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Gratitude and the Asbury Revival


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First Things

Kent Dunnington
3 . 3 . 23

The revival at Asbury University began on February 8, 2023, when several students lingered to pray together after an ordinary weekly chapel service. By lunchtime, students were texting one another to say that something special was happening in the chapel, and by evening they were setting up sleeping bags in the pews to spend the night. They confessed sins, interceded for one another, cried tears of joy, sang worship songs, and basked in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Some spoke in tongues and prophesied. Others claim to have been miraculously healed of depression and anxiety. Despite occasional overt charismatic phenomena, all proceeded with an unassuming orderliness. The “outpouring,” as some are calling it, continued unabated for over two weeks, drawing national media attention, sparking spiritual movements on other college campuses, and attracting more than 50,000 people to the small town of Wilmore, Kentucky.

The Asbury revival is remarkable on many counts: Its “lo-fi” register in an age of megachurch pyrotechnics, its resistance to partisan capture, its Gen Z genesis. As the drama winds down, my thoughts turn to the significance of such events in the overall shape of the Christian life. How can the students whose lives were transformed by the Asbury revival translate their ardor into lifelong faithfulness?


As a college professor, I was especially struck by how many Asbury students narrated their experience of the revival in terms of a supernatural liberation from depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and other mental maladies. Struck because this is, indeed, the defining “sickness” of Gen Z, and struck as well by the grim knowledge that for many of these students, the darkness may return. My prayer is that they would find their way into Christian communities that form them for lifelong gratitude, even as the bright light of the revival dims. Such communities know that forever gratitude is the fruit of daily practices: the rehearsal of God’s goodness in the liturgy, regular Eucharist and prayers of thanksgiving, and a commitment to the works of mercy.

There is a reason that the Psalmist so relentlessly enjoins us to offer thanksgiving to God: It does not always come naturally. Forever gratitude may commence on the mountaintop, but it is sustained in the valley, where God sanctifies our desires through faithful practice so that we can gladly receive strange gifts from a strange God.

Kent Dunnington is professor of philosophy at Biola University. 

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