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Is the Asbury revival a white-washed tomb?
A revival without political outcomes is what Jesus calls a white-washed tomb, beautiful on the outside but on the inside full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.
The Asbury Outpouring, or revival, a spontaneous extension of their chapel (that has been going on non-stop for over a week) is collecting the attention of Christians on Twitter, religious commentators, and pastors across the spectrum. I think that this collection of essays from Trey Ferguson offers an important perspective. I also very much appreciated Nadia Bolz-Weber’s commentary on the revival as well. I appreciate the hope Nadia provides and the context that Trey, Robert, and Sharifa offer as well. My perspective comes from someone who never really got engulfed in worship as a spiritual experience as a lad.
I grew up in a fundamentalist environment where Spirit-saturated worship services were part of the experience. I remember the intensity of worship, the drama of it, and the expectation that we should have a deep and profound experience. I rarely did, but I remember really trying to have it. I don’t doubt that my peers did, but such a thing never occurred to me. Of course, this led me to think I was a fraudulent Christian. Obsessed with who was a real Christian and who wasn’t, one basic criterion was our experience in worship. If I were at Asbury right now, I’d wonder when I could leave worship. I’d wonder if I did, would that mean I was a bad Christian? I’d wonder if this was the only way to do church and to follow Jesus.
I do not want to be cynical about the revival at Asbury. I don’t think it’s manufactured or artificial, and I don’t have a right to conclude that about it. I’m not there witnessing the events, I merely live-streamed. I don’t think I’d be comfortable in a room worshiping in a way that doesn’t resonate with me (and with all of those white people too), but I don’t want to knock it on its face. I do think it is OK for us to say, “that is not for me.”
But even if the spiritual outpouring is real over at Asbury, it seems to be caught up in an individualized American Gospel. It seems to be stuck in a Christianity where personal experience and individual salvation (or a “personal relationship with God”) is placed at the center of our spiritual experience. I do believe the Spirit is real and alive and moves through our bodies and the Body of Christ, but I am not sure the fruit of that movement is just a prolonged worship service.
With that said, the MAGA Christians who have been calling for a revival seem to be silent about the decidedly apolitical outpouring at Asbury. What is interesting, is that I do think revival should lead to personal lives and societies transforming, just not in the way the MAGA Christians want!
When I look to the Bible, and the examples of the Spirit moving, I see a new way of living follow, I see material (and political outcomes), I see a radically transformed way of life. When the Spirit descends on Pentecost the way of life for the Jerusalem Church changes:
“Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
The worshipping community experiencing a revival at Pentecost demonstrated immediate material outcomes of their worship and devotion. True worship results in material change and in genuine political outcomes. I believe that could happen at Asbury too, but I believe that the fruit of revival matters as much as the spontaneous days-long worship service.
Consider Cornelius, who is the first Gentile convert. Cornelius “gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. His alms are an act of worship that God received. The Lord speaks to him directly in Acts 10 and says, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” Cornelius’ material acts of generosity were seen as worship before God, and in fact, those very acts are what made Cornelius presentable before God. Jesus, in Luke 11, suggests that “being generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.”
A revival without material outcomes is like cleaning the outside of the cup and dish, but inside it is full of greed and wickedness. A revival without political outcomes is what Jesus calls a white-washed tomb, beautiful on the outside but on the inside full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. I am not using Jesus’ polemical language to describe what is happening at Asbury, but warning that without material outcomes – without love expressed – it is a resounding gong and a clanging cymbal, as Paul says.
There must be fruit to our worship. Not all of us can and will experience ecstasy in worship. But we can all experience material outcomes that follow. For worship to be real, discipleship needs to follow. Even societal transformation can happen when the Spirit is poured out. It remains to be seen what the outcomes of Asbury will be. But worship must produce fruits of righteousness and justice, and Asbury may have that. But the jury is out until then. How will lives be changed and formed? Who will these worshipers become? How will the Gospel be expressed? I await these answers.