The reported “Outpouring” at Asbury University in Kentucky, has many Christians hopeful that this is a genuine beginning to a new spiritual awakening in the United States. While I share this hopeful optimism, it isn’t without some bewilderment at the responses of others. To be clear, my questions aren’t with the students, staff, and faculty at Asbury University. From what I’ve read about their participation and stewardship of this spiritual enthusiasm, their response has been measured, mature, and appropriate. My concern is with how many Evangelicals are characterizing and interpreting what is happening in Kentucky.
For example, I have seen some suggest that this “revival” is God’s response to a myriad of cultural concerns running the gamut from the overreach of the Biden administration to Rihanna’s Superbowl halftime performance. I saw one meme juxtaposing pictures of Sam Smith’s grammy performance with worshipers at Asbury University with a misappropriated Scriptural caption citing Isaiah 59:19 “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.” Internet hyperbole aside, the response of some in the Christian community to the Asbury Outpouring, illustrates how we have been conditioned in America to interpret and respond to these reported renewals of the Christian faith.
What these responses illustrate is that an overarching concern among American Evangelicals is winning. When events such as what is happening at Asbury University are reported, they are often interpreted as evidence of a resurgent cultural dominance of Christianity. Another glaring example of this phenomenon is that Fox News’s Tucker Carlson wanted to take a camera crew to report on the events transpiring at Asbury. To the University’s credit, they declined his request, but I wonder if Carlson’s curiosity would have been equally enthusiastic if this kind of spiritual resurgence was happening among marginalized groups, instead of at a predominantly white Christian university.
Another example of this desire to assert cultural relevance in America is the repeated references to the personal Christian faith of many of the athletes participating in this year’s Super Bowl. While I certainly appreciate the faith of quarterbacks, linemen, receivers, and the like, I find it interesting what right-wing media chooses to celebrate and vilify. Given the fact that this Super Bowl featured two Black quarterbacks leading their teams for the first time in the history of the National Football League’s championship game, amplifying the Christian faith of the players comes off as somewhat self-serving. Many of these conservative networks actively ignored the treatment of Colin Kaepernick by the NFL for respectfully taking a knee in protest of police brutality against Black people. Instead, they actively amplified the voices of those who condemned his actions and the cause for which he kneeled.
This all reminded me of when I was a child and I saw an early illustration that attempted to describe the spiritual warfare that is an oft-repeated motif among Christian fundamentalists. The painting pictured Jesus and Satan laboring over a chessboard, Satan is contemplating his next move, while Jesus looks on confidently. The chess pieces were illustrated as actual humans that were either yielding to the desires of Christ or the deception of the Devil. This trope is excessively repeated in numerous Christian songs, books, movies, sermons, and morality plays. It perpetuates the false idea that somehow Christ and Satan are evenly matched in a battle of wits and strength, with individual human actions being the deciding factor in who wins the eternal struggle. I don’t think the Omnipotent Savior of the world needs my help in defeating Satan. In fact, my understanding of the biblical narrative convinces me that Christ is already victorious. Jesus isn’t in need of a Third Great Awakening for validation, nor does He need the endorsement of Patrick Mahomes to remain King. Those in need of this kind of cultural vindication are those who seek earthly power and influence, and most often in America, those who wish to exercise political and economic influence over others.
The behavior of American evangelicals is increasingly at odds with the biblical Jesus. Jesus consistently and actively avoided the endorsement of social elites and went out of his way to offend them. Jesus told those He healed not to tell anyone, and on the occasions when He did attract a crowd, he would send them away by delivering uncomfortable truths, refusing to acquiesce to their demands, or quietly just walking away while they argued about His relevance. Imagine this kind of behavior from anyone in the consumer-driven Christian celebrity industrial complex of today that occupies many sectors o America and the world.
I’ve been reluctant to comment on the reports from Asbury University. I didn’t want what I said to be misconstrued as a dismissal of this as something less than a genuine renewal of passion for Christ. I certainly believe the Spirit of God is moving, but not in the ways we think. I believe the movements of the Spirit of God are more likely happening in quiet individual acts of courage, acceptance, and love. My comments have been directed at why American evangelicals desire to celebrate this as something more than what it is. I posed some questions about the reported revival on my social media that helped me clarify my own feelings about what is happening and perhaps helped others clarify their motivations in celebrating this outpouring.
“If this revival was taking place at a Historically Black university or college would the celebrations be the same among American evangelicals? Or if at Brigham Young University or at a local Mosque or Synagogue assuming the moral, devotional, and behavioral results were the same? Would we celebrate as enthusiastically, if at all? Or is this only about our team? Is this only about us winning?”
The questions make many uncomfortable. Admittedly they make me uncomfortable. But from what I’ve witnessed in response to the events at Asbury University, I think I know the answer.
Our enthusiasm for revival has less to do with a renewed passion for the things of God and more about returning our version of Christianity to a privileged status that we perceive is diminishing. Until this changes, can we confidently call this revival, or is it, at best, simply redecorating?