Asbury University’s Recent Occurrence
Revival: Yea or Nay?
No one wants to be labeled a “Pharisee” or Christian curmudgeon or a Christ-confessing killjoy. I certainly don’t. I prayerfully considered this undertaking. And like Moses, in reluctant humility, I wanted to excuse myself from this endeavor by explaining to my Lord Jesus, as well as to you, my dear reader,
“Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips.” Exodus 6:30
Today basically marks the end of the event occurring at Hughes Chapel on the campus of Asbury University. According to the university president, Dr. Kevin Brown,
“Thursday, February 23, will mark the end of this historic multi-week gathering at Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary with the National Collegiate Day of Prayer broadcast hosted on our campus.”
Most of us didn’t hear anything about this chapel event at Asbury University until it actually gained some momentum. Even then, afterward, I rather ignored it except for the brief mentions I perused from the Internet news. When it had gained even more notoriety, I decided to investigate a little further.
Asbury University was founded in 1890 as Kentucky Holiness College. Its founding was the result of a pledge made to a student at Vanderbilt University in 1880 by John Wesley Hughes, a Methodist evangelist and circuit-riding preacher. Planted in Wilmore, KY, the school’s name was changed to Asbury College a year later to honor the Kentucky Methodist minister and pioneer, Francis Asbury. Hughes also served as the college’s first president, from 1890-1905.
While it has Methodist roots, Asbury University identifies itself as a non-denominational Christian institution.
The current president of Asbury University is Dr. Kevin Brown, entering that position in 2019.
The institution claims to have experienced several “revivals” throughout its history: 1905, 1908, 1921, 1950, 1958, 1970, 1992, and 2006.
Timeline of Events
Wednesday, February 8, 2023. Chapel services occur on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 10-11 a.m. At the conclusion of the Wednesday morning chapel service, a group of approximately 20 undergraduate students remained in Hughes Chapel auditorium. It started when one student began to openly confess some of his sins to the group. “And so you have to wonder, ‘What’s going to break?’ In this case, the Holy Spirit has interceded for us here at Asbury and across the nation,” said student body president, Alison Perfater, who was there. Later in that day, some videos went “viral” on social media platforms.
Friday, February 10, 2023. The event continued non-stop since its start. Comprised predominantly of the Asbury student body, non-students began to attend. Coffee stations were also set up in the auditorium. Local media covered the event.
Sunday, February 12, 2023. Vans and buses arrived from churches and other institutions. Estes Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary opened to accommodate the overflow. McKenna Chapel and other buildings also opened to accommodate visitors.
February 13-14, 2023. Universities and seminaries began opening chapel services in response to “revival.”
Wednesday, February 15, 2023. Asbury University event made national news with coverage by the Washington Post.
February 16-17, 2023. The university set February 23rd as last day of the event on campus. Large numbers of visitors continued to flood campus. Other Christian institutions held services in response to event.
Saturday, February 18, 2023. Numbers of visitors to campus had swollen to the point that security was a concern.
Sunday, February 19, 2023. Last day for public evening services was announced by the university.
Tuesday, February 22, 2023. The university announced that the services would be moved to accommodate the significant number of students attending the event.
Revival: Yea or Nay?
The question before us is this: “Was the Asbury University occurrence a true revival?”
My answer: “Yes and no.”
I can almost hear some of you growl, “Aargh!” Allow me to explain.
Some 3,000 years ago, David penned this wonderful truth:
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; Psalm 19:7
Was there genuine revival at the Hughes Chapel of Asbury University? Surely, there may have been souls to which the Holy Spirit genuinely ministered. Every salvation, when it comes right down to it, is a supernatural event. We were dead in trespasses and sins, spiritually opposed to God; and by the Holy Spirit resurrecting our dead souls to the truth of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, we have died to self and have been raised to newness of life (2 Cor 5:17). That’s a miracle no matter how you slice it.
