Darrell Stetler II
Revival at Asbury?
Updated: Mar 9
If your Twitter and Facebook feed is like mine, it's been full of the news about the move of the Holy Spirit at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY.
I'm glad and hopeful.
God knows that Methodism needs a powerful revival from the Holy Spirit. Evangelicalism does, too. And my church does! I would love to see it sweep powerfully across our nation. I welcome and celebrate it! For video clips and other eyewitness info, search #asburyrevival on Twitter or Facebook.
Sure, it's been critiqued by the usual list of suspects. :) But I don't mind the critiques of those who have their gospel gun loaded with the buckshot of their own supposed theological correctness.
I don't mind the Bethel songs, even though they're not my favorite. I don't mind the drums. I don't mind the random emotional people jumping, that one person waving a giant Jesus flag, etc.
We need these kinds of times.
Why do we need times like the Asbury Revival?
1. We need them because spiritual tiredness and hard-heartedness is a real danger we face.
I love spiritual rhythms and I believe in them. I was raised to "do right if the stars fall," and I respect that. You show up at church, you serve the poor, you live a life of piety and godliness no matter whether there is a special move the Holy Spirit or not.
But doing what is right is tiring. To carry the weight of the infinite worth of souls, the glory of the preciousness of Christ, and the joy of a coming, unshakable Kingdom. It was even tiring for Christ Jesus during his ministry!
The values of the world-system are pressed upon us continually by every interaction with unbelievers, and many interactions with the American church world.
Hear this: The values of the world are even pressed upon us in our desire for being more theologically correct than other people. (Need proof? Check out the harsh critiques of the #asburyrevival on Twitter.)
The Holy Spirit brings about a humbling and softening during times like this. He sweeps aside our own sense of self-importance and reminds us that he can do anything, with anyone, anywhere, at any time that he desires. He is utterly sovereign over the methods he uses to draw to repentant, humble love for Christ.
We need that.
2. We need them because our divisions can only be cured by a greater reason for unity.
We're deeply suspicious, even of (especially of?) those closest to us in evangelicalism these days. But I've been in places where God brought the hearts of people together and, through the Holy Spirit, humbled us until we realized that we needed to love Him more than we loved our differences.
Boy, do we need that within evangelicalism. So many of our differences are nothing but subcultural, political, traditional... and we love them deeply. Sometimes we love them so deeply that we would gladly look past the obvious work of Christ in a brother or sister... and critique and belittle them because they did not follow Jesus in the same way we did. (See Luke 9:49-55 to see genuine Christ-followers do this.)
I've often said that if a real revival came, we might fail to see it, because we didn't think it would look like THAT. We didn't think WE needed one, it was just everyone else. (And yes, I do see the irony of saying that.)
Jesus is valuable enough to overcome our differences -- as long as love and obedience to him is what we're all after. Times like Asbury remind us that we're all looking for something with a greater, more satisfying glory than whatever political or theological issue we're worked up about at the moment.
It's significant that times of genuine revival have been times of a "singleness of purpose and a broadness of spirit." It was in the fires of the Wesleyan Revival that John Wesley could write a sermon like "The Catholic Spirit," expositing the Scripture "Is thy heart right... as mine is with thine?... Then give me thy hand."
A lot of unity these days is based on shared hatred of something, but a disturbing lack of love for the best things.
3. We need them because no work of man is more vital than the work of the Holy Spirit.
As a pretty motivated guy and pastor, I need to remember this.
When we work - we get man-sized results. But God can accomplish in a moment what we could never in a lifetime. I've seen it. I've preached to people for a long time, only to see them suddenly humbled and converted in a moment. What if God sovereignly did that in a sweeping, culture-wide, powerful way?
As Dr. Dennis Kinlaw once said, "Give me one divine moment when God acts, and I say that moment is far superior to all the human efforts of man through the centuries."
But, having admitted that we need a genuine move of God...
Is the Revival at Asbury a genuine move of God?
I agree with Pete Greig, who said on Twitter:
"Let me also say that I understand the cautious questions being asked in some quarters. These are natural and sensible. But ... when it comes to reports of revival I would far rather be gullible than cynical."
Let's not play the part of Pharisees, who critiqued a genuine move of God because it came in unexpected packaging. This is unquestionably dangerous.
I would submit for your consideration, this brilliant thread (click through to read it all.)
What is next after the Asbury revival?
