I went to see the movie Jesus Revolution last night. It was really good. I don’t often sit and cry during a movie, but I did this one. And I wasn’t alone. I overheard one older lady tell someone as she left, “I cried like a baby!”
Jesus Revolution tells the story of the beginning of what came to be called the “Jesus People” movement, when thousands of young hippies in the late 1960s-early 1970s became Christians. They were sometimes referred to as “Jesus Freaks”—because a hippie was a “freak,” so a hippie who believed in Jesus was a “Jesus freak”.
I was especially interested in this movie for three reasons. First, because it stars Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus in The Chosen television series about Jesus and the disciples. I absolutely love The Chosen. I think it is the most excellent portrayal of a Biblical story I have ever seen. And I wondered if I could believe Jonathan Roumie in Jesus Revolution, since he is so convincing playing the part of Jesus. Well, he must be a pretty good actor, because I never once looked at him and thought, “No, that’s Jesus!” His portrayal of hippie evangelist Lonnie Frisbee is so good, I never thought of him as anyone else.
Second, actor Kelsey Grammar (famous for his roles in television’s Cheers and Frasier) plays the part of Pastor Chuck Smith in the movie. I watched a couple of interviews he did to promote Jesus Revolution, and he couldn’t talk about it without choking up. And he spoke quite openly of a crisis in his life that led him to put his faith in Jesus Christ. I was amazed, and grateful for his unashamed witness, especially in Hollywood.
But third and most important of all, I already knew a good part of the story. I used to listen to Pastor Chuck Smith’s radio program The Word for Today. Smith was the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, the church that welcomed in the hippies and helped give birth to the Jesus People movement. The church grew to thousands of people, baptizing them in the Pacific Ocean at nearby Pirate’s Cove. Smith preached expository sermons through every book of the Bible. In fact, I think he preached through the Bible like that at least three times. You didn’t have to agree with everything he said to enjoy the way he opened up the Scriptures. He had a relaxed, informal way of preaching that made you want to listen. He used to tell young preachers, “Simply teach the Bible simply.” Chuck Smith died in 2013, but the impact of his ministry lives on.
Chuck Smith had a great influence on many young preachers, one of them Greg Laurie, whose story is also told in Jesus Revolution. Laurie went on to found Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. Harvest became even larger than Calvary Chapel, and Greg Laurie holds evangelistic Harvest Crusades every year in which he preaches to tens of thousands of people. Our church had a personal connection with Greg Laurie. Our own Ruby Grindstaff went Home to be with the Lord in 2021 at 97 years old. Ruby’s daughter and her husband, Debbie and Doug Williams, actually went to church at Harvest Christian Fellowship. In fact, Doug was on the security team at the church. I knew Ruby used to tell her daughter that she liked her daughter’s pastor, but preferred me. I thought that was sweet until I learned that her daughter’s pastor was Greg Laurie. Then I was astonished! (I hope someday I can be as good as Ruby thought I was.)
I’m talking about all this for two reasons. First, because both Chuck Smith and Greg Laurie have approaches to the ministry and to church that fly in the face of most trendy church growth advice. Their simple, Biblical perspectives are set forth in the books Harvest by Chuck Smith and Tal Brooke, and The Upside Down Church by Greg Laurie. Refreshing stuff, given the preponderance of market-driven, business-based, consumer-targeting “expert” advice being promoted to pastors and churches these days. I go back to these books from time to time. They’re like a breath of fresh air. Regardless of the level of “success” I have, I believe these books present a wonderful Biblical alternative to modern church growth approaches. And I’d rather fail doing what I believe is right than to achieve some kind of “success” doing anything else.
But the second reason I’m talking about this movie is that it tells the story of a time of real spiritual awakening in America back in the 1970s. I sat there, watching things being depicted that I’d read about—in fact, they used some actual footage of the baptisms in the Pacific and of Pastor Chuck Smith—and I found myself praying, “Oh, God, do it again!” We so desperately need a real spiritual awakening again today.
What about the revivals at Asbury University in Kentucky, and at various other campuses around the country? I am cautiously optimistic. I want them to be real, and I certainly don’t want to be unduly doubtful or critical of them. But even the leadership at Asbury University wouldn’t call what happened a “revival.” They referred to it as the “Asbury Awakening,” and said only time will tell if it is a genuine revival or not. But I hope they are all real, and only the beginning of another “Great Awakening” that will sweep our nation, and perhaps the world, again.
Some of the “Jesus People” would come and hear Martyn Lloyd-Jones preach. Once after Dr. Lloyd-Jones finished preaching and stepped from the platform, a hippie girl jumped up, gave him a hug and loudly said, “Man! That was great!” He loved it. Lloyd-Jones used to say that Christians should pray for revival, because he believed, given the state of things, that was our only hope. He said that back in the 1960s and 1970s. I wonder what he’d say now?
I just keep saying, “Do it again, Lord! Do it again!”
Soli Deo Gloria!