The movie tells the true story of a 1971 California faith movement that caught the attention of Time Magazine, who dubbed events the “Jesus Revolution.” Dramatized through the life of Greg Laurie, a young man following a hippie lifestyle after a tough childhood with his impoverished single mother, the film records the intertwined faith journeys of Greg, pastor Chuck Smith, and hippie-turned-evangelist Lonnie Smith. For those interested in the events at Asbury, this film is a timely exploration of what American revival might look like. As Menendez shares, the film also offers viewers a great chance to talk with middle and high-schoolers about a range of issues they will face on the road to mature faith.
What did you know about the movie, and the story that it tells, that made you want to take your grandchildren to see The Jesus Revolution?
We were looking for something to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon with our 13-year-old grandson. So we went, knowing very little about the actual story. I am so glad we did, for it opened up some good conversations.
What do you think made the movement so popular and so effective?
What were some obstacles to the movement, and how were those overcome?
Sin is always behind the obstacles.
Sin is played out in Chuck Smith’s lackluster faith and his open disdain for the younger generation. Even though he is a pastor, he is blind to their need and wedded to his expectations of what church, life, and the life of his daughter should look like. His dwindling congregation is a metaphor for his ministry. In the words of my grandson, “The stuck-up people in church were obstacles.”
Sin presents itself in the “hippie’” drug culture, with its thin veneer of peace and love that masks a callous disregard for others and a rebellious attitude toward any authority.
Sin finds another way into the church by tipping Lonnie’s God-given successful ministry into self-aggrandizement. My grandson said, “He wanted to become the movement.”
The Gospel overcomes obstacles. Chuck Smith flippantly tells his daughter that God will have to send him a hippie, so God sent Lonnie Smith into his world. Lonnie’s heart for the lost reminds Chuck that Jesus came for sinners, who come in all shapes and sizes. God uses Lonnie to call Greg and Cathe, two lost but searching souls, out of darkness into the light of faith. Lonnie’s journey takes a disappointing turn as he parts ways with Chuck and Greg. Their eventual reconciliation is touched on in the closing credits, but is not explored by the movie.
What did the movie teach you about Jesus? About human nature? About the movement of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives?
Jesus doesn’t see people as we see them. He is at work in ways we would not expect. He can bring order out of chaos, light out of darkness, healing out of pain. His grace is greater than our sin.
We are all sinners and our sin is manifested in many ways. We can put ourselves above God, we continue to look for truth in the wrong places, we fear being let down or left out. Whether we are a “Pharisee” or a “prostitute” (or somewhere in between), we all need the saving power of the good news of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit brings life to people’s lives and into a congregation. The Holy Spirit can turn anything (even almost dying in a car accident) into an opportunity to break into a person’s heart.
What were you hoping to gain by taking your grandson to see The Jesus Revolution? Did the film lead to some good conversations?
We went thinking it was a way to fill a few hours on a Saturday afternoon and walked out with a wonderful shared experience which encouraged good conversations about the drug culture, the search for meaning and belonging, God’s pursuit of his lost creation, the relationship between Greg Laurie and his mother, and the unraveling of Lonnie Frisbee.
Where do you find hope for your grandchildren? Where do you see the Spirit at work in younger generations?
A wise man said about children and grandchildren: “Remember, God loves them more than you do and their story is not over.” That is a good reason for hope for any generation or any child.
Some questions to share with your teenagers, along with thoughts about the answers:
- What were the “hippies” looking for?
Love, peace, freedom, meaning, acceptance, belonging, and understanding.
- How did the hippie movement and the drug culture fail to deliver what it promised?
The drug culture offered a counterfeit, a counterfeit love, peace, and freedom. Two scenes come to mind:
In the first, we watch a party where everyone is high. A girl passes out and begins to choke, but no one cares or helps her except for Cathe. This opens Cathe’s eyes to the empty promises of the drug culture.
In the second, a group of friends are high in a van careening dangerously down the road. Greg comes out of a drugged stupor, realizes their danger, and begs the driver to slow down. The driver responds by making fun of Greg and driving more recklessly, completely disregarding the pleas of his friend.
- In the beginning of the movie, how was Pastor Chuck Smith like the Pharisees?
Just as the Pharisees had disdain for tax collectors, prostitutes and “sinners,” Chuck Smith disdains the hippies, forgetting the twin truths of the Gospel: that he, too, is a sinner, and that Jesus loved him and died for him. God’s grace should propel us out into the world to love as we have been loved.
- How can a man whose ministry is so effective and fruitful unravel as Lonnie’s did?
Lonnie is a fallen man. As my grandson put it, “Don’t think too highly of yourself.” Everyone can sin and everyone will sin, so our trust and faith are not in men, no matter how holy and charismatic they are. We can go from pointing others to God to pointing others to ourselves in the blink of an eye. Self loves to get the credit and the glory. None of us is immune to temptation, which is a great takeaway for people of all ages. Our response to our sin is repentance. To quote Martin Luther: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” He intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance. All of the Christian life is repentance.”
- Why do you think Greg Laurie finally sang to his mother?
He repented. Once you see yourself as a sinner in need of salvation you have compassion for others. Greg’s mother was a mess and her mess impacted his life. Greg had understandably hardened his heart against her, refusing to sing to her. When he came to faith, he returned to their trailer and sang to her. It was a beautiful picture of forgiveness.