Thinking Out Loud

July 11, 2008

Frisbee: The Life & Death of a Hippie Preacher

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — searchlightevents @ 6:51 pm

Flashback to the early 70s. The Jesus People make the cover of Time Magazine. At the epicenter is Calvary Chapel, a “little country church on the edge of town” that would later grow into a movement of over 1,000 churches, give birth to Maranatha Music, and be one of the largest owners of Christian radio stations in North America.

But if you were to flashback even further, you’d find that, other than pastor Chuck Smith himself, the ‘alpha person’ at the center of Calvary Chapel’s beginnings was a hippie preacher named Lonnie Frisbee.

Last night we viewed an Emmy-nominated documentary DVD, Frisbee, The Life & Death of a HIppie Preacher produced by David DiSabatino. It runs a little over an hour, but contains another hour of supplementary footage we’ve yet to view. As much as we thoroughly enjoyed it, it’s hard not to have mixed feelings after watching. The documentary itself is very well done with a music score appropriate to the era and many photographs and news clips that must have been hard to track down. But as you reflect on its application to your own life, it evokes different responses.

In general, I found it both disturbing and inspiring at the same time. Disturbing because like so many of us, Lonnie Frisbee was a flawed individual. Inspiring because God greatly used him nonetheless.

I actually got to meet Lonnie on one of my first trips to Orange County. We were sitting with a large group in a restaurant just blocks from Calvary and he was telling the story wherein he announced to Chuck Smith that he wanted to leave Calvary Chapel and “live on faith.” When he went to collect his final paycheque (or paycheck as you ‘Mericans spell it) he was told no cheque had been issued as the accountant was told he was now living on faith. If you’ve ever worked for a ministry organization, you get the significance of that story. (The story is on the DVD.)

Although I was at the opposite end of the table, I remember another time in his hippie drawl he offered the following insight: “In the Bible they fellowshipped from house to house, but today, we fellowship from restaurant to restaurant.” For us Canadians, that comment was actually prophetic. I’ve gone with many a friend to many a restaurant, but rarely seen the inside of their homes. I think I like the Biblical model better.

What I was not fully aware of was the parallel role that Frisbee played in the development of the Vineyard movement the way we know it today. Vineyard founder Kenn Gulliksen is interviewed onscreen, but even with John Wimber gone, Frisbee himself gone, and Chuck Smith apparently not talking, the DVD isn’t lacking for people from that era willing to tell their stories, including Frisbee’s ex-wife. Chuck Smith, Jr. fills in some of the details of the time Frisbee lived with their family, and goes the extra distance in providing personal commentary.

Apparently, Lonnie Frisbee was never able to banish the demons of homosexuality that had gripped him when he was around 15. Yet somehow, DiSabatino has produced something that has been shown at both gay film festivals and Christian churches.

You can order the DVD, the soundtrack, or a combination of the two at


  1. Interesting quote. What happened in society for the shift? It seems the house and community as a meeting center is lost.

    Comment by the commentator — July 16, 2008 @ 8:35 pm

  2. What’s really strange is that people have nicer houses now than they did then. Many feature an ‘entertainment center’ yet the owners rarely entertain. It seems to be a trend that we want to keep our homes increasingly private. But restaurants cost a lot more than it does to serve someone a meal in your own home. We’re spending more, and losing the art of hospitality in the process. Makes no sense.

    The people in Biblical times didn’t know our restaurant culture. They simply shared what they had. Simplicity.

    Comment by Paul Wilkinson — July 16, 2008 @ 8:50 pm

  3. […] Related post on this blog – Frisbee – documentary review – July 7, ‘08 […]

    Pingback by Larry Norman Documentary Premieres in San Jose « Thinking Out Loud — March 11, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

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