AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
The great Asbury College revival ended this week when the nondenominational college decided to end the continuous prayer and worship services in Hughes Hall. The event, which began when students stayed after a regularly scheduled chapel service on February 8, lasted until February 23 when the college administration decided to stop the event on campus. The reports from those on the ground indicate that it was indeed more than just a media-driven happening. Its beginnings, seemingly in true desire for God’s presence and power, are right and proper. But whether it will simply be another event or a moment of true revival will depend upon what divine lessons its participants take home with them.
Tens of thousands of people from many different states and countries had descended on little Wilmore, Kentucky, to experience the often emotional prayer, songs, and confessions of sin and testimonies that they could see from participants putting up footage on Tik Tok and other social media sites. While such events can easily be hijacked, observers of the scene there were generally positive about this event. Even if it was publicized online, it did not become an event at which celebrities—either secular or religious—took center stage. It was ordinary people who were there to make their own joyful noise to the Lord, confess their sins, or seek out a God who seemed far away.
It was the last situation that Gracie Turner found herself in. A senior at Asbury, she had been a practicing Christian as a child but had abandoned faith when a family death in 2019 led to a great deal of “fighting and turmoil” in her family. Despite being at a small religious college, she felt alienated from God. She attended mandatory chapel sessions but never allowed herself to really participate. She sometimes wished herself dead. But when a friend texted her to check out what was happening in the chapel after the mandatory service had ended, she went. She began to cry and finally to pray again, sensing God’s presence and voice to her. Her faith was indeed revived—brought back to life.
Though the event has stopped at the Asbury campus, it has spread to other colleges. Many are hoping that in these dark times when unbelief is growing and consistent Christian practice is growing scarce, especially among Gen-Z, this Kentucky event is the herald of a greater religious awakening. Something like the First Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, fostered by the preaching of John Wesley in England and Jonathan Edwards in America, or the Second Great Awakening, which happened both in the northeast and on the Tennessee frontier in the early years of the nineteenth century. The second movement birthed a great increase in the number of churches in the still-fresh American republic and lent a sense of urgency to the Christian abolitionist movement.
That certainly seems to be the hope of Asbury’s leadership. In a message to the public on Asbury’s website, President Kevin J. Brown explains that the college is not “stopping” anything since the college never planned or started it to begin with. Whatever it was that happened, Brown says, the college is hoping that it is something that God will use to bring many more people to serious discipleship. He points on the college website to a document titled “Sowing for a Great Awakening.”
This brief history and theology of revival talks about those first two Great Awakenings, as well as the Hebridean Revival that began in 1949 on the northern Scottish islands of Lewis and Harris. It was a Scottish Presbyterian preacher named Duncan Campbell who came to preach at the behest of others and stayed three years, during which time a large portion of the island came for the first time or returned to Christian faith. “Sowing for a Great Awakening” uses this last of the Evangelical Protestant revivals in the modern era to argue for what it is that makes a true revival.
Though Campbell’s preaching may have been powerful, “eyewitnesses described something more essential: a kind of spiritual posture found among some who were the catalytic core—a spirit of urgency and audacity, an attitude of brokenness and desperation, a manner of prayer that could be daring and agonizing. These friends in the Hebrides called it travailing prayer, like the Holy Spirit groaning through them, they said, like a woman travailing in labor, like Paul in Galatians 4:19 travailing as if ‘in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.’”
It is tears like those of senior Gracie Turner that must be sown to see true faith. This theme of a godly sorrow is developed in the document in a remarkably ecumenical way, citing the many biblical sources and figures from the great tradition, including Augustine, John Chrysostom, Savonarola, Luther, and John Wesley, who testify to the power of what are known in monastic tradition as tears of compunction. “May those who sow in tears,” the Psalmist urges, “reap with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:5).
