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Opinion: Is Revival Breaking Out at Cedarville U?

By Julie Roys
Cedarville University Revival
Cedarville University President Thomas White and students pray at Jeremiah Chapel last week. (Source: Facebook/Cedarville U.)

Last week, Cedarville University’s campus newspaper, Cedars, reported a “spiritual awakening” at the Ohio Baptist school. Likewise, The Christian Post reported an “‘outpouring of the Lord’ in campus revival” at Cedarville. And both CBN and Fox News announced that the “Asbury Revival” had spread to other schools, including Cedarville University.

Truly, something unique happened at Cedarville last week. Many students were touched. And if reports are accurate, several even made first-time professions of faith.

But unlike Asbury’s revival, the events at Cedarville were not merely “spontaneous,” as reported by some. Nor were the worship and prayer gatherings led entirely by students—a hallmark of Asbury’s revival, and revivals historically.

Instead, the catalyst at Cedarville appeared to be University President Thomas White. And strangely, the chapel that sparked the latest events included a student-led protest that White and his talk of revival mostly quashed.

The morning chapel on Monday, February 13, began rather tensely.

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Juniya Franks
Cedarville student Juniya Franks, who’s charged with felony assault in connection with a campus stabbing.

The previous week, a stabbing at Cedarville, involving two students, rocked the campus. The alleged female assailant, Juniya Franks, was charged with felony assault. However, Franks told police she acted in self-defense. And the incident seems to have ignited latent frustration among some students and alums who say the university’s Title IX office has mishandled sex abuse and harassment cases.

This is not the first time Cedarville students or staff have complained about the school’s Title IX process. In 2020, in the wake of a scandal involving White’s hiring of a known sexual predator, a student alleged the school had failed to protect her after she filed a Title IX complaint. Similarly, an employee reported that she had been sexually harassed by the head of the pharmacy school and pressured by Cedarville to accept an “informal resolution of the matter.”

The school has since hired a full-time Title IX Coordinator and revamped its Title IX office, but the complaints have continued.

Protest organizers told The Roys Report (TRR) that they designed the walk-out Feb. 13 to show solidarity with sex abuse victims and bring attention to Title IV mismanagement. However, White apparently received word of the impending walk-out. At the beginning of chapel, he addressed the situation head-on, warning students not to “fill in gaps with rumors” or to succumb to their “typical sinful inclination . . . to assume the worst.”

cedarville protest
On February 13, students walk out of chapel at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, to protest the school’s alleged mishandling of Title IX cases. (Courtesy image)

White also defended the school’s new Title IX office, saying the people in the office had dedicated their career to listening to victims and “seeking justice.” And it defies “logic” that these professionals would not care for victims, he said.

White then shifted gears and began talking about revival. White said he had just visited Asbury University and then exclaimed, “I’ve had to confess before the Lord—‘Lord, I’ve had a little pity party here. I want revival on our campus. I want that to happen here.’”

Then, White announced he was going to change the normal chapel format. Instead of preaching a single message, he would lead the student body in prayer for God to “show up in a unique way.” They would then sing, White would lead them through a portion of Scripture, and then they’d repeat the process.

White also announced that he had reserved a building on campus that evening for students “to come join me for a time of prayer—just for healing, unity, our country, our nation, our campus, for revival, for God just to pour out on us.”

Thomas White’s opening remarks:

White’s remarks evidently inspired the student body. But they had a chilling effect on the planned walk-out.

Emma Burgess, a protester and 2020 alumna, told The Roys Report (TRR) that more than 50 students had planned to participate in the walk-out. But after White’s comments, only 12 to 15 people followed through. Burgess added that some students mocked and laughed at protesters as they walked out.

The walk-out reportedly occurred about 11 minutes into chapel. It can’t be seen on video of the chapel service posted online, which initially had an abrupt jump-cut around the time of the walk-out. This has since been fixed.

Burgess labeled White’s comments a “classic example of weaponized guilt, smokescreens, and misdirection.” Similarly, Jonathan Sweetman, an alum who began the blog “Cedarville Interpreter,” accused White of planning his message and chapel “to make it as physically and emotionally difficult as possible to walk out.”

