Three Hours in Hughes: The Asbury Revival of 2023
February 15, 2023
(Dr. Moody’s Note: Marie Peterson was a student of mine at Georgetown College 25 years ago. She is now a senior librarian at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is connected to a church strongly in the Reformed tradition. I edited this narrative slightly from what she posted on Facebook and gave it a title.)
I just spent nearly two hours last evening in Hughes Auditorium at the Asbury University revival.
How do I summarize my thoughts? Here’s three takeaways to start with:
1) I do believe that God is doing a genuine work among students and others there (and yes, I would first point to accounts of salvation and repentance that are taking place outside of what I encountered last night- I don’t know how often the prayer time, testimony time, and Bible reading is, but the stretch I went to was mainly singing),
2) I realized that, while the style of the more physically exuberant among the crowd is not my own, I need to remember the times when I myself lack an enthusiastic heart- what do I do more than others?, and
3) I believe that there sadly are those who want to try and derail this and make it about something other than Jesus and His pure Gospel– but I also am hopeful because it seems the Asbury community is keeping this at bay.
Revival does not have to be perfect to be genuine. Otherwise, why would we need it? If we went back to the Protestant Reformation (which I’d argue was a revival), I’m sure we all would feel some discomfort and think, “Why are they worshipping *that* way?” In fact, and I’m not at all excusing a lack of discernment or a casual throwing away of our convictions, but shouldn’t we experience some sense of discomfort in revival anyway, as God shapes us and makes us more into the likeness of Christ? And, on the seeming validation by false teachers (who were explicitly not given a platform- praying that holds), even the ministry of Paul was accompanied for many days by an annoying, demon-possessed girl with a spirit of divination who kept crying out, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17).
First, I had forgotten how small of a town Wilmore is, particularly since we came in the back way (which I hadn’t been down before)! We passed by multiple barns on the side of the road and there wasn’t a cell signal at one point (though thankfully we couldn’t make any wrong turns). I had only been to Wilmore once before, when I went to the Asbury Seminary library for some grad-school research.
You’d never guess that there was a large event in that town, or even on campus, until you arrived in front of Hughes Auditorium and saw the line. There are now so many people that three buildings are used for seating! The other two are used for prayer and meditation, and a livestream from Hughes begins at 7:00 PM. I really respect that they want to give priority to students, and I also respect that they are following the fire marshal’s rules for how many they can seat in the building.
I arrived in line shortly before 5:30 (My companion Andy opted to stay in the car and wait and pray by himself). I thought about going to one of the other buildings, but I decided that the line was moving fast enough, and that I’d talk to other people while waiting! Also, I figured, since this was about a movement among the students, I’d want to be where the students were (not that God is confined to a building- which was emphasized several times- we can go home and pray for God to work wherever we are).
I’m so glad I did wait in line because the 40-minute-wait seemed like no time, since I had some really neat conversations! I talked to a couple from Lexington (Terry and Sherry), and I overheard Terry say he was from West Liberty. Well, then I learned that the man he was talking to was a prison chaplain in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, and so I told him the story of my cousin Blake. He and his wife were very encouraged by my report of how well he’s doing at his job, even getting an employee of the year award! The chaplain said he’s so thankful he decided to come, and that he got to talk with me– just that report and the opportunity to pray for Blake made the trip worth it, he said! I also talked to a man named Daniel who goes to a conservative (ECO) Presbyterian church in Charlotte, NC. I told him about going to a Campus Crusade convention in Charlotte, and the woman standing behind him in line said she was saved through the work of Campus Crusade while at the University of KY! It reminded me of how I was involved in the Baptist Student Union in grad school there, and how I put up Gospel signs around campus. It really encouraged me to hear of someone coming to faith through a campus Christian group!
When I first entered the Auditorium, I noticed how peacefully and meditatively the music was being sung and played. Apparently, it ebbs and flows. I personally found the first 50 minutes more conducive to worship, at least the kind I’m used to, than the last hour. I first sat down nearer to the side of the chapel but ended up moving to the center a few minutes later because the two men in front of me were having a fairly loud conversation. When I moved, I saw the Asbury staff member who I asked earlier about whether I should go to another building, and she smiled and said, “Oh wonderful, you got in!” I said I was struck with how peaceful the music is, but I did mention I was moving because of people talking– which, more about this later, was actually one of the “house rules” reminders that came later- they very much desire that people would take such conversation outside if they need to talk about something unrelated.
The empty seat I saw happened to be by Terry and Sherry! On the other side of me were two young ladies named Hayley and Kate. I thought about how we were sitting here together in this moment in time, and, when they left about 50 minutes later, as they passed by me to exit, I said, “I probably won’t see you until heaven” and Kate joyfully said, “See you on the other side!”
