Sex, drugs, rock and roll – and Jesus. Rounding out the top three box office hits this week is Jesus Revolution, a true story set against the backdrop of Woodstock and the ‘summer of love’ in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The movie is powerful, poignant and provocative – especially for Christians. It points towards the urgent need for a Jesus Revolution today for our churches, our society and ourselves.
Without spoiling the plot, Jesus Revolution tells the story of a strait-laced pastor (Chuck Smith, played by Kelsey Grammer – Frasier) whose world is turned upside down when he encounters a hippie street preacher (Lonnie Frisbee, played by Jonathan Roumie – The Chosen).
Along the way, a teenager named Greg Laurie comes to faith in Christ after looking for answers in all the wrong places. It’s a microcosm of the ‘Jesus movement’ revival that began in the U.S. and swept around the world.
As a follower of Jesus, why do I think we need a Jesus Revolution today?
First, the film holds a mirror up to our churches and asks us to honestly consider if we are an open or closed door to those who are different from us, but who Jesus calls us to welcome in.
Watching this film, it was easy to laugh along with Kelsey Grammer’s character who complains that what the hippies “really need is a bath.”
It was easy to judge the congregants who looked with curiosity, shock and even disdain as hippies filled the pews opposite. It was easy to cheer when the old pastor finally ‘got it’ and invited the shoeless bell-bottomed drifters into his dusty old church and started himself dressing more hip. We’d be just like him, right? Opening the doors wide.
Let’s not be so quick to think so highly of ourselves.
Are our churches an open door – or a closed door – to those searching for God? For those most in need? For believers who look, dress, talk and act differently from us?
In James 2:1-4 we’re cautioned about this very thing:
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Many – but not all – churches seem to have a fairly homogenous look and feel in Canada and the U.S. Whether it’s in the style of preaching, worship music, venue, socio-demographics or even the race of those in attendance.
Let me give a concrete example. Indigenous Christians like the late Richard Twiss, a Native American leader and author, challenged the Westernized view of Christianity in books like Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys (IVP, 2015).
He also used to sing songs of praise in his traditional language with a traditional drum, sometimes in regalia, in Christian gatherings to make the point. I’ve never seen something like this in person despite decades in various churches.
How many churches today celebrate the worship of Jesus in a way that reflects “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9)?
In a similar vein, the First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament (IVP, 2021) is an Indigenous-led dynamic equivalence translation of the New Testament, meaning it is a faithful translation of the Bible using the words, imagery and symbols that may be more relevant to Indigenous readers. Here’s an example of how the opening line in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is rendered in Matthew 5:3, first in a familiar traditional English translation, then in this new translation:
New International Version (NIV): “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
First Nations Version (FNV): “Creator’s blessing rests on the poor, the ones with broken spirits. The good road from above is theirs to walk.”
It’s a beautiful, authentic and genuine translation that some Indigenous brothers and sisters in Christ say resonates deeply with them. There’s also a thoughtful and thought-provoking glossary and explanation of key terms used. I’m not Indigenous but have loved, and been greatly blessed by, reading the FNV.
At first, I admit to being cautious – much like the old pastor in Jesus Revolution. After all, it is purporting to be a new translation of the Bible. But the more I learned, read, and compared various texts, the more I began to see the immense gift that the First Nations Version is to all Christians.
Like the old pastor in Jesus Revolution, are churches today ready to embrace the First Nations Version as a way to be more inclusive and welcoming of our Indigenous brothers and sisters?
Many non-Indigenous Christians already read and memorize a less direct translation of the Bible – a paraphrase in fact – called The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene Peterson.
It’s a beautifully written modern-day rendering of the Bible that has been powerful and helpful to me personally too. In fact, reading The Message a few years ago was the first time I read the Bible cover-to-cover. Here’s how it paraphrases the above passage from Matthew 5:3:
The Message: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
While connecting to a modern reader, in fairness, it isn’t as close a translation as the First Nations Version, in my view. To put it bluntly, is there hypocrisy and racism at work if we welcome The Message but not the First Nations Version, after carefully considering both?
Just shy of two-thirds of Indigenous people in Canada self-identify as Christian (slightly less than non-Indigenous people). Yet are most churches including Indigenous styles of music, using Indigenous languages and embracing Indigenous translations of the Bible? A scant few I hazard.
