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Encountering the Holy Spirit: Asbury College and the Transfiguration

Reflecting on the revival happening at a Kentucky Christian school and Jesus' Transfiguration, Andrew Taylor-Troutman considers the Holy Spirit’s call to action.

People join together to worship inside Hughes Auditorium. Photo by Fiona Morgan

Last Sunday, many congregations heard the account of Jesus transforming into an angelic being, shining with light. Jesus was glowing! But “the glow without the go” is mere spiritual pleasure, not discipleship.

That was the statement of Mark Wingfield, executive director of Baptist News Global. He did not have the Transfiguration in mind, but the recent events at Asbury College. On February 8, at the regularly scheduled chapel service, worshippers felt a strong presence of God. They worshipped almost continuously until February 20! There were prayers, laying on of hands, plenty of music, the occasional sermon and testimony. It’s been led by students and, as Nadia Boltz-Weber put it, “There is such a simplicity, and dare I say, a humility to it.”

People attend a revival in Hughes Memorial Auditorium on the campus of Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. Video screen grab

Worshippers have flocked from all over the state and country. Many people appear to be moved, and I don’t think we should judge someone’s sincerity …

But that certainly doesn’t stop people! I found myself agreeing with Boltz-Weber: “I swear that social media should just be called ‘Joy Stealers Anonymous.’” Analysis has its uses, but I’ve been left over the past couple days wondering: can we just absorb something with open-hearted awe and curiosity?”

I have hopes for this worship experience at Asbury College. May it be much more than a “He Gets Us” commercial for Jesus, here today and gone tomorrow.

At the same time, I appreciate Wingfield’s analysis by way of connection to other scriptures about revival — true revival bears the fruit of discipleship, not just emotional experiences. When the Holy Spirit inspires, people are compelled to action. It’s not just a warm, fuzzy moment. The Day of Pentecost sent disciples into the streets. The women left the empty tomb to tell others. These are examples of people compelled to go, not stay in one place.

The Transfiguration is another example. Peter would like to stay on the mountain and set up camp for a tent revival! Bask in the glow! But Jesus says you have got to go! He laid hands on the disciples, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

Overcoming fear is yet another connection to scripture’s accounts of the first Pentecost and Easter morning. Once again quoting Wingfield, “American needs revival … to look more like God’s faithful rather than God’s fearful.” And this is not always going to feel warm and fuzzy. Not if we are following Jesus to minister to the hurting people in need.

Attendees come forward to pray together during worship at Hughes Auditorium. Both floors were completely full of attendees for the service. Photo by Fiona Morgan

Just down the road in the Kentucky legislature, lawmakers are poised to enact anti-LGBTQ legislation. Novelist Silas House tweeted his wish that worshippers would stand up for people’s rights. I hope they will. I hope we will!

For worship can change us. What takes place in our congregations on Sunday morning is not a mere pause in our week. Worship can help us see the world differently and, just as importantly, see ourselves as doers of justice and lovers of kindness. Perhaps, as Boltz-Weber saw at Asbury, in simple ways.

The Shakers stemmed from a revival movement in the 18th century. Part of their enduring legacy is the worship hymn “Tis’ the gift to be simple” with the line, “Tis’ the gift to be simple, tis’ the gift to be free/ tis’ the gift to come down where you ought to be.” I have sung that for years, but in the glow of the reading of the Transfiguration on the mountaintop, I came to hear this very familiar tune with new ears — “the gift to come down …” Come down the mountain means come out of the sanctuary.

Violence and discrimination are tragically nothing new in this country. Perhaps this generation of college students will make a positive difference — a glowing difference, a glow and go. Perhaps they will inspire us to beat swords into plowshares and let justice come down like a river.