This last week I watched the new Lionsgate film, “Jesus Revolution.” The film did better than expected, grossing $50 million in the first months after its release in February.
The screenplay is based upon a memoir that Greg Laurie, and co-writer Ellen Vaughn, published in 2018, “Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today.”
I knew nothing of Greg Laurie when I watched the movie, but since then, I have learned that he is a long-time pastor, fifty years now, at a megachurch called Harvest Christian Fellowship in both Riverside and Irvine, California.
The screenplay includes four people: Greg, his girlfriend Cathe, a charismatic bearded hippy named Lonnie Frisbee, and a former Foursquare pastor named Chuck Smith.
In the early 1970s, Greg was in high school and lived with his alcoholic mother in a trailer house parked at Newport Beach. Throughout the film, he struggles to find his way, to re-create a more stable home and family, and find a career.
He heads down the wrong path for a short time, but other people, including Cathe, Lonnie, and Chuck, redirect him.
Lonnie and Chuck agree to conduct a mass baptism on a Saturday at Pirate’s Cove, at Newport Beach. Over the next several weeks, the two men baptize hundreds and then thousands of young people in the Pacific Ocean, including Cathe and Greg.
A break between Lonnie and Chuck over the appropriate style of worship at Calvary Chapel forces Greg to choose between them. Lonnie heads to Florida.
It is the film’s final scene that resonated with me. It is that of Explo ‘72, in Dallas, Texas, a gathering sponsored by Bill Bright’s organization “Campus Crusade for Christ.”
High school and college-aged students from across America showed up from June 12 to June 17, 1972, for a week of training in mission work, fifty-one years ago this month.
Three weeks after I graduated from Sterling High School, in May, I made the trek to Dallas. My ride dropped me off at Dallas Baptist College, and I checked into a dorm.
Days we attended seminars on campus, where instructors tried to teach us how to minister door-to-door, by passing out tracts. Afternoons we knocked on doors.
Towards evening, city buses would haul us to the Cotton Bowl, where we listened to a series of vocalists, bands, and sermons, including Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Andre Crouch. Billy Graham spoke mid-week.
The final scene of “Jesus Revolution” shows a clip of Billy speaking to a crowd of almost 80,000 students, in the Cotton Bowl. He wore a powder blue suit, white shirt, and tie.
In that clip, he says, “This is a demonstration of the love of God by tens of thousands of young people, saying to the world that God loves you. It’s the Jesus revolution that is going on in this country.” Pictures of the actual Greg, Cathe, Lonnie, and Chuck follow.
At Explo ‘72, I did not see many, if any, hippies or flower children, like those seen at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. Those who attended were typical high school and college-aged students, who wore normal clothes, shoes, and sported no beards.
I think the film makes a mistake by conflating as the same two distinct organizations, Chuck and Lonnie’s “Jesus Movement” in southern California, and Bill Bright’s “Campus Crusade for Christ,” a college-oriented ministry spread across the fifty states.
In all, I thought the movie was worth watching. Kathy Schiffer, a journalist, said, “If you’re old enough to remember the 1960s and ’70s, you’ll find Lionsgate’s upbeat new film ‘Jesus Revolution’ to be a walk down memory lane.” Indeed, it was, especially the music.
I might mention that Kelsey Grammer, of “Cheers” and “Frasier,” plays Chuck Smith, and that Jonathan Roumie, of “The Chosen” television series, plays Lonnie Frisbee.