Tiger Take-off




Early speaks on Asbury events

Dr. Joe Early said he is hopeful the events at Asbury University recently will lead to lives changed and other positive effects. (Campbellsville University Photo by Gerard Flanagan)

By Gerard Flanagan, news writer and photographer, Office of University Communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – Were the 16 days of consecutive worship inside Hughes Auditorium at Asbury in February a revival, an awakening or something else?

“I don’t think you can call it anything yet,” Dr. Joe Early, professor of theology at Campbellsville University, said as he gave a lecture on the events at Asbury and a history of spiritual awakenings in America in the BASC Atrium on campus.

“You never know when the Holy Spirit is going to hit,” Early said. “You just don’t. It struck a nerve with those students.”

Early said a revival usually begins when a local church decides to dedicate several services designed to promote spiritual renewal and lead souls to Christ. The services usually are announced well in advance and led by a guest evangelist.

An awakening, on the other hand, occurs when many revivals spontaneously begin in the same general time frame and spread across a large area.

“Will lives be changed, or did the Holy Spirit leave on Feb. 24?” Early asked.

Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s most important theologians, used five signs to determine if a true revival was occurring: Jesus is exalted, the Holy Spirit acts against the influence of Satan’s kingdom by preaching sin and repentance, the Bible is exalted, sound doctrine is prevalent and the love of God and other people is promoted.

According to Early, a revival or awakening often begins in times of anxiety or stress.

“Almost every awakening or great revival that has happened, something stressful was going on,” Early noted. “What do you do when you’re stressed? You go to God in prayer. So there are a lot of people stressed and upset, and they gather in their churches.

“You’re preparing the ground for revival when you pray and practice spiritual discipline.”

In 1734, Edwards delivered a famous sermon known as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which is considered the catalyst for the First Great Awakening.

George Whitefield, another influential evangelist in the First Great Awakening, preached 130 sermons just in 1740, with his sermons focusing on repentance and sanctification.

The First Great Awakening resulted in as many as 40,000 people joining New England churches.

The Cane Ridge Revival, occurring in Kentucky’s Bourbon County during the Second Great Awakening, attracted as many as 25,000 people over a six-day period. In comparison, the population of Kentucky at that time was just 19,000.

“This is the Western United States,” Early said. “This is the frontier. You’re not guaranteed another day.”

Charles Finney, a Presbyterian minister and father of the modern revival movement, led the third phase of the Second Great Awakening.

Finney used what was called “New Measures,” which included announcing the meetings well in advance, holding them for several days, sending in advance teams, allowing women to speak, preaching in favor of abolition and inventing the “anxious bench.”

“He would set a bench up front for people concerned about their salvation,” Early said. “They could come up, pray at this bench, and seasoned Christians would come and help them.”

Finney, however, had no problems using means bordering on unethical to bring people to Christ, according to Early.

D.L. Moody, a shoe salesman turned revivalist, was the first evangelist to preach in a way that spoke to people who lived in crowded, urban areas.

“Moody also spoke frequently about social ills, especially poverty that was destroying urban cities,” Early said. “He felt that Christians had a responsibility to help alleviate these problems that were destroying lives.”

Billy Sunday, a former baseball player turned evangelist, would often slide onto the stage as if sliding into home plate, and he posted in ways to show off his athletic ability.

“He was a showman,” Early said. “He often wore a baseball uniform while he preached. He hired a circus giant to serve as an usher at one of his revivals.”

Early noted Sunday used plain language in his sermons, but he spoke in a rapid-paced manner. He frequently spoke on what he deemed were social issues of the day, and it’s believed he preached to more than 100 million people.

Billy Graham is considered the most influential evangelist of the 20th century. According to Early, Graham’s sermons were simple but powerfully delivered and stressed the necessity of repentance and conversion. It is believed that he preached to more than 215 million people.

“Though there are many evangelists preaching around the world today, no one has been able to step into his place and set the standard for evangelists since his passing in 2018,” Early said.

In analyzing the Asbury events, Early spoke to former student Fontez Hill, student ministry pastor at Church of the Savior in Nicholasville, and he assured Early nothing manipulative had occurred, and measures were taken to ensure manipulation would not happen.

John Proctor, whom Early also had as a student and who serves as pastor at Bethesda Community Fellowship in Russell Springs, said in part: “They have a unified purpose to wait for God’s presence, and that’s the reason I believe God’s meeting them there. It’s tangible. It’s special.”

Kelsey Overall, a sophomore from Loudon, Tenn., described the events at Asbury as “an amazing movement” of the Holy Spirit.

“This was pure. This was real,” she told Early. “You could just look around, and there were people from everywhere and every age…It was a healthy, chaotic environment.”

Early compared the latest events at Asbury to the Asbury revival of 1970.

“It, too, was led by students,” Early said, “God was praised, it was ‘healthy chaotic,’ lasted a good long while, spread to several different places with the same effect, and lives were changed by the Holy Spirit.”

Early said only time will tell if the Asbury events are a legitimate awakening.

“Like those who attended the 1970 Asbury revival, many of those who have attended 2023 services have returned to their homes, told of their experiences, and similar events have been reported on several Christian campuses,” Early said.

Early added, “If no lives are changed, if everything is back to the status quo at Asbury in six months, this was an extended college worship service. If lives change, and it spreads, it was a revival.”

On the other hand, Early noted, “If lives are changed, and it spreads, and it leads to growth in other places, and it was an awakening, and we really need an awakening in this country. I’m hopeful. I think it’s going to happen.”