[The following is an edited transcript of a live YouTube video done by David Guzik on Saturday, February 18, 2023. That video can be watched here – Skeptical of the Asbury Revival? ]
For a long time, I have been interested in revival, largely because of the ministry of a man named Dr. J. Edwin Orr, who went to be with the Lord many years ago. I have read his books and listened to many of his messages. He was an outstanding teacher who understood the dynamic of revival and spiritual awakening. His interest in the subject sparked mine. So, it is with much interest I have been watching what has been called the Asbury Revival, or Asbury Awakening. I want to share some thoughts with those who are skeptical of what is happening there. [J. Edwin Orr’s Website]
What follows is a spontaneous perspective rather than something I have spent much time preparing. I will be leaving for a trip to Florida in a moment, so this is hurriedly put together. Here we go …
If you are skeptical of the Asbury Revival, or revival in general, I don’t blame you.
There is a lot of foolishness that goes on in the name of “revival,” things like the Toronto Blessing and Brownsville Revival. I refer to meetings where people engage ins strange behavior, barking and clucking and screaming and laughing. There is undeniably a lot of foolishness that goes on in the name of revival.
I have not heard of any of that attendant at the Asbury Revival. But let’s be honest, it could end up that way. It is something to keep in mind. And then there are also many people who have been in what I would call revival-hype environments. Some church circles are like this. “Oh ho! Revival is coming. Oh! Revival is on the way. We’re going to have a revival now. Revival this — Revival that. I don’t blame people like that for being hesitant. I don’t blame them for being what we might call “gun-shy.” They have heard revival announced a million times. I am sympathetic to that. They may just want to see if this is going to live up to the hype.
Another reason people may be skeptical is the reports of some things in the Asbury Revival that have troubled some people. One example is women preaching. That is not going to trouble everybody in God’s family. Some think that is an amazing and wonderful thing. But there are people like myself who believe congregations should be led by qualified men in the body of Christ. Women preaching would be of concern to them. Another report, which is of greater concern, claims there has been a platforming of unrepentant homosexuals at Asbury. Yet they are worship leaders or spokesmen. Others cite a lack of gospel preaching or social action in the Asbury Revival, and these are things that concern them. I think it is okay for people to have concerns. I get why some people are concerned, and I do not think their questions are out of order. You cannot throw down the “revival card” and say, “Everybody has to accept this. Every concern is invalid. If you do not accept this completely and without reservation, you hate the work of the Holy Spirit.”
The Bible says “test all things.” But here is my caution to the revival skeptic. If that is you and there are some I respect on social media who seem to be revival-skeptics. They say, “There is no way this is of God.” If that is you, here is my caution. You need to also be skeptical of the bad reports about revival.
Again—I don’t blame you for being skeptical about what is going at Asbury. I say this without reservation: You should also be skeptical about bad reports.
It often does not work that way. People are often complete skeptics one way or another. They are quick to believe every positive report about the Asbury Revival while rejecting any negative report. That’s not balanced. Then there are others who are the other way around. They are hesitant to believe anything good about the Revival but ready to believe any bad thing said about it.
Maybe you tend to be quick to believe such things. Maybe you tend to be slow to believe such things. Either way, I would just ask you to apply the same kind of thinking to both sides. If you are going to be skeptical about the reported good, please also be skeptical about the reported bet. Who said it? Do they have an axe to grind? Is it one small part of a much larger picture? Is it truly reflective of what is going on?
I would say something else as well. I don’t think you can control revival in the way some people seem to expect. There is a report a problematic individual named Todd Bentley visited Asbury. They allowed him in the building.
One of the characteristics of genuine revival is that it is not orchestrated. It is not programmatic. It is not planned. There is an air of spontaneity to it. If a work of God is, by nature, non-orchestrated, somewhat spontaneous, and non-programmatic, there is likely to be a few weird things that filter through. Maybe there is so much weirdness it discredits the whole thing. But just do not be so quick to judge it. Do not demand revival with no mess.
Every revival has had some mess, so to speak to it. Again, it is up to you as an individual before the Lord or a Christian leader to look at in a careful assessment. Discern for yourself whether or not you know if there is enough mess to say it is not of God. I would just say do it with faithful scales and a true balance. If you are going to be skeptical about the good, be skeptical about the bad. If you are going to unreservedly look at the good then unreservedly look at the bad. Judge with righteous judgment, because I will tell you this—Bad and false reports that go out about a genuine revival, damage it.
