The Jesus Revolution Comes to Hollywood: Will Thousands Be Converted?

By Milo Jones | Posted May 01, 2023

After opening at the No. 3 spot in theaters across America, Jesus Revolution grossed more than $52 million in its eight-week run. Then, after releasing on DVD and Blu-ray on April 25, 2023, the Lionsgate film became the No. 1 bestseller on Amazon’s Movies & TV list. 

The film takes place between two issues of TIME magazine: the 1966 issue “Is God Dead?” and the 1971 issue “The Jesus Revolution.” What happens between God’s death and His revival in American culture is told through the intersecting lives of a conventional pastor, a hippie evangelist, and an aspiring cartoonist.

Based on the 2018 book Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today, the film offers an intriguing look at one of America’s religious trends. But how effective is the feature as an evangelism tool? Is it really, according to Greg Laurie, the aspiring cartoonist who now heads one of the largest congregations in America, “a gift to the church … a tool” to win souls?

The Music of the Movement

The Jesus movement, beginning on the California coast in the late 1960s and culminating in the early 1970s, has been widely praised for turning thousands of young people away from drugs and on to Jesus. In fact, “Turn on to Jesus” became not only a popular slogan but the title of a 1977 rock song. In contrast to traditional hymns sung in church, the Jesus people, also nicknamed “Jesus freaks,” preferred “Jesus rock” in an open-air venue. The music of the movement would eventually evolve into the contemporary Christian music industry.

According to “The Jesus Revolution” issue of TIME, music was “the special medium of the Jesus movement.” The rocky musicals Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar are given as examples. At the time, the first was “a sellout hit off-Broadway,” while the second was “bound for Broadway” and “already a best-selling record album.” Further examples of the movement’s use of music are the songs “Put Your Hand in the Hand” and “My Sweet Lord” becoming top-40 hits.

The two musicals feature youthful dancers—some of them, especially in Jesus Christ Superstar, flashing a lot of skin while moving erotically. Just as insulting to Christianity is George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” in which he sings hallelujah not to Jesus Christ, but to the Hindu god Krishna.

The same issue of TIME describes Harrison’s contribution to the Jesus movement: “In 1966 Beatle John Lennon casually remarked that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ; now the Beatles are shattered, and George Harrison is singing My Sweet Lord. The new young followers of Jesus listen to Harrison, but they turn on only to the words of their Master.”

So, they could “turn on” Jesus while not turning off the likes of Harrison? The film Jesus Revolution implies they could! Littered throughout the feature are hits from the era, including “I Just Want to Celebrate” (Rare Earth), “Half Moon” (Janis Joplin), and “Jesus Is Just Alright” (The Doobie Brothers). If you’re surprised by hearing so many popular tunes in a movie about coming to Jesus, you must have missed the red flags in the advertising trailer: “Come on and take a free ride” and “Whoa, oh listen to the music.”

Rival Revivals

One way to distinguish between a true revival and a false one is by looking at the fruit of its leaders. So said Jesus in Matthew 7:15, 16: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” No, He didn’t mean that true prophets—or “evangelists,” or “pastors,” or “teachers” (Ephesians 4:11)—will be flawless. Rather, they will not be “inwardly … ravenous” while appearing pious. 

Thus, we can overlook the prideful struggle in a culture collision, honestly portrayed in Jesus Revolution, between conventional pastor Chuck Smith and hippie evangelist Lonnie Frisbee. What we can’t ignore—conveniently left out of the film—is that Frisbee lived a double life, partying on Saturday night and preaching on Sunday morning. And Smith, “who was not at all prepared for the love that this young man would radiate,” gave him a pulpit even as the hippie continued to use drugs and engage in promiscuous liaisons.

Want more rotting fruit? The actor who played Frisbee is Jonathan Roumie, easily recognized as a popular “Jesus” from The Chosen. Roumie wasn’t sure about playing the part, so he decided to ask Frisbee personally. Only problem was—Frisbee died in 1993. But that didn’t stop the Catholic actor. Taking a Rosary to the grave at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, he asked the dead for a sign. “Lonnie, I want to honor you with this film, … and so, if this is a good idea that I do this film, have somebody give me a sign.” Immediately, a giant chord rang out from the cathedral’s open doors.

Yet, despite the Bible’s condemnation of “[calling] up the dead” (Deuteronomy 18:11), Pastor Greg Laurie believes the film “is a gift to the church,” an evangelism tool: “Bring evangelism to your home, tablet or phone and share it with others,” he said in an interview. “Have a watch party and then explain the gospel to them after.” He also hyped the timing of the film’s release, coming shortly after a two-week revival at Asbury University.

If the Jesus movement, according to Laurie, was “the last great spiritual awakening in America,” what can we expect in the future? The book of Revelation has the answer. Two worldwide revivals, described in Revelation chapters 13 and 14, will happen simultaneously. One group, deceived by “great signs” (13:13), will worship the beast, while the other, keeping God’s commandments (14:12), will worship the Lamb.

Want more tools to distinguish between the true and the counterfeit? Watch Pastor Doug’s recent sermon “A Real Revival.

Milo Jones
Milo Jones is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and lives in College Place, WA.

When you post, you agree to the terms and conditions of our comments policy.

If you have a Bible question for Pastor Doug Batchelor or the Amazing Facts Bible answer team, please submit it by clicking here. Due to staff size, we are unable to answer Bible questions posted in the comments.
To help maintain a Christian environment, we closely moderate all comments.

  1. Please be patient. We strive to approve comments the day they are made, but please allow at least 24 hours for your comment to appear. Comments made on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday may not be approved until the following Monday.

  2. Comments that include name-calling, profanity, harassment, ridicule, etc. will be automatically deleted and the invitation to participate revoked.

  3. Comments containing URLs outside the family of Amazing Facts websites will not be approved.

  4. Comments containing telephone numbers or email addresses will not be approved.

  5. Comments off topic may be deleted.

  6. Please do not comment in languages other than English.

Please note: Approved comments do not constitute an endorsement by the ministry of Amazing Facts or by Pastor Doug Batchelor. This website allows dissenting comments and beliefs, but our comment sections are not a forum for ongoing debate.