So I got dragged into the cinema last night...

By Simon, 25 February, 2023
Jesus Revolution

So I got dragged into the cinema last night. This was a little bit unusual in that I had no idea what we were going see. 

"You'll like it." 

"um... OK." 

So here I am with no clue as to what I'm watching. It wasn't until the first few minutes of the movie that I started to recognize people and places on the screen. 

"Wait... that's Lonnie [Frisbee]..." shortly followed by "Isn't that Calvary Chapel?" I’ve been told that I talk too much in movies. 

Having lived in Southern California for 28 years, and being part of Vineyard for more than a decade and a half, some of the usual suspects are personally known to me. I've spent time with people who were actually part of this story, at various stages, and so I’d say I'm loosely familiar with Calvary Chapel, the Vineyard movement's pre-history, and the Southern California Jesus movement. Which was now unfolding before me on the big screen. 

I should also throw a disclaimer in here, that my wife and I are not of this Jesus freak generation. It's 50 years later, and we're actually the kids of that generation. Unfortunately, we're now old enough to be the old fogeys in the congregation, that should really be worried about perceptions, while yelling "get off my lawn". Ain't life grand? Except that ain’t us, ‘coz we’re Gen X.

One of the things that has always disturbed me was how Lonnie Frisbee was deliberately written out of both Calvary Chapel and Vineyard's official history. He was excommunicated by both denominations. This movie is part of his story, but not all of it. There's a 2005 documentary, "Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher", that outlines his struggles and personal demons. I thought that this movie did him a kindness by alluding to some of those struggles, “we did everyone and everything”, but it did not give those struggles the air to dilute, or confuse, the story being told. 

The movie's story arc concentrates on the growth of Calvary Chapel, from the time Lonnie shows up barefoot from San Fransisco, to the Calvary Chapel "church-plant" in Riverside, California, pastored by the movie's protagonist, Greg Laurie (who wrote the book this movie is based around), that becomes Harvest Christian Fellowship.

It purposefully misses lots of the small details, like John Higgins entire existence (he introduced Lonnnie Frisbee to Chuck Smith), or the doctrinal differences that would later split the Jesus movement into dozens of warring denominations. For example, it purposefully doesn't include Kenn Gulliksen's 1974 Calvary Chapel church plant in West Los Angeles that would found the Vineyard movement, nor does it include the 1977 Calvary Chapel church plant by John Wimber of what would become the Anaheim Vineyard "mothership". 

What the movie tackles very well, is the dehumanization of the hippies, by both society and the Christian church at the time, and the subsequent struggle to understand them through the lens of Jesus' teachings, the background of the Vietnam War, and the 1960’s civil rights movement. In fact, there are a couple of gotcha moments in the movie where storied moments from Jesus’ teachings provide the solution to the complaints coming from the older congregational members (not the carpets!).

Overall, I thought the movie told a story well, even if it wasn't the complete story. They'll be a lot of nostalgia surrounding it, but I don't know how well it will pass on the central message. There's still a massive generational gap between “granny doing drugs and getting saved”, and today's kids, who are navigating the constant trauma of school, mall, and drive-by shootings while the adults fight over what history or books should be taught to them, all while navigating a prescription opioid epidemic.

Putting it in that context, the Jesus revolution moved the hippies into church, utilizing the contempory tools of the day, such as rock music. That doesn't necesarrily work 50 years later. Kids today don't have those same places to rest in, and the calm, peaceful, stillness emerging from Asbury, with its notable absence of “contemporary worship”, may be exactly what is needed.



My favorite social media quote, so far, is: “

The Jesus Revolution is the epitome of Disney Princess theology.”


Here’s Connie Frisbee’s (Lonnie’s wife) reaction to the movie.

For a much deeper critique of the movie, check out Keith Giles’ review over on Patheos. It doesn't pull any punches.

Here’s another review taking on the modern day Pharisees.

Here's an article quoting from the historical record: Lonnie Frisbee: Key figure in Calvary Chapel and Vineyard Christian Fellowship

Vineyard USA recently put out this webcast featuring first-hand accounts of events in the movie from Kenn & Joanie Gulliksen, Chuck Girard, Cindy Rethmeier, and Mike Turrigiano. They seemed quite happy to navigate around the elephant in the room.