Thinking Out Loud

June 20, 2011

The Jesus Movement Turns 40

I am a direct product of the Jesus Movement.

That is not an admission of age, for if you are a member of the contemporary Church — that is to say, any church that is not locked into a business-as-usual, same order-of-service way of doing things as church circa 1940 — then you are also a direct product of the Jesus Movement, even if, unlike Buck Herring, you never had a pair of blue suede sandals.*  This period of time, rewrote the playbook for Christianity, and the June 21, 1971 cover of Time Magazine was really prophetic, since the movement wouldn’t truly hit its stride until the mid to late part of that decade.

The Jesus Movement was the catalyst that propelled the church into the 20th century, albeit nearly 75 years too late.  Music changed.  Dress change.  The stage was set for the emergence of social justice and compassion ministries that wouldn’t come to fruition until the late 1990s.  The evangelical church got away from country club religion — with its ‘for members only’ attitude — and became more about reaching out.   Years before the term ‘next generation ministry’ would be coined; the Jesus Movement paved the way for a new generation of leaders; with some of the changes being perhaps superficial, but others birthing entire new denominations.

Chuck Smith invited the kids to come to church and when his parishioners charged that their studded jeans were scratching the pews, Smith removed the pews and while he was at it, moved the baptism services to Pirates Cove on the Pacific ocean.  Larry Norman caught much criticism for his long hair, but was actually a rather gifted Bible teacher if only the older generation would have taken time to listen, and around him gathered a generation of teens and twenty-somethings who the church might have otherwise drifted away.  Barry McGuire went from protest singer to the man who would write “Communion Song” one of the best ‘lost’ worship songs, while Campus Crusade’s Michael Omartian brought the sound of keyboard synthesizers into the music mix while singing about Old Testament prophets. 

Kids traveled to Pennsylvania dairy farms for outdoor festivals where the speaker list was held as equal to the musician list, with two favorite teachers being the team of Larry Tomczak and C. J. Mahaney.  Paul Baker and Scott Ross put Christian music on radio stations both sacred and secular, and in the process put Christian music on the map.  A man named Arthur Blessitt carried a cross (yes, literally) across many continents and challenged a generation to find their own expression of bold witness. The Highway Missionary Society took to the road while Jesus People USA took to the Cabrini Green projects of inner city Chicago at the same time Nicky Cruz went from New York City gang leader to evangelist.

It was the best of times.  Period.   It was possibly the most significant spiritual movement to take place in North America in the 1900s.  Really.  I mean that. And I’m not the first to suggest it.

So happy birthday to all the aging Jesus People, and to those who wish you were there.   This week Andrew Jones shares some memories, but it also might be the right time to read Ed Underwood’s challenge to recapture the spirit and energy (and innocence) of those days as he writes in Reborn To Be Wild.   Because the Evangelical church today is a product of those times, you might actually want to read all you can about what happened and why.  You might even want to start your own revolution.

*I have no proof that Second Chapter of Acts’ Buck Herring actually owned blue suede sandals, but that was the rumor back in the day.  And yes, for several hours a couple of us did share the back of Daniel Amos’ Alex MacDougall’s house with Larry Norman, but Larry mostly slept and did laundry. 

Pictured: Time Magazine cover, June 21, 1971

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4 Comments »

  1. Thanks for these memories. I too was influenced by the Jesus festivals (’76 Mercer, PA and ’80 Orlando) and went as a youth for the teaching as much/more than the music. Times have changed and the emphasis seems more on the entertainment. Those days were pretty amazing; I look back often to think of what the Lord did in our lives back then, Indeed, we need another revival/Jesus Movement for this generation.

    Comment by Pastor Tim Schultz — July 25, 2011 @ 1:40 am

  2. You forget about the 1906 Azusa Street Pentecostal movement – without which there would never have been Assy of God or Foursquare & hence, no Chuck Smith/Calvary Chapel or many other people who were leaders in the Jesus movement.

    Comment by melissa — August 12, 2011 @ 2:21 am

    • Good point, Melissa; though the lingering effects of Azusa one century later are more experienced in Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches; though others would argue that there has recently been a Charismat-ization of the whole Evangelical Church.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — August 12, 2011 @ 9:05 am

  3. […] you attend a church that uses contemporary music or modern worship, you are, as I wrote here, a direct product of those early Jesus Movement days on the American west coast. Even if your […]

    Pingback by Remembering Chuck Smith | Thinking Out Loud — October 5, 2013 @ 10:00 am


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