I like this movie.

Yes, I know, some very important elements are omitted, and I will get to that shortly. But let me say at the top: I enjoyed this movie: it is powerful, inspirational, and instructive. It is funny. It features wonderful music. The acting and production are far superior to most faith-based movies (which I tend to avoid). But for this one, I am glad I went.

I like this movie, “The Jesus Revolution.”

It tells the story of things that happened in California back when I was in high school and college. Some of those things set in motion other things that touched my life.

For instance, the Jesus movement on the west coast triggered episodes of spiritual intensity in many places around the country. Including Asbury College near where I was a student at Georgetown College.

“There’s a revival down at Asbury,” a friend said to me early one Friday evening in February of 1970. “Let’s go.”  And go we did, staying past midnight and bringing back to our campus some of that gospel spirit. I have friends who still talk about the impact of those days on their lives.

The Wikipedia article on the Jesus Movement mentions events in Nashville, Dallas, and Greenville, South Carolina. I’m going to check out the latter. But I remember all the promotion for the Dallas event. EXPO’72 they called it, headlined by Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ and evangelist Billy Graham. That was in the summer of 1972, and I was newly married. I stayed home.

The movie follows the stories of three men. Kelsey Grammar plays the part of the famous and influential pastor Chuck Smith. He was the founder and pastor of the original Calvary Chapel. Now, they are all over the country, and he is dead.

In the movie, he gets converted from his calling to an aging, traditional congregation to be the friend and counselor of the hippy converts. How it happens is quite funny, according to the movie, as his perception of the barefoot bunch off the beach is full of hilarious stereotypes. I laughed out loud more than once.

What converted him was one of the hippies, the equally famous and influential man straight from his baptism in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Lonnie Frisbee. He is winsome, articulate, sweet, passionate, and full of the Spirit. It is his disarming charm that wins over the hesitant pastor. It is his public speech and crazy antics that pulls many hippies into the baptismal waters at Pirates Cove.

Lonnie died in 1993 of AIDS. He was only 43. The movie does not tell that story, nor the longer narrative of Lonnie’s sexuality. Before, during, and after his gig in the gospel spotlight, he was active in the gay community.

Amazon Prime has a documentary about Lonnie Frisbee. I watched it at home the night before seeing the movie at the theater. It tells the story of the man now dead, one who cannot give his version of what happened 50 years ago.

The third man in the movie script is the only one alive and thus the only one who can tell his story. Which he did, in his book Jesus Revolution.

He is Greg Laurie.

Assisted by Ellen Vaughn, Laurie writes of his experience in the hippie crowd, of his search for meaning, then of his conversion and baptism, and finally of his marriage and ministry. Today he is well-known as the pastor of the multi-campus Harvest Chapel, based in Riverside, California.

In 2018, he published this book and gave the movie its name. But the subtitle gives us the key to the book and the explanation for the serious omissions: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today.

Fifty years ago, the book and movie tell us, God did a marvelous thing because one pastor and one congregation took a risk and welcomed the largest ostracized population in the region, namely, the pot-smoking, foul-smelling, guitar-strumming hippies.

What the book and the movie do not tell us is this: at the same time, those same Christian leaders rejected the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people living all around them (and us). In other words, by suppressing the sexual side of that story half a century ago, the book and the movie fail to inspire us to take a similar risk and welcome into our churches the largest ostracized population of our regions.

Chuck Smith, Lonnie Frisbee, and Greg Laurie were at the center of a God thing half a century ago. But Laurie’s retelling of those days, as inspirational as it is, does not equip or empower us to do today what they did then. And that is a shame. A terrible gospel shame.

Some of us are doing it anyway.

Published On: March 7th, 2023 / Categories: Commentary /

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