Monday, February 20, 2023

Revival and Presence

I have been following with fascination the spontaneous religious revival that has broken out at Asbury University near Lexington, Kentucky. It began at a regular chapel service on February 8, but when the service was over the students didn’t leave. They stayed to worship, day and night, for twelve days, until the college administration made a decision to gradually wind down the revival this week. It will be interesting to see if God – and the students - go along with the university president’s plan!

I know a little bit about Kentucky and revivals. I attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1970’s at a time when revivals were commonplace in Baptist life. While in seminary, my first position was as a part-time pastor in a small Baptist congregation in Kentucky. At my first fulltime church in Southern Illinois we used to conduct revivals. These multi-day events featured a visiting evangelist and “special music.”

One revival I hosted at my church was preached by a good friend who was the pastor of a Baptist church in a neighboring town. I later reciprocated by preaching a revival at his church. This friend is now the head of a large international ministry called Global Awakening that does revivals around the world, focusing on healing miracles.

The Asbury revival is different from many religious revivals that have swept across our country in past centuries. There are no special effects. No miracles, at least of the physical kind. There is very little preaching. This revival is neither sermon-centered nor music-centered. There is music, of course, but it is mostly an acoustic background for prayer, worship, and personal transformation.

This revival – from what I can discern from the testimonies of people interviewed - is centered on the presence of God. One participant made the insightful observation that it is not about emotion or religious experience; it is about the presence of God. Participants speak about sensing the glory of God and the “palpable” presence of God. If this is true, then I respond with a hearty “AMEN!”

Christianity needs to recover a sense of the presence of God. This country needs to know the presence of God. The Presence of God is the gospel that I preach. I may use different words and ideas to describe this Presence than the students at this Wesleyan-Holiness school. My stand on ethical and social issues may be different from those held by the majority of participants.

But that is alright. We agree that there is a need for the immediacy and power of God’s Presence. If the sense of Divine Presence at this revival is genuine, then doctrine and ethics will sort out themselves later. Speaking of ethics, past revivals have been influential in changing American society. I am waiting to see if such change results from this revival.

The Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century fueled the abolitionist movement and helped end slavery in America. It also empowered the temperance movement. This Asbury revival could possibly do something similar in our day by combatting racism and addictions. Only time will tell if this revival bears such fruit.

Undoubtedly people will try to coopt this revival for their own religious, political or social agendas. Personally my only agenda is that people recognize and embrace the Presence of God. I don’t care what spiritual tradition this Presence is expressed through. Different religions express Divine Presence in different ways. The Wesleyan-Holiness tradition expresses it through revivals, as evidenced in the history of revivals at this college. Other Christian traditions and non-Christian traditions express Presence differently.

God knows no religious barriers. Truth is not the possession of any one religion. I pray this revival might transcend religious tribalism. That would be truly miraculous! I hope this revival transforms American Christianity in a way that those in Kentucky cannot imagine. I hope it transforms America in a way I cannot imagine! However this Asbury revival plays out, I am just grateful that people are focusing on the Presence of God.

1 comment:

Robin Oickle said...

Thank you for breathing the Spirit of the Living God……out upon this Earth. I have read many people and different religions to find this sacred breath. Thank you for your free gifts of sharing. Your gifts of love and vulnerability. I must start reading your thoughts, just do not know where to begin.
Robin Oickle from Ottawa, Canada