- The future of bible colleges and seminaries is unclear. But the trend of decline is something that is worth exploring more collaboratively with the community that you’re a part of.
The Asbury revival comes at a critical time for Christian higher education as many schools face enrollment declines and shifting educational priorities. So we wondered, does the revival suggest a revival of purpose for Christian colleges? We interviewed Dr. Tanya Riches – BA, MA, MPhil, PhD – of the University of Birmingham her thoughts on the topic.
Will this moment of revival affect the mission of Christian Colleges going forward?
Dr. Tanya Riches: Throughout history, various student movements have taken place in Christianity, and many of these also resulted in what can be considered extraordinary outcomes. The most notable is the “Great Century” of mission that Robert D. Woodbury demonstrated resulted in the rise of liberal democracy at many educational, medical, and other institutions. The Ashbury revival seems similar, in that it seems difficult to predict what the outcomes will be – likely a job for historians.
How can Christian educational institutions pivot?
Christian educational institutions generally should be using this moment to work out how to serve their constituencies by creating a safe place for the pursuit of God. That doesn’t mean sitting everyone in a circle and attempting to copy what is happening in another place! That means seeking God for how they can facilitate the growth and ministries of their students, rather than merely seeking to promote the brands or institutions and/or denominations that they represent.
Do you see similarities to The Jesus Movement of the ’70s?
There are various similarities across all revivals. However, it’s interesting that many of those who became pastors from the Jesus People Movement later built megachurch organizations that have in many ways changed the very expression of the Christianity they were so drawn to. Maybe this revival can be considered a call back to more grass-roots forms of the faith?
Has social media affected this revival? Good or bad?
Having been a part of a revival at Hillsong in the 2000s with many youths participating, my instinct is not to follow Asbury on social media, or to try and work out what is happening there necessarily, but to remember that Jesus’ work was incarnational.
Therefore, my work needs to be the same. My community needs an expression of the gospel right now. Many people in my city and network are hurting, for so many reasons. They need a real, authentic expression of Christ incarnate where they are, and real solutions to the problems they face. And so, it’s OK if you’re not watching Asbury with bated breath. It’s OK if you’re just seeking to witness Jesus in your part of the hurting world at this time.
Will this revival moment affect the future of bible colleges?
The future of bible colleges and seminaries is unclear. But the trend of decline is something that is worth exploring more collaboratively with the community that you’re a part of. Your seminary might need to start more reading and critical evaluation. It might feel called to prayer and worship. It could be called to advocate for the poor or homeless in your city. Whatever is happening, it is worth noticing and celebrating. What is God doing amongst you today? Maybe that’s what we can learn from Asbury, that we need to be listening or attending to where God is at work amongst us right now.
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Tanya Riches is Masters Coordinator of Transformational Development at Eastern College, Melbourne. She is one of the leading researchers into the megachurch Hillsong. Additionally, in her PhD she traced the links between liturgy/worship and development outreach in Australia’s urban Aboriginal-led Pentecostal Churches.