From The Coming Great Awakening
By David McKenna
Recalling that all of America’s historic Great Awakenings began on college campuses, David L. McKenna (President, Asbury Theological Seminary) boldly suggests how today’s youth can be in the vanguard of another, crucial reform of church and culture.
The Coming Great Awakening (InterVarsity Press) chronicles the cycles of historical revivals and cites current trends in an offering of hope. It is a fast-moving, hard-hitting field manual for college students who wait on edge for a spiritual awakening in our generation. “I am a realistic optimist,” says McKenna. “I do not believe that God has given up on our world.”
Throughout history, the pattern of revival and spiritual awakening is seen among small cell groups of young people praying for God to pour out His Spirit in an atmosphere of spiritual darkness.
- In 1734, a revival commenced under 31-year-old preacher Jonathan Edwards who led many of the teenagers of Northampton, Massachusetts out of moral degradation. Youth who were converted in 18th century America became known as the “New Lights.”
- The Great Awakening in the American colonies spread during the 1740s under the influence of a 23-year old itinerant preacher from England – George Whitefield – who, together with John and Charles Wesley, had formed a small prayer band at Oxford University ten years earlier. This group was derided at Oxford, being called the “Holy Club” and the “Methodists” by the other students in scorn.
- By the 1790s, American colleges had backslid into an atmosphere of blasphemy, drunkenness and attacks on the Christian faith. Small bands of Christians were forced to meet secretly to pray. Into this climate, Yale President Timothy Dwight, the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, began a series of lectures as an open forum on the Christian faith. Under his influence one half of the student body of Yale was converted.
- In 1806, a group of five students at Williams College gathered under a haystack to pray for revival and world evangelization. This small western Massachusetts college had become a seedbed of blasphemy, ridicule and heresy. But in a short while the Holy Spirit was poured out and many students were saved. This revival spread from college to college throughout America and gave rise to the American world missions movement.
- In the 1890s, the culture of America had sunk into materialism, hedonism and conflict. In England, American revivalist, D.L. Moody was ridiculed by students at an evangelistic meeting at Cambridge University. However, seven students gave their lives to Christ and became known as the “Cambridge Seven.” They networked with American students at twenty state universities and spawned the “Student Volunteer Movement.” Out of this revival came groups such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Student Mission Association. As a result, thousands of young people were released onto the mission field for the goal total world evangelization.
The decade of the 1990s, not unlike the 1790s and 1890s, may well be the decade of destiny for our century. If the pattern of history holds, a Great Awakening in the 20th century would be confirmed by an outpouring of God’s Spirit on Christian students on the college campuses who see a redemptive vision for our moral pigsty.