What Is the Asbury Revival?
This week on the podcast, I am going to do what I had told myself I would not do, and that is talk about the Asbury revival. I didn’t want to talk about the Asbury revival because everybody is talking about the Asbury revival. I didn’t want to talk about it because I think hot takes on these kinds of things too soon are unhelpful. I didn’t want to talk about the Asbury revival because I haven’t been to the Asbury revival. So I don’t have any firsthand information about it, so I wasn’t going to talk about it. But then what happened is, you started asking about it, you started asking what I thought, you started asking if I would do a Marked by Grace on this. This situation only works if, if I’m responsive to you, if there are things you want to talk about, if there are questions you want to be answered, and if I don’t do it, then the system breaks down. So in response to your questions, in response to your concerns, I’m going to share some thoughts on the Asbury revival.
What is Revival?
Now first, before I give some thoughts on it, let me first talk about what revival is. We need to understand what we’re talking about. I have a definition of revival that use a definition of revival that I’ve used publicly and a definition of revival that helps me make sense of these kinds of things. Here’s my definition. I call a revival a mighty and wonderful work of God, where the lost are saved, and the saved are sanctified in surprising numbers. Okay, so that’s my definition of revival. I’ll just point out three realities about that definition to expand upon it. First of all, a revival is something God does. A revival is not something that we can schedule. A revival is not something that we can put on the calendar. A revival is not something that we can look at and point to something that’s happening and say that, right, there is a revival. Of course, we can recognize something that God does. That’s a longer story that I’ll talk about in a moment. We can recognize a revival that God is doing, but we can’t look at an activity. We can’t look at an event and say that right there is a revival uniquely on our own. We have to admit that revival is something that God does by the power of his Spirit. He does it in his good time and for his good purposes. Another thing about that definition of revival is that it must be centered around the proclamation of the gospel. The gospel is the proclamation of the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ for anyone who would turn from their sin and trust in him. A revival has to be centered around the gospel; it has to be centered around the good news of Jesus because in order to be a revival, lost people need to get saved, and saved people need to get sanctified. They need to grow and change. And that happens in Scripture, through Christ. It happens in Scripture, as we trust in Jesus. You are saved and moved from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light when you trust in what Jesus has done for you. And you grow in your faith when in particular specific ways, you trust in Jesus to change you. So there is no revival without a clear announcement of who Jesus is and what he has done.
A Revival Has to be Mighty and Surprising
A third thing that I would say, to expand on that definition, is that a revival has to be mighty and surprising. Whenever anyone is saved, we would say that it is a movement of the Holy Spirit. Whenever anyone grows in their faith, we would say that it is a work of God. But as wonderful as that is, as important as that is, when that happens, as much as we want to celebrate it every time that happens. Every time that happens is not a revival. In order to be a revival, this has to happen to such a degree. It has to happen in such numbers. It has to happen in such a way that you look at it, and you go, wow, that is a big deal. That is mighty. That is surprising. Every week at our church, I’m very thankful that we have people who give their lives to Jesus. Every week in our church, I’m very thankful that we have lots of people who are growing in their relationship with Jesus. And yet, in order to be a revival, something shocking has to happen. Something surprising has to happen. So that is what I think a revival is. I think that’s consistent with the kinds of revivals that we read about in Scripture. I think that is consistent with the kinds of revivals that we read about in church history.
What Is the Asbury Revival?
And so, understanding what revival is, let’s talk about this Asbury revival. Well, you might know the facts about the Asbury revival. It’s so-called because it’s happening at the Asbury Theological Seminary outside Lexington, Kentucky, in Wilmore, Kentucky. Asbury Theological Seminary had its normal chapel on February 8th, and at the end of that chapel service, a group of students, my understanding is several dozen of them, decided they did not want to quit worshiping, but they wanted to stay in the chapel and worship. That went on for hours. Eventually, an official at Asbury emailed the student body and let them know that there was a group of wonderful students who were still worshiping the Lord, and anybody who wanted to was welcome. Then the number of several dozen swelled to several hundred. And the worship never stopped. It kept going; it went on day and night 24/7 until, ultimately, tens of thousands of people began flocking to Asbury Theological Seminary and to their chapel to participate in this worship service. I have seen on the news long lines of people stretching out of the chapel waiting for their turn to enter into the worship service. It has become an extended time of worship. The campus officials finally decided it was so many people were coming, and there was so much distraction even there around Wilmore that Monday, the 20th of February, would be the final day for the public service. Of course, the seminary is the school the college is still going to continue to have worship services for their students. But those services will no longer be public, and any public services are going to be moved off-site to a venue that can handle more people. And so the formal dates I think we could say right now for this event was February 8th when it started, and the last public service is going to be held on Monday, the 20th.
How Do We Evaluate What’s Going On?
As someone who hasn’t been there, I can tell you that I have heard from people. And the most trustworthy people I know who’ve been there have described it as a very, very sweet time of worship, where there is a palpable sense of the presence of the Lord. And so listen, I am thankful for any faithful worship service. I’m thankful for more than thankful I’m praying every day for a faithful stirring of the Spirit and the power of God. And so the question is, how do we evaluate what’s going on in Asbury? Well, first of all, we need to say that we must evaluate it. We don’t have the freedom not to evaluate it. We can’t take it for granted. If revival is something God does and not something we declare, then we have a responsibility to evaluate it. And in 1 John 4:1, this command comes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” The Bible authors know we live in a world where spiritual things happen all the time. But not every spirit is a good spirit. Not every spirit is the spirit from the Lord. Some spirits are dark and evil and wicked and unhelpful. And so we have this command in the Bible that we need to test the spirits. And so, as we look at this claim of something profoundly spiritual happening, we’re being very biblical. We’re being very spiritual ourselves as the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible. We are following the spirit when we obey the Word he has inspired.
