Photo courtesy of Baptist Press

‘Jesus Revolution’ filmmaker hopes movie can bring revival

The producers of “Jesus Revolution,” a movie depicting the famous Jesus Movement of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, would love to see the film spark a similar spiritual revival in America today.

Opening next February, the film tells the story of the spiritual awakening in the country that took place more than 50 years ago. Many historians classify the movement as the greatest spiritual awakening in American history.

“I think God just showed up in our country in a unique way at a unique time, said Jon Erwin (‘I Can Only Imagine’, ‘American Underdog’), the film’s co-director and producer. “It was a rediscovering of the essence of Christianity. It was just such a simple movement.”

The movement successfully united disparate Christians, including some older and more traditional and some younger, more charismatic hippie believers.

Beginnings

It largely began in California, when a pastor named Chuck Smith started opening the doors of his church (Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in Santa Ana, California) to the younger generation of Jesus Freak Christians who had freshly abandoned the partying ways of their peers.

Much of the bridge between Smith and the younger generation was built through his friendship with a hippie preacher named Lonnie Frisbee. Despite their differences, the two grew a close bond and worked together as the movement spread from California across the whole country.

In the film, Smith is portrayed by iconic actor Kelsey Grammer (“Cheers,” “Frasier”), while Frisbee is played by Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus in the wildly popular streaming series “The Chosen.”

The film’s trailer, released last month, has already amassed more than 3 million views on YouTube.

Erwin said the idea for the movie came while he and his brother were making “Woodlawn,” a football movie also set in the early ‘70s.

While researching that movie, Jon came across the famous 1971 issue of Time magazine with a colorful front-page image of Jesus. The magazine dubbed the spiritual revival happening in the country “The Jesus Revolution.”

Since discovering the article, Erwin said he has been obsessed with the movement during the last seven years of his filmmaking career.

“That magazine article was just this ray of hope in a dark time,” Erwin said.

“It’s this incredible article about this revival that was sweeping America and the spiritual awakening happening among young people with a spontaneous outburst of love, hope and joy in a time that was very similar to right now.”

Spanning generations

One of the aspects of the movement Erwin was most enamored with was the diversity of people involved with it, particularly the connection between the older generation of Christians with younger people going through their own spiritual journey.

“There is some sort of magic in hanging out with people that are nothing like you and these people just focused on celebrating what they agreed on, which was Jesus,” Erwin said.

The Southern Baptist Convention and many individual Southern Baptists were also affected by the Jesus Movement. One of those individuals is Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California.

The film shows Laurie, portrayed by actor Joel Courtney, as a teenager experiencing the Jesus Revolution firsthand.

Laurie would make a decision for Christ as part of the movement and be baptized at Pirate’s Cove, a resort in Southern California where Harvest still holds some baptisms today.

In addition to discovering the love of Christ as part of the movement, Laurie also met his wife, Cathe, during that time. Their love story is a main part of the movie’s storyline.

Erwin said Laurie’s longstanding marriage and ministry are evidence of the Jesus Movement’s lasting impact.

“Greg and I have been working on this project together for a long time, and he is one of the greatest pastors and friends that I know,” Erwin said. “Their story portrayed in the movie is absolutely accurate. They meet in the Jesus Movement, fell in love and were both baptized at Pirate’s Cove.

“I thought it was important to see the movement through the eyes of a teenager that was trying to find his way in the world, deal with his hurts and got caught up in this movement where he found the love of his life. You’re seeing a huge chunk of the movie from the outside in through the eyes of a non-believer.

“Their story is just one example of how much of the church as we know it today came from this movement. I was shocked to understand better how much of the leadership of the church today came from this movement, and even all of contemporary Christian music was birthed from this movement.”

‘Part of this story’

Erwin said he hopes the movie will both encourage non-Christians to come to Christ and Christians to a next step in serving Jesus.

“I hope when people see this movie, [those] who may be sitting on the sidelines, that they realize God can use them too, and they can be a part of this story,” Erwin said.

“The main tangible thing we’ve seen happen and would love to continue to see happen is people just wanting to get baptized. I’ve never had such a powerful day filming as the day we filmed the baptisms at Pirate’s Cove, and we had people on set making actual decisions for Christ and being baptized. I would love to see more baptisms in America next year.

“God can change people if we just form relationships and choose to love each other. I hope that by telling this story, I hope people have the same thought that I have that maybe this could happen again in our time.”


EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Timothy Cockes and originally published by Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.