Jesus Revolution — Some Thoughts

6 May 2023 by Wes Bredenhof

Directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, the film Jesus Revolution was released to American audiences back in February. However, these kind of films sometimes take a little longer to reach the farthest corners of the globe. I finally had the opportunity to watch it this morning.

I’m interested in the history of Christianity in North America, so as a biopic of the Jesus Movement of the late 60s and early 70s, it naturally appealed to me. The story focuses on three men: Lonnie Frisbee, Chuck Smith, and Greg Laurie. All of them were affiliated at one point with Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. The church was originally founded by Chuck Smith in 1965. After meeting Lonnie Frisbee, Smith began embracing hippies who were becoming Christians.

Smith is portrayed well by Kelsey Grammer. In fact, all the acting, the dialogue, and the cinematography go way beyond the merely endurable. For a faith-based film, it’s surprisingly watchable. However, its value as a faith-based film is more historical than evangelistic. Because it doesn’t have a strong gospel message in it, it’s not a film you would necessarily show an unbelieving friend.

The most intriguing character in Jesus Revolution is Lonnie Frisbee. Initially, he receives a positive portrayal, but as the movie progresses cracks begin to show in his character. In fact, of the three main figures, he comes off worst. In one scene, Frisbee is being interviewed by Pentecostal evangelist Kathyrn Kuhlman. She asks him if he is a prophet and he affirms it. In other scenes he’s “healing” people. The film also shows the collision between Frisbee and Chuck Smith. Following the events of Jesus Revolution, Lonnie Frisbee went on to become involved with the Vineyard Movement. However, after he admitted to a homosexual affair, he agreed to step down from leadership in the Vineyard Movement. He died from HIV/AIDS in 1993. He was actively involved in homosexual relationships before his conversion — these apparently were on pause during the period of the movie up until his divorce in 1973 — and then he struggled (and frequently capitulated to) these desires again in the last two decades of his life. However, he never identified himself as gay.

There’s a lot more to be said about Chuck Smith, Greg Laurie, and Calvary Chapel. If you want to read a bit more from someone who was there and then later became Reformed, check out this blog post by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, a retired pastor from the United Reformed Churches. He discusses the influence of Calvary Chapel in the context of the OC — Orange County, California. I appreciate his balanced perspective on the Jesus Revolution.