Thoughts on the Jesus Revolution Movie

The recently released Jesus Revolution film is a faith-based drama centered on the lives of three evangelical Christians who were involved at the beginning of the Jesus movement in Southern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The movie is based on the 2018 book written by Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn that bears the same title. 

The compressed story line focuses first on Lonnie Frisbee (played by Jonathan Roumie), the quintessential hippie street preacher who has rejected the counterculture mantra of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll to follow Jesus—yet he retains his hippie persona. The charming and articulate Frisbee seeks to help his legion of hippie friends find true peace and love in the Savior. Frisbee has a chance encounter with Pastor Chuck Smith (played by Kelsey Grammer) who is at first taken aback by Frisbee and his hippie entourage. Smith pastors a small, languishing congregation and is initially reluctant to invite his new countercultural friends. But Frisbee convinces Smith to open his church to the throng of hippie-oriented believers who have come to Southern California. Some congregants leave but Smith’s church soon explodes in attendance. 

Frisbee also meets a teenager named Greg Laurie (played by Joel Courtney) who has had a difficult home life and is searching for enduring answers to life’s questions. Laurie tries the drug lifestyle and discovers that it greatly overpromises and underproduces. Through his growing friendship with Frisbee and Smith, Laurie becomes a believer in Jesus and will go on to play a significant role in the growing Jesus movement in Southern California. The movie also includes a heartfelt love story between Laurie and a young Jesus follower named Cathe (played by Anna Grace Barlow) who ultimately becomes his wife.

The three central figures in the film would go on to significantly influence what Time magazine called the Jesus Revolution—Frisbee through his association with the signs and wonders movement of the Vineyard churches, Smith through the rapid spread of Calvary Chapel churches, and Laurie through the megachurch Harvest Christian Fellowship and the Harvest Crusade events, which extend nationwide and beyond.

As I watched this enjoyable movie and thought about it later, a number of reflections came to mind. 

First, the film reminded me of the fragile human condition we all encounter. We’re all looking for meaning, purpose, and significance in life. Maybe the countercultural young people of the 60s and 70s were more aware and open about their inner existential longings and needs than most. 

Second, the Lord Jesus Christ redeems people of all backgrounds, social classes, education levels, cultures, and nationalities. Christ has a true universal church. You don’t have to agree with all the features of the modern Jesus movement to appreciate how many people have come to know Jesus through it. Greg Laurie’s spiritual hunger and quest are, at heart, like those of other seekers in church history—Saint Augustine, Blaise Pascal, C. S. Lewis, etc. That is, the human heart universally reflects the image of God and can only ultimately be fulfilled through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lastly, I was glad the film showed some of the theological problems and messiness of such a movement. At one point, Frisbee claims to be a prophet and has to be confronted and corrected. Christians are called to be doctrinally discerning even within movements that introduce untold numbers of people to Jesus.

Watch the movie and let me know what you think (@RTB_KSamples).