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How Evangelical Conditioning and Indoctrination Influences Revivals

asbury revival

I religiously follow a number of Evangelical blogs and news sites. Of late, there has been a lot of talk on these sites about the Asbury University Revival® and the subject of “revival” in general. Even non-Christian sites have published articles and opinion pieces about Asbury and revival. While it would be tempting to say that all this coverage is a sign that something important is going on, I suspect it is more likely that the coverage is more car-wreck interest than honest reporting on an alleged supernatural move of God among primarily Evangelical college students. With the recent release of Jesus Revolution, a movie that details the alleged grassroots revival among hippies and college students in the 1970s, some are suggesting that the current revival is the grandchild of the 1970s Jesus People revival.

As an atheist, I reject the notion that what is going on at Asbury, other Christian colleges, and even some state schools, is a supernatural work of God. Suggesting this idea is true is is a claim that cannot be verified. It is, at best, a faith claim, and when it comes to matters of faith, no empirical evidence will be forthcoming. I can suggest, however, what is fueling the revival and why some college students are so receptive to its messages and methodologies.

Every generation of young adults faces challenges and struggles as they attempt to find their place in society. I came of age in the 1970s. I remember the struggles I had trying to make my way in life, especially when Polly and I married and we had our first child. I had wants, needs, and desires, and these often conflicted with societal demands and expectations. Every generation goes through these struggles, but the struggles of present young adults seem to be unprecedented in some regards.

The United States is increasingly becoming a secular people, while at the same time Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, Mormons, Trumpists, and one of our major political parties wage what they believe is a “holy” war against secularism, liberalism, abortion, LGBTQ rights, and a host of other red meat issues. The latest culture war has now reached a fever pitch. We now have states and local governments banning books, outlawing clothing, criminalizing abortion, banning instruction on race, interjecting Evangelical Christianity into schools and government institutions, and attacking, condemning, and even banning certain behavior between consenting adults. In Florida and Texas, in particular, we see firsthand what happens Evangelicals gain the power of the state. Governor Ron DeSantis is a proud fascist, a man who has every intention of turning Florida into a Christian theocracy. My God, he is waging war against Mickey Mouse! Donald Trump is a buffoon and an idiot. DeSantis, on the other hand, is one of the most dangerous politicians in America.

Caught in the middle of this culture war that is largely fueled and promoted by their parents and grandparents, are millions of young adults. Generally more liberal and progressive than their parents, many young adults are worried about their future prospects. Throw in worries about climate change, health care, job security, student loan debt, inflation, and increased costs for housing and transportation, and young adults have a lot on their proverbial plates. Their angst over these things has led to increased substance abuse and mental health issues. These things make them more vulnerable to people, institutions, and movements who tell them that they have THE answer to their angst, and that answer is JESUS.

Young adults raised in Evangelical churches are taught that the Bible has all the answers to life’s questions and Jesus is all one needs to have a successful, fulfilled life. He is the cure for whatever ails you. Sunday after Sunday, youth meeting after youth meeting, this thinking is drilled into their heads. Not taught rational inquiry and skepticism, young adults are indoctrinated and conditioned in ways that promote certainty, conformity, and compliance. Everything they know about the bad, evil, sinful world they learned at church.

As long as young adults stay in the Evangelical box, all is well. Everything makes “sense.” Everything is internally consistent. However, there comes a day when young adults must leave the boxed-in walls of safety provided to them for eighteen to twenty years by their parents, pastors, and church families. Many of these young adults were either homeschooled or attended private Christian schools; places where the theological beliefs and practices of their parents and pastors are repeatedly reinforced. Some of these young adults graduate and enroll in classes at a Christian university or college. Again, the goal of these post-secondary institutions is to reinforce what students have already been taught; to keep them in church, and educate the next generation of culture warriors.

What happens, however, is that once young adults arrive at their next stop in the Evangelical indoctrination program, they find that they are free from the control of their parents, pastors, and churches. Young, full-of-life adults, with raging hormones and desires, find themselves in circumstances where they can imbibe in the things of the world; the world that their parents and preachers taught them was evil. And so they enjoy life, that is until preachers at chapel, professors, and parachurch ministry leaders on campus make them feel guilty over their newfound freedom.