As a Catholic theologian, this writer has nothing but praise for this perspective. The authors could have cited many more Catholics as to the good of this spiritual “urgency and audacity,” including among many others the great saints Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila who shared this desire for spiritual tears. In fact, in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church there is a “Mass for the Forgiveness of Sins.” In the older Traditional Latin Mass this Mass is titled the Missa ad Petendam Compunctionem Cordis, literally translated as a “Mass for Seeking Compunction of the Heart” but known more colloquially as the “Mass for the Gift of Tears.” The prayer after communion for this Mass begs the Lord to make “the reverent reception of your Sacrament O Lord, lead us to wash away the stains of our sins with sighs and tears….”
All true revival, we might say, begins in tears. We can generously say that the fire in many of the Asbury participants’ hearts seems to have been lit at least partially by the Holy Ghost. But the excitement that many have also has a human element to it, one that must be addressed. In a sermon given in the 1830s titled “Religious Use of Excited Feelings,” the Anglican minister (and future Catholic convert and saint) John Henry Newman argued that though the strong emotions gained from a first repentance or a new moment of conversion are not bad, they are not ultimately the determining factor in whether one is truly revived. They will naturally go away at some point. Whether they are ultimately a good to us depends upon whether we use them for God’s purpose or not. That purpose is to give us the impulse to begin new habits of obedience to him.
Like the “Sowing for a Great Awakening” document, Newman emphasized the power of sorrow. But he noted that while sowing with tears is important, we need more than just those tears to truly reap in joy in the end. What makes sorrow truly godly is what one does with it, whether one truly follows God’s lead and does what he asks us to do.
Those at Asbury have been given a great gift. What they need to do now is not simply seek out the excitement of those days of revival again at some other place. Instead, they should sink down into their own lives and ask what God is asking them to do right here and right now, using the excitement of their time in praise and prayer to motivate them to truly show repentance—a change of mind shown in a fully changed life. “Doing is at a far greater distance from intending to do than you at first sight imagine,” Newman warns. “Join them together while you can; you will be depositing your good feelings into your heart itself by thus making them influence your conduct; and they will ‘spring up into fruit.’”
David P. Deavel is Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative.
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This is the article I told you about at the Asbury College in Jentucky
An excellent article.
Keep praying in faith believing. It works wonders. To God be the glory. He has not forgotten us..
The fact that these were young people, makes my heart sing. Many of the young people today are being reared without spiritual roots of any kind. This started out as a regular chapel meeting and grew spontaneously as the Holy Spirit moved among them. They are seeking God, something is definitely missing in their woke society. Praise God, He is gathering His children together. Pray that what these children have found will grow and grow. God is so good. Alleluia!!????✝️
I saw the Jesus Revolution yesterday and have mixed emotions, but I truly believe we need to have more Christian evens like this one. We are losing our country to socialist values and that is not what we have been taught or brought up. We need to change our country back to GOD or lose everything. We have broken every covenant since Adam and Eve and our only hope is for a NEW COVENANT.
Was this the seed place for the Jesus Revolution in 1970??
No. The 70’s Revolution was in the West mostly in California.
You hit the nail on the head! God uses our senses/emotions to bring us to Him through Jesus Christ. His love experienced is returned through a life surrendered to Him. Out of that fertile ground good works spring forth the same way the Creator has always created. We must decrease; He must increase. Such is the work of ongoing holiness. Blessings ❤️
GOD and FREEDOM go hand in hand.
Without them, you have nothing but hatred and oppression.
Let’s not lose hope God is still on the throne.
Don’t give up on our nation just because evil abounds. His spirit is alive and working.
I agree, Gary!
Very fine writing. God is with us. The outpouring of those coming, seekingl His presence, gives me a new hope for America.
Glad to see a revival springing up. I hope it spreads like wildfire consuming and convicting those who need to be saved and who are willing to come to God in repentance and surrender to the loving kindness, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ!
I pray that God will bless this and allow it to go worldwide. Amen
Asbury College Article what more can you say. Awesome and encouraging. May God touch us all with the Holy Spirt.
We need this now.
YES, WE DO!! We need this NOW!