‘Jesus Revolution’ And A Related Documentary Show Faith’s Complications


(OPINION) My wife, Liz, and I finally got around to streaming “Jesus Revolution,” which since its February release has grossed more than $50 million at the box office, placing it among the more successful Christian films in history.

Generally, I’m not a fan of “Christian” movies, which tend to wallow in hokeyness and theological pablum, not to mention poor production values.

But I kept hearing good things about “Jesus Revolution.”

So we finally watched it. It is indeed a cut above the usual religious fare. The writing, acting and cinematography are solid. The plot is powerful.

How powerful? At one point I glanced over at Liz — who’s usually as jaded about such films as I am — and saw her full-on weeping.

“Jesus Revolution” recounts the true tale of the Jesus movement, as it was sometimes called, that swept Southern California’s hippie culture in the late 1960s and 1970s. This was front-page news.

Even though I was a rebellious teenager in Kentucky, I remember the movement. The stories were everywhere—Time, Life, the TV network news. You couldn’t miss this story, even if you were disaffected with religion, as I was.

As the film tells it, the hippie revival began with an LSD-dropping spiritual seeker named Lonnie Frisbee, who experienced a vision of Jesus and became a Christian. He started winning over his fellow hippies.

Frisbee crossed paths with a staid, small-time Costa Mesa pastor named Chuck Smith, who welcomed Frisbee and his so-called Jesus freaks into his house and his church. Soon, legions of hippies joined them, and a revival exploded that revolutionized modern Christianity, especially church music.

The Jesus movement birthed thousands of congregations. Smith and other ministers associated with the movement, including John Wimber, eventually a leader in the Association of Vineyard Churches, became icons in a larger Pentecostal-charismatic renewal that simultaneously swept the planet. Another famous minister who emerged from the movement, Greg Laurie, co-wrote the “Jesus Revolution” script.

But the movie suggests that the chief catalyst was Frisbee, an untutored and eccentric former art student who dressed like some Western European portrait of Jesus — long hair, beard, bare feet — and could be frustratingly flaky.

His bold, funny sermons, his unfettered willingness to do and say the unthinkable, drew the throngs. He prophesied. He projected boundless enthusiasm and faith.

Until I watched “Jesus Revolution,” I don’t remember ever hearing of him. Smith, Wimber, Laurie? Yes, yes and yes. But Frisbee? No. He must have been included in those 1970s news accounts I saw as a teenager, but I hadn’t heard of him since.

So, after watching the film, I searched the internet. That led me to a fuller — and more complex — account of his life, a 2005 documentary called “Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher.”

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