A simple chapel service at Asbury University became a round-the-clock worship service for two weeks. Described as “radically humble,” this awakening continues to spill over onto other campuses. Asbury’s president explained, “We cannot stop something we did not start.”
At the same time, theaters are playing Jesus Revolution, which chronicles the spiritual revival that caught fire in the parents and grandparents of today’s youth. It began in people involved in the drug culture of Southern California in the late ’60s but soon morphed into a mainstream youth movement found in various forms in every country on the winning side of WWII.
Might the Asbury “outpouring” be the beginnings of a similar spiritual awakening in this generation?
Why the Jesus Movement Was a ‘Revolution’
A closer look at the Jesus Movement from 50 years ago is possible now, courtesy of the popular movie that tells the story [read TGC’s review]. The film—which has earned nearly double the projected revenues at the box office—examines the early years (1968–72) of a movement that rippled out in influence far beyond those years. I came to faith during that time, but I confess I went to see Jesus Revolution half expecting to leave in the middle if it got cheesy. I ended up finding in the movie a reminder of just how inspiring that time was and how much my generation longs to see a “revolution” like this happen again.
The Jesus Movement began on California beaches. But it spread quickly to coffee houses and music venues in ordinary places like Chicago and Buffalo and in Bible study groups in college dorms too preppy to sport a hippie.
I found in the movie a reminder of just how inspiring that time was and how much my generation longs to see a ‘revolution’ like this happen again.
This massive, unexpected resonance with the ancient story of Jesus of Nazareth came in on a wave of equal parts hope and fear. These were the kids whose parents defeated Hitler. Anything seemed possible. Yet looming in the background was a hellish war in Vietnam, friends being drafted, and the general instability of the Cold War and late-1960s cultural upheaval.
Larry Eskridge, a former history professor at Wheaton College, wrote one of the first books on the Jesus Movement, explaining how this disillusioned generation began asking the Big Questions in earnest. What’s true? How do you find meaning in life? Is this life all there is?
What was notable about this revival (and evident in the film) was an emphasis on personal repentance and the need to respond to Scripture. There are a thousand untold stories. My husband was a young officer in the army in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1970. Facing the prospect of going to Vietnam, he read the Gospel of John in one evening and, through the influence of a helicopter pilot, decided to follow Christ. My dentist friend with five generations of staid Episcopalians preceding him was moved by an experience of the Holy Spirit that led him to devote two days a week to fixing the teeth of poor people in eastern North Carolina for the next 40 years. Why? Because as he explains, Jesus told him to.
There was something beautiful about the passion of that time, as the movie effectively captures. Nearly 100,000 kids filled the Cotton Bowl in Dallas at Explo ’72. We lit candles and sang along with Andrae Crouch, “How can I say thanks?” This generation grew up in segregated schools. The Jesus Movement was our first taste of the power of the gospel to bring black people and white people into a working communion, with all its challenges. There was so much hope.
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