Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again, Greg Laurie & Ellen Vaughn, Baker Books (Grand Rapids, MI), Movie Edition, 2023, First Edition, 2018, 255 pages plus notes, ISBN: 978-0-8010-9500-9
I came to age during the Beat Generation. By the time the Hippie Generation rolled around, I was into a different phase of my life, one that recognized the value of “flower power” and of confrontational activism. At the height of Hippie Generation I was a minister/chaplain and director of a downtown YMCA that had just weathered the racial unrest of the early to mid-60s, and now sat on the front of student unrest and anti-war protests. In the midst of this the “Jesus Revolution” broke on the West Coast and Christians, or at least Evangelical Christians, everywhere where enamored with, even sought to duplicate it. My denomination at the time sought to reach out to “Hippies,” but when they showed up in the church where I preached on Sundays, I was told to tell them they weren’t welcome.
No matter, in my town, my church was not the last say, and the Jesus Movement has settled in by the late 60s. The Y, where I served, became home to Jesus Freaks, Hippies, and whatever fell in between.
It was with this background that I approached the review of Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn’s Jesus Revolution. Not having experienced the original Jesus Movement first hand, I took a look at what those where part of the movement from the beginning had to say about the book. Most all, were pretty positive—to the point it seemed, of being enamored with the story. Almost as if they were reliving it vicariously through Laurie and Vaughn. I saw the same when I read the reviews of the second Jesus Movement generation (early 70s). Only now, the reviewers were living in the movement vicariously through the book.
I discovered another phenomenon, some leaders of Evangelical church ministries also seem to be enamored with the book, not so much from the history of Jesus Revolution, but in a hope to latch to a revived version of it today.
The first part of Jesus Revolution is about the culture of the 60s. It then moves into the story of the Jesus Revolution from the perspective of Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn. The first part is fairly accurate from a factual standpoint, but misses digging into the philosophical reasons of the unrest and how this brought about for a segment of that culture, the Jesus Revolution.
It seems to this reader the purpose of the book was Self-aggrandizing. It is one-sided, certainly not in any way written to explore the positive and negative nuances of the movement. In truth, the way I read Jesus Revolution the book is about Greg Laurie, his conversion from hippie-druggy to Christian and his (perceived) subsequent ability to keep the movement alive.
Before I move on, one of the main players in the book, Lonnie Frisbee, in my opinion, is sort of glossed over. Although his story is told – in part – the book never really deals with the man’s inner struggles and what those struggles contributed to the movement. If there is a “hero” in the book, it is Chuck Smith who takes everyone under his wings. The “everyman” of course is Greg Laurie. We all can be converted, just like Greg.
Contrary to claims, the Jesus Revolution was not spontaneous. It was driven by personalities. And what started in the side streets soon moved into the church.
If it weren’t for Frisbee and Chuck Smith’ charismatic personalities, I wonder, would there have been a “Jesus Revolution” at all? Was it the Holy Spirit, or young impressionistic, easily led youth that birthed the Jesus Movement? Group mentality? For Greg Laurie, it was the Spirit. Period.
Greg Laurie was only 15 in 1968. I wonder how real, how honest, are his recollections? How much of his story is told through rose-colored glasses? In ’68 I was 25, and I know my recollections of that period are often both faulty and colored.
The subtitle of the book is” How God transformed an unlikely generation and how he can do it again today.”
First of all, “an unlikely generation” was not transformed as a whole, only a small portion of it. Another claim is that the Jesus Movement transformed the church.” Not really, it transformed a certain segment of it, but not the church as a whole. And for that matter, how many of those transformed youth remained “transformed”? If it were such a spiritual transformation, why didn’t it last? Barely touched upon in the book.
I admit this review has not been a positive one. I do not doubt Greg Laurie’s commitment to Christ and seeing new revival take place. Still, he writes to a particular segment of the church, an evangelical one – and Lord knows – it needs a revival. No question. We all do, wherever we fall in the Christian spectrum.
However, the world is a different place today. The “nones” are in a different place than those of the Hippie Generation. The church as a whole has been left behind by youth as being out of touch and irrelevant. The Evangelical segment, of which the Jesus Movement and Greg Laurie are part of, is even worse off. It has fallen victim of Christian Nationalism and a hatred for LGBTQ. It has become stridently anti-science and anti-liberal, even in the classical sense of that word. The youth of the Jesus Movement had at the very least, a nominal recognition of Christianity, not so today.
A new Jesus Revolution is not, at least in the sense of book, going to transform the church or a generation of youth.
Greg Laurie is Senior Pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship with campuses in California and Hawaii. He holds Honorary Doctorates from Azusa Pacific University and Biola University. Laurie hosts the nationally syndicated radio show, “A New Beginning.” He has authored over 70 books.
Ellen Vaughn is a “Best Selling” New York Times author who has written or co-authored twenty-three books, including those co-authored with Chuck Colson. She is a former Vice President for Executive Communications for Prison Fellowship. She is a Senior Fellow for 21th Century Wilberforce Initiative and Board of Directors for International Cooperating Ministries. She has degrees from Georgetown University and The University of Richmond. Her husband, Lee, is the Regional Pastor of McLean Bible Church.