There's a scene in Netflix's new adaptation of All Quiet On The Western Front that absolutely chills me to the bone.
No, it isn't when a man gets cooked alive by a French flamethrower. It isn't seeing a man's torso rotting at the top of a tree.
It's the wide-eyed, hopeful zeal of young men who are excited to head off to war with no realization of what is about to happen to most of them.
With that in mind, let me prime you on what's happening at Asbury University in Kentucky:
From blogger Samuel Sey:
The Asbury "revival" started after a 10 am chapel service last week Wednesday when a group of about 20 students and the worship team said they felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to continue worship past the end of the chapel service.
According to one of the students I talked to, a few hours later, the president of the seminary sent an email to the students encouraging them visit the chapel to join the 20 students on what he described as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Apparently 200 students arrived for worship at the chapel soon after, and there has been non-stop worship ever since.
The student maintains the "revival" wasn't planned. But it's worth noting that Asbury University is part of what is known as the revivalist movement — a group of Charismatic Christians who consistently attempt to produce revivals.
People from all over the nation have been flocking to this ongoing worship service at the college's chapel – and it's inspired a lot of feedback.
There's two large groups of people arguing on social media about this whole thing right now.
One is the milquetoast, kill-'em-with-kindness crowd:
The other is the battle-hardened Christian who has been in the trenches the last decade or so. You know, the type of person who has tried to warn the skinny-jean-wearing megachurch pastors (who talk about broksi Jesus) about the doctors castrating kids, the teachers grooming kindergartners in the finer details of gay sex, the churches trotting out corrupt NIH directors to Christianize government propaganda, and the president sending the FBI after pro-life dads.
The latter group of believers has been at war for some time, and the right kind of war at that. They are the ones sounding the alarm about the devil's absolutely debauched plans to sink an already-sinking ship called Western civilization.
As any man who has experienced war can tell you, you don't come off the battlefield into the niceties of pleasant society without appearing like Mad-Eye Moody.
Oh no, you think. This gent just made a reference to Harry Potter!
Deal with it.
I lived through a "revival" that began sweeping college campuses across the nation during my time at university. It was the late 2000s, and as social media exploded and the millennials started going to college, they had serious questions about faith, life, and destiny.
I joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and quickly saw the campus ministry quadruple in size in just a year or two. This happened with other ministries such as Cru – and not just on my Michigan campus, but around the nation. Christian college conferences were packed to the gills with people who were sold out for Jesus.
I grew up in the church and had a father who discipled me in everything from the Psalms to the finer points of systematic theology presented Paul's letter to the Romans. I grew up in a variety of churches – Lutheran, old-school Baptist, new-school Baptist, Reformed, and Covenant congregations. When I entered college, it was with a decade or more of knowledge of the faith, the history of the Church, and immersion in the Christian subculture of the '90s and '00s that so many of us still remember today.
But not everyone had that.
Many of my friends in college became Christians after plugging into ministries on campus. Others had grown up in churches that never catechized them in the faith.
These kids loved being part of the 4-hour worship sets and the 2-hour intensive prayer meetings. It was experimental and emotional: Exactly what a vanilla Midwest kid needed to feel like he or she was coming closer to the God of the universe. These kids were reaching out for authenticity and a sense of deeper purpose. Untethered from tradition or history, they began to develop their own traditions or copy things that seemed to "enhance" worship. People would bring shofars and cymbals to gatherings. People would "dance in the Spirit." People would come over to me and start babbling randomly in an attempt to whip themselves into a spiritual fervor and prove they had the gift of tongues.
When I came across all of this, I identified it as the growing pains of young believers. These kids didn't have a church framework to fit into. They were a bunch of 18- to 22-year-olds just figuring out how the world works. They had found their identity in Christ, but they had no concept of Christian praxis, or how to apply the teachings of the Bible into daily life.
For most, this praxis became a routine of Bible studies, worship gatherings, conferences, and outreach. And that was admirable.
But then something happened.
We all left college.
A few of my friends managed to snag jobs in campus ministry themselves. I tried this same route for a short time as well.
What was a Christian on fire for the Gospel supposed to do in the big bad world? Weren't we supposed to eschew all material possessions and live like David-Platt radicals on the road??
In my own life, I soon faced the reality that life is not like college. There were bills to be paid. I had a marriage to maintain. Kids were soon on the way. For a time, I felt less than, as if I had given into worldly things.
In the meantime, I saw many of my college friends began to slip away from the faith. The world was choking them out. They moved in with girlfriends and boyfriends, stopped going to church, went full woke, and began pursuing whatever thing gave them that emotional high they once chased in campus ministry. I even know of one who was arrested for an utterly heinous crime the likes of which you'd never think possible for a guy who sat down and read Scripture with you.
