There is much discussion in social media about the “Asbury Revival.” Many have asked my thoughts on what’s happening in Asbury. Do I believe this is a legitimate revival? It’s all according to how you define a “revival.” Let me explain.
I have studied revivals for forty years and even had the privilege of witnessing a few unusual outpourings of the Holy Spirit. Some would say they were genuine revivals; some would beg to differ.
While a student at the University of Georgia, God poured out much grace and hundreds of students came to Christ. No one that I know of has ever termed what happened at my university from 1976-1980 as the UGA Revival but the fruit of many students and athletes coming to Christ was truly amazing.
In 1994, while on staff at Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California, the Spirit fell to such a degree that people were falling over during worship services. Even the Senior Pastor, John Wimber, while preaching on a Sunday morning, fell over and rolled down the stage steps. During that time, almost everyone I laid hands on, fell over under the Spirit. No one called this a revival.
Simultaneously, in Toronto, Canada, at the Airport Vineyard, there was a powerful outpouring of the Spirit that impacted hundreds of thousands of people. People were hungry to be touched by God and travelled from all over the world to attend meetings and conferences at the Airport Vineyard. It was called the “Toronto Blessing.”
In 1998, Liz and I travelled to Brownsville, Florida to spend a week at the “Brownsville Revival.” We spent time with some of the pastors and attended the nightly meetings. We would line up outside one hour before each gathering to get a seat near the front. Through the preaching of Evangelist Steve Hill, dozens were coming to Christ every night.
From 2002 to 2007, the church I pastored in Colorado Springs, Mountain Springs Church, saw such dramatic growth that one noted church growth expert said it was one of the fasting growing churches in America. During that time, it seemed we were adding people every week through salvations and prodigal believers coming back to Christ. Though our church growth was surprising, I never used outpouring or revival to define what was happening.
What is a Revival?
What constitutes a “revival?” Is it unusual experiences with God? Is it people getting saved in large numbers? Terms writers have associated with revival are: “a special blessing,” “outpouring,” “manifest presence of God,” “awakening,” and “showers of the Spirit.” Every author on the subject has a different definition. Jonathan Edwards, considered by most historians and theologians to be the father of “First Great Awakening in America” (1730’s and 40’s), used the term “a surprising work of God.”
From studies of revival, of which I have a whole shelf in my library dedicated to the subject, definitions can be confusing. There is no doubt that throughout American history, we can see times where the Holy Spirit comes near, and many people are deeply impacted. But what constitutes a revival?
The noted revival historian Stephen Olford has defined revival as “that strange and sovereign work of God in which he visits his own people, restoring, reanimating, and releasing them into the fullness of his blessing.” I like this definition. When I think of a spiritual revival, I think of alive people (saved) becoming more alive–revived! Like someone who has fainted being revived. A revival touches the Church, usually starting in one location and spreading out from there. In the “First Great Awakening”, it started in Northampton, Massachusetts, at the church of Jonathan Edwards and then spread into other churches across the eastern seaboard of America.
It’s quite interesting that this week is the premier showing in movie theatres of the movie Jesus Revolution. Produced by Greg Laurie and Jon Erwin and distributed by Lions Gate, the movie depicts the early stages of the Jesus movement in the 1970’s that impacted thousands of hippies in southern California. It was not called a “revival” but a “revolution” by Time Magazine (June 21, 1971). What was the difference?
I believe there is a profound difference between a revival and a revolution.
As stated earlier, a revival is a work of God in which the Holy Spirit “comes down” in a manifest way to the degree that believers are revived in their faith. They experience God through a divine encounter with the holiness and love of God. It is the presence of God touching someone at the heart level. The affected person encounters God’s holiness, repents of known sin, and decides to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. In other words, revival is an encounter with the living God that results in a changed life!
A revolution is different in scope and magnitude. A revival is in one locale and gradually spreads out. It is short lived and fades away with time. On the other hand, a revolution is built over time and grows in impact with time. A revolution is a move of God that impacts all of culture. A revolution is often sparked by revival. Revolution is what happens in society because of revival. The American Revolution impacted an entire continent of people and is still impacting nations around the world, but it was birthed from the Puritan Revival.
Jesus Launched a Revolution
I believe that the greatest revolution of all time was, what I have termed, the “Kingdom of God Revolution” birthed by Jesus. It was inaugurated by Jesus. His main message while on the earth was the Kingdom of God (He spoke over one hundred times on the subject). He instructed all of us to “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). He told us to pray, “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus was a revolutionary not a revivalist.
The revolution began by Jesus was sparked by a revival with the early disciples. At Pentecost, the Spirit came down and thousands were set on fire by the manifest presence of God (Acts 2). The Pentecostal revival ignited a Kingdom of God Revolution. All of Jerusalem and Israel were impacted. The movement spread throughout the region. Society in Asia minor was so impacted that by Acts 17, it was said in Thessalonica that “these men who have upset the world have come here also” (verse 6). Politics, economics, and religion were upset by the preaching of the Gospel. That’s a revolution.
Is what’s happening in Asbury a revival? It might be. Time will tell. But what I’m most excited about is a Kingdom of God Revolution. My prayer is that whatever is happening in Asbury will result in a revolution that sweeps across our sin-soaked nation and brings about transformation of our culture. More on this in my next blog.