A Compelling Story of Jesus’ Love
I was privileged to see the new Erwin Brothers movie, Jesus Revolution with my family this week. It tells the story of the Jesus Movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s through the eyes of Greg Laurie, one of the many disaffected youth dramatically saved during this work of the Holy Spirit. We all loved it. This is not surprising as Andrew and Jon Erwin make very good movies. Yet there is something more with this movie. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since the credits rolled. There is a beautiful and challenging message that runs all through the film. It is one that can remind us of the core of Christianity while also pointing to how to live out our role as lights in this world. In showing the impact of a small number of flawed and hurting people offering Jesus’ love, grace, and acceptance to other flawed and hurting people, despite their vast differences, Jesus Revolution also offers hope and a way forward for the church in today’s culture…the same one it has been walking for the last 2000 years. As a result, Jesus Revolution not only tells us about a unique event in history, it also speaks in a concrete way to how Christians can reach our society that is struggling with many of the same issues as those from 60 years ago. It is all about loving like Jesus.
It is a wonderful and challenging movie.
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Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out
Jesus Revolution depicts the events leading up to and during the Jesus Movement, a revival that swept America in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. It was a grass roots movement that took off around the country among a most unexpected and very un-church like group – the hippies. These were the young people who had chosen to tune in, turn on, and drop out, in the words of Timothy Leary. This means they traded in college, marriage, church, and careers to search for meaning and significance in drugs, partying, and eastern mysticism. Though peace signs, Vietnam War protests, LSD, and bell bottomed young people with flowers in their hair can be mythologized as heroic, tragic, or silly, depending on perspective, the movie does a wonderful job of avoiding any of these oversimplifications and clichés. Rather, picking up with a baptism of hundreds of newly saved hippie Christians, it tells a story that is both more complicated and nuanced than it is often portrayed, but also simpler in many ways. It is one of hurting and lost individuals desperately searching for meaning and escape through any means possible, no matter how exotic or dangerous, only to find it through the eternal love and kindness of Jesus.
A Love Story at Heart
The plot of Jesus Revolution is a love story, at heart, but one that is of may layers and not simply romantic. The primary “romance” centers around Greg Laurie, a young man trying to figure out life after growing up with his emotionally troubled alcoholic mother. They live in a broken down trailer on the beach with the mother going through a string of relationships. Greg is struggling to fit into life when he meets Cathe, his soon to be girlfriend and her friends at the local high school. Though Cathe is from a wealthy two parent household, their story begins with both lost and searching for truth and they set off together expressing their shared pain and dysfunction.
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At the same time, Chuck Smith, played well by Kelsey Grammer is introduced as the discouraged pastor of a small church. He wears a suit and tie as he preaches to congregation also decked out in their Sunday best from the Bible. Yet, despite the Word being filled with overflowing love, joy, and hope of Jesus, Chuck’s sermon is filled with misery and discouragement. His message one week seems to be only that life is a struggle to be endured. There is also not a lot of joy or hope in his home, where his daughter, Janette seems to have a foot out the door of Christianity and he dismisses the hippies as a bunch of dirty hippies who need a bath. This outlook continues until his daughter brings Lonnie Frisbee home to meet him. Played by The Chosen’s, Jonathan Roumie, Frisbee is a long haired, bearded, cape wearing hippie picked up hitchhiking with no particular destination. Lonnie Firsbee was part of the group of “those people” that it is so easy for respectable society to disdain. Yet, he was also a person Jesus saved from the depths of his sin. Frisbee had been homeless and living in the infamous center of 60’s drug culture Haight-Asbury before following Jesus. Now he was out telling everyone he could about the love of Jesus and standing in Smith’s living room. The two men could not have been any more opposed to one another according to the culture, but they were to love each other as brothers according to Jesus.
Who would they listen to? Who would you listen to in the same circumstance? Would you love a brother or sister in Christ as Jesus tells you to if they were so totally different?