I heard this trend put best by a woman who once tweeted about how she lost her faith. She grew up feeling like she was deeply in love with Jesus, but then she attended a Taylor Swift concert with the same emotional vibe and she realized she just liked the high she got from attending concerts.
People like this were once sold out for Jesus, but they had never been prepared to apply their faith in real life – the realities of working for food and housing, of love, commitment, and parenthood, or the slow, sometimes seemingly boring task of following Christ.
Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn't have much soil, and it grew up quickly since the soil wasn't deep. But when the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it.
The Christian faith is about endurance. Our faith is not one of perpetual emotional rollercoasters like some romance thriller. Consider the seed in the Parable of the Sower. Healthy and deep roots are the most important part of the plant. They hold the plant steady and create the very basis for nourishment that will allow growth. Without them, the plant quickly dies.
But if the plant is placed among thorns AND has no soil to grow roots (like Christian college kids with no foundation who are turned out into the secular workforce) – the situation is doubly desperate.
Consider how the foundation of a house is built. Builders can spend months getting it right – all you may see for weeks is a hole in the ground, and then when the walls start going up, it goes up rather quickly.
Many people, whether in faith or in other areas of life, are in too fast a rush to stop to do that boring, dirty earthwork that isn't seen or appreciated and doesn't yet bear fruit.
Let me give you another illustration from the family. Anyone married longer than five minutes will tell you that constant drama (especially for the sake of drama) in a marriage will ultimately destroy it. In the same way, if you constantly yank your kids from one adventure to another, the lack of stability will hurt them. Children do best with routine (sometimes to the annoying point of requesting an exact sequence of events at bedtime that you have to get right OR ELSE).
Yet we treat our obedience to, discipline from, and discipleship in the Creator of the universe as if it is this simple lovestruck high filled with divine energy. Do you not see that we often look more like our Heavenly Father when we faithfully do our work, tithe, parent, repair our homes, and pay our bills?
But taking your kid to the doctor for the glory of God doesn't sound NEARLY as appealing as multi-day worship experiences, even though these mundane acts of obedience are where most of our discipline and faithfulness to God are displayed.
"We encourage you, brothers and sisters, to do this even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may behave properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone." - 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12
That's what concerns me about Asbury.
Back to Samuel Sey's coverage of what's happening:
I've talked to current students, recent graduates, and several people who've visited the chapel to experience the "revival", and there's unquestionably several reasons why we should be concerned.
Though one student says the gospel has been consistently and explicitly preached since the beginning of the "revival", others contradict that claim. In fact, one former student who was at the chapel this week told me he rarely, if ever, heard a clear presentation of the gospel at the school.
Another student said: "Attending the few chapels I have at seminary, apart from one [or] two chapels that preach a biblical message of repentance, it's always been about ‘being who you are' and God loving you ‘as you are.' There are a lot of messages that are about being ‘true to yourself.'"
I've watched hundreds of videos of the "revival", and I still haven't seen any clips showing a clear preaching of the gospel. Of course, that isn't evidence that people aren't preaching the gospel.
This type of emotional fluff won't lead to "revival": It's a mix of genuine worship and emotional existentialism that has no ability to call our culture to repentance outside the groupies that want in on the experience.
- Will this emotional worship set lead some people to Christ? Yes. Praise the Lord!
- It is causing international conversation that is making the name of Christ known? Yes. Praise the Lord!
- Is it setting hearts on fire for reaching a broken world with the good news of eternal life? Yes. Praise the Lord!
"What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice because I know this will lead to my salvation through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ." – Philippians 1:18-19
But is it going to radically change our culture, lead us away from our societal decline, and lead to repentance across the land?
It won't. I know because I have seen it before.
What our country needs is not just a "back to Jesus moment." It needs the hard truth that it is quite literally damned to hell on its current path and that there is a lot of difficult, monotonous work that will be required to set it right – if something is even possible at this point of societal collapse.
College worship experiences will not lead to this type of repentance in heart and action. We can see this from Scripture. When the Israelites had so wholeheartedly sold themselves out to idols and demons, it took the total destruction of their nation and 70 years in slavery to rend their hearts enough to make them turn back to God.
One more thought from Samuel Sey:
In desperation for any semblance of hope for our culture — some Christians have abandoned all discernment and they're eager to idolize anything or any "revival" that profess Christ.
But our hope isn't in a change in our culture. Our hope isn't in a revival. Our hope isn't in a Christian culture. All of these are good. We should earnestly pray that God would change our culture.
But our hope isn't in the return of a Christian culture. Our hope is in the return of Christ.
So don't spend too much time obsessing over Asbury. Asbury is not where the battle for culture is being fought. The participants are just wide-eyed kids who think they're lining up for the real battle with no idea what's ahead.