Moreover, many of us can give testimony after testimony of how we have received a genuine, life-changing conversion despite the unorthodox, and for some, even heterodox and outright heretical circumstances surrounding our salvations.
So, yes, I believe there may have been some true revivals among some, or perhaps many, individuals there.
First Disturbing Sign
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2
Was the event itself something I would classify as a revival? No. Why?
“Revivals,” or, if you will, the working of God among us, can be misunderstood. I used the word “working” intentionally because those who know me fairly well will realize that I preach and write often about the “person and work of Jesus Christ.”
Of course, when I speak of the person of Christ, I’m speaking about the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity; and as eternal God, Jesus is the same in essence with the Father and Holy Spirit, and equal in power and glory. The Bible declares of Him thus:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8
By Christ’s work, I am speaking of His righteous life as a perfect, sinless Man (1 Pet 2:2) and His corroborating miracles as Israel’s Messiah (John 5:36); and also, and most importantly, His substitutionary, atoning Sacrifice upon Calvary’s cross (1 Cor 2:2); and also His resurrection from the dead (John 2:19); and finally, His ascension into heaven (John 3:13; Heb 1:3).
When we presume this “work” in earthly occurrences is something “of God,” why is it that Jesus and His gospel are nary mentioned at all? His suffering God’s wrath for sins He did not commit, His paying a debt He did not owe for a debt we owe and cannot possibly pay, His tasting death for every man, by God’s grace (Heb 2:9), and the shedding of His precious blood, without which there would be no forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22) was never in the forefront of this event, as far as can be testified to.
With regard to the gospel of Christ, Christian journalist, Samuel Sey, interviewed several students and alumni of Asbury University. On February 17th he wrote:
Though one student says the gospel has been consistently and explicitly preached since the beginning of the “revival”, others contradict that claim. In fact, one former student who was at the chapel this week told me he rarely, if ever, heard a clear presentation of the gospel at the school.
Another student said: “Attending the few chapels I have at seminary, apart from one [or] two chapels that preach a biblical message of repentance, it’s always been about ‘being who you are’ and God loving you ‘as you are.’ There are a lot of messages that are about being ‘true to yourself.’”
So, the first disturbing sign is that Christ was not exalted and the gospel of His atoning death was not clearly emphasized or proclaimed.
Second Disturbing Sign
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:14
The second disturbing sign is akin to the first. If the gospel of Christ crucified was not exalted, what was? Attention and emphasis were given more to the revival itself than to Jesus Christ and the gospel of His atoning death; and it is His sacrifice which gives our worship of God in Christ breadth and length and height and depth.
What could this possibly mean? It means that many of the participants had made an idol of the “workings” of the revival. If the work of God in Christ is diminished, viz., His atoning death, then what we are calling God’s work in its place is an idol.
We are not pragmatists and we do not justify methods, methodologies, situations, circumstances, and phenomenon just because “they work.” If we did, we are making the “results” our idols.
Idols are not merely carved or graven images of wood, stone, or metal. Idolatry can take many forms. Fame, wealth, and material accessories and adornments such as cars, homes, etc., can be idols. Family, friends, and all kinds of relationships can become idols in our lives if we are not cautious. Work, career, and occupations are often idols that must be dealt with; sometimes causing rifts between spouses in marriage. Ministry, church traditions, and even the salvation of souls can become idols in our lives if they are not placed in their proper position under the submission to Jesus Christ as Lord and King enthroned above all.
Idolatry, the second commandment, is the root of all sins; and at its core, idolatry is making anything equal to or greater than the Lord Jesus Christ in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Third Disturbing Sign
And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. Luke 9:36
The reasons for my doubts about this event overall follow a very steady regression. The third disturbing sign I’ve witnessed found among the news articles and video segments I’ve watched was either the misuse of God’s Word to wrongly justify the event or the complete disregard for the Scriptures altogether.