These gatekeepers try to get these young adults to return to the safety of the Evangelical box. The goal is to keep young adults from wandering in the world and enjoying the pleasures of the flesh. One way they use is “revival.” Evangelical young adults feel guilty over their “sins.” How could they not? They have spent their entire young lives being beaten over the head with the “sin stick.” They carry in their minds long lists of prohibited behaviors. Yet, try as they might to behave otherwise, they love and enjoy participating in “worldly,” verboten conduct. In their minds they sing Debby Boone’s seminal hit, You Light Up My life: it can’t be wrong when it feels so right.

My wife, Polly, and I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the 1970s. Midwestern had strict rules governing student conduct, much like the churches we came from. Yet, we had freedom, albeit a guilty one. The rules forbade personal physical contact with the opposite sex. Most dating students, however, broke this rule. Some even engaged in premarital sex. Why? I know for Polly and me personally, the thrill of intimate physical contact far outweighed the threat of punishment for breaking Midwestern’s puritanical rules. The fear of getting caught and expelled only added to the thrill of the stolen kiss and other physical contact. You know, like the thrill of hotel sex or a moonlight romp on the beach. Yes, there were times when we talked about stopping our necking and rule-breaking. Sermons at church and daily chapel services made us feel guilty about our “sin.” What was normal human behavior had been deemed sinful and evil. When we would become overwhelmed with guilt, we would repent and promise God that we would not touch each other until our wedding day. Of course, the next date and the proximity to each other put an end to the promise we made to God. The road to Baptist Hell is paved with good intentions. When Polly was close by, God was no match for her beauty and charm.

I suspect what is going on among students at Asbury University and other Christian institutions of higher learning is angst about their place in an ever-changing, unsettled world and guilt over not measuring up to the moral standards of their parents, pastors, and church congregations. Into their uneasiness and inner turmoil come preachers armed with Bible verses, well-crafted sermons, and heart-wrenching illustrations, along with emotionally charged praise and worship music. These things tap into the students’ lifelong conditioning and indoctrination, giving birth to what Evangelicals are calling “revival.”

While the spiritual renewal is real and sincere (I, myself, have experienced revival numerous times as an Evangelical Christian and pastor), I suspect students will, in time, learn that revival is like a bath. Good at the time, but it doesn’t last. Once the thrill of revival recedes into the backdrop of life — and it most certainly will, as all revivals do — young adults will still have to figure out how to make their way through this thing we call life. Where they go from here is on them, not God or a temporary dopamine hit. Hopefully, they will take a hard look at how their parents, pastors, churches, and college parachurch leaders indoctrinated and conditioned them in hope of keeping them on the Evangelical straight and narrow. There is a better way.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    I remember going to revivals. Our denomination had camp meetings in the summer, and there would be daily preaching set up near the Christian school so we could easily attend, even in the summer. (My husband and I lived in an apartment while going to said college, and we were a stone’s throw from the college and the campgrounds.)

    You get a high from going, you feel like rededicating yourself once more to God, and get to feel like there is real change. And yet, most of my personal growth as an adult came from living outside the church and dealing with life. God did not heal my eating disorder, I had to come to terms and accept myself OUTSIDE of religion. I literally left my church because the behaviors exacerbated my ED. (This is simplistic but it is one of the core truths of my life.) I couldn’t stay in that religion and be emotionally healthy. I know some people did. I could not.

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    I listened to an episode of “Straight White American Jesus” podcast which hosted some experts on revivals, and they commented at how careful Asbury curated the Revival to exclude big name pastors (like Greg Locke) from taking stage. They excluded the use of shofars and made rules about who could be where and do what.

    I agree that large groups put on events to energize and invigorate their adherents. Religious groups do this with their revivals. Multi-level marketing companies put on conventions to invigorate salespeople to increase their efforts. Schools have pep rallies before sports events. Industry conventions are held to share knowledge, promote networking, and to get people energized about their industry. This emotional “working up” is a useful thing for human groups. And then there’s the letdown when it’s over, when we all return to normal everyday life.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      You might find this interesting. Written by former Evangelical Rick Pidcock, it suggests the “spontaneous “ revival was pre-planned ; that several big name preachers were central to the revival. Let me know what you think, ❤️

      Those who support calling the event a revival have hailed it as a spontaneous movement of God for repentance toward justice, with no political- or personality-driven agenda. But when we move from speculation about the guitar-strumming students on stage to discussing the facts about who is standing in plain sight right around the corner, serious questions arise.

