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ASBURY REVIVAL 2023: Jake’s perspective (he’s a 2nd-year seminarian there)

February 17, 2023

Jake Dickerson, second year student at Asbury Theological Seminary, posted the following today, February 17, and has given his graciously expressed permission to share it —

I have spent the last two years at Asbury Theological Seminary, pursuing my MDiv and ordination in the United Methodist Church. Asbury Seminary is home to many of the greatest Wesleyan scholars (Dr. Kenneth Collins is a great example). As I am passionate about Wesleyan studies, I felt that Asbury would be a good place to cultivate this passion. Whenever I began my studies, I was excited to let people know where I was attending. I was frequently asked, “Isn’t that a fairly conservative school?” My impression of the classroom at Asbury Seminary was that it was a politically neutral space, despite the fact that many people viewed it as anywhere from moderately to extremely conservative. During my first year, I never felt that any of my professors were peddling ideologies to me or attempting to indoctrinate me to some hidden agenda. Last year, however, that changed.

JAKE ADVISES: Before reading further, note that the criticisms expressed in this article are not directed toward people, but toward institutions and ideologies.

United Methodists and United Methodist ministers are familiar with the grief, contention, anger, and pain associated with disaffiliation. Right now, there are many UM churches that are racked with tension, division, and hurt. Throughout these tensions, a myriad of lies, deceit, rumor-milling, and fear mongering tactics have stricken United Methodists with a deep spiritual and emotional wounding that only time, clarity, and the grace of God will heal. It is in this environment that the atmosphere I was experiencing at ATS began to change and ultimately meet me with rejection, suspicion, and some subtle forms of ostracization.

I knew that something had changed when in one class we were asked to apply an out of context quote by Wesley to our present day. This is the quote I mention:

“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

This quote was employed to suggest that there had been a stark departure from orthodox Christian doctrine in the United Methodist Church. If you’d like to know why and how this quote is out of context, feel free to read the full article here:

John Wesley’s Thoughts Upon Methodism

Here is an in-context analysis and application of that same article:

While the professor who asked us to respond to this quote did not explicitly state that the UMC had departed from orthodox belief, the implication was understood by many students, who then took to their forum posts to discuss why the GMC is a superior vision for the future and how the UMC had departed from orthodox teaching. One student presented a plethora of the same repeated platitudes and deceptive suggestions that many of us have heard from email chains, Facebook posts, tweets, and rumors circulating through local churches.

During the fall semester of 2022, I realized that not only had the atmosphere and reception of the United Methodist Church changed at ATS, but so had the theology expressed to me by the institution. In the classroom, terms such as “liberal” and “conservative” became commonplace. (I had never heard these terms thrown around at ATS before this semester.) And the character assassination of a few late, notable Methodist contributors was in full swing. For instance, when our professor mentioned Karl Barth in class, they were quick to point out Barth’s “liberal” influences without defining what “liberal” meant. The Wikipedia entry for “Liberal Christianity” defines the technical term as follows:

Liberal Christianity, also known as Liberal Theology and historically as Christian Modernism is a movement that interprets Christian teaching by taking into consideration modern knowledge, science and ethics. It emphasizes the importance of reason and experience over doctrinal authority.

In other words, calling Karl Barth a “liberal” without defining what “liberal” means misleads students, who then assume Karl Barth was politically liberal (as one would in the midst of a liberal vs. conservative ideological battle). Even if Barth were politically liberal, and whether or not you agree with all of the notions of theological liberalism, it would scarcely overshadow his major contributions to Christianity, one of which is mentioned in the Wikipedia article on Barth saying:

One major objective of Barth is to recover the doctrine of the Trinity in theology from its putative loss in liberalism. His argument follows from the idea that God is the object of God’s own self-knowledge, and revelation in the Bible means the self-unveiling to humanity of the God who cannot be discovered by humanity simply through its own intuition. God’s revelation comes to man ‘vertically from above’ (Senkrecht von Oben).

Barth fought to defend the doctrinal authority of the Trinity despite being a theological liberal at a time when it had fallen out of favor not only with theological liberals but also with fundamentalists. It is dishonest, deceptive, and convenient to undermine the work of a branch of theologians who have significantly impacted United Methodism over the past century by concealing this objective. It is intended to cast doubt on aspects of United Methodism that have contributed a great deal of good over the years, particularly with regard to divorce and racism.

This is a small example of the continued interweaving of biases at ATS, which, among other things, influenced my decision to leave Asbury Theological Seminary and study elsewhere.


When I learned about the revival at Asbury University, I became suspicious for several reasons. First, I grew up in a church that regularly held revivals, so I am familiar with the concept and am not necessarily opposed to it so long as fear, guilt, and supernaturalism are not fostered. As soon as I heard about this revival, I became concerned with the latter.

Over the last year, I began to hear strange undertones of supernaturalism in various places through the Asbury institutions from time to time. This has been in the back of my mind for a while, and I immediately wondered if this revival was a venue where these themes would emerge fully. They have. While functionally distinct institutions, Asbury Theological Seminary and Asbury University are not theologically distinct, and the theological climate of both institutions is non-denominational/Methodist aligning. 

My observation of supernaturalism in the Asbury revival began when I heard a student claim that a cloud had descended upon Asbury, manifesting the presence of the Holy Spirit. This was a strange claim, but I thought it was an isolated report until I heard it over and over. Since then, I have been on the lookout for additional instances of these claims, as I began to believe they would continue to expand. They did.

