The outpouring at Asbury University: Responding to a critic

After I finished the rough draft of this post, I learned that a post I made on my personal Facebook page yesterday was misconstrued as me “calling for” an end to the public phase of what is happening. This misinterpreted my amazed description of the size of what is happening and what I perceived as plans for transition as a prescription. I am not even (nor wanting to be) in leadership in the movement and was simply trying to provide an on-the-ground update on my personal Facebook page! The leaders are stewarding the local outpouring of grace hospitably and wisely.

Introductory comments

After years of prayer, Asbury University is experiencing a collective outpouring of the Spirit. It is characterized by grace, awe of God’s holiness and worship of God, interdenominational unity (e.g., local Baptist, Christian and Vineyard churches were hosting the overflow, and students were coming from a range of seminaries), and often tranquility and joy.

Not everybody is feeling it, but that’s not the point. It’s not about us: it’s about honoring God. It’s not about Asbury either. Nor should we be looking to something called “Revival.” True “revival” instead invites us to look to the Lord. A leader in the center of what is happening described the main pillars of what the students are experiencing as the presence of Jesus, radical humility, and ethnic unity.

I’m using the term “revival” below because that’s what it’s most commonly called online, but “outpouring” is a better (and more biblical) description. (Those making comparisons with church history should compare it to other college “revivals,” especially the previous ones at Asbury.)

I plan to say more, but it’s too busy here right now—Saturday evening I heard that there were 10,000-15,000 visitors in this little college town. Participants spilled over from the 1500-seat university auditorium to the university’s front lawn, to the seminary’s 1000-seat chapels, cafeteria and gymnasium, as well as the three nearest churches. When I saw yesterday’s line of people waiting to get in (I was looking for some friends from TEDS who were visiting), it stretched to the far end of the campus and then up its side.

For now this other article I wrote will have to do:

Concisely addressing some complaints

The present post is directed instead toward a particular issue surrounding the outpouring: complaints that misrepresent what is happening. Most of the post will focus on one critic’s complaints, but I’ll start with some others first. I don’t have much time for social media, so I know only a few complaints.

First some legitimate warnings some offer. It is legitimate to warn against letting people hijack the outpouring for other agendas. But from everything I have seen, the leaders have been protecting the outpouring from this. Most of those leading worship are Gen Z and AU students with some others as needed, but not big names, because they want to keep the focus on Jesus.

Also, there are very valid warnings against hype. But again, no hype is coming from the leaders of these meetings. In fact, I only recently figured out how to get the schedule of services open to the public.

Logistics are also an issue, but the leaders have been working round the clock to address these. This outpouring was totally unexpected and unplanned, although many of us had prayed for it pretty much daily for years. The worship teams are rotating in and out but pouring themselves out for God’s honor.

Here are some complaints I heard about, usually one time each:

  • The Bible says nothing about outpourings of the Spirit: False. Read Acts.
  • The Bible is against expressing emotion: False. Read Psalms.
  • “I didn’t feel anything”: presumably true for whoever is saying that. I didn’t feel anything for the first three days myself, and have “felt” something only on and off. But true worship of God isn’t about feeling something, though we sometimes do: it’s about giving God the honor that belongs to Him. That’s what this is about, whatever anybody else tries to make it about.
  • The revival has political associations: False. It is about God’s holiness and worthiness for worship. I’ve heard no talk of politics and certainly not of political parties.
  • The revival is about Christian nationalism: False. I don’t know everyone on either campus, but everyone I do know here who has heard of Christian nationalism rejects it (including, I would suppose, all leaders). Conflating different movements because of talk of “revival” imposes limited information about some modern groups on very different Christian expressions in recent centuries.
  • The revival leads to privatized spirituality neglectful of justice issues: False. The university’s Wesleyan tradition has always emphasized justice (e.g., Wesley’s and Free Methodists’ historic opposition to slavery). That has been a historic outgrowth of revivals in the Wesleyan tradition.
  • The revival is racially exclusive: False. The worship team and leadership team are ethnically diverse and the revival started from the university gospel choir’s singing (and prayer).
  • The revival is denominationally exclusive: False. It is a beautiful display of interdenominational unity. (For readers who don’t know, I have been a minister primarily in Assemblies of God and African-American Baptist circles, and have taught in seminaries affiliated with different denominations. I don’t know any denomination that objects to honoring and worshiping God.)
  • Nobody’s coming to Christ: False. While analogies with past Asbury revivals suggest that their long-range impact is more laborers for long-range mission, people are coming to Christ. (For example, my pastor tonight mentioned four last night in just the overflow site where he was ministering. It’s happening on other campuses too; someone reported some 15 baptisms at NKU’s fountain.)
  • It’s an outgrowth of recent “revival culture”: False. If it reflects any template, it’s that of the 1950 and 1970 Asbury revivals (though many of the songs are contemporary)
  • It’s Pentecostal or charismatic (a complaint among some anti-Pentecostals or anti-charismatics): False, on the whole. The school’s heritage is Wesleyan. It’s not anti-Pentecostal or anticharismatic, so Pentecostals and charismatics attend, teach, work and visit there like Christians from other traditions. But the focus lies elsewhere, and we are all getting along nicely (I say this as a charismatic prof at the seminary across the street.) Charismatic Wesleyans are involved but it is not limited to them. And we all do value the Holy Spirit.
  • It’s “NAR.” Some charismatic preachers who have been labeled NAR visited—though far fewer than Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals and others. Nobody in leadership at the school has any association with NAR circles, and most would not know what it means.
  • It’s designed to keep itself going on as long as possible: Definitely false. No one planned its start at the beginning, but leaders are planning to wind down the public phase to keep focused on the central mission.
  • If the public phase is short, it’s not real. The public phase of past Asbury revivals has been 1-2 weeks, but with lifelong changes for a generation of workers for the harvest, both from Asbury students and other schools impacted by the revival.

