“Thoughts on Asbury?” That three-word text came from a friend last week, and it is a question many have asked. The Apostle John encouraged believers to “…test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:16). So, understandably, mindful believers have wondered if the “Asbury Revival” is indeed of the Holy Spirit or manufactured emotionalism.  Is it something that will make a lasting difference or just fleeting sentimentality? Are thousands flocking to the chapel in Wilmore, Kentucky, to genuinely seek God, or are these just spiritual thrill-seekers pining for another emotional high?

     I have not had the opportunity to witness the Asbury revival firsthand, so my answer to my friend’s text was brief: “I’ve talked with two trustworthy friends who visited Asbury, and they say it’s a genuine, impressive revival.  Let’s pray it spreads to other college campuses and results in authentic repentance and righteousness. We’ve been praying for that!  It’s our only hope as a nation.”

     Readers of this blog may recall that in 2016, I wrote about having met with twenty influential Christian leaders from the state of Kentucky to discuss how we could encourage spiritual revival in our state.  We prayed, studied revivals in Scripture and throughout our history, and shared ideas as we earnestly sought God’s will. We confessed that our nation had morally collapsed, and pleaded with God for a revival within the church. Asbury Theological Seminary President Timothy Tennent was one of the leaders with us, praying on his knees for revival.

     Since then, fellow believers have gathered for similar prayer meetings throughout the country. Distraught over the weakness of apostate, lukewarm churches and concerned about the dangers facing our corrupt culture, believers have been crying out like Simon Peter sinking in the turbulent sea, “Lord save us!”

     So, when learning of a situation like Asbury, our first reaction should be eager anticipation rather than immediate skepticism. After all, it is what we have been praying for!  Carefully “test the spirits,” but do not be grumblers who might destroy an authentic spirit. Jesus taught the movement of the Holy Spirit was like the wind that “blows wherever it pleases” (John 3:8).  God’s Holy Spirit cannot be put in a box or reduced to a fixed formula.  He moves in a variety of ways. Therefore, to evaluate the authenticity of spiritual events, it is helpful to review some genuine characteristics that were common in past events, such as the revival in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in the early 1800s and the Welsh revival in the early 1900s:

  1. They begin withan intense hunger for God. People are tired of empty church rituals and shallow emotionalism. They are distraught over depravity, including their own, and are desperate for an authentic encounter with God.
  2. There is ahumble repentance of sin. There is authentic brokenness and contrition for disobeying God’s commands. There is an open confession of their unworthiness before God, and an expressed determination to change their behavior.
  3. There isan overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit. While no one can see the wind, we recognize the energy of air in motion as it passes through the swaying trees or across our skin. Likewise, many revival worshippers testify, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”
  4. There isa passionate exaltation of Jesus.Worshippers unashamedly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11)Christ is the ultimate focus of their worship. Jesus is exalted through preaching and singing, and prayers are offered in the name of Jesus.
  5. There isa permanent transformation of lives. For example, after the Welsh Revival in the early 1900s, the local mines had to shut down for two weeks to retrain the mines’ pit ponies. Apparently, the pit ponies were used to responding to the miners’ kicking and cursing and became confused and unresponsive to the converted miners’ gentler and self-controlled behavior.

     Ultimately, the test of a genuine revival is whether the participants live a Godly life as a result. I heard a story years ago about a preacher who told demonstrative worshippers, “I don’t care how high you jump or how loud you shout, as long as when you land, you walk straight!”  The Bible reminds us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gonethe new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17)

     In the past few days, I have heard from numerous people who have visited the Asbury meetings, including my two teenage grandsons.  Each of them is convinced this is a genuine movement of God. They say the worship is authentic, with no emotional manipulation — no performance band, no strobe lights or smoke machines, and the words are not even displayed on the screen. Yet young people are singing with fervor and grateful hearts. In his blog, Asbury Seminary’s President, Dr. Tim Tennent, said,  “Sometimes we envision ‘revivals’ as times when people hear fiery sermons, and there are big outbursts of emotion.  This move of God is marked more by quiet weeping than emotive shouting.”

     A physician friend who visited Asbury texted me, “The presence of God is so real that time seems to be no factor, and joy abounds without explanation.” My fifteen-year-old grandson, Chapman, texted, “I’ve never experienced anything like that. We were there for three hours, but it felt like an hour.  It was almost like God was talking to me in the room and saying He’s still at work.”  My eighteen-year-old grandson, Andy, texted, “Seeing God at work in the hearts and minds of students is a powerful thing.  It helps me see how active and involved the Holy Spirit is, and God is working in our lives at an individual level.”

     Last week, Fox News host Tucker Carlson requested permission to come to Wilmore, Kentucky, with a news crew to document what is happening at Asbury.  He intended to do a feature on his nightly show, which is currently the most highly-rated program on cable news.  Yet Asbury officials denied his request.  They said they were not opposed to his program, but they were concerned the news cameras and outside publicity would detract from what God was doing. Bravo to them!  People rarely evade the spotlight!

     Thoughts on Asbury? I think Dr. Tim Tennent summarized it best:

“I think it is wise to see this, at the current phase, as an awakening.  Only if we see lasting transformation which shakes the comfortable foundations of the church and truly brings us all to a new and deeper place can we look back, in hindsight, and say, “yes, this has been a revival.”  An awakening is where God begins to stir and awaken people up from their spiritual slumber. This is definitely happening, not only in Wilmore but as this move of God spreads to other schools and communities across the nation and even the world.  There are many reports that this is what is happening.  But, we must keep our hearts and eyes fixed on Jesus and ask for him to complete the work he has begun so that, over time, there is a lasting transformation in the lives of those who are being touched by God.”

     Amen!  Let’s keep praying for national revival and claim God’s promise, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14)


            Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.