Rumours of Revival

There have been some incredible reports coming from Asbury University in Kentucky of God moving in a powerful way starting at a chapel service.  These reports describe people to come, stay, come back to an extended gathering where there has been praise, prayer, Scripture reading, preaching and testimony continuing over a number of days.  Testimonies include reports of:

Healing—both emotional, spiritual, and physical has happened in glorious ways.”

This is being described as “revival” by many.  The word “revival” is used to describe particular experiences of God at work, movements of the Holy Spirit often leading to a great crying out to God for mercy. Notable historical examples include the Great Evangelical Awakening across both North America and Great Britain resulting from the preaching of the Wesleys, Whitfield and Edwards.  Then, there was the Welsh Revival of 1904.  Localised revivals have occurred in particular towns, cities and countries. Here in the UK there were reports of such events in the middle of the 20th Century including in the Hebrides and East Anglia.  It is my opinion that what I witnessed visiting South China in the late 1990s -early 2000s could be legitimately described as such with great hunger for God’s Word evident.

Some people distinguish “revival” from “awakening” with the latter carrying greater emphasis on an outworking towards unbelievers leading to growth in the Church.  Certainly, I think it is possible to experience a particular movement of the Holy Spirit that primarily affects believers but is not the same as the kind of ingathering of new believers that many of us long for.

It is also worth saying six further things at this stage.  First, that there can be incredible moments when we are especially aware of God’s presence and when people are responding visibly to what God is saying and doing in their lives. This does not mean hat they are technically revivals but that does not lesson what God does at the moment in a specific meeting.  It may be possible at such times to extend the opportunity for people to respond by choosing to allow a gathering to continue and that might mean for a further few hours or even days.  However, just because that has happened in some cases, doesn’t mean it is always necessary.  A student university context is different to a local church using a school hall which they have to vacate and where people have to return to work.

Secondly, I believe that it is possible to see God doing something but then for humans to try to take over to engineer, control and replicate.  My personal view is that we saw something of this during the Toronto Blessing in the early 1990s.  I know people and churches that were profoundly affected by these events for good but I also remember seeing things that looked manipulative.  My view since then has been that there were examples of God at work but mixed in were attempts to reproduce that were manmade.

Thirdly, as Edwards was keen to point out during the Great Awakening, we judge whether or not this is the Holy Spirit not by how people feel emotionally in the moment, nor by physical manifestations.  Rather, we judge the long-term fruit in lives. It is possible for people to respond in very overt physical and emotional ways and that reflects their character and physical properties as much as anything. So, in the same way a lack of physical manifestations is no more evidence that God isn’t at work in a particular place or person than the presence of them confirms that he is.

Fourthly, God can work in surprising contexts and any movement of the Holy Spirit is an outpouring of grace. This means that God can work even where theology is messy and muddled.  So, we should not write off a revival just because some of those involved hold to some strange and questionable views.  Nor, however, should we follow everything that those involved in leading such a movement say and do.

Fifthly, it is possible to be close to a revival and experience something of it whilst significant issues remain in your life. Consider the way in which Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield were both powerfully used but also failed to be convicted regarding slave-ownership.  Think too of the warnings in Hebrews 6 of people falling away having even tasted the Holy Spirit. It is possible to be caught up in revival without being saved.

Sixth, revival is not in and of itself a clue as to the longer term spiritual health of a church, community or nation.  The Welsh Revival was reportedly incredible but today, Wales is a spiritual wasteland.  In fact, this became true quite rapidly.  This should be  a cautionary note against chasing after revival as a silver bullet or becoming addicted to spiritual experiences.

I don’t know what is happening at Asbury University in terms of what label we give to it and what the long term affects will be.  As others have observed, there is the risk that we can allow ourselves to become jaded and cynical against such reports.  So how do we respond well.  I would suggest:

  1. We should be slow to place labels on events.  Instead we should rejoice and give thanks when we hear good things and we should pray for all involved that God would work deeply in lives, that there would be protection of God’s work and that the Gospel would benefit.
  2. I think we should be wary against the temptation to dash places like revival tourists hoping to spectate or even catch an experience.  I am encouraged to hear of the mature response from those at Astbury encouraging those turning up to go back and pray for God to work where they are. 
  3. We should keep praying that God would work deeply and powerfully where we are.
  4. We should keep preaching and teaching God’s Word.
  5. We should keep sharing the good news where we are.
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