I mainly sat and listened to the music because I didn’t know many of the songs they sang, and no lyrics were projected. The number of people singing from memory though was impressive! I did recognize “Holy and Anointed One” from my college days! I also eagerly sang “O Praise the Name (Endless Days)”, which I recognized from SBTS chapel. Of course, I knew Chris Tomlin’s “Good, Good Father.” I was hoping they’d sing some older songs, or at least In Christ Alone (which was sung there at some point earlier, since I saw the video– they sang the Doxology earlier too).
But I guess it was Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, and, to my disappointment, Bethel Music night. They sang one song, “Goodness of God” three times while I was there, so I take it was one of the leader’s favorites (I hear they rotate singers, which could explain why the type of music ebbs and flows. Sherry actually was looking through the hymnal by her seat at one point- I could sympathize!
Later, I actually did a Facebook search and saw some videos of them singing songs I knew from SBTS chapel that happened hours before I got there and a couple hours after I left! I also saw they had a prayer time later on too). So I guess that’s where some people are getting the impression it’s all singing? Yes, God placed His daughter with the theological OCD where He wanted her!
The first 50 minutes really reminded me of a youth summer camp, with a simple guitar strumming, and the voices were the prominent instrument. The students (as well as many others) seemed really heart-felt in their praises. There was a calm spirit (Spirit) present, and many had their heads bowed in prayer. But there seemed to be an odd break as soon as they started singing Bethel songs (and I actually didn’t realize it was Bethel until I googled it to see the lyrics). For those unfamiliar, Bethel is a hyper-Charismatic group that practices some grossly unbiblical things (google “grave sucking”). Obviously, not everyone who sings their songs engages in their practices, or even knows what they are, and the lyrics were actually pretty solid, but that’s why I think giving the songs a platform is dangerous.
That said, I hear that Asbury officials are refusing to allow these teachers to come teach and lead, though they are not being kept from coming to attend. I read that, when Todd Bentley (who “heals” people by kicking them in the face) announced he was going, he was told in no uncertain terms that he could just come to worship, not engage in any “healing”– and he actually posted on Twitter that he would not do such a thing– I hope he didn’t!
The last hour did have a much more Charismatic-type enthusiasm to it, though it never got past jumping (confined to one particular song) and shouting. I imagine Jonathan Edwards would have seen that kind of thing in the Great Awakening. One of the other “house rules” (told right after that song) was that those who were jumping should come down from the balcony because they were concerned the floor would be damaged! Actually, there technically was singing in other tongues at one point…and I interpreted! What happened was that they started singing the name “Yeshua”, and Sherry asked me what they were singing. I said, “They’re singing ‘Yeshua'”, and she said, “What’s that mean?”. I said, it’s the Hebrew name for Jesus. She said, “Oh, yeah, that’s right!” So there you go, we had an interpreter! Decently and in order!
Speaking of “decently and in order” there was a man in front of me who used to pastor an Anglican church plant in Louisville. He had his service dog with him- not quite as enthusiastic as his master though!
There were a couple short testimonies, though I had a bit of trouble hearing them– one young man talked about how he looked for fulfillment in other people, in himself, in popularity, but then he found true and lasting peace in Christ. There was also a brief message from (I think…) Asbury President Kevin Brown. It was based on Daniel’s words to the king’s officials to “make your decision on the basis of what you see” (1:13- that’s from a contemporary paraphrase, but it’s basically accurate- the context is Daniel and his companions refusing to eat the king’s meats). The main point was, when the world looks at the church, what do they see and determine about Christ and His work? Do they see a people that trusts in God, or in anyone or anything else, social or political or otherwise? He said, over the past week, he’s seen humility, confession, consecration, and new commitments among the young people of the Asbury. He said that’s why he believes it’s vital to teach the young people of our churches and institutions. In light of that, he said that increasingly there will be more room made for young people at these gatherings. In fact, today (Wed., Feb. 15) from 9:00-11:30, the Hughes Auditorium will be closed to all who are over the age of 25.
So instead of being skeptical and losing the ears of these students (at the very least discouraging those who truly have been changed by grace), maybe we should say, we hear a lot of good coming of this (testimonies of faith in Jesus, a desire to sing about Christ, repentance from sin), but we also want to warn you that there are people out there that would take advantage of you and lead you away from your simple faith in Him. I really think Asbury is doing a good thing in giving more and more of a preference to students and the college community. It was a very interesting experience, it stretched me in my thinking and how I can be both patient with all and be a lover of truth (because the truth is found in Jesus, every word of truth comes from Him, and He is also our compassionate Savior and is patient with all Himself– especially with me!). I’m so thankful that, when I was a new believer (and many times as a more mature believer), someone didn’t come to me skeptically and dismiss me, but rather humbly, patiently, and lovingly pointed me in a better direction I should go!
Most of all, I want to go to God’s Throne of Grace more often in prayer and pray for a reviving work in my own church and at the Seminary and in my own life. What do I do more than others?