I have no idea how long the continuous service at Asbury will last, or how the spontaneous services might spread to other places. (May it be so!)
Real revival has a history of rapidly changing cultures locally, and influencing them regionally and nationally.
The Welsh Revival of 1904 closed some types of businesses. It transformed local language in such a way that mules in coal mines quit pulling their carts -- because the miners quit cursing. (As recorded in “The Glory of His Presence” by Dr. John D. Shiver)
If the revival at Asbury lasts and transforms the culture, it won't be because of blazing tongues of fire, speaking in tongues, or 90 hour church services alone. It will be because the Church of Jesus began to behave more and more like the church of Jesus!
When the powerful move of the Holy Spirit swept across Jerusalem and people were being saved, we know what happened next:
Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Here are my conclusions from that passage:
1. Real revival results in discipleship.
"And they devoted themselves..."
Discipleship is a wholehearted devotion to the Person and the Way of Jesus that results in learning and imitation of Jesus.
That's what real revivals do -- exalt Jesus and produce a fresh determination to imitate him.
An old timer once said, "I don't care how high you jump, I care how straight you walk when you come down." If it doesn't result in:
more love to Christ
an outpouring of surrender to Him
an increased desire for holiness
a passion for sharing the Gospel & reaching the nations
a willingness to go home and minister to the needy
Then it's not revival, no matter how many great songs they sing, and how good people feel. It's just a really long church service.
2. Real revival must lead into intentional spiritual rhythms.
"to the ... breaking of bread and prayers..."
Yes, we ought to welcome and celebrate moves of the Holy Spirit like this.
AND, we ought to prepare with a clear plan for discipleship that can be duplicated and multiplied. One that focuses on habits that will sustain spiritual growth during times where the Spirit isn't moving in this particular way.
The story of Christianity isn't just a story of revivals. It's a story of Gospel preaching, regular communion, "ordinary" church services, and people who did the same thing faithfully every week... whether they felt like it or not!
Real revival produces that kind of commitment!
3. Real revival must lead to genuine community in order for it to last.
"they devoted themselves to the ... fellowship"
Coals do not stay hot in isolation. They go out! Coals stay hot in community.
John Wesley's class meetings sustained the Wesleyan Revival, far beyond the days when it could have died. The accountability, the support, the encouragement, created a means for sustaining the work of God when people were not having 150 hour church services.
was known as a more powerful preacher
preached to larger crowds
preached on both sides of the Atlantic
powerfully influenced even skeptics like Benjamin Franklin
But Adam Clarke tells a story about Whitefield later in life:
Whitefield met an old friend, Mr. John Pool and accosted him in the following manner: “Well, John, art thou still a Wesleyan?”
Pool replied, “Yes, sir, and I thank God that I have the privilege of being in connection with him, and one of his preachers.”
“John,” said Whitefield, “thou art in the right place. My brother Wesley acted wisely—the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.”
Real revival isn't sustained by powerful, charismatic preaching, but by genuine community.
4. Real revival must lead to orthodox doctrine being taught and believed.
"they devoted themselves... to the Apostles' teaching..."
There will always be strange things believed by those in attendance at revivals. But the product of a revival is a deep and lasting commitment to apostolic doctrine.
A cursory reading of Twitter will show some fringe elements commenting on the Asbury Revival. But we have to recognize we are discipling people into the orthodox Christian faith, and revival isn't sufficient to do that by itself.
It will take training.
And, to balance it all out, training won't do it alone - it takes powerful moves of the Holy Spirit to revive the heart that accepts the apostolic doctrines as more authoritative than the ideas of man.
Daniel Steele was correct, "The Holy Spirit is the conservator of orthodoxy."
Will the revival in Wilmore make a lasting impact?
God knows. We can certainly ask Him to make it so.
Here's hoping and praying that we will be able to talk about it again next week... and find it's still going.
So here's my determination: Until the whole Church is revived and mighty in the Spirit, let's keep praying and expecting it.
let's keep discipling and getting ready to disciple new believers!
Tom McCall writing in Christianity Today "A Surprising Move of God"
Account of the 1970 Asbury Revival: https://www.asbury.edu/about/spiritual-vitality/1970-revival/
Baptist Theologian Luke Stamps on humility and desire for revival: https://secundumscripturas.com/2023/02/11/revival-at-asbury/
Local media reports: https://www.wtvq.com/asbury-university-chapel-service-continues-into-fourth-day/