Running with the Wind

Jesus Revolution, Hippies Seeking Christ & Parallels for Today

The Asbury University chapel service that started two weeks ago has now spread, not just across campus or across town, but to several more universities in the U.S., where students, hungry and thirsty for God, are gathering to pray, sing worship songs, and perhaps just pursue God together. Some call it revival; some call it an outpouring of the Spirit. But whatever you call it, something is going on there, and it is fanning outward.

Similar happenings have taken place before in modern-day America. In the late 1960s, streams of hippies converged on an otherwise ordinary church near the southern California coast. It began when Pastor Chuck Smith met ex-druggie, San Francisco hippie Lonnie Frisbee. The events that ensued were as unexpected to Pastor Chuck as they were to everyone else, but he gave everyone who came the gospel, and he baptized all who so desired in the Pacific Ocean at a nearby inlet called Pirate’s Cove. It’s quite a story.

Lionsgate has now turned that story into a feature film. Here’s the trailer:

A House of Prayer for All People

Jesus Revolution centers on the real-life figures of Chuck Smith, the middle-aged pastor of Calvary Chapel church, Costa Mesa, California; Greg Laurie, teen son of a delinquent alcoholic mother; Greg’s girlfriend Cathe, the proto-hippie daughter of well-to-do, square parents; and Lonnie Frisbee, vagabond teen evangelist and Jesus lookalike. One would be hard-pressed to find four people more different in background and temperament, yet they end up worshipping the same God under the same roof.

The hippie converts came to be called “Jesus People” (or in some circles, “Jesus Freaks”). Some lived in commune-like settings, and they spilled out onto the streets, marketplaces, and beaches, preaching the gospel and handing out gospel tracts. When they discovered people weren’t reading the printed tracts, they had pictorial gospels printed up instead. So many hippies started showing up for church, Pastor Chuck eventually pitched a tent and started holding services outside. Sometimes there might be hundreds of baptisms in a given week.

Growing Pains

They worship the same God, but that doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and buttercups along the way. While the story has been somewhat fictionalized to make the movie, as Hollywood versions of true stories usually are, the movie doesn’t sugarcoat anything. The film shows the darkness of 1960s America as its human brokenness manifested in drug culture, violent national upheavals, and family dissention, both in the form of family breakdown (Greg has a deep father wound), and in the generation gap between responsible, hardworking parents and their idealistic but naïve teens restless for something real. (Do any of those things sound familiar to you?)

While the dysfunctions of 1960s America are obvious outside the church, the film also shows the insidiousness of human sin inside the church, from strait-laced, old-line members who prefer to keep their church neat and tidy to upstart leadership for whom the limelight can have a corrupting influence. In these ways, Jesus Revolution is a very honest film. Its storyline speaks to our common human condition, and the perennial need for the hope and rest that can only be found in surrender to Jesus.

A Different Kind of Revolution

The name of the film comes from the June 21, 1971, cover of Time Magazine. The cover story about what started at Calvary Chapel, titled “The Alternative Jesus: Psychedelic Christ,” opens with words that might as easily be written about the Asbury students today:

Jesus is alive and well and living in the radical spiritual fervor of a growing number of young Americans who have proclaimed an extraordinary religious revolution in his name. Their message: the Bible is true, miracles happen, God really did so love the world that he gave it his only begotten son. In 1966 Beatle John Lennon casually remarked that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ; now the Beatles are shattered, and George Harrison is singing My Sweet Lord. The new young followers of Jesus listen to Harrison, but they turn on only to the words of their Master: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." …

Now, embracing the most persistent symbol of purity, selflessness and brotherly love in the history of Western man, they are afire with a Pentecostal passion for sharing their new vision with others. … There is an uncommon morning freshness to this movement, a buoyant atmosphere of hope and love along with the usual rebel zeal.

By the time this story appeared in Time, the Jesus movement, if that’s the right term to put to it (I’m ambivalent on that), had been underway for a few years. And whatever one might think of contemporary Christian music, or such productions as Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, or Jesus is Just Alright with Me (and there are certainly critiques to be made), what happened through Calvary Chapel and beyond had a far-reaching effect on America.

I was a kid at the time, and I remember being exposed to these 1970s versions of Jesus. He was vastly different from any Jesus set against the style and feel of the traditional church my family attended every Sunday. Along with the Doobie Brothers, I thought Jesus was “alright” too. Just in the last few years, I have met three women, all of them deeply rooted Christian adults, whose parents became Christian believers by means of this Jesus-movement culture. What started at Calvary Chapel did not confine itself to Costa Mesa.

Even so, Pastor Chuck Smith continued pastoring the same church until his death in 2013. Under his mentorship, Greg Laurie became a pastor and founded Harvest Christian Fellowship, a large church in Riverside, California, where he still serves today. He and Cathe have been married more than fifty years, and Greg still does baptisms at Pirate’s Cove.

And On It Goes

Unfortunately, there have been social media arguments over the developments at Asbury and beyond. Is it revival? Is it raw emotionalism? Is it real, or is it just sentiment? Perhaps there are elements of all of these, but maybe we do well to be slow to criticize or attempt to classify it.

Jesus, when asked about who he was, answered, as he often did, rather obliquely. He told Nicodemus:

Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. … The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (John 3:8).

Another word for wind in this context is Spirit. As the Asbury outworkings unfold, I think we do well to watch, pray, and prepare ourselves for service as these things play out across America. People are watching. Many have questions. Some are hungry for meaningful conversations about the big issues, and we do well to be sensitive to where and how the Spirit may be moving in our midst and circles of influence.

The Jesus Revolution appearing in theaters right now could well be another instrument that serves to open hearts, minds, and doors. It opens in theaters everywhere this Friday, February 24. Given current events, perhaps we have an especially opportune moment to reflect on this earlier spiritual awakening and prepare ourselves to run with the wind when it blows our way.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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