Jesus Revolution Movie Review: Christian or Not?

By | March 12, 2023

I just saw the new film Jesus Revolution which is based on the so called “Jesus Movement” of the 1970s U.S. That said, I can’t decide if that’s really what the movie is about. I say this because if was at least as much if not more a love story which felt like the majority of other movie romances. So I am asking myself, “Is this just Hollywood for Christians? Is there just enough Bibles, church, and Jesus to make Christians feel that it’s on their side? Is the fact that the romance has no more than holding hands and a kiss when they get engaged to make the movie feel ‘pure’?”

The movie does portray the beginnings of the Jesus movement in Southern California including the keys figures of Lonnie Frisbee and Chuck Smith. It does portray some of the challenges and conflict these men had as leaders of such a popular movement. Nevertheless, the protagonist in film is the character of Greg. While he is involved in the Jesus movement, his primary story line is that of his relationship with Cathe. Her character is played by a gorgeous actress and Chuck’s daughter is played by an actress who looks just like Zooey Deschanell. Additionally, Greg and Cathe are supposedly high school aged during most of the film, however they look like they are in their 20s as the stars actually are. All this made the film feel less real and more Hollywood.

Personally, the film stirred up mixed feelings, many of which were unpleasant. I believe this was for a couple of reasons. First, as a single, a romance portrayal like this stirs up feelings such as longing, sadness, frustration, and jealousy. Second, the Jesus movement as well as Christianity has some high ideals. We want to feel love and accepted and a part of something great, life-transforming even. We (or at least I) want to be significant, I don’t always want to be ignored and overlooked. Yet despite the desire for God to move and to be in a loving, family like community, reality often doesn’t work out so ideally. I related most to Greg’s hesitation, wondering if Christianity would be just another high which wouldn’t last. Also in the movie, there is a point when Lonnie is leaving, when the ministry which Greg was involved in is taken from him, etc. These things affect Greg in the movie, yet the film doesn’t explore them further.

As I am reflecting, I think the movie lacked depth. It touched on some difficult subjects, some of which I mentioned. But it never really took time to explore them. Granted, it probably would have been too much to have dug into all of these in one movie. But understand, this movie is more about entertainment than being challenging, thought provoking, or inspirational. Neither is the movie evangelical. This is another reason to say that this movie isn’t a “Christian” film along with all of the negative associations which come along with this label.

The most inspirational and heartwarming aspect of the movie is probably how Chuck, the pastor who represents traditional, conservative, white, subdued Christians, opens up to the radical group of dirty, messy hippies who have just come from the free love and drug culture of the 60s. He sees God moving despite how unorthodox hippies were in comparison to traditional 1950s Christianity.

Certainly, many churches and Christians were unwelcoming to these “Jesus freaks”. Sadly, (though not shown in the film) this continued for many years. In the 1980’s there was the documentary “Hell’s Bells” which touted the evils of rock music. And in the 90’s there was the “worship wars” when churches started being pulled between those who pushed for “contemporary” worship (a style based on 1960’s folk rock and which included guitar and drums) verses those who adamantly clung to hymns, piano, and organ.

In the 60’s and 70’s, many people viewed the hippies as a dangerous movement which would lead to the collapse of society. Unfortunately, now the witch hunt is focused on trans people (and gays, and immigrants). Sadly it’s so easy for people, unfortunately many Christians included, to hear about a group whom they have no contact with and think, “They’re the problem!” Chuck, though not perfect, represent how we hope Christians will respond to outsiders. But still today, many people think Christianity is about being “safe”. For example, think about how “Christian” radio promotes itself as “positive” and “family friendly”. Many Christians want Christianity to be a bubble which keeps all of the “unclean” outside.

People are complicated and broken. This is especially true for young people in the middle of a rapidly changing culture and who have only recently come to faith in Jesus after having been immersed in a counter-cultural life. Just like the rest of the hippie culture, there no doubt was a significant amount of emotion and passion moving people in the Jesus movement. As much as everyone wanted to be free, happy, and loving, certainly there would have been times in which Jesus people got angry, fought, hurt others, got drunk, high, had sex. Broken people don’t become angels just because they decided to follow Jesus. This doesn’t mean that they are bad Christians or don’t deserve forgiveness. But it does mean that a movement like this was going to be messy and unhinged.

What am I getting at? I guess a concern of mine is one which was touched on in the movie. There can be great intentions and deep desire for love and community, as how in the film they talked about everyone as family. The problem is that reality, more often than not, does not live up to this. If a person buys into the hype, it can be disillusioning when things do go as rosy as promised. It’s like pulling the rug out from under someone, and can make a person hesitant to believe or trust again, as Greg was in the movie.

I know the Jesus movement was a real movement in fairly recent history. I know it was something unusual and unexpected. I know that many people turned to faith in God who hadn’t held this previously. I remember hearing of healings. It’s hard for me to explain this apart from saying God was moving through the Holy Spirit. But, if this was the case, why did it happen only then? Surely God (as we understand him through Jesus) loves people just as much now as then. Why did the movement eventually fade out? (I mean I know there are many people who are still Christians today as a result of the Jesus movement. And CCM—”contemporary Christian music” is still with us today.) But why did the movement not last? Did the Spirit run out of wind? It doesn’t make sense and this deeply bothers me.

To wrap up, if you want to watch a mostly fun, fairly light, safe, romantic, and/or entertaining movie, go ahead and give Jesus Revolution a watch. If you are seeking something more meaty and deep or more evangelical, this probably isn’t the film you are looking for. If you are interested in learning more about Lonnie, Chuck, and the reality which inspired the movie’s setting, check out the documentary “Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher“.

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