Friday, February 24, 2023

Some Thoughts On Asbury

I’ve waded through a lot of hot takes, knee-jerk reactions, profound reflections, critiques, praises, and personal testimonies the past two weeks concerning the events in Asbury. First, I will overviews what’s happening (or by the time I publish this, ‘happened’) at Asbury. The overview will not be unbiased, as I am going to push back against some of the outsiders looking in based on what I am reading from the insiders looking out. Second, I will offer some observations about how to put theological guardrails around moments like these so that good movements of God don't go bad.

It began after a chapel message that the speaker thought had completely flopped. I listened to the message.[1] It was an excellent challenge about the importance of loving other people as Jesus would have us love them. It started like this:
“I hope you guys forget me but anything from the Holy Spirit and God’s Word would find fertile ground in your hearts and produce fruit. Romans 12. That’s the star, okay? God’s Word and Jesus and the Holy Spirit moving in our midst, that’s what we’re hoping for.”
After he challenged them to love others with the love of Jesus, he noted that doing this sounds impossible, and it is – unless we have Jesus. He reminded the students that our ability to love others well will come from the love Jesus has shown to us flowing out of us; in my words, we can only pay forward what God has given to us through Jesus. He gave them a particular challenge: if you are having trouble loving others well, you need to pray that you understand and experience the love of Jesus. That’s the only way it will work.

I’ve heard some criticism of this sermon for not preaching “the whole gospel.” Listen. It was one of three-times-a-week chapels at a Christian college. This sermon had a particular focus on a particular morning. It was great. Speaking as a pastor who preaches a lot, if someone would take one isolated sermon and judge me or our church based on that one sermon, I would find it grossly unfair. Same with the times I've spoken in chapel at the local Christian high school. It’s like judging the plot or message of a book based on one chapter. Sermons (and chapels at Christian colleges) occur in a much broader context. Speakers don’t cover everything every time.

The next unexpected spark in what would become a fire[2] was a public confession/repentance from a student shortly after that message. I don't know what this student confessed, but if it built from the message, it was inspired by a conviction to love others well. One student reported that, in the following days, she observed students who couldn’t stand each other praying together and reconciling.[3] That tracks with the focus of the sermon.

It quickly swelled as a grass roots movement characterized by repentance and personal renewal/refreshing. Remember: the focus was on the importance of understanding and experiencing the love of Jesus – which is what many are reporting to have felt strongly. To criticize this moment for not necessarily going beyond that seems to me to be unfair. Meanwhile, there wa a lot of Scripture reading interspersed, a sermon every night, clear calls to repentance,[4] and people making first-time decisions to follow Jesus.