Wilmore is a small town in rural Kentucky and is divided in half by the main road to Lexington. Above the main road is Asbury University and below the road is Asbury seminary, both these institutions were born out of the Holiness Movement in the United States in the early 20th century.
Wilmore has a special place in Ann and my hearts. We spent 2005-2006 there while I studied in a Doctor of Ministry programme. We made deep significant friendships there among the other families who were part of the programme. However, it’s not just because of those friendships that Wilmore has a special place in my heart, it’s also because of the heritage of revival I encountered there. There have been significant moves of the Holy Spirit at Asbury in 1905, 1908, 1921, 1950 and 1958. The last one was in 1970 and even in 2005, its impact was still clear.
My class met regularly with Dr. Dennis Kinlaw who had been president of Asbury College in 1970. When I read about someone being full of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts I think of Dennis Kinlaw. I just knew something profound had happened in his life that was still sustaining an incredible passion for Jesus. My theology professor, Steve Seamands, was a student during the revival of 1970 and again in his deep spirituality and quiet spiritual authority you could see that he had had a profound and life-changing encounter with God in revival.
I am rejoicing because revival has come again to Asbury. It wasn’t hyped up or manipulated or even expected. After a “normal” chapel service on Wednesday morning, without warning the Holy Spirit came in power and some 80 hours later He is still moving in that community in power.
Inevitably cynical and critical voices have been raised, as they do with every move of God. Steve Seamands has written about what happens in revival and I wanted to share with you what he says as I think he has a unique perspective. As I said earlier Steve himself has been impacted by revival and his career as a theologian has also equipped him to be able to reflect on what happens in revival in a deep way. So here is what he had to say
WHAT HAPPENS IN REVIVAL
Because of the Revival that is going on at Asbury University right now, many are posting their thoughts about Revival. Here are some of mine, based on a sermon I preached at the seminary in February 2020:
In his profound reflections on Revival, based on his experiences in 18th century colonial New England, during what historians refer to as the First Great Awakening.
Jonathan Edwards says this: “God hath had it much on His heart from all eternity, to glorify His dear and only begotten Son; and there are some special seasons that He appoints to that end, wherein he comes forth with omnipotent power,,, and these are times of remarkable pouring out of His Spirit, to advance His kingdom.”
Revivals then, according to Edwards, are special times and seasons when God the Father reveals, glorifies, and exalts His Son through the power of His Spirit. And in such clear-cut, powerful, demonstrable ways that you can’t miss it—because He wants the whole world to know who his beloved son is.
That’s what Edwards saw happening right before his eyes. The members of the congregation he pastored in Northampton, Massachusetts had all grown up Christian, but during the Awakening, it was as if the veil was pulled back and they glimpsed Jesus for the first time. They were seized by a revelation, captured by what Edwards called “the divine excellency of Christ.” And after that their lives were never the same. I love the way he describes it in his quaint 18th century way:
“By the sight of the transcendent glory of Christ, true Christians see him worthy to be followed; and so are powerfully drawn after him; they see him worthy that they should forsake all for him: by the sight of that superlative amiableness, they are thoroughly disposed to be subject to him, and engaged to labor with earnestness and activity in his service, and made willing to go through all difficulties for his sake.
“And it is the discovery of this divine excellency of Christ that makes them constant to him: for it makes a deep impression upon their minds, that they cannot forget him; and they will follow him whithersoever he goes, and it is in vain for any to endeavor to draw them away from him.”
In Revivals, says Edwards,
As a result of being captured by his love, his “superlative amiableness,” as he puts it, they fall in love and stay in love with Jesus in such a way that their lives are never the same, the church is never the same, the world is never the same.
These first hand revival experiences, convictional experiences, divine encounters—grip us so profoundly, transform and shape us so deeply that they set us on a trajectory that continues for the rest of our lives.
Like Paul’s encounter on the Damascus road, they impart to us such a profound awareness, such a revelation of the risen, exalted Jesus, such an experience of his presence in us through the Holy Spirit, such an unswerving commitment to his mission, that standing in chains before King Agrippa decades years later, he would declare, “No matter what happens, I simply can’t be disobedient to such a heavenly vision.”
Revivals produce Christians who are faithful, bold, and unapologetic. Christians who find their joy and satisfaction in God. Christians with a love passion for holiness, who will gladly lay down their lives for Jesus, who are looking, not for a prosperity gospel, but in Amy Carmichael’s words, “a chance to die.”
Revivals cause the church to move forward in purity, power and unity; in boldness and confidence to be his witnesses. As a result God’s people are able to withstand cultural pressures to conform and compromise. They refuse to be seduced by the gods of their culture.
I think Jonathan Edwards had it right. We need revivals because we need more of Jesus. Through revival God raises up a generation, a people, a church which gets focused on Christ. As the characters in Narnia would say: “Aslan comes in sight.” So we discover things about him that we never knew before. He truly becomes the pearl of great price.
If you are interested in thinking more deeply about this, here is a video of Steve Seamands talking about revival, its full of wisdom and inspiration. Steve has a unique perspective and authority to speak on this subject