created by Tracy Allen
“What will people think when they hear that I'm a Jesus freak. What will people do when they find that it's true. I don't really care if they label me a Jesus freak. There ain't no disguising the truth” (DC Talk 1995). Jesus Freak is a term that is derived from a movement of Christianity that swept across America in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This movement is called “the Jesus Movement;” and it’s people are known as the “Jesus People,” “Street Christians,” and “Jesus Freaks” (Enroth, Ericson, & Peters 9-14). What was the Jesus Movement about; and how did it grow into a national movement? Why did it occur? What impact did this movement have; and what can be learned from it?
The Jesus Movement has made a lasting impression on American society in particular. The primary impact is felt in the resurgence of Pentecostal thought and new form of Contemporary Christian Music. Christian’s today can learn the importance of cultural relevance and fervor from the “Jesus Freaks.”
Sydney E. Ahlstrom of Yale University said, “the decade of the sixties, in short, was a time when the old grounds of not only historic Western theism were awash, but also the older forms of national confidence and social idealism.” In fact, he continues to say the sixties would be seen as a decisive turning point in American history (Ahlstrom 100-103). In this, Ahlstrom was right. The decade of the sixties experienced a great deal of social, political, and religious upheaval like none before. Some of the issues that drew the nation to it’s turning point included the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam Conflict, Student Rights Movement, Ecology Movement, and the decline in church attendance among others (Jorstad 38). The Civil Rights Movement was the struggle of blacks to gain equality in jobs, housing, transportation, and other areas including an end to segregation. In 1964 and 1965, the U.S. government passed two acts protecting the rights of black Americans. Still, this did not end the personal bigotry that many experienced and unrest continued (39).
While this struggle continued, America found itself in another international conflict. This was the Vietnam Conflict. The start of the war in Vietnam did not receive much opposition due to the fact that most Americans saw the Conflict as a battle against communism (39). Eventually, however, activism against the war began due to the stance that this was not a war against Communism at all; but instead, it was a civil war between two people groups in a foreign country that America was unrelated to. Thus, an Anti-War Movement began that led to more political and social unrest (40).
Two other movements on the scene at the time were the Student Rights Movement and Ecology Movement. These movements were spawned mostly by high school and college students who were trying to voice their opinions about the state of society. The Student Rights Movement focused on removing censorship from school campuses by the administration on such things as newspapers and on-campus publications (Hefner para 4-7). Other issues such as curriculum relevancy and abolishing rules regarding conduct were also part of the agenda (Jorstad 42). The Ecology Movement was centered on preserving the environment for future generations and feeding the hungry (43).
In addition to these movements, the church was in a state of confusion and decline. Congregation members were unsure of which view was correct and church leaders offered little direction. The 1960’s marked the churches attempt at maintaining relevance to the youth culture. In the early 60’s, churches tried to reach out to the culture however they saw fit. Unfortunately, by the late 1960’s, the large financial supporters in churches were cutting back due to this move toward relevance (44). According to Gallup polls from 1971, thirty-one percent of people polled said religion wasn’t important anymore. Also, eighteen percent of those polled said church was not meeting their needs anymore (Davis & Gallup 48).
It was obvious, by this time, that a cultural shift was taking place. People saw a need for change in American society; yet, the church, which had always been the mode to exact change, was falling short. There were no evangelists leading the way. Even Billy Graham had begun to loose the interest of the young people by the early 70’s (43-50). In addition, polls showed that the majority of churches were unwilling to change in liturgy, doctrine, or social involvement (68-91). In fact, the church as a whole had placed its focus on meeting the needs of the newly formed suburban neighborhoods in the 1950’s. This left the urban areas practically untouched by the church and masses of people with few choices (Gonzalez 380). Holiness churches in the urban areas tried to reach these masses; but their attempts were to no avail. The subculture of hippies and others in the “free love” generation lost connection with Christianity and traditional religion (380).
Therefore, although the need for revival was high in America (especially among young adults and youth), it seemed that there was no foundation for it in the “free love” generation. Yet, there were numerous signs of revival outside of the church that were beginning to spread across the country (Jorstad 45). In fact, there was a foundation for revival. That foundation was the new culture itself. According to Theodore Roszak in his book “The Making of a Counter Culture,” the young people of the 60’s and 70’s may have started looking for political and social change. But, what they were really looking for more than that. They were searching for something beyond reason and intellect. What they were actually looking for was a transformation of self, others, and the environment (Roszak 49). This transformation was sought through feeling, passion, and visionary experiences (124-125).
