Hear me out… I’m not a heretic, I swear. Strong, Bible-based theology is a critical component to how we walk with Christ. I’d even argue that it’s the first and most important job of Pastors – to ensure the doctrinal integrity within the church. With that said, the problem with our systematic theology is that ultimately it’s a man-made categorization and classification of Biblical truth: We make absolute truth statements summarizing our understanding of Biblical teachings – but these are our statements, uninspired by God, and therefore possessing room for the possibility of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or error. For example…
Consider the crowds and the Pharisees who dismissed Jesus as not being the Messiah because they read in Isaiah that we wouldn’t know the origins of the Messiah, only that He would come from Bethlehem. And in John 7, the crowds say in verse 27, “However, we know where this man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from.” and then later in the same scenario, “Others were saying, “This is the Christ.” But others were saying, “Surely the Christ is not coming from Galilee, is He? Has the Scripture not said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So a dissension occurred in the crowd because of Him.” (v. 41-43).
To summarize… Some didn’t accept Jesus as the Christ, because they “knew” Jesus was from Nazareth not Bethlehem like the prophets had told them, and they had a somewhat obscure verse that convinced them they wouldn’t know where the Messiah had come from…
Except they didn’t know. Jesus actually was born in Bethlehem as the prophets foretold, and left for Nazareth, likely out of Egypt as a young boy until He began His public ministry. The irony, is that the crowd’s misinterpretation of the prophets resulted in them fulfilling the very prophecies they were quoting – they really didn’t know where He came from! They had excellent theology, poor execution. They needed solid orthodoxy (“pure doctrine”) and orthopraxy (“pure practices”).
Enter Asbury University of Wilmore, KY who has shared reports, videos, and now thousands of eye witnesses claiming a nearly two-week, 24-hour, nonstop revival has been building in momentum. The “Asbury Revival” in turn has inspired or influenced a series of other “revivals” around the nation including reports from Cedarville University and even more secular schools like Yale. With the arguably sensational reports of revival, repentance, salvations, and constant praise that almost seems akin to something you’d read out of Acts 2 with the Day of Pentecost, there’s been no shortage of internet preachers and Christians ready to accuse this revival of nothing but nonsense and attention seeking. Except the college has consistently been turning down several news stations offering to give their college and this revival national coverage.
I’m not writing today to call this (or other) revivals authentic, nor to label them as just emotional hype. But what I am writing to say, is that when God shows up, it defies our explanations. The best religious minds of Jesus’ day knew the Old Testament and the prophecies of the Messiah by heart, many of them memorizing the largest portions of the Torah and Isaiah. And yet they looked the incarnate God of the Universe straight in the eye – the very One they longed for and prayed for – and said, “Nah. Can’t be Him.”
It is inadequate to have strong doctrine, we must also have a strong relationship with the actual Living God of our theology. Here are a few thoughts I have for the Asbury Revival and the other similar occurrences we see around our nation right now:
- I pray to God that it is real and sincere! I’ve been asking for revival among this generation before they even had labels like Gen Z, Gen Alpha, and so on. Our nation needs revival, and all of us who believe in Jesus know it.
- God doesn’t operate on any of our agendas! What would real revival in our nation look like anyway? Do you really think Jesus wouldn’t shake the cart of our carefully formed religious systems like He did in the first century? Let’s hold our ideas of revival with very open hands…
- Apply the Gamaliel Test. When the church was born in the book of Acts, the Sanhedrin turned to one of their oldest and wisest teachers, Gamaliel (who actually trained the Apostle Paul). Gamaliel’s advice was simple: Watch and see, Trust in God’s sovereignty, Stand on God’s side. He cautioned that if the early church was just a man-made effort it would come to nothing anyway, and they didn’t need to worry… but if it actually was from God, be careful that they didn’t end of fighting against God Himself. The Sanhedrin basically said, “Good idea!” and then immediately fought against the move of God anyway.
- You can’t conjure a move of God. All we can do, is position ourselves to be receptive when God does show up. Authentic or not, there will likely be many who want to imitate what’s happening at Asbury, and for the most part, I want to say I hope it happens. But revival won’t happen because you planned it, but because you prayed for it.
Let’s not allow our pre-conceived ideas of how God “has to” bring revival get in the way of Him actually bringing revival on His terms. I believe we are the greatest threat to God not bringing revival in the first place. We have to come to God like Jesus in the garden and say, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” We must be sure that we leave plenty of room in our theology for God to still show up and destroy our expectations. Doctrine is important… but not more important than God Himself. Good theological statements are pinpoint specific where they should, and broad where they cannot be. But God Himself is infinite, so let’s be careful to not put Him in a box of our theological preferences. And let’s pray for the real God to bring real revival – even if it means we have to adjust our expectations.
Among the things that make me take notice, I also love that at the Asbury Revival there appears to be none of the following:
- Professional sound/lighting
- Nothing for purchase
- Nothing to autograph
- Zero Christian “celebrities”, at least none getting any attention.
Just a bunch of average, unknown, amateur young people. Leading a revival. “Smells” legit to me, and I hope it is.