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At the Movies: Jesus Revolution

Jesus Revolution (2023) © Lionsgate Entertainment.

The presence of the Holy Spirit in a group of people is mysteriously palpable. There’s a weight to God’s glory, a thickening. When you enter a place that is filled with God’s love, it is as if you’re being simultaneously emptied of all the cumbersome trash you carry around and filled, made whole and complete, so that in that moment the ache of emptiness is quenched by the fullness of God’s love.

Who can explain it? How does it start? Where does it come from? Why does it penetrate the hearts of some and leave others feeling numb?

Revivals are happening on college campuses across the country, ignited first by the revival on Asbury’s campus. I haven’t been in those particular rooms, but I’ve felt that weight of Glory. I’ve heard the call to turn and return. I’ve been moved and have moved. 

Skeptics talk about spiritual and emotional manipulation. Is this really real? What is really real? Who is behind this?

Jesus Revolution

Jesus Revolution (2023) © Lionsgate Entertainment. Image Courtesy of Jesus Revolution. 

The alignment of the revivals on college campuses with the release of the film Jesus Revolution in theaters feels God-ordained. 

Jesus Revolution is set in the late 1960s and early 1970s and portrays the true story of the birth and early years of the Jesus Movement. The movement triggered a national spiritual awakening that all began with teenage Christians in Southern California.

The film tells the story of Greg Laurie (played by Joel Courtney), teenage son of a single mom (played by Kimberly Williams-Paisley). Greg is searching for truth and meaning and thinks he has found it in the drugs and freedom of the hippie community. At the same time, Pastor Chuck Smith’s (played by Kelsey Grammer) church attendance is declining. Chuck pulls a “kids these days” from the pulpit, and his congregation nods in agreement, all except for Chuck’s daughter, who rolls her eyes and scoffs at her father’s judgment. 

“You’re passing judgment on people you know nothing about!” his daughter says. 

“When God walks in here and brings me a hippie, I’ll ask him what it’s all about, because I do not understand,” Chuck replies. 

So God sends Chuck a Jesus-loving hippie named Lonnie Frisbee (played by Jonathan Roumie), and the Jesus Movement is born.

Finding the Love: Faithifying Your Viewing

Revival is a lot like prophecy—one can only know if it’s “real” or “false” by its fruit. Will whatever spiritual fervor is stirring create lasting change? Looking back four decades from now, will historians point to this moment as America’s last great awakening, or will it be just another tiny blip on the radar, a moment in a series of unremarkable moments?

The spark that ignited the Southern California community began with Lonnie Frisbee and Chuck Smith, but like the latest revivals on college campuses, similar movements took off across the country in the early 1970s, drawing thousands and thousands of young people to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. They sought peace, love, and life in the hippie communities but found the center rotten and hollowed out. Jesus came to give “real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 MSG).

Fifty years later, there is an epidemic of loneliness, anxiety, and depression spreading through Gen Z. Their formative years have been defined by political strife, race conflicts, gun violence, wars and rumors of wars, social isolation and social media FOMO, parents and family members lost to opioids, and a global pandemic that disrupted any sense of security in their young lives. Psychologists say that kids’ mental health is in crisis.

Oh, what a world of difference it would make to hear the Christian message of hope and love.

So what is keeping us, the ones who have experienced the power of that hope and love in our lives, from opening the doors to those who have had the doors slammed shut? 

Is it anxiety? Is it fear? Is it our own sense of insecurity? Is it worry that we’re going to screw up? Is it skepticism? Pride? What is it that holds us back from shouting the love of God from the rooftops? 

I think I’m waiting to be perfect. I think I’m waiting to have all of the answers. I think I’m waiting for someone else, anyone else, why isn’t someone doing something? I think I have a pile of excuses and self-justification. I think I’m waiting for God to send a proverbial hippie onto my path.

None of the leaders of the Jesus Movement were flawless humans; the film does a terrific job of showcasing their weaknesses and humanity and the very real temptations leaders face as their fame and notoriety grows. But they all showed up to love people, and those people told others about the love of Jesus, and those people told other people about the love of Jesus, and people shed their sins, and people walked into the water, and people were baptized in the name of Christ, and people rose up out of the water whole again, born again, new again, and life returned to their eyes, and hope restored their souls, and love poured out to make them a family.

It happened with Lonnie Frisbee. It happened with Chuck Smith. It has happened with other passionate followers of Jesus who believed in the power of his salvation and his ability to restore lives for the last 2,000 years.

Why not me? Why not you? Why not now?

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