Evel Overcome With Good
On Palm Sunday, hundreds responded to Robert "Evel" Knievel's testimony by asking to be baptized on the spot at Crystal Cathedral. Speaking alongside the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, Knievel told the congregation in Orange County, California, how he had refused for 68 years to accept Jesus Christ as Lord. He believed in God, but he couldn't walk away from the gold and the gambling and the booze and the women.
"I don't know why I fought it so hard," he said. "I just did."
But Knievel knew people were praying for him, including his daughter's church, his ex-wife's church, and the hundreds of people who wrote letters urging him to believe. And then something indescribable happened during Daytona Bike Week this March.
"I don't know what in the world happened. I don't know if it was the power of the prayer or God himself, but it just reached out, either while I was driving or walking down the sidewalk or sleeping, and it justthe power of God in Jesus just grabbed me. All of a sudden, I just believed in Jesus Christ. I did, I believed in him! I rose up in bed and, I was by myself, and I said, 'Devil, Devil, you bastard you, get away from me. I cast you out of my life.' I just got on my knees and prayed that God would put his arms around me and never, ever, ever let me go."
Pastor Robert A. Schuller, who took over for his father last year, looked out on the church and noticed most people were sobbing. He couldn't simply continue with the service's script and proceed to the offering.
"I went up front, and I said, 'I believe there is somebody who needs to be baptized here. Maybe up on that balcony or by that door or by that wall. So come forward,'" Schuller told CT. "We started singing 'Amazing Grace,' and I started baptizing people, baptizing them as fast as I could. I had a little candy dish of water. 'What's your name? Okay, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit'crying the whole time and going to the next one."
Schuller continued this for 30 minutes, not realizing that four other pastors were baptizing the convicted just as quickly. During the second service, the response repeated itself. Together, Schuller estimates, between 500 and 800 people committed or rededicated their lives to God.
"I don't want to make grandiose claims; I'm not a prophet," said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, who spoke with Schuller the next morning. "But I think it is a sign that in God's own sovereign goodness, he sends these moments to remind us that we are all sinners and reaches out to us in surprising ways. This is something the Christian community in general, and particularly the evangelical community, needs to take very seriously."
Mouw also met with couples from Crystal Cathedral who described the spontaneous response as one of the most spiritually significant events they had ever experienced. Historically, religious awakenings have played a significant role in Christianity, particularly evangelicalism. Charles Finney, a leader of the Second Great Awakening, revolutionized revivalism by arguing that churches could incite revivals through faithfulness and diligence.
"Since that point forward at least, it has become a trade; it has become a profession; it has become a series of techniques," said Joel Carpenter, director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin College. "It is fair for any discerning Christian, when he hears a revival is happening, to be a little skeptical, not to be cynical, but to ask questions that are meant to help discern what is going on there spiritually."