“Jesus freaks, out in the streets, handing tickets out for God . . . ”
Lest you think that the Jesus movement was merely a localized phenomenon among hippie mystics in California, consider that Elton John’s Tiny Dancer contained a lyrical reference instantly and internationally understandable to radio listeners of 1971: Tiny Dancer (recorded far from SoCal, in London) essentially noted that going out in public then meant that you would be witnessed to by some young Christian believer.
A Time magazine cover story (June 21, 1971) was one of countless examples of coverage devoted to “The Jesus Movement,” which by that time had been building for several years. ABC News did a “Special Report” in 1972, offering documentation and analysis.
Gospel-themed hits dominated pop radio, like Put Your Hand In the Hand (anyone remember the Canadian band, “Ocean”?), Jesus Is the Answer (performed by Andrae Crouch and also Paul Simon), the Doobie Brother’s 1972 remake of Jesus Is Just Alright. Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In the Sky has continuously remained in the public consciousness since its release in 1969.
When your movement is referenced to that degree even within its own “moment”–and the echoes of the times linger on for, well, decades–it is worth the investment of one’s attention to find out exactly what went on.
For those unfamiliar with the Jesus movement from 50 years ago (or perhaps unfamiliar with Jesus’ actual message, from 2,000 years ago), I heartily recommend you see the film, Jesus Revolution. This subject matter is of great historical importance. Further, Kelsey Grammer and Jonathan Roumie deliver performances that are deeply moving and spiritually cathartic.
Gospel awakenings–noteworthy, necessary
This Jesus movement (c. late 1960’s thru mid 1970’s) was significant on a number of levels. Of primary significance was that in under a decade, millions of people throughout the U.S. and internationally would find a personal, soul-saving relationship with Jesus Christ. I have personally interviewed hundreds of people who experienced radical life change more than 5 decades ago, and their Christian transformation was permanent.
Moreover, global Christianity to this very moment has been shaped by events reenacted in the Jesus Revolution movie. While much is made of the “rise of the nones” in America, and that Gen Z is the “least religious” demographic in U.S. history, the fact is that Christianity around the world is growing¾ rapidly. The Jesus movement is a large part of why this is the case.
Stats reveal that the faith position shrinking most dramatically is atheism (except in that place where Biblical expression is consistently censored, the American university campus). Perhaps the publicly visible high-watermark of the Jesus movement was “Explo ’72,” a festival that brought an estimated 200,000 youth to Dallas, Texas for corporate worship and encouragement to lives of discipleship.
In the aftermath of the Jesus movement ministries formed that would take the message of Christianity throughout the world; also birthed were organizations that would take the Christian ethic of human relief and service throughout the world.
In Jesus Revolution, you’ll see how a small church provided housing for a growing group of formerly homeless hippie believers. This was only the beginning.
Entrepreneurial alumnus of the Jesus movement, suddenly filled with the life and love of Jesus, would spend the 1980’s onward launching medical missions, and engineering and infrastructure efforts in developing nations. Followers of Jesus birthed schools and literacy programs, campaigns to provide fresh water for impoverished people groups, and brought sustainable economic liberation to victims of socialism and tribalism through micro-finance programs.
Christ transforms both lives and culture
The Jesus movement was certainly not the first time that pervasive Christian awakening would sweep America (and beyond). Regardless of your religious loyalties, the histories of Biblical revivals make for serious, inspirational study.
When Benjamin Franklin wrote his memoirs over a several year period, the one often called “The First American” gave much insight into the religious revival that paved the way for our nation’s birth. Franklin wrote about the preaching done by his friend, Rev. George Whitfield, and he noted the positive impact Christianity made among the beleaguered colonists:
“It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing Psalms sung in different families of every street.”
Benjamin Franklin would ultimately profess faith in Christ under the mentoring of Whitfield. With the help of Dr. Thomas Bond (himself a devout Quaker), Franklin would go on to build America’s first hospital in Philadelphia. The cornerstone (laid in 1755 and visible to this day) was written by Franklin himself and contains the words “In the Year of Christ” and “May the God of Mercies Bless this Undertaking.”
How is this connected to us today? Whether it be the Great Awakening of colonial era or the Jesus movement of the sixties era–when God visits a people group the impact is extensive. Historical accounts of revivals reveal a pattern of God’s Spirit moving when times seem dangerous, and people feel desperate. Like in the 1960’s. Or now.
Oh, and there’s this: Gospel awakenings (as depicted in Jesus Revolution) seem to come about in roughly 50-year increments. That being the case, our tired world today is likely on schedule for a visit from the living God.
Forget your favorite website’s, “breaking news.” What our thirsty souls need is Jesus’ actual “Good News!”
Skeptical friend, dust off that child-like heart that may have grown dormant.
Get ready for the Lord’s movement among us again! In fact . . . it’s already in process.