Asbury College president Dr. Dennis F. Kinlaw wonders if the revival that erupted on campus in tiny Wilmore, Kentucky, marks the reawakening of an evangelical missionary spirit that will spread around the world.
In an interview Dr. Kinlaw said he planned to tell Asbury’s 1,000 students during a chapel period that a group of collegians in England, known as the “Cambridge Seven,” began 100 years ago what became “the biggest evangelical missionary thrust that the world has ever known.” He said the Cambridge Seven included such missionary giants as C. T. Studd and Stanley Smith.
In the succeeding decades, though, there was a shift in the missionary movement, Dr. Kinlaw noted. “The leadership became liberal and non-evangelical,” more concerned with “humanitarian and do-good projects” than spreading the Gospel.
“I wonder,” he said, “if God is ready to raise up the authentic thing again? It will take some time before we know.”
Kinlaw said that “God has taken the initiative” in the Asbury revival. “We were not seeking this in faith.” He described the revival as a “student phenomenon,” although adults were involved. The revival “has given me a far greater sense of divine sovereignty,” he said. “God obviously isn’t dead or indifferent. He has begun to move.”
The “witnessing” revival broke out during a regular morning chapel period February 3 and ran non-stop for 185 hours, closing down classes for a week. It was continuing with nightly services in the school’s chapel two weeks after classes had been resumed. Some testimonies have traced the genesis of the revival to a week of special meetings last January at Wilmore’s First United Methodist Church. On the concluding evening, soloist Doug Oldham told how for eleven years he had been a “professional religionist” specializing in church music. His home “fell apart,” the Church of God minister said, until he had a conversion experience that changed him and his home. Now he holds services 300 nights each year.
When Oldham concluded his testimony, so many others spoke that the sermon had to be omitted.
Since early February, hundreds of Asbury students have appeared in colleges and churches in twenty states and Canada to talk about their revival experiences. The teams travel at the request and expense of the host groups.
“We’re still getting a lot of calls for students,” Academic Dean Chester Reynolds reported. “We can’t fill them all. We had 600 students off last weekend and will have another 600 on the road next weekend.”
Dean Reynolds said the nightly services are not as crowded as before. The worshipers average perhaps 100 in number. The doors to the chapel remain open around the clock, however. Students trickle in and out at all hours of the day and night. Some pray for a minute, then walk away. Some cry. Some sit and meditate.
“The spectacular is over, but a wonderful spirit continues among the students and townspeople,” said the Reverend David Seamonds, pastor of Wilmore United Methodist Church. “The students have been picking each other up—those that may fall back into old ways … Many of the more hippie types, some of whom have been on drugs, are meeting for Bible study, sometimes in the place where before they were doping.”
Although the hurry-up of college life has resumed at Asbury—there are classes to rush to, books to hit, and finals to study for—everyone talks about the week that was and what it means to him.
“The revival changed my life,” said 20-year-old Mark Davis, a senior whose parents are missionaries in Africa. “I was a stagnant Christian before. Now I like to read the Bible, and my prayer life is revitalized, and I can really love people. And I’m not ashamed to talk about it.”
Possibly the highlight of the revival was a worldwide radio program in which Billy Graham, used the Asbury revival as the basis for his thirty-minute sermon. “It is my prayer,” the evangelist said, “that Christians throughout the world will be praying that the spiritual refreshment which started at Asbury College in Kentucky will sweep from campus to campus and from city to city.”
Among revival-swept campuses:
- Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. In events reminiscent of the revival of 1950, students spoke around the clock when Dr. Raymond Ortland asked for testimonies before he preached. Ortland, the pastor of Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, California, was on campus for the annual Spiritual Emphasis Week.
President Hudson T. Armerding reflected that “the freedom, openness, and honesty that characterized these days clearly were the work of the Holy Spirit in response to much prayer and heart hunger.” Earlier, some students had set up a prayer chain involving some ninety-six people.
- Trevecca Nazarene College, Nashville, Tennessee. Several weeks before the Asbury revival, Trevecca students had begun small prayer groups that went nearly unnoticed by faculty and administration. After Trevecca students heard testimonies of Asbury students in area churches on February 8, the underground movement broke into view. Monday’s chapel began a marathon testimony period involving townspeople as well as board members on campus for annual meetings. Since then, Trevecca students have visited fourteen secular colleges and universities in Nashville.
