Piles of drugs, cigarettes, pornography and secular CDs laid on the stage of Pierce Chapel, as students trashed temptations and confessed their sins in front of student body. What began as an open-mic World Christian Fellowship meeting 20 years ago transformed into thousands of students gathering over the course of a week to share scriptures, pray over classmates and commission student missionaries. Art history professor Matthew Milliner, who participated in that event while he was a student, shared with the Record his reflections on the current revival events at Wheaton and what campus can learn from the revival 20 years ago.
How do current events compare to the revival that you experienced as a student at Wheaton?
Milliner: The 1990s revival, as I recall it, was more focused on individual sins. And while the individual sin element was not left out of the more recent services, they seemed more focused on how we can work toward long term change as a campus. I would call that progress. Each event began with a specific call for confession and prayer surrounding those most immediately affected. It’s also a good thing, I believe, that these events haven’t stretched into the wee hours of the morning or overridden classes, simply because the more dramatic these occasions are, the more difficult it is to integrate such events into daily routine, which is the goal. We all need sleep, and this kind of intense spirituality must be informed by the things we learn in class.
In what ways does this time of lent minister to our campus?
Milliner: Lent, I’m afraid, is about God showing us our sin so he can remove it. “The wounded surgeon plies the steel that questions the distempered part,” wrote T.S. Eliot. “Beneath the bleeding hands we feel the sharp compassion of the healer’s art.” Such sharp compassion hurts. God wasn’t afraid to let his chosen nation, Israel, be embarrassed on an international stage, and so it doesn’t seem surprising that he would allow this to happen to a college dedicated to him as well. I hate bad publicity, but maybe I should hate the fact that our campus too much resembles the problems on secular campuses more. The difference here though is that when sin is exposed, we have the answer to these issues: the wounded surgeon named Jesus. After a decade in a secular university town, I am familiar with the ways that questions of diversity, sexuality and race — not to mention the scope of criminal acts — are answered on secular premises, and I do not there discern a lasting solution. Coming from such an environment to Wheaton was to watch the issue of race, sexuality and gender go from two to three dimensions. The added theological aspect is indispensable — raising the stakes from controversial “issues” to actual dimensions of Christ’s Body, and changing the tone with notes of mercy, healing,and hope. The bleeding hands of Jesus make the difference, and ultimately, contact with him is what these evenings have been about.
Do you have any words of hope or encouragement you would like to spread to the college?
Milliner: When the long view is taken, progress is palpable. Our faculty statement responding to these events intentionally used the word rejoice. I find joy in professor Theon Hill’s stirring remarks about Ferguson this year that transcended anything I read or heard about race nationwide, and in the football players who are genuinely repentant for their recent behavior. What is the difference? Jesus. This is symbolized by the unearthed obelisk celebrating Wheaton’s abolitionist heritage. Now at the base of Blanchard Hall, it’s as if a missing keystone is back in place, our heritage being reactivated by the same Jesus who inspired it in the first place. And I find joy that the same Wheaton that could barely address LGBT issues two decades has begun to do so by hiring — despite considerable pressure — the amazing Julie Rodgers, a celibate gay woman who loves Christ deeply. In short, Jesus is the answer to our campus problems.