At first, the primary means for obtaining this transformation was drugs and hallucinogens. But eventually, the use of drugs declined due to the realization of their ill effects and lack of providing true salvation (Enroth, Ericson, & Peters 226). The next phase in the search for transformation was looking for salvation. Some found what they were looking for in Eastern Mysticism and/or Indian folklore, while others found their salvation in Jesus (227). Those that found Jesus in their quest for transformation are the driving force behind what is called the Jesus Movement of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. This movement so saturated the culture that in June of 1971 it graced the cover of time magazine and was called The Jesus Revolution (10).
The Jesus Movement is classically characterized by long hair, bell bottom wearing, tract delivering, finger to the sky pointing, Christian young adults on the late 1960’s and 70’s. But, in truth, the Jesus Movement is more than just that. Although there is no particular reference that is considered to have triggered the whole of the Jesus Movement, there is one common starting point. In San Francisco within the Haight-Ashbury district, a hub of counterculture had formed. It was in this district that Ted Wise and his wife began evangelizing a group of hippies in late 1966 (12). Soon, Steve Heefner, a disc jockey friend of Wise’s, accepted Jesus. Two other friends of Wise named Jim Doop and Danny Sands, also became a Christians. Sands was so impressed by the biblical story of the rich young ruler that he sold everything and drove up and down the coast of California until he and his family eventually moved in with Wise and his wife. In the following year, this group of people started a coffeehouse in the Haight-Ashbury district in order to evangelize the area. In the two years that the coffeehouse was opened, somewhere between 30,000 to 50,000 young people heard the message of the gospel. It was these 30,000 to 50,000 people that have been said to have started the nationwide spread of the Jesus Movement (13).
Eventually, all of the families moved in together beginning the first known communal living situation of the time. The doors to the commune were open to anyone who would be open to hearing the gospel. After some time, Lonnie Frisbee who was one of the members of the commune felt the Lord calling him to start a ministry in California (14). So, he and his wife moved down to California where they met John Higgins. John wanted to do the exact same thing as Frisbee; so, they rented a house together in Costa Mesa, CA. Calling it the House of Acts, they opened it up for communal living and history began to repeat itself (14).
Others from the Wise’s commune, such as Heefner and Doop, were recruited to join other ministries nationwide. Heefner and Doop joined the Way Ministries. Wise began a drug rehabilitation program. Higgins and others moved to the Pacific Northwest to plant new communal living sites (14). Higgins communal living complexes were some of the most notable in the Northwest and were called Shiloh communes. Over time, the Shiloh communes numbered 37, which sent out countless others to spread the gospel and restart the cycle again (14).
This is the common testimony of the era, hippies being evangelized by hippies, moving into a communal living situation, and continuing the process of evangelism. However, there was one large group in the movement that did not go the route of communal living and that’s the Calvary Chapel. Instead, Calvary Chapel desired to affect change within the church and culture while remaining true to capitalism (Jesus Movement para 5). Therefore, they opened homes for hippies to live in, but encouraged them to become working members of society based on biblical principles (Calvary Chapel para 5).
The Calvary Chapel and subsequent Jesus Movement on the Southern California coast began when Chuck Smith became the Pastor of a small 25-member congregation in Santa Ana, California. It was 1965 when he took over the pastorate and when his heart was drawn to the young people of the day (Calvary Chapel para 3). Chuck Smith and his wife were on the beach in California and noticing numerous young people along the coast. While there, they commented on how there must be some way to reach them with the gospel. Soon, they met their daughters boyfriend John who introduced them to Lonnie Frisbee. Chuck asked Lonnie to become the Youth Leader for Calvary (Calvary Chapel para 4). Lonnie became a key figure in bringing the hippies into the church and the message to the streets (Calvary Chapel para 5).
Common ground exists in the areas of emphasis within the movement. First and foremost, the movement is centered on Jesus Christ (Graham 16). Just like Paul, these radical believers wanted to simplify their lives by concentrating on Jesus Christ, His death on the cross, and the resurrection (16-17). Also, Jesus People all believed in the necessity of evangelism and discipleship. The Great Commission was one of the most important verses of the movement and inspired the desire for evangelism and discipleship along with (19-20).
One more area of common ground is the acceptance of everyone before the Lord regardless of look, race, social stance, political affiliation, or any other thing. This movement accepts all as they are, believing that it is possible to love and disciple people into who they are called to be. It is cited as a movement that “cuts across nearly all social dividing lines” by Time Magazine (The Jesus Revolution, para 11).
In addition, the movement centers around people having a personal experience with Jesus. These believers stress having a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. According to Jesus Freaks, it is after this encounter that one is truly considered a Christian, having themselves been born again (Graham 17). It is a movement that’s been characterized as having a Bible focus. These Christians saw the Bible as their source for all answers. In fact, Life Magazine said these Christians irrefutably believed that the Bible was true (17). Jesus People were concerned with maintaining purity and faithfulness as well (18-19).
