The flight from Scotland to Australia – via Istanbul and Jakarta – is a long one. There is always time to catch up on some films that you never got round to seeing. One such is Jesus Revolution – a surprise hit film of this year. Now released on Netflix, it is currently in the top 10.
To be honest, I was not expecting much. Sometimes Christian films have bad acting, poor production and a sickly, sugar sweet storyline that even Disney wouldn’t use! Not this one. The film is superbly produced, well-acted, and the story line is gripping, fascinating and much more realistic than I had expected.
But this was way more than entertainment. For me I found it to be genuinely inspirational and was shocked to find my heart ‘strangely warmed’ and my spirit deeply challenged.
Jesus Revolution tells the story of the Jesus Movement – a mass conversion of young people in the US, mainly hippies, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It does so through the eyes of Chuck Smith (played by Kelsey Grammer of Frazier fame), Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie – Jesus in The Chosen), Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney), and a young journalist Josiah who wrote a famous cover article on the movement for Time magazine.
As a child of the 60s, I loved the music and the references in the film to the political and social upheavals of the time. What surprised me most of all was how my cynicism before the film changed into an attitude of being challenged and there are several challenges to reflect on.
1. The challenge of reaching a lost generation in a confused and confusing world – with a church that seems unprepared to do so.
The transformation of Chuck Smith from a somewhat strait-laced pastor of a dying congregation into the leader of a dynamic movement, which at one point was baptising hundreds of people per week, is astonishing. The challenge for us today is how we reach the lost, the broken and the hurting.
There is one memorable scene when Chuck announces to his ever-growing church that the door is open for all – and a few particularly unwelcoming congregants take the opportunity to walk out. One elderly gentleman seems to be doing that when he turns, walks over to the ‘hippie’ section of the congregation, sits down and puts his arms around two of the young people.
2. The challenge of Christian leadership
Not everything is sweetness and light. In the film Lonnie Frisbee, the charismatic young preacher, is portrayed as becoming too big for his boots and as a result ends up with his marriage in trouble and almost splitting the movement. The film does not tell us that Frisbee and his wife divorced after she had an affair with their pastor, nor that Frisbee himself sometimes led a double life – with homosexuality being a particular temptation.
Frisbee went on to be a key influence and founder of the Vineyard movement. There is one scene in the film where after Lonnie claims to be a prophet he is challenged by Chuck who rebukes him, “This isn’t all about God – it’s really all about you. You use the Spirit as an excuse to do whatever you want.”
At another point in the film, Chuck’s wife wisely counsels him, “You think you’re so important that you can get in the way of the Spirit. Don’t be so arrogant as to think that God cannot work through your failures.”
Pride and sexual temptation are nothing new but it may be that they become particular problems when God is at work in revival and renewal as the devil seeks to disrupt, discourage and destroy.
3. The challenge of lovingly confronting the culture and walking through the open doors that are available.
In the movie, Greg’s girlfriend (now wife) Cathe cites Allen Ginsberg, “What if there is no truth, what if there are just different points of view?”. Before we then go on to a scene where Timothy Leary preaches about the search for truth, and then stating “turn on, tune in and drop out … you define God as best you can”.
How do we show love and acceptance of people while not affirming the sins of our culture? At one point Chuck Smith tells the hippies in his congregation, “If you feel like an outcast, join us here. If you feel you are misunderstood and judged, this is where you belong. If you feel ashamed or trapped in something you have done or are doing, you will find forgiveness and freedom right here.”
The Jesus Movement peaked in 1972, but its effects are still with us today. There are over 1,000 Calvary Chapel churches, Greg Laurie’s Harvest church continues to have a significant worldwide ministry, and the Vineyard movement has had a major influence on the charismatic church.
In July of this year Greg Laurie took part in a mass baptism at the original site of the Jesus Movement baptisms – Pirate’s Cove Beach in Southern California. Some 4,500 were baptised, including his own granddaughter.
A few years ago, I was invited to speak to some Calvary Chapel students and leaders at one of their conferences held in a castle in Austria. I found them to be delightful and impressive people. What was unusual about that conference is that it was held in a castle which used to be a headquarters for the SS in Austria. It was the Good News being preached on a site that was once used for great evil. The only way that could happen is because of the Gospel which turns the world upside down (Acts 17:6). In today’s confused and broken world, filled with hurting and searching people, we need another Jesus revolution!