The rest of the chapel service continued as though the protest hadn’t occurred. White kneeled and offered impassioned prayers. And the student body responded enthusiastically—sometimes cheering, calling out, and worshipping with raised hands.

At the end of chapel, a tearful White knelt and prayed, “Oh God! I don’t even know what happened! I don’t know what to do! . . . I want to see you move in such a way we can’t contain it, we can’t control it, and that we can’t manage it, and that we can’t contain it. So Lord, move . . .”

Worship following the chapel on Feb. 13 extended into the late afternoon for dozens of students, Cedars reported. That evening, about 1,000 students returned to the chapel  for prayer and worship. On Tuesday, chapel spilled over into class time. And on Wednesday, Cedarville President Thomas White urged students to evangelize neighboring campuses.

“Let’s go tell them about Jesus,” White said. “And if the Lord’s doing something great across our country, that’s going to start an awakening and a revival on their campus, and that’s going to spread like wildfire.”

Two student groups reportedly responded to White’s call. A group of about 200 Cedarville students and members of a local church visited Ohio State University and shared their stories with students there, The Christian Post (CP) reported. Another group of 14 students visited Michigan State University. Students told CP that “no salvation decisions were made” but “seeds were planted.”

Thomas White
Cedarville U President Thomas White leads students at an evening prayer and worship service Wednesday, Feb. 22, at Jeremiah Chapel. (Source: Facebook)

This week, life on Cedarville’s campus seemed more normal. Chapels ended on time. But some students gathered with President White on Wednesday evening “to share testimonies, pray, read Scripture, and worship God,” according to the university’s Facebook page. 

I’m not a skeptic when it comes to revival. I believe what happened and is happening at Asbury is a move of God. But I have concerns about events at Cedarville—or at least, how these events unfolded.

The revival at Asbury did not seem in any way manufactured or contrived. By all accounts, the chapel message that preceded Asbury’s revival was rather mundane. No one came forward at the end to pray or commit their life to Christ. But as students stayed and prayed, “an unexplainable, surreal peace descended upon the room,” described The Atlantic.

Only when the spontaneous service extended into the evening did administrators and faculty form an ad hoc revival committee—not to enflame what was happening, but to protect it, reported Christianity Today.

“We were just trying to keep up,” Asbury Dean of Students Sarah Thomas told CT. “ . . . (People) are showing up and they’re desperate for God. We’re just trying to stay alive and trying to honor what is happening.”

This is very different from the emotionally-charged chapel service, followed by a scheduled evening worship gathering, that sparked the “revival” at Cedarville.

Though White warned in the Feb. 13 chapel that revival can’t be “fabricated” or “faked,” his actions were, at minimum, leading and suggestive. What’s even more concerning was that White’s pleading for revival came as he was trying to quash a student protest. This makes his actions seem especially self-serving.

Rather than labeling protesters’ concerns “rumor” and “sinful,” White should have listened to and prayed for student survivors of sexual harassment and abuse. That would have shown the care and concern White espoused that he and his Title IX office had. Instead, his actions communicated that he and his administration are dismissive, shaming, and tone-deaf.

White’s emotional performance throughout the chapel was reminiscent of his emotional apology three years ago when news broke that he had hired a sexual predator. (That apology has since been removed from Cedarville’s website, but is included in a podcast I recorded on the topic.) Sadly, White made claims during his 2020 apology that pastors close to the situation told me were blatantly false. But people bought White’s apology because he delivered it so convincingly.

Throughout the entire 2020 debacle, White showed himself to be a master manipulator. And stunningly, even after an independent investigation found that White had withheld information from his trustee board, his board voted to retain him, though two trustees resigned in protest. Had most people been caught red-handed with knowingly hiring a sexual predator and lying about it, they would have been fired. But not White. He’s that good.

So, I’m not surprised students responded to White’s entreaties last week. And I think God, in His mercy, can work in people’s hearts regardless—and He does. But I hope those reporting on, and reading about, recent events at Cedarville look beyond the school’s social media posts and the president’s statements to determine what’s actually going on.

