Asbury University is a private Christian liberal arts university affiliated with the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. Chapel attendance is mandatory for students on certain weekdays. On Wednesday, February 8, 2023, a handful of students remained in the chapel following a regularly scheduled service. Student body president Alison Perfater was one of them, and in an interview with Tucker Carlson later during the gathering, after a fellow student decided to openly confess some of his sins to the small group, ‘the atmosphere changed’. According to Perfater:”For seemingly no reason at first on Wednesday, February 8 it didn’t end. That’s kind of the logistical side of what’s been going on. On the deeper side of things, what’s been happening here since Wednesday is there’s a young army of believers who are rising to claim Christianity, the faith, as their own, as a young generation and as a free generation, and that’s why people cannot get enough.”
Initially only student publications and Methodist circles shared news of the event. Asbury University has a history of revivals, dating back in 1905, 1908, 1921, 1950, 1958, 1970, 1992, and 2006. The 1970 revival at Asbury had far-reaching cultural effects, and remains central to the construction of Asbury’s spiritual identity. The revival has been described as calm, with some commentators have noted the absence of many of contemporary worship features. The revival is additionally significant because of its spread on social media, particularly among Generation Z, the most irreligious generation in US history. On February 15, hashtag “asburyrevival” had over 24 million views on TikTok, which increased to 63 million by February 18.
Maria Francesca French has an interesting take:
A few weeks ago I opened up Facebook to find a long post by a former professor of mine from Bible College. She is also a revivals scholar in the Assemblies of God tradition. She wrote extensively on what she called the Asbury Revival happening on the Asbury campus. She compared it to two previous ‘revivals’ at Asbury and spoke on revivals in general.
As someone who spent years within the faith expression of Assemblies of God and holiness traditions, I know well the expectations and deep desire for revival among its factions. I spent some time teaching at a Bible College in which I taught on Pentecostal movements and distinctives. I understand all the nuancing (and baggage) that goes along with a term like ‘revival.’
It has been a good 15 years since I have engaged in charismatic interpretation and commentary even though I am still connected with friends and acquaintances from former faith days.
When I read my former and esteemed Professor’s post I had zero emotional reaction. A way in which I might have responded to something like this years ago had no impulse to show its face. I didn’t even feel contempt. I have learned to not have quick reactions to these sorts of things anymore. Not for or against. Mostly indifferent. I personally think a lot of this stuff is barking up the wrong tree. But, of course, that is a very plain way of saying it.
Within these claims of divine strength and visibility I always look past all the fluff and fanfare and wonder what the human need is at the heart it all.
In the days that followed national news would start to cover this ‘revival,’ as Christians and leaders seemed to flock from all over the country. Lines hours long and overflow rooms quickly became a response to the influx of people. Security concerns, technology capability, class attendance all became a worry.
Bloggers and substack writers started to enter the dialog with their own commentary on what they thought was happening. The conservative and Evangelical types praised God and asked for more of this. The liberal and progressive sort spat at it and asked to see the fruit of what was being called a big romp of a worship service.
I watched as all those in between, with less polarizing views, acknowledged what they believed to be a peaceful environment where those worshiping could retreat to for spiritual nourishment and rest.
More days passed and the administration decided that business as usual had to resume. The worship service would end, classes would continue on, and visitors would return from whence they came.
This news came to the scoff of both sides.
‘How dare anyone squelch the spirit?’
‘See. Just a hoax. A commodity to start and stop at any whim.’
The thing that both sides are missing, and by both sides I means conservative and liberal Christians, is that we are still talking within a horizon of a metaphysical God. The one who lives on high in the sky and intervenes in our lives.
So, of course, if there is a God that intervenes why shouldn’t people who believe in this God want it? Why wouldn’t they pray for it? Why wouldn’t young people at a college learning about said God want to spend some time in a little spiritual hideaway and cry and pray, beg and grieve, and maybe find a small eye in the storm where they can get some peace?
As far as the justice warriors of liberal Christianity, why wouldn’t they ask to see what this looks like in the world? Why wouldn’t they want to see what a movement of an interventionist God looks like with legs out in the real world?
I get both sides. I see both perspectives. But the fighting and the vitriol ain’t it.
Again, what is the real question at the heart of the Asbury Revival?
The writer describes herself as “post-Christian” and unconcerned with if God is moving supernaturally or not. Although I’m also a former Pentecostal, I still believe in the working power of God, I think French makes some really good points. One, there definitely is a big political divide over Asbury, and two, it really “ain’t it”. I’m so turned off by the knee-jerk reaction to fight about everything- government, education, books, movies, even candy mascots– that I feel like throwing my laptop, phone… basically throw the whole internet away. But also, a third point: that lost in the seemingly ceaseless fighting, people are really seeking. In a world of pandemics, recessions, violence, and fear, people desire change.
[W]e must ask what about our lives and needs call for a difference and how do we start to effect that difference together.
A little compassion and empathy go along way…