These complaints often stem from guilt by association, sometimes from anti-Pentecostals. But I am writing this blog post especially in response to one misrepresentation that has been viewed tens of thousands of times (further below).

For full disclosure: my kids attended this university and my wife teaches French as an adjunct there. I, however, teach across the street at the seminary, a separate institution. I am not in any form of leadership in the revival. I have always prayed for it, and I have prayed with some students and  a few nights ago stood guard at an exit. Indeed, usually I haven’t even tried to get into the main auditorium since it grew packed. Meanwhile, those who are really the most active leaders are trying to keep their names out of sight as much as they can to keep the focus on Jesus. I also have consulted with persons at the heart of what has been happening over the past year.

Two criticisms from a major public critic

Here are one critic’s prominent accusations. I address these because the critic’s complaints have been viewed tens of thousands of times. The author may be just limited in research skills rather than deliberately deceptive, but it is misinformation that integrity should obligate him to retract as publicly as he propagated it. I do not know him well enough to discuss it with him first, so out of courtesy I am omitting his name (also because within a few days I need to return to my regular work schedule so can’t get caught up in a long-term cycle of discussion).

My issue here is not theology, which some might want to make it. I am unashamedly continuationist, welcoming all the Spirit’s works today; but I have good friends who believe that certain spiritual gifts have ceased. I’m unashamed of my other views that some might think have bearing here. My concern is misinformation.

(1) He has suggested that Todd Bentley being present should discredit the revival.

Response: whatever Todd Bentley came intending to do, he was not allowed to minister on the university campus and was indeed required to leave it. To imply otherwise is misinformation and/or misrepresentation. So what kind of people are ministering? Sarah Baldwin, VP of Student Development at AU recently offered a sample, “Most of the people coming have no idea that their usher navigating wheelchair through the rain has a PhD and their prayer minister is a retired seminary professor.” 

(2) He claims that “Queer students have been leading worship”; “Revivals are not led by homosexuals.”

Response: The university prohibits sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage, as stated explicitly and publicly online: “Sexual Immorality (including adultery, same-sex behavior and premarital sexual intimacy): These behaviors are expressly prohibited in Scripture. Offenses in this area are almost certain to result in separation from the University for a period of time” (

A student known to engage in such activity would not only not be leading worship; they would not remain a student. The leader I consulted knows of no one leading worship who is sexually active outside of marriage, of any sexual orientation.

The seminary statement is similar: “We affirm marriage as sanctioned by God, which joins one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union for life, as delineated in Scripture, and provides the sole context for sexual intimacy, helping to ensure the blessings of that relationship as God intended.” If the critic believes that students violate this dominant historical Christian standard, there is biblical protocol to seek to remedy that.

The critic’s source for the claim is a post from someone who calls himself a “gay seminarian,” apparently writing about another “gay seminarian.” Both who use the expression, however, use it to describe same-sex attraction, not sexual behavior. Whatever we may think of the label, they both describe themselves even more explicitly as celibate. Confessing sin differs from boasting in it, and confessing temptation differs from confessing sin. Jesus said that a person can sin even by desiring someone else sexually. But temptation is not the same thing as sin. Any heterosexual who has ever lusted has no room to throw stones at somebody whose sphere of temptation is same-sex. If we want to condemn people for where their temptations lie, we all stand condemned before a holy God. Someone who condemns people for temptations, despite battling (or worse, indulging) temptations of their own, fits the biblical designation of a hypocrite.

Lest you suppose I am making this up, read the New Testament’s most explicit condemnation of same-sex behavior in its context: Paul condemns idolatry (Rom 1:23), same-sex lust and intercourse (1:26-27)—and then a whole list of other sins, which include slander (1:30). Finally, he lowers the boom on hypocrites: “in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (2:1).

Aside from all this, we all recognize that even if a sinning preacher preaches the gospel, the gospel will save people. We can’t know what’s in everyone’s hearts, but we can know the truth of the gospel. As one of the worship leaders put it, Jesus is the only one worthy to receive (or, if the qualification is perfection) to lead worship. This outpouring is not about the leaders, which is why famous people are not being put up front. It is deliberately about honoring Jesus.

People who spread rumors about others need to watch out for what the Bible says about slander. After listing sins committed by various sinners including slanderers, Paul concludes “they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die” (1:32). Slander comes from evil in the heart (Mark 7:22). No one requires you to like the theology or practice of everything that someone else believes or does, but misrepresentation is a basic violation of ethics.

Therefore I plead with those spreading misinformation about others to swallow for their own soul’s sake some of the medicine they prescribe for others. If they are genuinely followers of Jesus, they need to humble themselves and retract their slanders. Much as I wish to be gentle, Jeremiah, Amos, the Lord Jesus and others confronted the religious elites of their day. If your post is getting tens of thousands of views, you belong to some degree to a sort of religious elite and you need to take responsibility to speak truth and not falsehood.

God is at work at Asbury University, as he is in many other places, and we should celebrate his work. The public meetings will become more limited soon because the focus here is not about having meetings or making Asbury or any individual here known; the focus is on honoring and worshiping Jesus. Shouldn’t all Jesus’s followers celebrate that, whatever their other disagreements, and wherever they are? At the least, however, Jesus’s followers should not promote falsehoods.

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