Their responses, though often flawed, shows us the Jesus focused love that is at the heart of of Jesus Revolution. There is one very short scene that stands out in this regard. Shortly after being introduced, Frisbee remarks in classic hippie language that Smith’s house has “good vibes”. Frisbee then enthusiastically wraps up the straight laced, no nonsense Smith in a exuberant hug a few moments later. Though it is amusing to watch, Smith’s surprise and discomfort with the gesture speaks volumes. He was the respectable pastor in charge of an established church where everyone wears good clothes and there is shag carpet. It seems wrong to let a hippie embrace him, even one who loves Jesus. Yet, he is supposed to be representing Jesus. In contrast, it is the one who sinned much and whose dress is unusual, Frisbee, who offers unreserved love. It is a clear demonstration of cultural expectations and comfort levels clashing with the love offered in the name of Jesus. These type of differences show up all throughout the film. I found myself constantly challenged to think about what I would do in the same situation and realizing how I would likely fall short. Smith and Frisbee’s relationship presents the always relevant question of will we love people in Jesus name like He loves us, even if they fall outside of our comfort zone.
Roumie is outstanding as Frisbee. He does a wonderful job adopting the odd speech and mannerisms of Frisbee and the hippies of that day, without making it distracting. He is also superb in showing Frisbee’s intense faith, overflowing joy, and genuine love. He is even funny at times. His sympathetic dead pan reaction to one of the worship band members being introduced to the church as having 3 months to go on his sentence for drugs, “Yeah, yeah, that happens.”, still has me chuckling. Kelsey Grammer is also very good as Chuck Smith.
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As the movie moves forward around these two very different relationships, Jesus Revolution remains full of compassion even as it does not pull its punches and avoids the temptation to turn the people involved into caricatures, either good or bad. Greg and Cathe are shown doing lots of drugs and embracing the counter culture life style with relish initially, for example. They appear to be enjoying themselves and, while watching, you will likely see the appeal of it all to those who are lost. They are not depicted ast going straight to jail and the hippie life has a sort of logic to it, at the start. Sin is pleasurable for a season so it makes sense that this false means of salvation seems attractive until the time it destroys you. The film does not avoid the intense pain, desperation, and confusion that comes with the consequences of their bad choices either.
As a person who did not get saved myself until well into adulthood, I appreciated the faith that likely motivated this unvarnished depiction of the dangerous pleasures of the world. Sin truly leads to death, but it hides the sting well at the start to get you hooked on your own destruction.
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While not approving of Greg and Cathe’s choices, it helps you see their humanity and understand the roots of the desire to rebel that led them to their bad decisions. This same embrace of the characters brokenness shines through with the depictions of Smith and Frisbee as they wrestle with their roles as leaders in what becomes a great revival. Frisbee’s persistent and gentle love for everyone involved kicks off the movie shining the light of Jesus on everyone around him. He then wrestles with his own vulnerabilities as the power of leadership and position hit him. Similarly, Chuck Smith’s imperfections are not sugar coated as he deals with a position that he never planned for. He also succeeds at times and fails at others. Both seem to consistently love others and genuinely want good for the lost throughout the story and despite their flaws. The end result is the strong impression that all of the characters involved were far from perfect, but that the perfect Jesus did mighty things with them despite that fact. Jesus Revolution gives credit and glory for the Jesus Movement squarely where it belongs, Jesus, as a result.
I could go on much longer about Jesus Revolution, I have been pondering its messages for a couple of days now, but rather than do so, I urge you to go out and see it yourself. It is a great portrayal of how Jesus uses real people, with all of their strengths, weakness, sins, and failures, to reach the world if they are willing to trust Him and love like He does. It is also a challenging reminder to us all of what loving like Jesus really means.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
In short, see Jesus Revolution!
Other great Christian Movies –
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Unbroken: Path to Redemption – Christian Movie Review
I Can Only Imagine: Christian Movie Review (Updated for Video)