And here’s what I’m going to do. Because I want to stop short of making a declaration about what’s going on in Asbury, I don’t think anybody knows what’s going on in Asbury. Clarity will come, but I don’t think anybody can have it right now. What I’m going to do is I’m going to ask some questions. That’s the best way I’m evaluating this right now. Then my first question is, do we want to think of revival as an extended season of worship? Is that what revival is? Well, listen, I think worship is going to be a part of revival. I think worship is going to be one of the sweet elements of revival. But as I said in my definition of revival earlier, it does take more than extended worship in order to be classified as revival. So we’re thankful for the extended worship. When that worship is sweet and biblical and points to Jesus, we are thankful for that. But we can’t say it is an extended worship service alone that equals a revival that puts us in the weird spot of declaring what a revival is and not trusting that the Lord is the only one who can give revival. The second question is, where is the proclamation of the work of Christ? Where is that? In order to be a revival, remember, lost, people have to get saved, saved people have to get sanctified, and that requires the clear preaching of Christ. The work of Christ that he does for us that we can’t do on our own. Where is that in the Asbury revival? I want you to hear me. I’m asking a question. I’m not making a statement. I hope that Christ has been clearly proclaimed repeatedly. I hope that Christ has been repeatedly sung in these worship services in Wilmore, but again, I’m just telling you, I’m not there. If there hasn’t been a clear preaching of Christ, if there hasn’t been a clear response to the work of Christ, then we won’t have a revival in the truest sense. The one thing I know, I did stop, and I’ve seen some of the worship services online. I did stop, and I watched the sermon that was preached in the chapel before this event started. I will say there was a lot in that chapel sermon that was true. There was a lot in that chapel sermon that was helpful. There was a brief discussion of the love of Jesus, which is something that is very near and dear to my heart. But I did not hear in that chapel sermon a clear display of who Jesus is and what he does and a clear appeal for people to turn from their sin and trust in Jesus. So if there was a proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Savior and a response to trust in him, then it happened at some point after that. And so I just asked, Okay, where is that?
Are People Getting Saved?
Another question I would ask is, are people getting saved? In a revival, you have to have people getting saved. This isn’t just a religious experience. It’s not just a spiritual high. It is people clearly hearing about who Jesus is, hearing about what he has done, turning from their sin, confessing their sin, trusting in Jesus, and following him as Lord. Are their salvations? I’m not making a declaration; I’m just saying this is what we need to look for. And if we don’t see salvations, if we don’t see people turning from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, then we have something other than a revival. We might have a very good thing. We just have something other than revival. And then, as a final question, I’ll ask (there’s more I could ask), but a final question I’ll ask is, are we seeing demonstrably changed lives? A revival is a time when the lost are saved, and the saved are sanctified in surprising numbers. Are we seeing demonstrably changed lives where people were walking with Christ, and they were struggling with this difficulty, they were struggling with that sin, and now they are not? Are we saying that? I don’t know; I would suggest that most people don’t know that right now because that kind of change is just going to take a little bit of time. It doesn’t happen over the weekend. It doesn’t happen in a few hours. You have to see it over time as you live life with your family, as you live life at work, as you live life with other Christians. The reality is discerning a revival is really hard.
Watch and Pray
In fact, I’ll encourage you that’s one of the reasons why my original plan was not to talk about this. But again, I want to serve the people who’ve asked, so here’s my first crack at it, but I think I could be more helpful to you in a longer conversation. This year at First Baptist Church, in the providence of God, I’m preaching on the evidence of revival. It’s a sermon series through the book of Acts; we’re about four weeks into it. Each week, we are taking the next passage that comes up and the book of Acts, and we’re looking at what God shows us about what he does when he does the great work of revival. You can find those sermons on our app, the First Baptist app, you can find it at fbcjax.com. You can find it on the First Baptist podcast. I’d encourage you to tune in there every week for a longer conversation about what we’re looking for when we’re looking for revival. But here’s the last thing I’ll say this week on the podcast, I would say that look, I’m asking questions. I’m trying to be careful. I don’t want to make a lot of declarations here. If the Lord is doing something, I am the last person that wants to quench the spirit. I mean it. I pray every day that the Lord would send a revival to this country. I pray every day the Lord would send a revival to my city to my church. If that revival is starting in Wilmore, Kentucky, then I am thrilled about it. I just want to be careful, and I want to test the spirits, and I want to be a truly spiritual man. And so that’s why I think about this passage in Matthew 26:41, where Jesus is talking to his disciples. He’s getting ready to go get crucified. He needs to pray. And he’s asking his disciples to help him, and he tells them to “watch and pray.” Now listen, Jesus gives that command to his disciples in the context of spiritual battle the night before he’s crucified. We’re in a spiritual battle today. The kingdom of darkness looks like it’s winning. We need the kingdom of light to advance. It needs to start somewhere. Wilmore, Kentucky, would be just as good a place as any, but we don’t know right now, honestly. And so we need to be humble. And we need to follow the words that Jesus gave in a different context but are equally relevant for this one. And as we look at the events in Asbury, we need to watch, and we need to pray.