for it. God will lead to His truth but conversion happens before much leading.
Bill, your understanding of the revival concept is good! Thank God for you and your God-given platform. May his blessings multiply on you and your family!
Thank you, Bill, for your three fine commentaries on the Asbury revival.
How uplifting it is to hear some good news for a change!
Dear Bill, I couldn’t agree more with your final wise words. Thank you very much for reminding us. As a Catholic I have over the decades become fully aware of the Catholic Church’s imperfections even though it has been evolving for over 2000 years. Vatican 2 was meant to ‘let in fresh air’ but some in their interpretation of it ‘threw the baby out with the bathwater’. However, there are beautiful, truly Christian people in all Christian denominations. For instance I will never forget and am eternally grateful to the young woman who taught me Bible stories in Sunday School when I was a child growing up in the Methodist Church. She portrayed Jesus so beautifully that one could not help loving Him as she obviously did. I am also grateful to the little Irish priest who catechised me so thoroughly in the fifties when I became drawn as a teenager to the beauty and mystery of the Latin Mass and the Gregorian Chant. His simple faith, humility and selflessness left such a good impression on me that it undoubtedly influenced my decision to convert. I later learned but not from him, he had spent time in a sanatorium with TB after he caught it from the poor people he used to visit on his bicycle. TB was common then because of poor living conditions.The Holy Spirit blows where it will and all of us must ‘fall on our knees’ and pray as we have never prayed before.
Looking like a year of Jubilee to me. As we eagerly await Jesus return in the air to take us Home.
Never heard of the 1950 or 1970 asbury revivals. If they were more local or regional than national I can understand then.
I feel the major move of God is coming. One America has deserved for so long. Many revivals will hopefully break out afterwards in whatever is left.