- Taylor University, Upland, Indiana. Last year, February 5, 1970, was set aside for a Day of Prayer. When the day came, students responded beyond faculty expectations; the concluding service was marked by confession, conviction, and consecration.
The following Sunday evening, Decision magazine’s Sherwood E. Wirt was to preach, but his plane was delayed, and the time was given instead to testimonies. It was a “tremendous outpouring” of the Holy Spirit, says college pastor Peter Pascoe. A week later Asbury students visited the campus.
- Spring Arbor College, Spring Arbor, Michigan. Graduates now attending Asbury Seminary came back February 8 and 9 to describe their revival. The result: the usual forty-five-minute chapel lasted five hours; several prayer groups began. Even before that, said an administrator, students had been doing some “very serious thinking” about their faith; the news from Asbury provided the “spark” they needed.
- Houghton College, Houghton, New York. The Reverend Paris Reid head, on campus for a week of special meetings, challenged students to lives of service in “a world of crisis.” When Asbury students arrived at mid-week to report their experiences, Houghton was ready. Testimonies, confession, and prayer lasted well into the night.
- Azusa Pacific College, Azusa, California. At chapel February 6, an Asbury student’s description of the Kentucky revival drew immediate response from more than 150 students. Afternoon classes were canceled so students and faculty could pray, sing, and testify for seven hours. Weekend visits to home churches sparked revivals there. On Monday, afternoon classes were again canceled to make time for reports, confession, and testimonies.
- Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma. “We had a fabulous service Friday,” exclaimed a sophomore about the eight-hour chapel service and the prayer meeting that went till 1:00 A.M. after Asbury students gave their testimonies. On Saturday morning, students gathered for a communion service; that evening they prayed again. It “changed the complexion of the campus,” she added. “Bad feelings” toward faculty and administration turned to love.
- Greenville College, Greenville, Illinois. “The Holy Spirit has brought a great awakening to Greenville,” reported Professor Frank Thompson. “The quickening began in the college, and burst forth under the ministry of witnesses from Asbury College. It continued in night-and-day-long scenes of prayer, praise, waiting, witnessing, singing, and exhortation in the college church and across the campus.”
- Northern Baptist Seminary, Chicago. Illinois. At the request of some seminarians, two Asbury students spoke on February 23 to seminarians, professors, and area pastors, who filled the auditorium. At the close, Dr. Robert Meye, professor of New Testament and theology, wished aloud that the seminary community could know more fully the love of Christ. Two hours of testimonies and prayer followed, leaving participants, according to middler Bob Laurent, “more turned on to Christ than ever.” They also got turned on to community needs, particularly those of drug addicts in an area where addiction is the highest in the nation.
- Fort Wayne Bible College, Fort Wayne, Indiana. When the chapel speaker for February 24 canceled at the last minute, President Wesley Gerig called for student testimonies. They lasted till 5:00 that afternoon. Some students waited in line two hours to confess cheating, hatefulness, indulging in worldly practices, and criticism of campus food. Students are accepted at Fort Wayne on the basis of their profession of faith, an administration official noted, so the day was more “kids getting honest with themselves and the Holy Spirit” than experiencing conversion. One student confirmed: “I’ve been here three years, and it’s about time I got straightened out.”
Asked why young people are getting “straightened out” now, Fort Wayne’s Grant Hoatson replied, “They’re tired of sham.” Many churches, he added, offer them “little to cling to in a world falling apart spiritually when they are looking for something solid.”
At some colleges they seem to be finding it. Yet not all the campuses Asbury students have visited have burst into revival flame. At Malone College in Canton, Ohio, for example, the response was a flicker of interest among a few students who attended a voluntary chapel meeting and gathered in the student lounge for a sharing session. And they, noted the college pastor, were mostly “Wesleyan-oriented.”
Interestingly, many colleges where the revival burned brightest have a Wesleyan (Asbury, Azusa Pacific, Houghton, Taylor) or Free Methodist (Greenville, Spring Arbor) heritage. They, along with some Nazarene colleges, may have lighted the torch, but its sparks are also falling on Baptist, Presbyterian, and other churches. Fanned by prayer, these sparks may yet ignite in a holy conflagration.
JOHN NELSON AND JANET ROHLER
Nelson, John, Janet Rohler, Janet Rohler, Jan J. Van Capelleveen, James Huffman, Odhiambo Okite, and Donald Tinder. 1970. “Asbury Revival Blazes Cross-Country Trail.” Christianity Today, 1970.