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The Jesus Revolution: The Era No One Wants to Remember Has a Movie

Today we see released the movie Jesus Revolution. In one sense it’s about time; so many of us were impacted by it, you’d think it would be more celebrated than it is. And yet, having spent time bringing back the era on this blog and in more recent years on my YouTube channel, I get the feeling that there are many people who would just as soon forget it happened at all.

First: I was there. It wasn’t California (it was Texas,) and it wasn’t Calvary Chapel (it was our Roman Catholic group) but I was a participant. That included the coffeehouse ministry, which ended up being life changing. I’ve concentrated my emphasis on two aspects. The first one is the “Jesus Music Era,” in conjunction with people who are now gone, and which has been so diligently catalogued by Ken Scott. The second has been the Charismatic Renewal, which certainly wasn’t identical to what Chuck Smith was doing (there are significant differences) but which also changed people in a era of upheaval. There will be people who gain eternal life because of what happened, and that can’t be gainsaid.

Although I’ve received many thanks from grateful people for posting the music, then and now there were people who were working against what was happening and who ultimately subverted the result. They include:

  • Bill Gothard, probably the single most influential Christian teacher of the 1970’s (with the possible exception of J. Vernon McGee.) Many who had to pastor the hippies and other who came into churches knew they needed a good deal of guidance and leadership, but Gothard’s rigid authoritarian model, combined with the bourgeois respectability he wrapped it in, impacted a generation in a way it really didn’t need. Although the left these days is obsessed with authoritarianism, in some ways Gothard stunted Christian politics with it. Rigid authoritarianism isn’t something that has always had an appeal to Americans; Christian political figures steeped in it never quite made it, leading to the rise of Donald Trump from outside.
  • Classical Pentecostals: although this varied from denomination to denomination, many of these didn’t like the “Jesus Movement.” Those who came out of it weren’t for the most part in the culture that birthed modern Pentecost in the U.S., and they didn’t appreciate the legalism that went with it. I discussed this relative to Paul Laverne and Mark Walker (the latter Lee University’s president.)
  • Other traditionalists: these hated the liturgical and worship changes that the “Jesus Music” era brought to the church. Their response was muted at the time but have come back with a vengeance afterwards. On the Catholic side this includes “Trads” and #straightouttairondale types, with many who were in the Charismatic renewal switching sides with the tide. On the Protestant side we have the “worship wars” which have divided churches.
  • Those on the left who didn’t like the conservative theological ways of the “Jesus Movement.” Their lament has continued until this day.

The obvious question remains: why did the movement end? I hate to call it a revival, because the Jesus Movement, like some of the things going on today, didn’t fit the pattern set by the likes of Finney, Moody, Sunday or even Billy Graham (who benefited from it.) One thing I can speak to with some authority is why the “Jesus Music” era died around the end of the 1970’s, which perhaps is a good way of looking at the whole movement.

The “Jesus Music” era was one of the most creative eras of Christian music that we have. Sure there were duds and there were those who just replicated what they had done before, but the whole movement brought into–and in some cases to the fore–songs and styles that hadn’t been there before, and appealed to a new generation of people.

But towards the end of the 1970’s something happened: the Christian music scene turned from a ministry into a business. Many creative (and non-traditional) ways were pushed aside by record labels which were interested in appealing to as broad of an audience as possible. At the same time many of the people changed by the Jesus Movement were being absorbed into “conventional church” of one kind or another; the people least prepared for the movement became its greatest (if not grateful) beneficiaries. Today our worship is lead by a business model, where new hits end up befuddling congregations just as they were learning (or not) the last set of new songs.

And for me? Well, I’ve had second thoughts about how I felt then and now, but there’s no doubt it brought me into a better walk with God. And that’s the ultimate object of Christianity, in this life and the life to come.


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