Even as many are wondering if the revival taking place at Asbury University and spreading to Christian colleges around the U.S. represents the first signs of another large-scale work by the Holy Spirit in America, a major motion picture about what some consider the last widespread spiritual awakening arrives in theaters this week.
“Jesus Revolution” opens in limited release tomorrow but will open nationwide in over 2,000 theaters starting February 24. The movie recounts part of the Jesus People Movement, which began in the early 1970s on the West Coast and soon extended to the rest of the U.S. Scholar Larry Eskridge has estimated that at least 250,000 people became Christians during this time.
The movie takes its title from the famous June 1971 Time magazine article that characterized the spiritual movement as “The Jesus Revolution.”
The movie gives viewers a look into the life of Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), a struggling pastor with a withering congregation who, much to his unwelcome surprise, one day finds hippie Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie) at his door. Smith wants nothing to do with Frisbee but, at the request of his daughter, lets him in, and a movement begins.
“Jesus Revolution” also tells the story of a young Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) and his now wife Cathe (Anna Grace Barlow), who are searching to fill the emptiness inside them with drugs and other pursuits. Their lives are forever changed after being saved by Jesus Christ. Today, Greg Laurie is the well-known senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship.
The film is directed by Jon Erwin, best known for the Christian movies “I Can Only Imagine” and “Woodlawn,” who stated, “There’s a movement behind this movie.”
Erwin explained that when filming the baptism scene, he was adamant the crew shoot the scene at the actual location where the baptisms took place in a cove off the coast of Newport Harbor, California. The jagged rocks made it difficult to shoot, but Erwin said, “I really felt like I wanted to go back to the very place that this started. And in my entire film career, I’ve never felt a day like that.”
While Roumie was baptizing people in his role for the movie, others who worked on set were truly professing faith in Jesus and being baptized. Erwin said that while they were filming the scene where the young Greg Laurie is being baptized, Laurie himself was baptizing one of the actors offscreen.
Erwin said he started wanting to film the movie after reading Time’s original article on the spiritual movement. He said after reading it, he pondered, “Maybe, if I can make a movie about it, I’ll get a little taste. If I can get a taste as a filmmaker, people that watch the movie will get a taste as well of what revival and awakening in America could feel like.”
He explained, “It was a very desperate time for them. The Jesus Revolution, in a large way, sprang out of the wells of that desperation. And I just think we’re back there. This is the most desperate time in America in my lifetime. Gosh, we all hate each other. Where do we go from here? There are problems. There are fears. It was a very similar time in the late 60s. My hope is that God can really rescue us once again.”
Laurie seems to share that hope. Writing on February 3, he said,
“We don’t get to decide when a revival will happen; that’s up to God. But we can do our part by asking God for it in prayer, preparing the ground, and getting our hearts ready. Revival starts with you and I. That’s why JESUS REVOLUTION was created. It’s us trying to make a spiritual difference in our world. It’s a film, but our prayer is that it becomes something more than that. Revolution means to return to something. We’re returning to New Testament Christianity, the faith given to us from the Lord, practiced by the Early Church. During the Jesus Movement, tons of people were coming to Christ. It was happening all around the country—and California was the center of it. I want to see it here again. We’re using JESUS REVOLUTION as a God-given tool. It’s been seven years in the making but God’s timing is 100% perfect. At this point in our broken culture, we so desperately need something like this.”
Laurie said what makes the movie unique is that the Gospel is embedded throughout, even offering viewers the chance to pray the sinner’s prayer. Shortly after Laurie’s writing, a spiritual awakening gained national attention at Asbury University.
Producers Erwin and Kevin Downes, as well as Roumie, joined Liberty students and faculty for convocation on February 3. Downes said, “Our calling is to make true stories that showcase the power of the Gospel. (This) movie is showcasing the power of the Gospel through real-world events.”
Roumie, who plays Jesus in the hit show, “The Chosen,” said he hopes “Jesus Revolution” will encourage young people to stand strong in the faith. “My hope is that they feel the same Spirit of God that we did making the movie and that they feel convicted to bring Jesus back into the culture in a big way.”
Grammer also felt there was something special about “Jesus Revolution.” He appeared on Live with Kelly and Ryan, where after watching a scene from the movie, he started to cry. Fighting back emotions, he said that after he and his wife watched the first cut of the movie, she also cried. “I love this movie. I really love it,” he said.
Our nation needs a movement of the Holy Spirit. Beyond the secularism that’s taken hold, most professing Christians are carnal and worldly; many who truly have been transformed by God’s grace and power lack devotion, are lazy, and their knowledge of Scripture is elementary at best.
Yet the world has nothing to offer the lost. We see a people confused, scared, angry, immoral, and hostile to God. Our younger generations have been cast into despair, taught to hate themselves as made in God’s image and to instead worship man’s image and the earth.
It is in this time that Christian colleges are experiencing something different. As the nation questions, “Is what is happening at Asbury and other colleges a work of God?” the timing of “Jesus Revolution” looks to be anything but coincidental.
The full impact on society remains to be seen. We don’t know yet if this is a great movement of the Holy Spirit with many to be saved.
Here is what we do know: Nothing is accidental. Nothing is outside the sovereignty of God and He is always working.
While the need for God in our country is clear, the need for God in our society isn’t actually any greater than it has always been — nor is our need for Him in our lives any more or less than it has been at any other time.
Every time a person is saved, it is a working of God’s Spirit. The salvation of one person is a miracle in which God raises a dead person to life (Ephesians 2), where God calls a person who would never come to Him on their own and redeems him or her.
Whatever comes of “Jesus Revolution,” we can certainly expect and pray that there will be revival — whether that be in the life of one, or one million.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.
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