For example, the Asbury University student body president who appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program said this about the event at the school: “A theme or a Bible verse that we’ve all been sharing with each other is Habakkuk 1, and the Lord says, ‘Look at the nations and watch, for I am doing something in your day that you wouldn’t believe if you were told.’”
She was paraphrasing Habakkuk 1:5, which says,
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”
I’m not bothered by her paraphrase at all. What troubles me is the context in which she is using the verse. YHVH God said this to Habakkuk about the judgment He intended to bring upon Judah because of its evil. The reason Habakkuk would have a hard time believing this work of God, even if it was told him, was because the LORD God said He was raising the idolatrous Chaldeans…
“that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.” Habakkuk 1:6-7
This nation was even worse than the worst wickedness of Judah and Jerusalem, by which Habakkuk lamented (Hab 1:1-4).
While some may argue judgment came upon the event’s participants by the Holy Spirit’s presence, since it started with a student repenting and many others following (an issue I will cover in my fourth and final disturbing sign), the judgment appropriate with Habakkuk 1:5, that being far more evil men than Judah’s population bringing judgment astonishingly upon them, this verse prophetically speaks of the ultimate judgment suffered by Christ Jesus, whose murder was conspired by jealous religious leaders and executed by indifferent political heathen. Jesus would cause the sinful world to see; wonder and be astounded, as it is written:
As many were astonished at You— His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind— Isaiah 52:14
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed…. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. Isaiah 53:4-5, 10
When Jesus was ravished beyond human recognition through three illegal Jewish trials and through three Roman trials afterward, succumbing to scourging, beatings, spitting, the pulling out of His beard (Isa 50:6), and all this while he had been kept awake for well over 24 hours, the Lord Jesus suffered God’s wrath spiritually for sins He did not commit when He was at His weakest physically. This is the gospel truth of our Lord and Savior so that when this was done, no one could ever say that His payment for our sins was not enough.
If the event at Asbury, or anywhere in the world, were a true work of God, Jesus would stand alone, apart from any supernatural phenomenon (Luke 9:36); and the only thing anyone would have to lean upon is the Word of God, which testifies of Christ (Rev 19:10).
Peter testified of the event he personally witnessed when he said:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16-21
Far greater than the phenomenon of this event at Asbury University was what Peter, James, and John experienced when they were on the mount with the Lord Jesus Himself, eyewitnesses to His transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). Despite this most wonderful experience, Peter said that “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed” (2 Pet 1:19). In other words, the Scriptures— the Word of God— is what is sure and steadfast. It is to God’s Holy Word wherein we must pay attention until the truth of the early light of salvation (until the day dawns) and the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, incarnate God— righteously lived as a Man, sacrificially died as a Lamb, miraculously rose again as a Son, and ascended into heaven as a King— rises lovingly, joyfully, and peacefully from the depth of our beings (until… the morning star rises in your hearts).
Whatever you and I experience may cause our minds to be unduly swayed, influenced, or even perverted by the corruptions still remaining in our mortal flesh. Remember,
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Galatians 5:17
The Word of God, which testifies of the Lord Jesus Christ from Genesis to Revelation (Psa 40:7-8; Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39, 46; Acts 18:28; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Rev 19:10; et al.), is always greater than our feelings or our failings. We trust in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, according to Scripture alone, for God’s glory alone. And if there is something that eludes our thinking from the Scriptures, you and I must trust the Scriptures to be true despite our lack of understanding in its reading. We must weigh every assent of our thoughts and every action in our decisions by the exaltation of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ according to God’s written Word.
Fourth Disturbing Sign
I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my portion of food. Job 23:12
Although there may be other things that trouble me over this event, they are probably minor in comparison to what I’ve already mentioned, as well as the fourth and final disturbing sign this event exudes: repentance.
