The assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, and then Sen. Bobby Kennedy shook the foundation of 17-year-old Melanie McKnight, an aspiring journalist and daughter of an acclaimed TV anchorman. Sweet, Sweet Spirit describes Melanie’s spiritual journey, from Princeton to Harvey Cedars, NJ (with cameo appearances by HC Bible Conference director and former Missio board chair Al Oldham) to Richmond, VA and then to Asbury College in Kentucky where God met her in a special way during its February 1970 revival.

This life-altering, 8-day revival (February 3-10, 1970) began with a chapel service at Asbury College with the academic dean giving his testimony of what God was doing in his life. When he offered to let a few students also speak, the unexpected happened – God showed up in an unusual and powerful way when they began to confess their sins. Those present witnessed the presence of the Holy Spirit; the hymn ‘Sweet, Sweet Spirit’, which Melanie first learned at Harvey Cedars Bible Conference the previous summer, became their anthem.

When asked if her studies at Missio (DMin, 2000) influenced her writing, Rebecca enthusiastically responded, “Yes. Absolutely. I was able to further develop a theologically-informed understanding of history. I was encouraged by those who recognized this gift [writing] in me. Professors encouraged me, saying ‘Let’s nurture that and see how we might develop the gift God has given you.’ My writing has been helped by understanding how God is acting in history. One professor, Gary Shogren, really believed in me. He too was a keen student of history.”

I asked if she saw parallels between that time, the decade of the ‘60s, and today. “There are definite parallels,” she believes. “The 60s were a toxic wasteland, with people’s hearts growing cold. It was a dark time, with spiritual and moral confusion, and spiritual apathy. But people who were sensitive to the Spirit of God began to pray. Around 1967, a small group of students began gathering at Asbury to pray for God to come, to bring revival. Three years later, he did. Today our culture is also going through great stress and darkness, and like 50 years ago, revival can begin with confession and repentance on the part of God’s people.”

Rebecca offers Psalm 146 as a prelude to her novel, beginning with verse three: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” Young Melanie needed to learn that important lesson, that our hope is not ultimately in leaders even as charismatic as Sen. Kennedy, but our “hope is in the LORD.”

If you like historical fiction, you will find Rebecca’s book a faith-lifting, compelling read. For those old enough to remember that tumultuous time, her writing will bring back haunting images and leave you longing to experience the Sweet, Sweet Spirit of the Lord.

– Thom Skinner