Throughout this week, I have been following the online reports about the remarkable day-after-day revival gatherings that are taking place at Asbury University in Kentucky.
If you know about Methodist and Holiness movements, it isn’t surprising that this kind of spiritual earthquake would take place — again — at this location (here are some Asbury library resources on the history of earlier revivals).
Years ago, I went to Asbury for a speaking engagement. I noticed that there were tissue boxes placed a regular intervals along the sanctuary prayer rail-kneeling area. In other words, this is a campus in which it is normal for worshippers to kneel in sorrow/joy (often part of the same experience) while offering prayers of petition or repentance. This is part of the spiritual DNA of this community.
While reading social-media offerings about the revival, I also ran regular Google News searches (sample here) to see if journalists — including those at elite publications — have been covering this event.
The pickings have been rather lean, for reasons we discussed during this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (CLICK HERE to tune that in). I found myself, in a kind of time-travel experience, imaging myself attempting to convince a newspaper editor that this mysterious, spiritual outbreak was a BIG. NEWS. STORY.
This led me, believe it or not, straight to “The Screwtape Letters,” by C.S. Lewis, the famous Oxford scholar and Christian apologist. In this classic, a global bestseller, a master demon writes letters to his nephew Wormwood, an apprentice in need of advice on how to led a human soul into hell. The relevant text, in my musings on the “news value” of this Asbury revival, is Letter 25. The key passage states:
“The real trouble about the set your patient is living is that it is merely Christianity. … What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity AND.’ You know –– Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring.”
In other words, national journalists may be trying to figure out what the “AND” is in this story.
If a “revival” is not news, what if this was “revival and smartphone sin”? Maybe “revival and Christian nationalism”? That would work. How about “revival and social justice,” since that is a relevant Methodist theme from the past? Does anyone doubt editors would fund coverage of repentant students, if they were confessing struggles with gender dysphoria?
GetReligion readers will not be surprised to know that this Asbury revival — which may be spreading, via social media — is news in “conservative” and “religious” publications. Here is the top of an update from former GetReligionista Mark Kellner, reporting for The Washington Times:
A Christian university’s weekly chapel service in Wilmore, Kentucky, has turned into an impromptu nonstop prayer meeting over the past week, drawing visitors from across the country, attracting millions of views on social media and fueling talk of a nationwide religious revival.
The Feb. 8 morning worship at Asbury University included a sermon by the Rev. Zach Meerkreebs, a campus minister, on “Becoming Love in Action.” After the message, students gathered to pray.
As of Thursday, they hadn’t stopped.
Videos of tearful worshippers singing hymns and offering personal testimonies have gone viral on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, racking up millions of views and inspiring carloads of visitors to descend on Wilmore, population 6,000, to share in what some are calling a movement — and the spiritual explosion hasn’t stopped at the city line.
Schools including Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee; Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio; Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky, are among campuses reporting extended prayer-and-worship sessions attributed to interest in the Asbury event.
It is possible that editors may approve some kind of coverage of this event if it veers into their own zip code. As you would expect, there has been some coverage — but surprisingly little — in Kentucky. See this early television report.
So far, it appears that the magic news formula has been “revival and TikTok,” or some other social-media connection. See this bite of an NBCNews report, which has gained some traction online:
On TikTok and Instagram, videos hashtagged “Asbury Revival” are racking up millions of views. At the time this article was published, the hashtag #asburyrevival had 24.4 million views on TikTok.
The phrase “spiritual revival” can carry different meanings; in Christianity, they generally refer to a resurgence in interest in the church from believers and nonbelievers. Many attendees of the Asbury gathering say they were drawn by a spiritual presence they felt was at the event.
In the TikTok videos of the event, some people are seen crying to worship music, with hands extended high, while others group up and place hands on those seeking prayer. The response of many TikTokers has gone beyond the typical “like” or comment on the videos, which in some cases have stirred viewers to make the trek to Asbury for themselves.
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