Sometimes we treat repentance as a one-time, been-there, done-that, bought-the-tee-shirt kind of affair. “I did it once so I don’t have to do it again,” some may think. Or “I know I did it before, but this time I meant it,” says another. Sometimes sinful man does not see repentance as an ongoing process which purges more and more the moral corruptions still hiding and abiding within “Mansoul’s Walls.”Repentance means turning from the sin I once loved and turning toward the Christ I once shunned. In turning to God in true repentance, we care not to depart from the commandments of His lips. When true repentance comes, you and I should treasure the words of His mouth more than my portion of food.
Proponents of the event are quick to promote Asbury’s gathering as a true revival because of many who have been repenting over the several days of this occurrence. While I have no doubt there can be some genuine repentance over sins, I’m skeptical because of testimonies, again, offered in the article by Samuel Sey:
Still, progressive Christians like Tim Whitaker at The New Evangelicals have essentially endorsed the “revival” after his visits to the chapel this week. Moreover, he says LGBTQ students at the school told him the university protects them from “conversion therapy.” According to Whitaker, the LGBTQ students who were “worshipping” at the chapel also say they’re especially hopeful the “revival” will create (progressive) change at the school.
That lines up with what one student said to me: “Unfortunately, I have first-account experience and conversations with people who are attending and speaking on the ‘greatness’ of revival who are actively living in sin (to be blunt).”
When what God says, viz., the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is not the standard for how we live, then repentance is a sham, regardless of how sincere we may be when we’ve confessed.
To be fair, with regard to the report concerning Tim Whitaker and the LGBTQ students on campus, Asbury University’s official stance on biblical marriage and sexuality does not make concessions or compromises on the issues promoted by LGBTQ. See Asbury’s Commitment to Morality here; and see Asbury’s Human Sexuality Statement (in PDF) here.
Nevertheless, the statements from Brother Sey’s interviews are too disconcerting to be ignored.
Repentance could be either glorious and heavenly, or it could be worldly, deadly, and altogether ignoble.
The Scripture says,
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10
Godly grief or sorrow accompanies true repentance. It is a grace of God, which the Holy Spirit brings to the soul from above (Jas 1:17). It is not mustered from the filth and depravity of our sinful and corrupt flesh. Christ’s illumination (John 8:12), via the Holy Spirit who testifies of Christ (John 15:26) and convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11) does shed light upon those sins, however, so we may confess them before God (1 Jn 1:9) and repent from them for Christ’s glory (John 16:17).
Peter exhibited this kind of godly grief which produced repentance. After he had betrayed the Lord Jesus three times, denying that he was with Jesus (Luke 22:57), denying that he was a disciple of Jesus (Luke 22:58), and finally denying that he knew Jesus at all (Luke 22:59), when the rooster crowed as Jesus told him earlier (Luke 22:31-34), and when the Lord turned to look at Peter (Luke 22:61), Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62).
Worldly grief or sorrow accompanies a sentimental, fleshly repentance.
Judas Iscariot, on the other hand, confessed his sin,
saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” Matthew 27:4
Judas even threw the thirty pieces of silver he received down in the temple (Matt 27:5a); and afterward, went out and hung himself (Matt 27:5b).
His confession of his terrible sin meant nothing because he confessed it before men who hated Christ and sent Him to Pilate. His repentance, though sincere and heartfelt, did not bring him to the cross. Yes, worldly sorrow produces death.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
Amidst all the sentimental hoopla, the shofar blowing, the speaking in tongues without an interpreter, the disorderliness, and other human manifestations, I’m sure there was more than likely some genuine conversions going on… but I believe they happened in spite of the to-dos, not because of them.
And just in case you don’t see the content of GoWithJordan’s tweet, here is the image associated with his tweet…
You can also view the original tweet by coping the following text and pasting it into an open browser window: twitter.com/GoWithJordan_/status/1626774979286122496?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
Samuel Sey’s article on ChristianPost.com
Reference to John Bunyan’s classic allegory, The Holy War: Made by Shaddai Upon Diabolus for the Regaining of the Metropolis of the World or The Losing and Taking Again of the Town of Mansoul