      Francis Chan’s promotional video

      One week before the big revival surprise of Feb. 8, a coalition that backs the Collegiate Day of Prayer released a promotional video Feb. 1.

      The video starts with a narrator saying, “Fifty years ago, something extraordinary happened on one college campus.”

      Then a witness from the time adds: “I thought I had seen everything. But today, I saw something that I have never seen before.”

      A news anchor then comments: “It started at 10:00 yesterday morning. It didn’t end at 11:00 yesterday morning. It didn’t end at 11:00 last night. In fact, as Jim and I took the air, it was still going on.”

      Then others add: “It all started when one student gave his testimony. That was followed by another. And the testimonies have been going ever since. … And as it spread, people began coming in from all around.”

      Sound familiar?

      Then Francis Chan, an evangelical preaching megastar, comes onto the video saying: “God, would you show your mercy on him, on her just the way you did with me? Because this is their only hope. We need him to change their hearts so that they can change the direction of our nation. We’re asking you, please, join us, join us for this day of prayer, join us in praying for these young people, believe that God can usher in something new through the power of our prayers.”

      And how does the video end?

      With a call to action: “Join us on Feb. 23rd, live from Asbury University. Lord, do it again.”

      When God came

      Every February, faculty and students at Asbury University have one thing on their minds — revival. At their special two-hour chapel in Hughes Auditorium Feb. 3, 2020, they showed a documentary called “When God Comes: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary” of the 1970 Asbury Revival.

      During the documentary, former President David Gyertson says: “Have you ever asked yourself, ‘What happens when God really comes on the scene?’ I’m standing here in Hughes Auditorium, where in February of 1970, God came.”

      “When God Came” describes how they believe that happened. “God began to convict young people of their sin. They confessed that sin and received the cleansing power of God. But along with that, there came the filling of the Holy Spirit to do the things that God has asked us to do — to love him supremely and to go into all the world and preach the gospel.” From there, the documentary says the revival “began to fan out across the country.”

      Collegiate Day of Prayer

      According to the promotional video released the week before the current revival began, the Feb. 23 meeting with Francis Chan is part of a broader strategy for influencing colleges across the United States.

      The Collegiate Day of Prayer is led by a group of conservative evangelicals from the Luke 18 Project, Awaken the Dawn, the Passion Conferences, Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity, America Prays and others.

      Like Asbury University, the Collegiate Day of Prayer celebrates revivals of the past while connecting conservative evangelical assumptions about morality to the direction of the nation. “As the students go, so goes the nation,” they proclaim with the goal of “transforming the moral climate of America’s universities.”

      Part of their strategy is the “40-Day Jesus Fast.” Its promotional video features Lou Engle, an apostle with the New Apostolic Reformation that helped start The Call DC, POTUS Shield for President Trump, and yelled to 400,000 college students about throwing a Nazarite lunch box at a giant “Jezebel Spirit.”

      In addition to teaming up with Engle, the Collegiate Day of Prayer quotes an 18th century slaveholder, saying, “As Jonathan Edwards, father of the Great Awakening, observed, ‘It all began with the young people.’” The plan is to “win the spiritual battles across our nation” by hosting similar events at other colleges. An “Adopt a Campus” map shows 4,195 colleges adopted.

      But Chan won’t be the only evangelical celebrity in attendance. According to the promo video description, Baptist pastor Rick Warren and worship leaders from the charismatic revivalist church International House of Prayer also will be involved. These events spreading across the nation are preplanned by evangelical marketing experts.

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    I heard a comment on the Scathing Atheist today – maybe as many as 50,000 people joined in around the nation for this revival…….or 1/5 of the people that would turn up for Coachella….

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    Brocken Please listen to the last 10( give or take five minutes) minutes of this radio program. This section features someone who questions the long-term effects of the Asbury revival. It might be worth a laugh. Also prior to that speaker there is featured the Legacy series of the deceased Jimmy DeYoung Sr. Two of his sons are now continuing the radio program. It might be a good idea to not listen to this program unless your stomach is empty because you might feel like throwing up after listening to it.

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    Barbara L. Jackson

    I will say again what I said previously. Sounds like Woodstock for evangelicals. Like Woodstock, most of this was planned before the event.

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Bruce Gerencser