New Awakening: Really?

It is understandable that the announcement of a new Awakening would evoke the question, “Really? You really believe we are in a time of new Awakening?” Before going farther in this series, I want to respond to the question. For one thing, it is the question I asked when I first heard others announcing it. And it is the questions I am asked whenever I speak or write, “Really? Do you really believe we are in a time of new Awakening?”

A bit farther in this series I will describe some of the signs which indicate we are in a new Awakening. Today, I want to write generally to say why I answer “Yes” to the question. I find my general sense in the biblical stories of the Exodus and the return of the exiles from captivity, and later in the emergence of the Christian movement. From them I see these things about awakenings…

First, they seem like a dream. Psalm 126 sums up how we feel at the outset of an awakening. The slaves in Egypt must surely have heard Moses’ words, “Let my people go” as a dream, or worse, a pipe dream. The call to go home from exile sounded too good to be true. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost left people amazed, and asking “What is this all about?” The natural response to an announcement of awakening is, “Really?”

Awakenings are not in the headlines; in the beginning they are tucked away on back pages and in fine print. They begin in upper rooms, not temples. The attention-getters are the meanness and mayhem delivered to us each day in the media. But as the psalmist wrote, the dreamlike state is the new Reality, the restoration of life….the movement from darkness to light. Awakenings always begin by seeming unbelievable.

Second, the early announcers look like naïve optimists. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech was received that way by many, even some in the civil rights movement. But in reality, his words were a prophetic declaration that change was under way. The words of Moses and those of later prophets to the exiles were messages for the people to take notice that God was doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). Peter’s sermon at Pentecost cast the vision. As I write these words, the transformation we long for is already occurring. Our call is to recognize it and join the advancement of it as instruments of God’s peace.

Third, the awakening is not universal. It is seen in little “movements” not in a mass movement—in pieces and parts, not wholes. I will illustrate this when I begin writing posts about the signs of the new Awakening. In addition, the awakening is not uniform. It is farther ahead in some places than others. People still in the tunnel have more trouble believing there is light at end of it. Moreover, not everyone joins in. It is estimated that only about 43,000 of the exiles returned home. Many stayed put, and for a variety of reasons. The point is, an awakening is never universal—even at its height. We announce it and participate in it because it is Real, not because it is everywhere.

Fourth, an awakening moves slowly, and with setbacks. The Exodus us “Exhibit A” for that. Awakenings are a mixture of success and failure. Even the leaders of it don’t always get it right. The Wesleyan doctrine of “the repentance of believers” is in full gear during awakenings. Humility characterizes the journey of transformation. Moreover the work is not accomplished quickly, and many only see the promised land, they do not enter it (Hebrews 11). But here is what all those who become new-Awakening people do: we run the race set before us, looking to Jesus—the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). We run our leg of the race…that’s it.

Fifth, awakenings are resisted by “the powers that be.” Every time. Why? Because the “principalities and “powers” equate their “kingdoms of this world” with the kingdom of God. They clutch their pearls of egotism and ethnocentrism, dwell in their human-created empires of supremacy and subjugation, make the status quo a sacred cow, and push back when someone says, “the emperor has no clothes on.” Long before prophets arrive, they have dug their wells (Jeremiah 38), built their prisons (Acts 16:24), deified their group (John 8:39), and excommunicated those unlike them (John 9:22). But they cannot prevail. Love prevails. The darkness cannot extinguish the light (John 1:5).

These are some of the reasons a growing number of people, living in one of the most tumultuous times we can remember, nevertheless declare there is a new Awakening. To those who rightly ask, “Really?” we joyfully reply, “Yes, oh yes, there is a new Awakening. Aslan is on the move!” I do declare.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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