Is the Asbury revival a genuine work of God?

In mid-February, I had several people personally ask me if I knew anything about what was going on at Asbury University. At that point, I had not heard anything about it. Then, a few days later, the questions started coming in on The flow of questions has continued for well over a week now. It is so interesting to see the variety of questions. Some of them are hopeful. Some of them are overly critical. Some of them are apocalyptic. The best ones are from those who are seeking to be discerning.

On February 8, 2023, several students lingered after a mandatory chapel service at Asbury University in Kentucky. They stayed to pray and participate in worship songs. This stretched into an all-night event; other students came to join in. The event caught the attention of social media. Before long, the entire auditorium was packed. Nonstop prayer and worship continued for nearly two weeks, until school officials moved some participants off campus to prevent further disruptions of classes. Observers described the event as controlled and peaceful, with an overall sense of calm. Many have described what is happening at Asbury as a “revival,” even speculating it signifies a major shift in the culture at large. However, a revival can only be judged after its long-term effects are known. There are many positive aspects of the events at Asbury University. Likewise, there are points where Christians should withhold judgment until more is known.

The word revival is often used in modern contexts to refer to a specific event. When a church hosts publicized meetings, intending to reignite enthusiasm for faith, it’s often said they are “holding a revival.” These sessions may lead to conversions or spiritual decisions. They can generate powerful, short-term passion for Christian efforts. There is nothing wrong with churches holding such “revivals.”

Biblically, however, a revival is primarily defined by repentance prompted by the Word of God and a lasting, widespread change in a culture’s approach to God. A prime example of revival occurred during the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 22—23). During repair work done on the temple, workers found a copy of the Book of the Law, which they read to the king. The king, distressed over the nation’s disregard of the law, gathered all the people to Jerusalem and read the book in public. The result was dramatic and far-reaching. The nation at large sought the Lord, turned away from sin, rid the land of idols, and kept the Passover for the first time in generations. The proclamation of God’s Word led to true revival.

True revivals result in more than temporary enthusiasm for the things of God. They bring about meaningful change. Due to human nature, the change is never perpetual, unfortunately; even the revival of Josiah’s time only lasted as long as Josiah was alive. After he died, his son Jehoahaz took the throne, and “he did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 23:32). Likewise, the book of Judges shows Israel repenting of sin and returning to proper worship, but only for a generation or so. Then they fall back into their old sins.

The events at Asbury University have many positive facets. For a younger generation to be drawn to peaceful, controlled praise and worship is certainly a great thing (Philippians 1:15–18). Terrible news faces the world every day. Christians can be thankful for an unexpectedly positive incident. Even without overt lasting change, Asbury proves that simple worship and fellowship can still attract younger generations. Exposing college-age students to something other than drunkenness and angst is a welcome twist.

Other aspects of the Asbury meetings need to be viewed with caution (see 1 John 4:1; Acts 17:11). Open questions remain about the lifestyles, faith, and messages of those primarily responsible for keeping the meetings going. According to attendees, there is little or no “preaching” occurring, meaning there is no overt presentation of the gospel or call to repentance. At least some of the hype surrounding Asbury is exactly that: hype. There is always excitement over the latest “big thing.” That people are enthusiastic to be included is not necessarily a sign of spirituality.

Ultimately, only time will tell whether the occurrence at Asbury University is a legitimate spiritual reawakening (see Acts 5:38–39). Widespread repentance from sin and commitment to biblical ideals is the mark of true revival. Based on eyewitness accounts, it seems likely the event at Asbury is generating a temporary fervor and unlikely to affect great social change. Of course, believers would be thrilled to see God use Asbury as the launching point for true national revival. He may well do so; in the meantime, our responsibility remains unchanged: to embrace what is good and caution against anything unbiblical (Romans 12:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21).

S. Michael Houdmann with Jeff Laird

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Is the Asbury revival a genuine work of God?