It also placed a large emphasis on the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ believing that Christ could return at any hour and time was short. Also, Life magazine says that these “Street Christians” held the stance that miracles still happen (17). The final foundation of the Jesus Movement is it’s focus on the Holy Spirit. The believers of the movement insisted that the Holy Spirit lives inside of the believer in order to guide and direct their every step. He (the Holy Spirit) is also seen as the source for what will eventually be termed “power evangelism” (18). It is these foundations that have made a lasting impact on American church theology today. Throughout the course of the movement, Jesus People reintegrated into many different churches and denominations in the U.S. as communal living declined. As a result, the foundational beliefs of the Jesus Movement have saturated modern church thought and culture (Di Sabatino a 3). As a side note, there is only one Christian commune that is popular today. It is called Jesus People U.S.A. and is located in Chicago, Illinois with 500 people residing (Jesus People U.S.A. para. 1).
Another major impact that the Jesus Movement has had is in the area of music. Worship music in churches now called “Hip Churches” moved away from hymns of old and into a new music style often called Maranatha Music. Plus, CCM Magazine says the Contemporary Christian Music Industry originated from the Jesus Movement (PRNewsWire para 6). Today’s Contemporary Christian Music industry boasts claims to 8 percent of the billion-dollar music marketplace (Di Sabatino a 3). Some of the most influencial artists that hailed from the movement include Ron Moore, Love Song, John Fischer, Larry Norman, Randy Matthews, Agape, the All Saved Freak Band, and late-comer Keith Green (Di Sabatino c para 5).
The music industry itself also testifies to the theological shift in American Christian culture. According to the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, Americans Christian Music industry differs from much of the globe as far as content is concerned (Powell 17). American lyrics deal with primarily with matters such as having a personal private relationship with Jesus, scripture, personal morality, and emotion and faithfulness (18). All of these theological premises were foundational to the Jesus Movement (18).
One other impact that has had numerous effects in and of itself is the return to Pentecostal thought. Although some in the Jesus Movement would say that they most definitely are not Pentecostal, the theological foundations of the Jesus Movement stirred many in expecting the manifest Gifts of the Spirit (Enroth, Ericson, & Peters 227). As cited early, the Jesus People believed in the Holy Spirit being given to the believer. They also believed in having a Bible-based faith and expecting miracles. It was these core beliefs that led many from the Jesus Movement into a form of Pentecostalism later called the Second Wave (The Third Wave para. 1).
In the 1980’s, a group of people from Calvary Chapel in Southern California chose to form their own church. It was first started in the home of their pastor, John Wimber. His reason for forming this new congregation was to see the Gifts of the Spirit released in the Body of Christ and moving actively in evangelism (VineyardUSA para.3-4). He was one of the Jesus People and believed the move of the Spirit would be a key tool in saving the lost at the time (Di Sabatino b 10). Eventually, this small group grew into one of the largest church planting movements in the nation called The Vineyard.
From the mid 1980’s until approximately 1996, the global body of Pentecostals and Charismatics experienced a renewal of the Spiritual Gifts like none seen since the Azusa Street revival of the early 1900’s. This was renewal was termed the Third Wave (The Third Wave para. 2). Today, the Vineyard church which was started by a Jesus Freak has more than 650 churches in the U.S. and 850 worldwide (VineyardUSA para.6). Other notable impacts include the growth of parachurch organizations, campus ministries, and the subsequent spread of the movement to the UK (Di Sabatino c 13).
In conclusion, the Jesus Movement found its roots in the upheaval of America’s social and political foundations in the 1950’s to 1960’s. These great upheavals were led by a subculture of young people, both high school and college age that were looking for transformation. The transformation that they sought was not merely on these platforms, but also, on personal levels of self-discovery, environmental change, and affecting others around them. Drugs became the first method of transformation; however, drugs were soon replaced with a desire to find something more than themselves called salvation. Some of these young people found the salvation they sought in Jesus and spread the news of the Gospel like wildfire sweeping the great forest of the U.S.. This great fire dubbed the Jesus Movement sparked a new form of worship music and the Contemporary Christian Music industry. It also brought back a renewing in Pentecostal thought and the things of the Spirit, which led to the Third Wave Movement.
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Powell, Mark Allan. “Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music.”Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002.
PRNewswire. “CCM Magazine Launches Brazilian Edition: Includes Origin of Industry.” CCM. 14 July 1998.
Roszak, Theodore. “The Making of a Counter Culture.” New York: Doubleday, 1969.
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"The Jesus Revolution." Time. 21 Jun 1971. 8 June 2006. http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,905202,00.html
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Jesus Freak by DC Talk song lyrics by Toby McKeehan and Mark Heimermann.
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