Time will tell if the revival unfolding on the campus of Asbury University will have the impact of one from 1970. The comparisons, though, are uncanny.
They both broke out during a time of unrest in America and in a normal campus chapel service. They included confession, repentance and testimonies of hundreds of students who gathered at the altar on the first day. Today, the worshipping has not stopped and has begun to spread not only on the Asbury campus but throughout the country and even the world, thanks to social media.
Over the weekend, students from universities near and far have been drawn to the Wilmore, Kentucky campus to crowd their way into the chapel while others are watching live feeds to catch a glimpse of what is happening.
“Time brings all this to light but certainly it is an encouragement,” said Tim Beougher, the pastor of West Broadway Baptist Church and a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “We need to pray for the Lord’s protection on them. When God said let us arise and build, Satan says let us arise and destroy.”
What began with a small group of students
On the morning of Feb. 8, a chapel service took place in Hughes Auditorium on the Asbury campus. The message was about confession and repentance and after the service was over, a group of students stayed behind to worship. Then more joined them. And then more, and more.
Something special was happening and it was more than an emotional stirring of college students.
“I like the old dictum ‘How do you tell if it is really a work of God? It’s not how high you jump, it’s how straight you walk when you land,’” Beougher said. “It’s the fruit that comes from it. Some people are critical and may say it’s just emotionalism. Certainly, emotion is involved but it is also genuine life change, repentance and confession of sin.”
Students who were in the room where it happened could feel the presence of the Lord.
‘Chains were broken, confession happened’
“The Holy Spirit was tangible in the room,” said Anneli White a student at the University of Kentucky and a member at Immanuel Baptist Church. “Chains were broken, confession happened, and God was praised as holy, holy, holy.”
There’s a difference in the students, who have continued to make time for class after being able to participate in worship so “freely and so abundantly,” said Shelby Thacker, a Spanish professor at the school. He said students have been “pleasantly surprised that revival took place.”
Thacker said they have shown that in a number of ways. One student has been singing in worship for two days while another has been content to be still and observe. Everybody is reacting in different ways to a true move of God.
‘A witness to testimonies’
“The truth is, I don’t feel qualified to be interviewed,” said sophomore Eliza Crawford of Ashland, where she is a member of Unity Baptist Church.
“I have experienced God this week in a way I haven’t before, but the radical change of others seems more significant. I feel like a bystander in the story that is unfolding and continues to unfold,” she said. “I feel like a reporter. A witness to the testimonies of lives changed, tears shed, hugs shared and utter joy and peace that is indescribable. As I head back tonight (Friday) I am anticipating encountering more and to hear and see how He is moving and working in all our lives.”
Even as energy begins to wane, lives are being changed and lifelong chains broken through repentance and confession and outright praise for Jesus. There has also been testimony, a true sign of revival, according to a great theologian.
“Jonathan Edwards said revival seems to spread on the wings of testimony,” Beougher said. “(Testimony) From those who have been revived. Testifying to works of grace. It seems to ignite a spark in other individuals as well.”
Edwards said the fact that emotion is there or not doesn’t really mean anything. He identified five marks that were true in every genuine work of God, Beougher said. The five are: 1. Jesus is honored; 2. Satan’s kingdom is opposed (repentance); 3. God’s Word is highly regarded; 4. God’s truth is revealed; 5. God and others are loved.
‘Jesus in the spotlight’
“The first was Jesus is put in the spotlight. Jesus said in John 16, ‘When the spirit comes, He will bear witness of me.’ Jesus is in the spotlight,” Beougher said. “There needs to be a discernable spirit of repentance, not simply confession. There needs to be a deep desire to turn away from it (sin), to get as far away as you can. There’s a new love for the Word of God, a new hunger. He directs people to the Word of God, which He inspired. There’s a new commitment to true teaching and a new love for God and man. The real key mark that Edwards talked about was a genuine repentance taking place.”
People are watching the revival take place mostly through the lens of social media, something that hasn’t happened in other campus revivals. It has drawn a broader audience to witness what is happening through witness accounts, photographs and videos.
A group in Indonesia heard about the rival and before they showed the “Jesus Film” to a people group they prayed for the revival. Then the group who had contacted them prayed for the Indonesia group for 10 minutes.
“I think this would be the first of these campus revivals that would be in the age of social media, being able to get the word out quickly, compared to how they got the word out in 1970 with telephone and print media,” Beougher said.
Because on posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, the Asbury revival has become a must-see experience.
Parents of students are driving from all over Kentucky to be part of the chapel experience. Russ and Mori Crawford drove from Ashland on Friday night to visit their daughter, Eliza, and to be part of the worship experience. They weren’t alone.
“Driving into Wilmore was like driving into the ‘Field of Dreams.’ If you build it, they will come … an unending line of cars,” Mori said, describing the traffic coming onto the campus. “After talking to Eliza and seeing all the posts, we just had to come.”
At the end of the night, they were swept up in genuine worship like everybody else.
1970 Asbury Revival
The Asbury Revival of 1970 happened on Feb. 3 after Dean Custer B. Reynolds invited students to share personal testimonies during a chapel service. What started was a seven-day revival that lasted around 144 hours. There was nonstop rejoicing in the chapel and classes were canceled for a week. Even after classes resumed on Feb. 10, the Hughes Auditorium remained open for prayer and testimony.
It was reported half the student body of 1,000 were part of witnessing teams sent out from Asbury to churches and colleges throughout the country. Asbury students visited Southwestern Seminary in March of 1970 and spoke after a chapel service, launching a revival there. Beougher wrote his thesis on the revival at Southwestern and also wrote about another campus revival at Wheaton College where God moved in dramatic ways.
The revival came during a time of intensity in America, particularly among students, Beougher said. Demonstrations were taking place at universities nationwide. In May 1970, several unarmed students were shot and killed at Kent State University. Multiple universities cancelled spring commencement exercises for fear of violence, he said.
Of course, there is much division and many protests across America today. The divide is deep across political, racial and cultural lines. But there is light shining on the tiny community of Wilmore, Kentucky.
Many colleges are coming to Asbury’s doorstep now, including groups from Ohio Christian and the University of Kentucky among many others. Large crowds were expected this weekend from surrounding universities and some from even further away along with friends and relatives of students to see what revival looks like first-hand.
“God began pouring out his love among students in a profound way,” wrote Matt Barnes, the vice president of formation at Asbury, on Facebook. “The students continued praying and worshiping even though chapel had concluded.”
Elena Overman, a sophomore from Dallas, has been overwhelmed with what’s happened.
“Throughout the past three days, the Lord has revealed himself and his unfailing love and faithfulness to everyone who has stepped through the doors of Hughes Auditorium,” Overman said. “He is radically transforming lives. The Holy Spirit is at work in this place and all around the world through our prayers, and He’s not stopping anytime soon. All glory to God.”
As much as revival, it has been a movement of God taking place on the small Christian campus and it’s not over yet.
Anna Leigh O’Brien, an Asbury alum and former employee, was moved by what she is witnessing.
“It is awesome to see students allowing the Holy Spirit to do this meaningful work in their lives,” she said. “This is exactly the reason I love Asbury. As an alumnus and also a former employee, it is encouraging and humbling to see this fruit of the Spirit blossoming on campus and see evidence that the hearts of students and campus leadership are in the right posture.”
Asbury is a Christian university with about 1,600 students located about 20 minutes southwest of Lexington.