By: Stuart Kellogg
The revival that began during the regular February 8th chapel service at Asbury University in Wilmore, KY caught the imagination of not just the church, but the country as a whole. For those unfamiliar with revivals, it was a strange occurrence, seeing young men and women for hours, days and eventually, more than two weeks, praying and worshipping. (“Isn’t that supposed to be something you do once a week?”) For the evangelical church it was a promise of an awakening within an increasingly secular and hostile culture. We won’t know the real impact for years. The question of whether it will go down as a localized experience, or the start of something much, much bigger will depend not on the thousands who were part of the outpouring. It will depend on those of us who heard about it and then responded or did nothing.
Whether an awakening or revival, it was a powerful event that began with young Generation Z members and touched many more than those who witnessed it in person, including several residents.
Now, America is certainly no stranger to revivals, being part of world-wide awakenings since before we became a nation. Some examples: The First Great Awakening in the 1700s, The Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s, and the 1970 Asbury Revival which occurred at the beginning of the so-called Jesus Movement and is popularized in the current hit movie Jesus Revolution.
These large movements are a testament to the Holy Spirit moving among His people, and drawing in those thirsting for more than what the culture offers. Dr. Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Seminary (a separate school across the street from Asbury University), prefers to call the event an awakening. It will be a revival, he believes, if something more permanent comes of it. As he wrote on his blog, “It is first, last and foremost a tribute to the grace of God to reveal himself and to call a new generation to faithfulness at a time when we most needed it….However, a deeper look at this outpouring reveals that it has the same elements which are found in any authentic revival: people repenting of their sins; people being filled with the Holy Spirit; men and women finding reconciliation with God and their neighbor; people capturing a renewed love for Jesus, the gospel and the Holy Scriptures.”
“The Presence of the Spirit”
A Baldwin County pastor, Dr. Barry Carpenter who leads Resurrection Church in Daphne AL., experienced the power with five others who travelled with him to Kentucky. What made the time special? “One word. Presence. That’s the word that captures me, captives me,” Dr. Carpenter told me. “The presence of the spirit. It was gentle. There was no leader. He was the leader.”
Started during chapel service February 8th and lasting 16 days, Asbury University president Dr. Kevin Brown told The Christian Post that 50,000 students and visitors came to the campus to pray from more than 260 colleges and universities. Similar outpourings of prayer were reported at other colleges and universities across the country.
For Loxley, AL resident Tim Philpot, the revival was a reminder of the powerful work of the Spirit in 1970 at that Asbury Revival. Tim was a freshman at the time. The son of evangelist Ford Philpot, Tim was not a Christian. He told me the revival 53 years ago transformed his life. As he wrote on his blog when this awakening broke out, “About sixty hours into the revival, I knew it was my time. I located a friend and said, ‘I know you won’t believe this, but I am not a Christian.’ She smiled and said, ‘That’s no surprise. Five of your friends are in the basement right now praying for you.’
As Tim witnessed the incredible moving of the Holy Spirit in February, he was taken back to his own earth-moving experience. “This was my moment — one divine moment. I slithered to the altar, hoping no one would see me but also believing that this was the biggest moment of my life. And sure enough, it happened. I experienced God. I wrestled with God and He won. He redeemed me. He washed me. He healed me.”
The key, however, is not just the powerful experience, but the fruit of those awakenings. For Tim, he wrote that the change was immediate. “For starters, when I stood up from the altar, I loved people that I hated the day before. I am thinking of two very specific young people. It was a juvenile eighteen-year-old teenager rivalry, but very real at the time. Next, the incredible burden of sin was gone. It was like going from being a caddie carrying a 100-pound tour bag full of thirty clubs and junk up a hill to being the a ‘tour player’ with God Himself on the bag, carrying all my burdens for me. Essentially, it is the freedom that comes from being forgiven!”
That encounter with Christ didn’t just change Tim, it’s changed the hundreds of lost souls touched around the world through his one-on-one discipleship and various ministries he’s been involved with and led for more than half a century.
As Dr. Tennent from Asbury Seminary wrote, “Only if we see lasting transformation which shakes the comfortable foundations of the church and truly brings us all to a new and deeper place can we look back, in hindsight and say ‘yes, this has been a revival.’”
What is your church doing in the wake of this outpouring? What are we doing individually? If we simply cheer and go back to our everyday lives—-a little bit of Jesus mixed with a lot of other stuff—-odds are there will be little fruit. If, however, Christ followers become more engaged with Christ, listening, and obeying the work of the Holy Spirit, well, watch out world!
The fruit of those earlier revivals, or awakenings, is obvious. Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter wrote The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever, and noted that each movement had a lasting impact because of major changes in the church and the culture. “The First Great Awakening in England, for example, resulted in Sunday school and educational reform, changes to labor and child welfare laws, significant prison reforms, and the abolition of slavery,” they wrote. “During the Welsh Revival, the culture was so transformed that new mules had to be secured to work in the coal mines: The old mules wouldn’t’t respond to miners who no longer cursed and abused the animals! In these and many other ways, revivals in England, America, and other nations have historically shaped those societies into more Christian communities.”
The Second Great Awakening birthed many great evangelistic organizations, such as the Baptist Missionary society, along with the modern missionary and Sunday school movements. Calvary Chapel is credited with planting more than 1400 churches in the wake of the Jesus Movement of the late 60s and early 70s that began at that small church.
In other words, there was no “going back to normal.” It was a wonderful new normal, with a revived church plus many, many new followers. You know what term didn’t rule the day after these revivals? “We’ve never done that before!”
Will the awakening/revival at Asbury University be more than a fondly remembered event in a year or two? It all depends on us. There has never been a greater need for Christ and what He can do to heal the wounds, repair relationships, and lead a country full of sinners to repentance and a new life. What are we willing to do to make that revival a reality?