God does not use revival to serve our ministries or agendas. He uses revival to get us and our ministries to serve His.

Meagan Saliashvili contributed to this article.

Julie Roys is a veteran investigative reporter and founder of The Roys Report. She also previously hosted a national talk show on the Moody Radio Network, called Up for Debate, and has worked as a TV reporter for a CBS affiliate. Her articles have appeared in numerous periodicals. 

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10 thoughts on “Opinion: Is Revival Breaking Out at Cedarville U?”

  1. Thank you Julie for addressing this.
    I am an alum who watched part of the chapel to see if the walk out had been streamed. What I saw instead from Dr. White’s countless image manangement strategies in the intro and seeming emotional manipulation in conclusion to chapel alarmed me greatly. I have had a pit in my stomach over it the past 10 days since watching and seeing very few people discussing it. Thank you for discussing it.

  2. Thank you for this report, Julie. If there is a revival at Cedarville–and we all do want to see one!–it will surely encompass care for the oppressed in their midst. God bless the students who want to seek and serve Him, and may all of their eyes be open to truth.

  3. Yeah – sounds contrived – as they so often are… always a gift for something or another… standard white American evangelicalism.

  4. “typical sinful inclination . . . to assume the worst.” Ooh that gave me a full-body shudder. I can’t imagine Paul addressing the church – of which these students are part – that way. Aren’t they, like the rest of the church, bought by Christ, justified through faith, are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and are new creations in Christ? Yes, they and we and that dude still struggle with the flesh but it is bad theology to suggest that believers are still sinful by nature. It’s especially bad when “sinful” in this case seems to boil down to “something I don’t like.”

  5. Article appropriately titled. Opinion. It is important to not let Asbury be the standard of “Revival”. Spontaneity is not a prerequisite for revival. You have to have “life” before you have revival. One student compared her experience at Cedarville that of returning to her first love, Jesus Christ. Truth and time go hand in hand. If revival took place time will show how the Spirit put a spotlight on the Son in the lives of His followers. When we return to our first love it is because He first loved us.

  6. It is beautiful that a student at Cedarville has returned to her first love, Jesus. In every congregation pure-hearted people are always hearing and responding to God.

    However even people living far from God hear him- two such people heard God calling them to repent and seek Him in middle of the Florida Pulse nightclub shooting.

    So to say “some people came to Christ and returned to Jesus” does not prove revival, only that God called people like he does every day.

    If the Holy Spirit was truly falling on Cedarville campus Mr. White would also be coming under conviction. He would be comforting the abused, not justifying his and his staff’s behavior. He would be crying out for mercy to God for publicly lying to the board, staff and students about hiring about someone he knew had a sex abuse past. He would cast aside his PR strategies and seek forgiveness for having tried to manipulate people’s opinions instead of caring more about God’s approval.

    When we see Mr. White repenting like this we will know it’s no longer something he’s controlling, but something GOD is doing.

  7. Interesting that it is the Calvinist manipulating revival unlike Asbury, the theologically Arminian school . Usually Calvinists are critical of manipulated revival. God is reversing expectation!

  8. At Asbury or Cedarville… if there was Revival I would expect the following:

    1. Students are changing their majors to be more ministry oriented………. (Oh wait no one changed their majors)
    2. Parents would send their children to Asbury or Cedarville instead of State U………. (Oh wait developing a Christian worldview is not that important)
    3. The student population will increase next year and over the coming years as more students realize that Christ is at work at these colleges……… (Oh wait the student populations will remain roughly the same and may be under pressure)
    4. The surrounding communities would see the change in students lives and be drawn to Christ and welcome the students gladly at the stores and restaurants as they see the great change in their lives………. (Oh wait the kids are the same and are still really poor tippers)

    1. Rhonda C. Merrick

      Will we see more students reading C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Alexander Schmemann, Richard Hooker, William Laud, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, John Chrysostom? Will Gen Z see its own version of the Canterbury Trail? What would J Edwin Orr, author of many books on revival including The Fervent Prayer (now hard to find), have to encourage us with as we continue to pray for revival in our Western post-Christian society?

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