Asbury University Revivals

The Long but Little-Known History

Asbury University is a topic in the news this month. But few people know the long history of spontaneous revivals at Asbury. In 1995 Wesley Duewel of One Mission Society wrote, "Probably no major campus in America has experienced revival more frequently than Asbury College." In other words, there have been numerous outpourings at Asbury besides 2023.

I graduated from Asbury University in 1974 with a degree in history. In 2015 I returned while on sabbatical to begin research on a book, Spontaneous Revivals: Asbury College 1905-2006, Firsthand Accounts of Lives Transformed. Below is my comparison of the current outpouring with 12 earlier ones. How are they similar and how are they different?

How This Revival Is Similar to All The Rest

First, all twelve follow the same pattern. As early as 1906, Asbury president Dr. B.F. Haynes described what he called, "A Veritable Pentecost at Wilmore, Kentucky." He wrote:

The following facts distinguish it from any and all other meetings I have attended in a period of thirty-five years:

1) It was unplanned and unexpected.

2) The absolute absence of human leadership.

3) It occupies everybody and all our wakeful hours.

4) Students are called for foreign mission work.

5) Unusual profound conviction pervades the assembly. The entire chapel is an altar.

6) Not one indecorous thing has yet been done or indiscreet word uttered amid all this holy recklessness and divine order.

I haven't told half the story. It cannot be told in human words. I wish I could portray its grandeur, its glory, and its graciousness. The work is not a week old yet. I know not when it will close. (Catalogue of Asbury College, 1906-1907)

Second, they begin in an unlikely country town (like Bethlehem?), at a small Wesleyan-based college.

Third, all erupt unexpectedly, but once begun they are grassroots, student-initiated, and student-led, with no hype or agenda. Campus officials wisely step aside (assuming minimal oversight) to allow the Holy Spirit to control the direction of the proceedings. After all, how does one control the Wind? Gatherings are very organic, with worship and prayer-leaders “seeking zero attention.”

Fourth, invariably there is a sense of God's incredible and tangible presence. Among other features, hallmarks are intense hunger for God, people getting right with God, getting right with each other, forgiving and forgetting past offenses.

Fifth, there is varied success in sustaining the fruits of revival through follow-up in the basics of biblical discipleship.

How This Revival Is Different from Any Other

First, 2023 is the first Asbury revival in the digital age. Communication travels at lightning speed through social media, live news feeds, and videos. Revivals in the rotary-dial telephone and automobile era had limits.

Second, I classify Asbury revivals as "Mega" and "Smaller" in scale. I am a contextual observer of postmodern culture and a student of past spiritual awakenings. I believe 2023 is the first "Mega-Mega" outpouring, running night and day, and the longest in duration.

Third, like a magnet, the 2023 outpouring has given rise to massive "spontaneous spiritual pilgrimages." Thousands have come, some from as far away as Hawaii, Mexico, New Zealand, and Indonesia. They stand in line (even in the rain) seeking God's presence. Previous years drew outsiders, but nowhere near 2023 levels.

Fourth, denominational impact has broadened, even beyond Protestant circles. “It’s almost like a wellspring,” said Father Norman Fischer, pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in Lexington, Kentucky, and chaplain at Lexington Roman Catholic High School. “You just know right away that God is there.” A 6-year-old parishioner said the singing made her feel as if “Jesus was right next to me.”

Fifth, initially 2023 was centrifugal (attracting people to the center) rather than centripetal (inspiring teams to go out to tell the story). In earlier Mega revivals teams of two to four humble Asburians traveled to share a simple witness from coast to coast. During the past forty-five years, professors and graduates from universities in Oklahoma and Texas told me how in 1970 their college was impacted by an experience of unprecedented Shekinah glory (see Leviticus 9:23; 1 Chronicles 7:1-2; Acts 2). As I write, Asbury is seeking to return to a "normal" schedule; yet missional outreach is raging like a wildfire to other colleges, churches, and communities.

Rev. Dr. Suzanne Nicholson, a professor of New Testament at Asbury, writes movingly “God calls us to perfect love of both God and neighbor... If we keep this refreshing Spirit to ourselves, then we have missed the point. God has given us shalom—wholeness and healing and flourishing—so that we can bring the love of God to others. If we proclaim the love of Jesus but do not demonstrate God’s love by helping the poor and destitute, then we are nothing but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). God forbid that we turn these songs of praise into nothing more than a noisy interruption.”

Important Clarifications

Relatively smaller scale Asbury revivals are still vitally important. How?

It seems God has sought to preserve the spiritual integrity of the school for current and future purposes. For instance, Professor Roy Lauther wrote:

In February, 1992, it was not an easy time for faculty or members of the Board of Trustees. Some were considering separation. On the student level, top concerns were apparently fairly normal (the change to semesters, cafeteria food, and parking spaces), but inside many students were wrestling with deep spiritual and moral issues.

At the conclusion of chapel on April 3, the student body president stood to speak. He bravely stated that while most of his fellow students perceived him to be a strong person, he was actually a "sham" and desperately needed prayer. After the shock, others followed. Classes were scheduled to resume at 11 a.m. The front of the chapel was filled with young men and women. Classes were canceled. Some students literally crawled to the altar.

Though he is not one to ascribe personal impressions to the voice of the Holy Spirit, Dr. Lauther sensed God saying, “This is not going to be a revival like 1950, 1958, or 1970; it is not intended for the broader world. I am here to cleanse the altar. This is about Myself and My bride.”

Thus, when someone wanted to video the proceedings, it was vetoed, and similarly with attempts by outsiders (perhaps well-meaning) to steer the gatherings in other directions.

I believe Asbury (and particularly Hughes Chapel) is a "thin place" between earth and heaven. Like Bethel or Jerusalem in ages past, there are certain places and times when God comes among his people. Certainly, every place can become a "thin place" (a garage, office, or Brother Lawrence's kitchen). But at Asbury, God kept the revival embers burning (a remnant if you will) to someday light larger fires to illumine and bless the nations (see Genesis 12:3).

Conclusion, with a Personal Note

A colleague asked, "Why Asbury?" I replied, "Why Abraham, David, or Bethlehem?" In Deuteronomy we read, "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples" (Deuteronomy 7:7). To their credit, I can document how the founders of Asbury (1890) endured much opposition. Although they would be first to acknowledge their unworthiness, God honors those who honor him (1 Samuel 2:30). Once they stepped out, they never looked back.

Personally, I have experienced Shekinah glory (palpable occurrences of God's presence and power) while at Asbury and since. But I never participated in one of our spontaneous revivals. When I started researching and writing on the subject, I asked Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, president during the 1970 outpouring, "Why would God choose such an unlikely person to pursue this project?" He replied, "Sometimes God chooses unlikely people."

To some degree we all want to be the hero in the story. It was the original temptation Satan posed to Adam and Eve, "Just eat the fruit of the tree and you will be like God." As human history tragically reveals, this leads to a train wreck.

There can be only one Hero in God's story. He alone is risen from the dead. He alone will one day reign forever. We know His Name. JESUS!

To God Be the Glory!

Rev. Dr. Robert Kanary (Bob) graduated from Asbury University in 1974, and completed his doctoral degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1988. Upon retiring from pastoral ministry in 2019, he became an associate staff member with the Navigators. Find out more at his website,

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