Posted by Jack Brymer on 1999-06-04The only explanation for the growth and impact of the Southern Baptist youth revival movement of the mid-1940s is that it was of God, says Bill O'Brien, who recalls being touched by the movement as a teenager
"I believe the Holy Spirit fanned the spark of a small beginning into a flame that spread across the country," said O'Brien, director of the The Global Center at Samford University. "The same Holy Spirit protected the movement from being organized and institutionalized. It was a 'kairos' moment. No one could ultimately take credit for what God was doing."
Now, a half-century later, with the original evangelists in their 70s, O'Brien is coordinating Revival Revisited, a free public symposium on the youth revival movement June 18-20 at Samford. At least a dozen of the original revival team members will be present to share their experiences.
O'Brien remembers that the youth evangelists were "heroes to my age group . . . their commitment and charisma captivated us.
"I was in Junior High and High School in west Texas during the first six years of the youth revival movement," he recalled. "My brother, Chester O'Brien, was a preacher in the original wave, but was not in the Baylor group. Chester, Warren Hultgren, and singer Asa Couch were at Hardin-Simmons University and Jimmy Allen from Howard Payne College. These guys were nine to ten years my elders. We wanted to be like them and someday do what they did."
Dr. W.F. Howard, director of Baptist Student work for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, captured the spirit of the moment, screening and training youth revival teams from colleges and universities across the state, according to O'Brien. Training occurred each spring at Mt. Lebanon Baptist encampment near Dallas. Churches that calendared youth revivals sent their requests to Howard's office, where team assignments were made for the entire summer.
"Even so," said O'Brien, "with this more organized approach to enlarging the movement, it never moved into the next stage of 'institutionalizing' the effort."
He quoted Dr. Eric Lincoln, Duke University historian, who said the sad fate of an idea is that it becomes an ideology. Then we institutionalize it, he said, and spend the rest of our lives defending the institution.
"I am not for sure that even an organized approach to youth revivals could have kept them from falling prey to the mood of the late 1960s and 1970s," O'Brien said. "But now my wonderment is not so much about the forms of the past. Rather, in our day of great confusion, would God do it again?"
The evangelists will share their experiences during two sessions on Friday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. A fellowship banquet (requiring a fee and reservations) will be held Friday night. The symposium will conclude with a Service of Celebration and Renewal on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. in Beeson Divinity Chapel on the Samford campus.