MOVIE | Faith-based film offers a hope-filled story and highlights a movement still relevant today
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➤ Rated PG-13
➤ S2 / V3 / L2*
Jesus Revolution might be set in the 1970s, but the film feels like it’s speaking to our situation. America was divided back then, and life’s emptiness caused young people to look for meaning in a drug-fueled sexual revolution. America might be even more divided today, and contemporary youth think they’ve found truth in a new revolution of sex and gender. But this faith-based movie offers a beautiful story of hope, while avoiding the saccharine piety that often plagues the genre.
In 1969, Chuck Smith, played by Kelsey Grammer, pastors a dwindling congregation in Southern California. Like many in his generation he doesn’t understand the hippie youth culture that’s sweeping the nation. But things start to change for Pastor Chuck when he meets charismatic hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee, played by Jonathan Roumie, who’s best known for playing Jesus on The Chosen.
Lonnie is an unlikely evangelist—he became a Christian while experimenting with sex and drugs in the hippie mecca of San Francisco. Lonnie tells Chuck the hippies want salvation, but they don’t know where to look for it. The drugs promised expanded consciousness, but LSD offered no more truth than the materialism the hippies rebelled against. The hippies are really searching for God, Lonnie says, they just don’t know it.
Chuck realizes these young people are a bunch of lost sheep, and when he opens his home and his church, his world gets turned upside down. Not everyone at Calvary Chapel embraces the new members, forcing Pastor Chuck to make some hard choices. But the ministry grows exponentially, and a movement is born.
Jesus Revolution isn’t merely about Chuck Smith, Lonnie Frisbee, and Calvary Chapel. It’s also the love story of Greg and Cathe Laurie. Greg would eventually grow up to pastor the megachurch Harvest Christian Fellowship, but in those early days Greg and Cathe were just a couple of high schoolers looking for truth in the wrong places.
Jesus Revolution is rated PG-13 because it contains scenes involving teenage drug use, but it is an excellent movie with strong performances, high production values, and an inspiring message. The film is perfectly cast, despite Grammer and Roumie both being much older than the historical Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee. Grammer moves through scenes with a compassionate curmudgeonliness, and Roumie captures Frisbee’s otherworldliness. The film’s hippie aesthetics feel authentic, and the script does a fairly good job of navigating the tricky waters of historical reality and theological faithfulness.
Despite its strengths, the movie loses some focus in the second half. The narrative moves away from Chuck and Lonnie’s relationship at Calvary Chapel and begins to focus on Greg and Cathe’s spiritual and romantic journeys. I suppose this is to be expected since the script is based on Greg Laurie’s book, but the movie’s denouement doesn’t quite deliver what was promised in the first act. This shift also has the effect of allowing the movie to avoid Frisbee’s lapses into homosexuality and eventual death from AIDS. But these quibbles don’t derail the film. Jesus Revolution is the best faith-based movie I’ve seen in a long time.
The story reminds viewers ultimate Truth can only be found in Jesus. And when we’ve found Jesus, we’re home. The movie says, “Come as you are,” but Jesus Revolution also says God doesn’t want you to stay as you are. Faith brings about repentance of sin and a changed life. And though the movie avoids the most salacious aspects of Frisbee’s career, it doesn’t totally shy away from the messiness that surrounded the Jesus Movement. Real people battle real problems, and we see a movement that must deal with big egos and fights over theological direction.
Jesus Revolution says we shouldn’t be so arrogant as to think God can’t work through our failures, and you don’t have to come from a particular Christian tradition to enjoy this story about sinners and God’s grace. All it asks is that we remember, even 50 years later, God’s Spirit is still blowing.
* Ratings from kids-in-mind.com, with quantity of sexual (S), violent (V), and foul-language (L) content on a 0-10 scale, with 10 high
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