What did you receive for Christmas? One of the presents given to me was a book that I had requested. It had been recommended to me by a friend and colleague, Pastor Chuck Porta, and was entitled ‘God’s Forever Family.’ It is a fascinating book, but not an easy read, as it is very detailed in the study of the Jesus People movement in America in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. I was not living in America at the time, so I was not directly involved in it, but rather observed some of it on trips from Australia to America during that time. I went to some of their coffee shops and also visited Calvary Chapel, one of the centers of the Jesus Movement, in California. The book is written by Larry Eskridge of Wheaton College (printed by Oxford University Press). In this Langstaff Letter, I want to give you a brief overview of the Jesus Revolution and in the next one, I want to share ten things we can learn from the Jesus Revolution that can be relevant to a future move of God amongst young people today.
THE ERA OF THE 1960’s
The beginnings of the 1960’s gave very little warning of the soon to be counter culture movement that burst on America and the world. Pollsters, like Gallup, concluded in the early 60’s that ‘American youth appeared very favorably inclined towards the traditional and that more than 75% firmly believed in God and nearly two thirds believed that the Bible was completely true.’ Even the chancellor and president of the University of California in Berkley agreed.
But this was soon to change. ‘Fueled by an expanding roster of cultural, social and political crises, a growing segment of young people began to express their dissatisfaction with the system and with American values.’ ‘ American youth began to drop out of what they saw as the rat race of school and career and sought personal fulfillment in drugs, sex, music, communal relationship and esoteric spirituality. Haight-Ashberry district in San Francisco became the major center of this counter culture, culminating in the famous 1967 ‘Summer of Love’ and the development of the Hippie Movement.This was followed by the growing war with Vietnam, that divided the nation and the sexual revolution that discovered birth control with ‘the pill.’
GOD IS DEAD
The April 8, 1966 issue of Time Magazine was the first time the weekly magazine had not had a picture on the cover, but rather simply the three bold words ‘Is God Dead?’ In the midst of the growing secular culture, ‘a small band of radical theologians had seriously argued that the churches accept the fact of God’s death and get along without Him.’ After the decade of the 1950’s, when denominational churches perhaps reached their zenith as evidenced in the many new church structures built in that post war era, the beginnings of the loss of membership was on the horizon.
THE BIRTH OF THE JESUS MOVEMENT
According to the Eskridge book, ‘Within the initial flowing of San Francisco’s hippie community, an evangelical Christian strain of the counterculture – what would be know as the Jesus Movement – first appeared in the persons of a converted Bohemian couple from Sausalito, with an of times difficult relationship with a square Baptist pastor.’
The story of this couple, Ted and Elizabeth Wise, and Pastor John MacDonald is a fascinating story. Liz began to attend services at First Baptist in Mill Valley and Ted noticed, ‘she came back from church just glowing.’ Eventually, Ted decided to read the New Testament and as a result ‘just got fascinated by Jesus.’ Convinced that Jesus was God, Wise later described his experience as a Paul like conversion, ‘ While on my way to my own Damascus . . . I found it necessary to cry out to God to save my life in every sense of the word. Jesus knocked me off my metaphysical ass. I could choose Him or literally suffer a fate worse than death.’
In those early day, they would be taking a trip on LSD on Saturday night and then go to church on Sunday morning. From this small beginning, a whole movement emerged and the story of ‘Psychedelic Christians’ was written up with the cover story of evangelical monthly ‘Christian Life’ with Ted Wise’s photo on the cover.
BEGINNING IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
During the late 1960’s, the movement spread to Southern California, where it continued to grow, with important leaders, including Arthur Blessit, Duane Pederson, publisher of the Hollywood Free Paper and Berkley’s Jack Spaske. Eskridge declares: ‘The typical Jesus People ethos was dominated by several core characteristics that mixed and matched influences from the evangelical and counter cultural sides of the movement’s parentage. First, the new street Christians’ literalistic interpretation of the Scriptures led them in to a heavy emphasis on Pentecostal and Charismatic phenomena such as glossolalia, prophecy, and ‘words of knowledge.’ Second, the Jesus People inhabited a supernaturally charged world chock-full of signs and wonders and a steady outpouring of what they perceived to be divine intervention in their lives. Third, their biblicism and emphasis on the supernatural reinforced a preexisting counter cultural pessimism about the direction of the world, creating a pervasive conviction that they were living in the Last Days. Thus, study of Bible prophecy and an emphasis on coming judgment came to preoccupy the Jesus People and figured strongly in their evangelistic message.
. . . what set the Jesus People apart from their straight evangelical and Pentecostal cousins was the intensity with which these characteristics marked them and were incorporated into a distinctly non-bourgeois unchurchy atmosphere that was far removed from respectable America’s way of doing church. First, the Jesus People – inspired by both hippie Utopianism and their interpretation of the New Testament – placed a high value on communal living. Second, the Jesus People sought out and promoted a casual, come-as-you-are atmosphere that embodied the counterculture’s emphasis on authenticity and comfort. Third, God’s Forever Family seamlessly blended elements of the counterculture into their lifestyle, worship, and evangelism. Psychedelically charged artwork; pop culture bric-a-Brad such as jewelry, buttons, and T-shirts; and – most important – their freewheeling adaptation of contemporary folk and rock music helped proclaim their beliefs and identity to the world.
Taken together, these various characteristics forged an identity for the developing Jesus People movement. Even in these initial stages, however, it became clear that this new hybrid combination of evangelical religion and counterculture style had an appeal that was not limited to hardcore street people, ex-drug addicts, and full-blown hippies. Younger adolescents in high school, particularly evangelical church kids, were attracted to the emerging Jesus People staple as it developed in places like Hollywood Presbyterian Church’s Salt Company and Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, setting the stage for the growth of a truly widespread youth-based evangelical movement.’
CHUCK SMITH AND CALVARY CHAPEL
Chuck Smith, a balding middle aged Pastor had left his denomination, to eventually lead a church in Costa Mesa. Actually, it was Smith’s wife Kay who first showed an interest in the hippie gatherings at nearby Huntington Beach. Smith recalled in a 2000 interview, “I saw them as parasites upon society. . . my original thought was ‘why don’t they cut their hair, and get a job and live a decent life,’ and he wanted nothing to do with them. Eventually his wife’s concern changed things and in turn Calvary Chapel became know for its ministry to this movement, which included mass baptisms in the Pacific Ocean.
JESUS MOVEMENT GOES NATIONAL
Although the roots of the movement were in California, it quickly spread to other parts of the country and in some ways became stronger in the Midwest. Then in June 1971, Time Magazine came out with an eight page cover story entitled ‘The New Rebel Cry: Jesus is Coming.’ ‘The Time writers portrayed the Jesus Revolution as a major new force in both youth culture and American religion.’ A full page picture showed a California teenager giving the one way Jesus sign of the index finger pointing to heaven. There were some divisions within the movement, including the controversial group ‘Children of God’ let by David Berg. Robert Schuller called Berg ‘a publicity mad false prophet and Ralph Wilkerson had them thrown out of Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim.
There is so much more to be said about the Jesus Revolution and that is why it takes a whole book to cover it. If you want to know more, read ‘God’s Forever Family.’
Strangely enough, by the late 1970’s, the Jesus People Movement ceased to be a major force within American evangelicalism, even though it would leave lasting deposits such as the beginnings of contemporary Christian music.
In the next Langstaff Letter, we will look at 10 lessons that can be learned from the Jesus Movement.