What Meaneth This? — The Asbury University Revival


One of my favorite philosophers, Yogi Berra, once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Something big has been happening in Wilmore, Kentucky, again.

A “revival” broke out at the university chapel service a few weeks ago and it has continued since, although altered somewhat in order for the administration to manage the resulting logistics.

Thousands of people have traveled from all over the USA and beyond hoping to experience the power of God’s presence that is visiting this very small town community situated somewhere between Lexington and Nowhere.

By the testimony of those who have attended the gatherings, the Holy Spirit is blowing around freely and a whole lot of people have been touched in ways that they struggle to even find the adequate words to express. I fully understand.

Asbury College and Seminary have been around for a couple of hundred years, established by disciples of John Wesley, and have ever since served as bastions of scriptural holiness.

Revivals aren’t novel on this compact campus. In fact, as I have mentioned before, I was personally involved with the last one. As a first-year seminary student in 1970, I was a witness and recipient of the very same experience.

It wasn’t a ministry crusade, camp, or any such sort of planned event. The Holy Spirit just simply took the liberty to quietly slip into the chapel service and take it over.

It started with a young person sharing his need to humbly confess that he was not the person that he presented himself to be. He had harbored sin which he could no longer hide and for which he wanted to publicly repent to God.

One by one, at least a hundred others followed with similar confessions of sin and a deep desire to get right with God and with others. It was like a massive response to an altar call followed by all sorts of deeply spiritual activity, especially spontaneous worship.

Back then the word was much slower to get out to the public and, at first, the publicity didn’t get much past Lexington. Today, everybody has a smart phone that can reach thousands of souls all over the world with a single click. That is exactly what is happening.

It wasn’t very long before the media flooded the campus to scoop the story. After all, who isn’t ready to report or hear some good news these days? I have already logged in scores of hours on YouTube trying to drink into my mind, heart, and soul what feels like a sequel to my Asbury revival experience.

Sure, a lot of things have been updated. The kids dress a whole lot more casually in church than they used to, but I got over that a good while back. The most obvious change is the inclusion and diversity that is now represented at the university.

In 1970 the students were overwhelmingly white, and the leadership was mostly male. Today’s student body fully reflects America’s ethnic makeup and females now commonly hold positions of authority. The current student body president is, in fact, a woman. All that said, the verdict from this old man is that whatever anyone wants to call this, it’s the real deal.

I find it interesting that the Jesus Revolution film has been recently released. The movie is about what was called the “Jesus Movement” when young people from the hippie and surfing communities began to seek the Lord within a context they could understand.

They were not interested in a lot of Christian doctrines or the usual order of service that they would have found in a denominational church. They were just seeking Jesus, His great love, and the power of His Holy Spirit to change the world through His Gospel, rather than by violent protesting or rioting, which was prevalent at the time.

They already understood “Koinonia” (fellowship) living life together in harmony, sharing their stuff, and looking out for each other as referenced in the early church (Acts 2:42-47). Now they were ready to storm the gates of hell armed only with water pistols if that would advance the Kingdom of God, where His will would be done right here right now.

Not many churches were quite ready for that. In too many churches, new Christians were expected to shape up quickly, shower, shave, get a haircut, and submit to a lot of rules and regulations even before attending a public service. These kids were looking for a lot more than that.

But, as it turned out, so did a lot of kids who were raised in a strong church environment, just like the average Asbury College student in 1970. Something had to give.

I see that we are living in a very similar social environment today. Young Christians of every stripe are seeking more than the same old, same old. They are restlessly seeking something better, something existentially real and powerful around which they can build their lives … something worth living and dying for.

They want a lot more than doctrines and platitudes, which are not necessarily bad; they just lack the power in themselves to change lives. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

They are looking for the sort of outpouring that is recorded in the Book of Acts. They are looking for Pentecost. OK, they can read all about it, but they need to experience it somehow for themselves.

That was pretty much where I was when I encountered the Charismatic Movement in the late 60s. I needed an inward assurance that I had encountered the same Holy Spirit who was there at the foundations of the earth; the same Holy Spirit who led the Apostles to spread the Gospel throughout the known world with power and authority.

I wanted to receive everything I needed to engage whatever was next in my life with a deep sense of destiny and mission. Just reading the Bible could not do that by itself.

Pentecost was a hot mess in many ways. A lot of weird stuff was happening and those who witnessed it were a little freaked out. Some observers dismissed what they witnessed as drunkenness. I can see why.

But others asked the leading question: “What does this mean?”

Under the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter explains, this unusual experience was that which was written about in the Word of God. “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Acts 2:17)

I saw that outpouring in the 1970 revival. In fact, my first sermon presented to my professors was titled “This is That.” The “this” is the spiritual experience, itself. It is simply a divine visitation that is received by faith. The “That” is the Word of God; the rational explanation and context of our faith, and how to apply it wisely in our lives. We need both.

Peter’s declaration led those who were impacted and convicted to ask the ultimate question, “What shall we do?”

Hearing the Word of God motivates a response from those who have ears to hear. Peter’s answer was direct and powerful. He told the crowd to repent and be baptized for forgiveness of their sins. With that instruction comes the promise that those who repented would receive the Holy Spirit.

The result of this was an instant megachurch. Three thousand new members were added. (No Twelve-Step church development program was needed.)

Reading the biblical account of Pentecost leaves little doubt that repentance is the beginning of our spiritual rebirth. The same can be said of all revivals when repentance is spontaneous and collective. This is certainly the case in both the 1970 and the current Asbury revival.

When hungry young seekers who dare to publicly humble themselves and confess their sins, to give as well as receive forgiveness, there begins a powerful chain reaction that will forever change their lives and those whom they impact as they give witness to the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]