Movies bring people of all backgrounds together like few other events. We want to provide talking points to help you take those conversations with family and friends to a deeper, spiritual level. Starting from this common ground, you can find opportunities to share your own faith experience with others. Check out the discussion questions at the end.
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PG-13 • 2023 • Christian Drama • 2 hours
Starring: Joel Courtney, Kelsey Grammer, Jonathan Roumie, Anna Grace Barlow
Box Office: Almost $47 million since opening in theaters Feb. 26 (Source: IMBD.com)
Check local listings for availability and watch for streaming options
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By Andrew Wood
It’s been said the Christian faith is within one generation of dying out. Yet again and again, generation by generation, the faith has successfully been passed on. Even so, down through time, God’s people often have resisted the Holy Spirit when he does the very things that make that happen. This perennial issue is the topic of Jesus Revolution, the powerful true story of a national revival in the early 1970s sparked by a group of teenage hippies in Southern California.
A DIVIDED NATION
The story begins in 1968. The United States is divided over the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and cultural identity issues. Many in the younger generation are rejecting traditional conservative values and experimenting with drugs, promiscuous sexuality, and startlingly different music, fashion, and lifestyle choices.
The division seems irreconcilable, as the older generation sees the America they know under assault and changing in ways they do not understand and cannot stop. Violence within the country and war abroad cause many to wonder whether the nation will survive.
A CHURCH ELECTRIFIED
Where is the church in all this? Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer) represents a typical story. He’s sincere, well-respected, and biblically grounded. His congregation of conventional older Christians is a comfortable bunch, sincerely loving their neighbor . . . as long as that neighbor is just like them.
So-called “hippies” are considered dangerous and disgusting, unpatriotic, a threat to law and order, moral degenerates, and a symbol of all that’s wrong with the world. Hippies are not seen as hurting human beings needing love.
All this changes when Smith’s daughter brings home an unconventional hippie hitchhiker named Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie). Lonnie wins Chuck over with his sincere love of Jesus and his fellow man.
In a particularly moving line, Lonnie explains how experimentation with drugs and the radical culture of peace and love the youth promote are all part of their search for God. He says, “They’re a bunch of kids looking for all the right things in all the wrong places. They’re sheep without a shepherd . . . and the door of your church is shut.”
Smith responds by showing true humility. He accepts change, opens his home to hippies, begins sharing his pulpit with Lonnie, and allows a band to play new worship songs in the style of popular music of the time.
Predictably, this divides the church but simultaneously results in explosive growth. With hundreds of baptisms occurring every week in the ocean, the church moves to an outdoor tent.
In the long run, this is the birth of both the Calvary Chapel Global Network and the Vineyard Movement, which today collectively number thousands of churches worldwide. This is also a key moment in the birth of the megachurch and contemporary Christian worship music that have helped lead so many to Christ in the past half-century.
TWO GUYS WHO LOOK LIKE JESUS
The greatest coup of this film was casting Jonathan Roumie to play the role of Lonnie Frisbee. If the name is not familiar, the face will be, because he plays Jesus in The Chosen series.
Maybe in a spillover effect from that role, you can’t help but instantly like and trust his character and see the Christlike truth in what he says and does. That makes it even more important that the movie shows the flaws in the real-life Lonnie Frisbee. We see how his success creates marital stress, ego issues, and leadership conflict. We see the tension between him and Smith over authority and the exercise of charismatic gifts. These parts of the story seem a cautionary tale that remind us that the church needs both its young visionaries and its elders working in harmony.
Kelsey Grammer, of course, will be instantly recognizable as Dr. Frasier Crane, his signature character from the series Frasier and Cheers. What fewer people realize is he became a Christian thanks to the Jesus movement of the 1970s. It’s given Grammer an anchor through numerous tragedies in life, including the separate murders of his father and sister and the deaths of his teenage half-brothers.
In public interviews about playing Chuck Smith in Jesus Revolution, Grammer has had to choke back tears when talking about how deeply meaningful the role was to him; so much so that he considers it some of his best work. Though Grammer doesn’t meet our preconceived ideas of what Jesus might look like physically, it’s clear that spiritually the resemblance is there.
CAN WE SEE OURSELVES IN JESUS REVOLUTION?
Jesus Revolution will be a nostalgic ride for those old enough to have lived through that era, and it will be a curiosity to younger people for whom the ’70s have become a newly fashionable “vintage” era. It could be truly inspiring viewing for Christian young people to see how people their age could make Jesus their own and spark a national revival.
The film will also be satisfying to members of contemporary churches who can celebrate their roots and feel good about their cultural relevance. However, the real test of our understanding of the movie’s message is whether we can see ourselves in it, not merely engage in nostalgia or self-congratulation over events long past.
So where do I see myself in this movie? . . .
Am I a discouraged pastor trying to reach lost sheep without scattering the flock in the process? Am I a Jesus follower of any age disillusioned with the stale, lifeless routine of institutional Christianity that looks so different from Jesus? Am I the “elder brother” in this parable, the Christian who has served faithfully for generations and now feels ignored and shoved aside as the wandering prodigals are brought in? Am I a successful leader who has helped my church transition to “new wineskins,” and do I battle with feelings of pride and impatience with those who question my vision?
And whoever of these I am today, what would the Holy Spirit have me do in today’s country, with today’s people and issues, in today’s church?
No one in this film is without sin. And Jesus deeply loves each of them and desperately wants them to come together as one flock under his leadership.
Like God’s people in the Bible, those who lived through the events depicted in the film could not see or understand where the Spirit was leading, but it was enough that they simply followed. And those who did follow saw him do extraordinary things through them.
This is without a doubt a movie for our time. Let’s pray the Spirit will raise up willing servants to follow him unconventionally in our time, as well.
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If you’d like to take your discussion of this movie with others to a deeper level, try some of these questions:
- What parallels do you see between the situation in our country in the 1960s and ’70s and today?
- What signs of spiritual hunger do you see among young people today? Can you see how involvement in new cultural movements with ungodly elements might be part of a quest for truth?
- Is your church more like the one at the beginning of the movie or the one at the end? Think not just about size, but the attitude and spirit of the church.
- Who are our “hippies” today? Who are the kinds of people who would be most shocking to the church if they started to attend in large numbers? How can we become a welcoming place for them?
- How can a church that experiences rapid growth avoid the tendency toward pride and developing a sort of cult of celebrity around key leaders?
- What are some ways the church of the future could look as it adapts to 21st-century youth culture? For example, what role do you imagine technology might play?
Andrew Wood, a former missionary to Ukraine and professor at Nebraska Christian College, is a freelance writer.