A contemporary Jesus Revolution would be bold enough to follow the counter-cultural, barrier-breaking message and ways of Christ – all while being faithful to the gospel and the word of God. Jesus crossed racial, gender, socio-economic, cultural and ability barriers in society, including those rigorously enforced by the religious leaders of his era. As 1 John 2:6 says: “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
Jesus’ good news
The second reason we need a Jesus Revolution is that our world desperately needs Jesus’ good news: that despite every one of us falling short of God’s standards, he offers a way for us to be made right with Him by accepting the free gift of his Son’s death on the cross on our behalf, as we turn from our old ways to follow Jesus instead. That by believing in Jesus we have forgiveness and are raised to a new life, just as he was raised from the dead. That he invites us to join him in the work of God’s kingdom right here and now. What is that work?
Our towns, cities, country and world are facing massive and deepening challenges. More people experiencing homelessness are dying from literally freezing to death or have had toes and fingers amputated from frostbite. Tens of thousands have died from illicit drug overdose death, with substance use fueled by things like childhood trauma and abuse. Record breaking proportions of Indigenous and Black people are being incarcerated. An epidemic of mental health challenges is facing young people who are more connected to technology than ever but disconnected in ways that matter most. Disabled people living below the poverty line. Racism, violence, war.
To be sure, Christians are playing a role in addressing each of these crises, but we need to do so much more.
As Jesus said in Matthew 25:35-36:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
The third reason we need a Jesus Revolution is for revival – renewal in the spiritual lives of everyday people, churches and society. Watching the film, I was brought to tears several times. I saw myself in the broken people in it.
I cried remembering the mercy the Lord showed me as I called on his name and turned to Him. I cried out of a longing to be part of a similar movement of the Holy Spirit – something Christians hope for like the weeks-long evidently spontaneous 24/7 worship service at Asbury University in Kentucky this past month that drew over 50,000 people.
After watching Jesus Revolution, I was interested in tracking down Greg Laurie (the teenager whose life changed completely in the movie). Today, he’s the pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. I listened to a few of his sermons and checked out his social media feed. He’s well aware people are praying and hoping for revival. And he had some wise words for what that means.
“We can talk all day long about revival. But it starts with each one of us,” said Pastor Laurie. “To have a personal revival, you need to go back to the basics in your walk with Christ.”
I couldn’t agree more. Daily quiet time with Jesus in prayer, meditation and reading the Bible has totally transformed my life. Memorizing scripture, studying God’s word with others, singing a worship song totally off-key in the car or during a Sunday service. Reading biblically-based books and listening to podcasts to go deeper in my understanding of scripture. Confessing my sins and getting prayer from other believers as we encourage one another.
These are the things that I began experiencing several years ago, after recommitting my life to Jesus as I put my faith in him and repented of my sins. I’m still very much a work in progress – Jesus is far from done with me – but I’ve experienced that personal revival that Pastor Laurie is talking about. Nothing has been better.
Jesus has been the living waters to me that he promised, bringing a peace unknown before, comfort in times of trouble and a growing joy for him. The kind of life changing transformation that you hear about, and read about, and see in movies like Jesus Revolution is real. And it’s a revolution that only Jesus can bring about.
Ben Perrin is a follower of Jesus Christ and a national best-selling author, including Overdose: Heartbreak and Hope in Canada’s Opioid Crisis (Penguin, 2022).
Jesus Revolution is still showing in local theatres.
Thank you Ben for this inspiring and informative review. I can’t wait to see the show as Lonnie Frisbee had a formative impact on the Vineyard as well. I love how you have embedded it in your own story. I agree that we must not assume that we are as welcoming and open as we think we are.
I have also been greatly challenged by Richard Twiss’s work and for us, inclusion has been a long arduous journey still in progress, as we are so steeped in colonialism. I was challenged by Brueggemann’s Lent devotional yesterday on how Jesus allowed himself to be “instructed” by a Canaanite woman to reach beyond his own comfort zone to care for “the other.”
Having been a witness and tasted of the Jesus movement in the 70s, I can’t help but see a parallel between (much of) the church’s struggle with the hippies of the day, and (much of) the church’s struggle to include those who identify as lgbtq+ in our day. Perhaps Lonnie Frisbee’s sad ending was as much to do with the church’s incapacity to embrace him in his pain, as with his own personal struggle.
Thanks, Ben, for this thoughtful review.