The second time I witnessed supernaturalism in the Asbury revival was when people began reporting “speaking in tongues.” Although common in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles, I have never heard anyone speak in tongues in any Wesleyan church I have ever attended. Whether or not you are comfortable with the concept of speaking in tongues, it is clearly stated in the Bible (reflected in Article XV of the Articles of Religion) that the spiritual gift, if present, must always be accompanied by an interpreter. There is no mention of a “personal prayer language” in scripture in relation to speaking in tongues. This article from the United Methodist Church’s website expresses the scriptural meaning of the gift without imposing a continuationist or cessationist view of spiritual gifts:

When presented as a “personal prayer language,” the practice is not only incongruent with scripture, but it also clearly begins to entwine empty, spiritualist elements that create an object of God. (more on this to come)

The third time I witnessed supernaturalism in the Asbury revival was when an exorcism was performed during and after a woman’s seizure, as evidenced by a video (which I will not share), in which people could be seen yelling, commanding a demon to free her. Not only was the video difficult to watch, but it also shocked me that the people gathered there (the entire sanctuary was packed) chose to speak with a demon rather than a doctor. More than this, they began to clap and cheer and sing; everything but seek medical attention. (Maybe they did afterword?) To put it plainly, I find that to be abhorrent. When did Methodists begin to believe that God’s grace is so feeble that the spirits of those already seeking God are susceptible to possession by demons?

There are some theological conundrums created by supernaturalism:

First, supernaturalism flies in the face of the Methodist view of freedom.

Wesley’s ministry was predicated largely on his (not fully developed, but clear and firm) libertarian view of freedom. Holding to a view of libertarian freedom means that Wesley believed we have free will. This philosophical notion, in part, sets in action how Methodist’s view personal and social holiness. Throughout his ministry, Wesley railed against John Calvin, a proponent of determinism (all things are already predetermined by God), so it is easy to see that he held this view. In addition, Wesley rejected compatibilism (soft-determinism), which sought a middle ground between the two opposing views (freewill v. determinism); we know this because The Westminster Confession (to which Wesley wrote a line-by-line retort) expresses a compatibilist view of freedom.

Why then does supernaturalism conflict with libertarian freedom? To maintain a libertarian view of freedom, theologies must accept that God maintains an “eschatological distance.” In other words, God does not interfere needlessly in our lives. This explains, for instance, why God does not stop natural evils such as tornadoes, earthquakes, and the like (though God has the obvious ability to stop them). It also explains why Methodists have maintained since our founding that God does not force people into non-consensual spiritual relationships.  It explains why we believe you can choose to reject God and why prevenient grace is central to our theology.

Large supernatural claims often conflict with our entire understanding of God as Methodists. It’s not that we believe that God cannot or does not operate in our world. Instead, the difference rests on which channels God is employing. The grace received through Christ affords us the opportunity, if we so choose, to enter God’s eternal story and become a means of grace in the world; we could say, “the hands and feet of God.” Due to this separation, we have good reason to believe that our God is a just God. God does not select some and reject others.

The second reason why supernaturalism boldly defies Methodism is because it deflects personal responsibility back on to God.

When we receive God’s justifying graces, we enter into a cooperative relationship with the Holy Spirit in order to conform to Christ’s image. In other words, when we enter the process of sanctification, all the power for spiritual transformation comes from the Holy Spirit, but it is up to us to use or waste the gift of grace we have received. God will never reject us or withhold his love or grace from us, but we may live our lives without regard for this grace. Supernaturalism trivializes our responsibility to God through salvation in Jesus Christ and trivializes God’s grace by creating something (a “wonder”) to be viewed apart from God which often objectifies and debases God. (You can read all about Jesus’ difficulties with this issue in the Gospel of John.) In addition, I know of no biblical passages that demonstrate a supernatural work without a clear, demonstrable purpose. Typically, the purpose was to “sow” the gospel message and prepare hearts for belief in Christ. (see the whole New Testament)

Lastly, supernaturalism has been frequently used to deceive, manipulate, and abuse people seeking God around the world. A good example is found in the debunking of Peter Popoff’s supernatural claims by the skeptic James Randi, which you can easily find on video. Popoff claimed he possessed the ability of “prophesy” and would “miraculously” call individuals from the congregation for a “faith-healing.” Using radio scanning equipment, Randi and his team discovered that Popoff was receiving messages from his wife via prayer request cards filled out prior to the service. Popoff took a hiatus when he was discovered, but, as far as I am aware, he returned and is still active.

I have written this article for a specific purpose. I have no vested interest in what occurs at Asbury, as I am leaving the institution (and was going to before any of this happened). Instead, I am disappointed by the criticism leveled at those of us who are skeptical about the nature of this revival. Why should Asbury be an exception to our pre-existing skepticism, given that we don’t accept high claims from other sources?

In addition, I believe that this revival is strategically positioned to whitewash the devastation that has occurred in numerous UMC communities. I’m not sure if you, the reader, have dealt with substantive disaffiliation discussions, but many of us have. This tension has destroyed lives due to deceit, lies, dishonesty, and irresponsibility.Asbury University, Asbury Theological Seminary, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, and the Global Methodist Church movement have propagated a number of falsehoods, which we hear about on a daily basis. Our division has had real, tangible consequences; it has stoked fear and resentment, suspicion in the local church, unjustified descension, mutinies against well-intentioned, faithful UMC clergy, and it has forced the hand of many who have no stake in the dispute regarding issues of human sexuality.

Still, I refuse to engage in hateful interactions with members of the GMC, ATS, Asbury University, or WCA. While I am critical of ideologies and institutions, I must constantly remind myself, and you, that we are of one God, one baptism, and one holy catholic church. We should not return evil with evil. Instead, stay hopeful, because God’s story is not yet complete. I wish the people of the Asburys well and intend to refrain, going forward, from discussing this event with anyone other than God. I have suffered alongside my UMC family and those who have left us and look to God’s grace for relief from this difficulty. Grace and peace be with you always, and to the end of eternity.

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One Comment
  1. Thanks. A bold and insightful critique


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