Two stories from Dr. J. Edwin Orr illustrate this. One of them has to do with the camp meeting revivals around 1830 on the frontier of the United States. It was reported that in one of those camp meetings, there was what was called “the barking exercise.” The impression has been given there were groups of Christians acting foolishly under strange inspiration, people on their hands and knees barking like dogs, running around and chasing the devil up a tree. It was claimed Christians would stand or sit at the base of a tree and bark at the devil. That idea is found in nearly every standard history of those 1830s frontier revivals. It is not true, a false story. J. Edwin Orr did the research. He heard the stories and decided to track down their origin. He traced it to a man named F. M. Davenport. Davenport wrote a book titled, Primitive Traits of Religious Revivals. He wrote it in the early 20th century, about a hundred years after those revivals happened. Davenport said that during the Kentucky revival, there was weeping, trembling, and dancing for joy. All of that is agreed upon. Then he said there was some barking, but it was not common. He gave no documentation for his statement. He quoted no original source. Dr. Orr could find no original source.
There was a professor at the University of Minnesota named Alice Tyler who wrote a book called Freedom’s Ferment in 1940. She said there was barking at Camp Meeting revivals, and it was common. She knew that was from an unsourced comment by Davenport. Whereas he said it was not common, she said it was very common.
Then, Frances Kern, a Jesuit historian, said there was barking at the frontier revivals and that it was completely disgraceful. Whom did he cite for sources? Davenport and Tyler.
Dr. J. Edwin Orr tracked down the historical evidence and found the writings of David Benedict, who lived at the time of the camp meeting revivals. He was present there. He said this, “The Baptists did not bark, but the Presbyterians did.” Then Orr found a contemporary Presbyterian historian, David Rice, who in his book, The History of Present Presbyterianism in Kentucky, said it was the enemies of the revival who circulated the barking story but those who were at the revivals denied it. Barton Stone, a Presbyterian, who became one of the leaders of the Disciples of Christ denomination, said barking at the revivals was a complete fiction. He said that the nearest thing there was to it was when people simply convulsively sobbed under the conviction of sin, making grunting noises.
The whole story of barking up a tree came from one old Presbyterian minister, who was so under conviction of his shortcomings, he stood with his arms against the tree, sobbing convulsively. There was no documented barking at those frontier revivals. Dr. Orr raised this whole issue at a university conference of three-hundred historians, and they attacked him. They said, “You’re spoiling our good classroom fun.” They love to mock Christians and revival and use this false story about the frontier revivals to do it.
Another story from Dr. Orr. This one is about the Welsh Revival.
One time at a symposium, I think it was the Fiftieth or Seventy-fifth anniversary of the great Nineteenth century Welsh Revival, a critic said in his assessment of the revival, “As many souls were begat as saved.” He meant that in the enthusiasm among the youth, young men and women were getting together and having illicit relationships. Many young Christian girls, under the influence of the excitement of the revival, were getting pregnant. Therefore he said, “As many souls were begat as were saved.” Dr. J. Edwin Orr heard that and said, “Whoa! Wait a minute. What evidence do you have for such an assertion?”
The historian who made the assertion said he’d heard it from my aunt or some such source. Orr told him according to his research that was not correct. Returning to his sources, he looked up the records of births and unwed mothers in that section of Wales during the Welsh Revival. He found that unwed mothers and unmarried births went down in that period. The claim of the historian was a fabrication.
Again, friends, if you are going to be skeptical about the good news in a revival, don’t forget to be skeptical about the bad news.
Let’s wait and see what the Holy Spirit does. I would just counsel and advise skepticism on both sides of the issue. And let’s pray. If God is doing something good at Asbury and the few other universities and places where we hear there it is spreading, then praise the Lord. It is a wonderful thing. It reminds us God can do such things today. If it is not, if this is something that goes off the rails, or if in the opinion of some, it was never on the rails, then let us pray the Lord would make that abundantly evident. But friends, if you are slow to believe the good news about the Asbury Revival, I encourage you to have at least a bit of skepticism about the bad news you hear as well.
Finally, I am not saying it is unfair to ask questions and examine. That is fair. We just need to do it with righteous judgment.
This post came from Pastor David’s YouTube livestream that appeared on Saturday, February 19, 2021:
post image: Daily Citizen
David Guzik is a teaching pastor at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara. His online commentary on the entire Bible at enduringword.com is a free, helpful resource for many pastors, teachers, and everyday Christians. David and his wife Inga-Lill live in Santa Barbara and have three adult children.