What is the real question at the heart of the Asbury Revival?
A few weeks ago I opened up Facebook to find a long post by a former professor of mine from Bible College. She is also a revivals scholar in the Assemblies of God tradition. She wrote extensively on what she called the Asbury Revival happening on the Asbury campus. She compared it to two previous ‘revivals’ at Asbury and spoke on revivals in general.
As someone who spent years within the faith expression of Assemblies of God and holiness traditions, I know well the expectations and deep desire for revival among its factions. I spent some time teaching at a Bible College in which I taught on Pentecostal movements and distinctives. I understand all the nuancing (and baggage) that goes along with a term like ‘revival.’
It has been a good 15 years since I have engaged in charismatic interpretation and commentary even though I am still connected with friends and acquaintances from former faith days.
When I read my former and esteemed Professor’s post I had zero emotional reaction. A way in which I might have responded to something like this years ago had no impulse to show its face. I didn’t even feel contempt. I have learned to not have quick reactions to these sorts of things anymore. Not for or against. Mostly indifferent. I personally think a lot of this stuff is barking up the wrong tree. But, of course, that is a very plain way of saying it.
Within these claims of divine strength and visibility I always look past all the fluff and fanfare and wonder what the human need is at the heart it all.
In the days that followed national news would start to cover this ‘revival,’ as Christians and leaders seemed to flock from all over the country. Lines hours long and overflow rooms quickly became a response to the influx of people. Security concerns, technology capability, class attendance all became a worry.
Bloggers and substack writers started to enter the dialog with their own commentary on what they thought was happening. The conservative and Evangelical types praised God and asked for more of this. The liberal and progressive sort spat at it and asked to see the fruit of what was being called a big romp of a worship service.
I watched as all those in between, with less polarizing views, acknowledged what they believed to be a peaceful environment where those worshiping could retreat to for spiritual nourishment and rest.
More days passed and the administration decided that business as usual had to resume. The worship service would end, classes would continue on, and visitors would return from whence they came.
This news came to the scoff of both sides.
‘How dare anyone squelch the spirit?’
‘See. Just a hoax. A commodity to start and stop at any whim.’
The thing that both sides are missing, and by both sides I means conservative and liberal Christians, is that we are still talking within a horizon of a metaphysical God. The one who lives on high in the sky and intervenes in our lives.
The conservative Christian says, ‘Look! Here God intervenes!’
The liberal Christian says, ‘Look! Here God intervenes if it actually bears good fruit in the world!’
For both sides it is still acceptable and an expectation that ‘God’ would intervene and that it would look a certain way when this ‘God’ does.
Here’s the thing. I get it. People want the move of such a God. The world is a really sh*tty place right now. I’m not a pessimist. I almost always see the glass as half full and do my best to always see the best. But from natural disasters, to corrupt and dictatorial political regimes, to systemic racism, homophobia and transphobia, to the cost of living crisis, climate change, reproductive rights, and so much more, the world is a dyer place at the moment. There is no sense in not being honest about that.
So, of course, if there is a God that intervenes why shouldn’t people who believe in this God want it? Why wouldn’t they pray for it? Why wouldn’t young people at a college learning about said God want to spend some time in a little spiritual hideaway and cry and pray, beg and grieve, and maybe find a small eye in the storm where they can get some peace?
As far as the justice warriors of liberal Christianity, why wouldn’t they ask to see what this looks like in the world? Why wouldn’t they want to see what a movement of an interventionist God looks like with legs out in the real world?
I get both sides. I see both perspectives. But the fighting and the vitriol ain’t it.
Again, what is the real question at the heart of the Asbury Revival?
For me, as a post-Christian thinker and writer, what anyone might say about ‘God’ moving or not is of no consequence to me. I don’t have conversations of what a supernatural god may or may not be doing. But I look at a movement like Asbury and all that surrounds it and all I see is human need. What kind of deficit are we working and living in at the moment that is how we see fit to fill that need? What kind of deep-seated and abiding need does this community of young people have that they have created this environment for themselves? A need for belonging, love, peace, community, escapism, etc. A context such as this one that begs home going and comfort. So we make these supernatural projections to meet needs that aren’t being met by a society that is absolutely failing us.
I could poke theological, philosophical, and ecclesial holes in this movement all day long. But that isn’t the point. I have a lot of compassion and empathy for all those who felt and feel the need to be a part of such a ‘revival.’ They have put the name ‘God’ to their desires, but what they really want is a break from the bull sh*t of life and the world. They want a time-out where they can sit and revel in something beautiful and peaceful and for them that is ‘God,’ and ‘God’ in this way. An alternative world and external force that we can disappear to and that will bring change.
This is the age-old question of the human condition and the needs we have being subject to such a condition.
So, what is the real question at the heart of the Asbury Revival?
I don’t think it is so much “Is this God moving?” Rather we must ask what about our lives and needs call for a difference and how do we start to effect that difference together.
A little compassion and empathy go along way, especially theologically speaking.