It’s Time for Another ‘Jesus Revolution’
Rebellious, confused, drug addicted, and above all, in need of a bath. This is how Chuck Smith, a rigid pastor of a dwindling church, would have described hippies at the beginning of “Jesus Revolution.” That is, until Lonnie Frisbee, a hippie himself, fills him in:
LONNIE: But that was the point. You see, the drugs — it’s a quest.
CHUCK: For what?
LONNIE: For God. How can you not see that? There is an entire generation right now searching for God.
Through “Jesus Revolution,” a film produced by Lions Gate, viewers step into the historic spiritual awakening known by the same name. The true stories of three different protagonists, Greg Laurie, played by Joel Courtney, Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammar), and Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), are woven together to depict how a move of the Holy Spirit offered hope in a tumultuous time.
In the film, Chuck Smith disapproves of hippie culture, and when his daughter Janette brings home hippie evangelist Lonnie Frisbee, his first instinct is to kick him out of the house. But after chatting with Frisbee, he begins to warm up to hippies who start following Frisbee to Smith’s small traditional church. When some of his congregants confront Smith over the dress and mannerisms of the new churchgoers, Smith stands up for the rag-tag crew. Soon, the hymn book is traded in for a worshipping rock band, Love Song, and Smith’s reenergized church begins to meet in a large tent to accommodate the wave of truth-seekers keen to learn about God.
A young Greg Laurie is first exposed to hippie culture when Cathe, a girl he likes, brings him into her friend circle. Festivals, psychedelic rock, and drug abuse become the norm until Cathe’s sister almost dies in front of them while doing drugs. Their search for meaning soon takes a different turn when Frisbee visits their school to share the gospel. After Laurie begins attending Smith and Frisbee’s worship services, his life is radically transformed and he becomes an integral part of their ministry.
There was some messiness around the real-life Jesus Movement, and viewers get a glimpse of this on-screen. But even as some of the characters fail, it doesn’t diminish the overall move of God. Hundreds of thousands of hippies became “Jesus People” and experienced a fresh touch of God’s love.
Christian movies have a reputation for being cheesy. Admittedly, it’s well-deserved, but one that “Jesus Revolution” manages to defy. The film is a colorful and fun romp through the late 1960s and early ’70s complete with shag carpet, Volkswagen Buses, and bellbottoms. But it neither avoids nor over-dramatizes the gritty hardships endured by many during that time.
The hippie counterculture developed as a rejection of the norms that were leaving teenagers and 20-somethings empty, and from external world events, including the Vietnam war, that shocked their conscience. Looking at a materialist world devoid of the love they longed for, hippies turned to drugs, promiscuity, festivals, protests, and communal living arrangements, to relieve their angst.
Lonnie’s comments about a generation searching for God could easily have been written about today’s youth. Increasingly isolated and adrift in their identity, many are turning to all the wrong places for affirmation. Over the past few years, there’s been a sharp rise in the number of teens and young adults who identify as transgender. In one 2022 survey, 73% of teens aged 13-17 said they have viewed pornography. The pain felt by Gen Z is intense. A recent CDC survey found that 57% of girls reported feeling persistent sadness.
Yet, it is within this setting that a historic multi-week gathering recently took place at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. It started with a normal chapel service that simply never ended as students stayed to worship and pray, experiencing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. People have testified that their lives were changed over in Asbury. One student who was not a practicing Christian used to wish she wouldn’t wake up the next day. But when she went to witness the revival taking place on campus, she felt God speak to her like never before. She said, “I realized that I’m not alone — and for the past three years, I felt like I was alone.”
But it’s not just Asbury. All it took was a spark in one small town in Kentucky and suddenly universities like Indiana Wesleyan, Texas A&M, Louisiana State University, Lee University and more were testifying of a similar experience. Gen Z is hurting — and like those in the 1960s and ’70s, they need a fresh touch from God. Early success at the box office of “Jesus Revolution” confirms that Americans are hungry for this message. It was only projected to earn $7 million on its debut weekend, but it ended up making around $15.5 million during its first three days in theaters.
Now in theaters, “Jesus Revolution” feels like a movie and a message for our time. Jonathan Roumie, who plays Frisbee, agrees. He told National Catholic Register, “This theme of finding the thing that gives you true identity is what this movement was about, and I think it’s as relevant now as it was 50 years ago.” His hope is that viewers, “come away with this yearning to know God, at all or more deeply.”
Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of "Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution."