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The Asbury Revival and the release of the film The Jesus Revolution have gotten a lot of media attention. The reviews of the Jesus Revolution have been good. With Kelsey Grammar, fortunately replaced Jim Gaffigan, playing Chuck Smith (1927-2013), it should be good in terms of production value. Here’s the storyline:
Inspired by a true movement, JESUS REVOLUTION tells the story of a young Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) being raised by his struggling mother, Charlene (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) in the 1970s. Laurie and a sea of young people descend on sunny Southern California to redefine truth through all means of liberation. Inadvertently, Laurie meets Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), a charismatic hippie-street-preacher, and Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer) who have thrown open the doors of Smith’s languishing church to a stream of wandering youth. What unfolds becomes the greatest spiritual awakening in American history. Rock and roll, newfound love, and a twist of faith lead to a JESUS REVOLUTION that turns one counterculture movement into a revival that changes the world.
As expected, the typical film critic sites gave it average ratings. For example, Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 5.8/10. Considering the source, that’s not bad. “Audiences surveyed by CinemaScope gave the film a rare grade of ‘A+’, while those polled by PostTrak gave it a 97% positive score, with 89% saying they would definitely recommend it.”
Many Bible-believing Christians came out of what has been called the Jesus Revolution, Jesus Movement, and Jesus Freaks. I suspect that the turmoil of the 1960s had a social, spiritual, and cultural impact on young people. Sydney Ahlstrom described the 1960s as “a decisive turning point in American History. “George Will, who called 1968 ‘perhaps the worst year in American History,’ called the sixties ‘the most dangerous decade in America’s life as a nation.’” No wonder given the continued escalation of the Vietnam War, the draft, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. Let’s not forget the codification of materialism/naturalism, escapist drug culture, free love, fascination with Eastern Mysticism, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (e.g., The Beatles), George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” released in 1970 in praise of the Hindu God Krishna, and the Occult, all of which were worldview dead ends. For an excellent history of the era, you can’t do better than Os Guinness’s book The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How it Changed America Forever. Also see Herbert Schlossberg’s Idols for Destruction.
The supposed “spiritual counter cultural awakening” at Woodstock in 1969 dimmed quickly after the fiasco at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival—dubbed “Woodstock West”—“remembered for considerable violence, including the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter and three accidental deaths: two by a hit-and-run car accident, and one by an LSD-induced drowning in an irrigation canal. Scores were injured, numerous cars were stolen (and subsequently abandoned) and there was extensive property damage.” Rolling Stone magazine termed the event as “rock and roll’s all-time worst day, December 6th, a day when everything went perfectly wrong.” The final blow to the “happy nihilism” of the 1960s came on May 4, 1970, when the National Guard opened fire at an antiwar protest at Kent State University and four people were killed. The tragedy was later immortalized in the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young protest song “Ohio.”
Young people were ready for a true spiritual awakening given the turmoil that appeared nightly on television news programs and newspapers. The Vietnam War was the first televised war. World War II had its newsreels, but seeing body bags coming off airplanes was something altogether jarring and tragic. There was no national consensus about the legitimacy of the Vietnam War. More than 50,000 American war deaths are a lasting stark testimony to its immorality and waste.
The Jesus Revolution was real. Thousands of people came to Christ as a result, even though some of the early leaders were flawed as well as some of the theology. Over time, however, many of these early converts matured in the faith and cast off some of the unbiblical theological aberrations.
For example, one of the early personalities and leaders of the Jesus Movement was Lonnie Frisbee who, according to the article “Jesus Revolution: History vs. Hollywood,” “led a bit of a double life. He would party on Saturday night and preach on Sunday morning. In fact, he got his unofficial start in evangelism in 1967 at age 17 by reading the Bible to those around him while tripping on LSD. Frisbee was only involved in the Calvary Chapel movement for a short period but was described by Greg Laurie as the ‘spark’ that helped launch it. Frisbee was also a semi-closeted gay man who died of AIDS-related complications in 1993.”
The lifestyle actions of Frisbee do not in themselves delegitimize what took place any more than the sins of David and Solomon delegitimize their writings that make up a significant portion of the Bible.
What was missing from the Jesus Movement was the development of a full-orbed biblical worldview and a preoccupation with the end times. In the 1972 book The Jesus People, the authors state that Frisbee had “a fascinating explanation for the rise and success of [the Jesus Movement] ministries at that period.” He suggested “that the Six-Day War on June 1967 between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations set the stage for the last days before Christ’s second coming. When Israel regained her long-lost territory, a prophecy was fulfilled that singled the beginning of the end times.” Chuck Smith latched onto this belief that was later bolstered by books like Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and Merrill F. Unger’s Beyond the Chrystal Ball (1973).
For example, “Pastor Chuck Smith falsely predicted that the world would end by 1981 at the latest. When New Year’s Eve passed in 1981 and the end didn’t happen, a number of baffled followers left the Calvary Chapel movement.” Bill Counts, who had become disenchanted with Campus Crusade because of its institutional culture, observed that the Jesus People movement that was taking place was “experience- and emotion-centered. And if they don’t bring in more in-depth teaching of the Bible, it cannot last.”
The thing is most of these parachurch movements did not focus on biblical world-and-life-view Christianity. Francis Schaeffer came closest as he ministered to wayward souls trekking through Europe looking for answers at a place in the Swiss Alps called L’Abri that had been founded in 1955. But even Schaeffer’s eschatology got in the way of his apologetics and worldview training. William Edgar, a professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, recounts the time in the 1960s he spent studying in L’Abri, Switzerland, under the tutelage of Francis Schaeffer:
I can remember coming down the mountain from L’Abri and expecting the stock market to cave in, a priestly elite to take over American government, and enemies to poison the drinking water. I was almost disappointed when these things did not happen.
Edgar speculates, with good reason, that it was Schaeffer’s eschatology that negatively affected the way he saw and interpreted world events. Schaeffer was good at diagnosing the disease, but he found it difficult to prescribe a cure because the patient was never going to get well. One of Schaeffer’s last books, A Christian Manifesto, did not call for cultural transformation but civil disobedience as a stopgap measure to postpone an inevitable societal decline.
The fact remains that Dr. Schaeffer’s manifesto offers no prescriptions for a Christian society…. The same comment applies to all of Dr. Schaeffer’s writings: he does not spell out the Christian alternative. He knows that you “can’t fight something with nothing,” but as a premillennialist, he does not expect to win the fight prior to the visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth to establish His millennial kingdom.
This view has been true for millions of Christians. There is no doubt that many Christians are otherworldly and have no interest in culture or the dirty business of politics. Many more Christians are eschatologically schizophrenic. They believe that we are living in the last days but still engage society at some level as a form of theological schizophrenia.
The Jesus Revolution was predominately dominated by those who claimed that the world was at “the eve of destruction.” In his1976 book The Soon to be Revealed Antichrist Chuck Smith wrote, “we are living in the last generation which began with the rebirth of Israel in 1948 (see Matt. 24:32-34).” You will search in vain in the three verse’s Smith references to find any mention of “the rebirth of Israel.” He repeats the claim in his 1978 book End Times: “If I understand Scripture correctly, Jesus taught us that the generation which sees the ‘budding of the fig tree,’ the birth of the nation of Israel, will be the generation that sees the Lord’s return. I believe that the generation of 1948 is the last generation. Since a generation of judgment is forty years and the Tribulation period lasts seven years, I believe the Lord could come back for His Church any time before the Tribulation starts, which would mean any time before 1981. (1948 + 40 – 7 = 1981).” If this prophetic math sounds familiar, it’s because the same end-time logic was used by Hal Lindsey in The Late Great Planet Earth (1970).
In order to cover himself against charges of date setting, Smith wrote that “it is possible that Jesus is dating the beginning of the generation from 1967, when Jerusalem was again under Israeli control for the first time since 587 B.C. We don’t know for sure which year actually marks the beginning of the last generation.” This was Frisbee’s starting point (see above). A 1967 starting point and a 40-year generation would mean the rapture should have taken place sometime before 2007. While it sounds like Smith is engaging in conjecture, in his book Future Survival, which was first published in 1978 and updated in 1980, his prophetic dogmatism is retained:
We’re the generation that saw the fig tree bud forth, as Israel became a nation again in 1948. As a rule, a generation in the Bible lasts 40 years…. Forty years after 1948 would bring us to 1988.
Keep in mind that it’s not only important to show where Smith was wrong in his predictions, but it’s also crucial that we understand that he is using an interpretive model that leads him to make these predictions.
On December 31, 1979, Smith told those who had gathered on the last day of the decade that the rapture would take place before the end of 1981. He went on to say that because of ozone depletion Revelation 16:8 would be fulfilled during the tribulation period: “And the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.” In addition, Halley’s Comet would pass near earth in 1986 and would wreak havoc on those left behind as debris from its million-mile-long tail pummeled the planet. Here’s how Smith explained the prophetic scenario in his book Future Survival which is nearly identical to what appears on the taped message:
The Lord said that towards the end of the Tribulation period the sun would scorch men who dwell upon the face of the earth (Rev. 16). The year 1986 would fit just about right! We’re getting close to the Tribulation and the return of Christ in glory. All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.
Nothing significant happened in 1986 related to Halley’s Comet, and there is no reason why it should have since it’s been a predictable phenomenon for more than two millennia as it makes its way around the sun every 75 to 76 years. In fact, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was a better prophet than Smith. Clemens was born on November 30, 1835, two weeks after the comet’s appearance. In his biography, he said, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’” Clemens died on April 21, 1910, the day following the comet’s appearance.
In the book Dateline Earth: Countdown to Eternity, Smith criticized Edgar Whisenant , author of the book 88 Reasons the Rapture Will be in 1988, for predicting Jesus would return in September 1988. Smith wrote: “He was certainly well-intentioned—including about his revised prediction of September 1989, when September 1988 came and went—but he was also dead wrong.” This would have been a perfect opportunity for Smith to admit his own mistaken foray into predicting the endpoint of “this generation,” but he did not take it.
To be fair, in a March 30, 1989, interview with William Alnor, Smith admitted that he “was guilty of coming close” to “date setting,” and this was wrong. But when we look back over Smith’s statements about the timing of specific prophetic events, we can see that he did more than come close to date setting. He wrote, “We’re the generation that saw the fig tree bud forth, as Israel became a nation again in 1948.” We are now 70 years removed from the 1948 founding of Israel. The interpretive methodology used by Smith, Lindsey, Dave Hunt, and others making the 1948-1988 connection was fundamental to their claim that they were following a literal hermeneutic. If a literal hermeneutic results in near certainty of when prophetic events will take place but ends in a colossal miscalculation on a key element of their system, how should the interpretive methodology that brought them to that calculation be evaluated? To paraphrase Jesus, “An interpretive tree is known by its fruit, and the 1948-1988 timetable has turned out to be rotten fruit no matter how you slice it.”
George F. Will, “1968: Memories That Dim and Differ,” Washington Post (January 14, 1988), A27.
Ronald M. Enroth, Edward E. Ericson, Jr., and C. Breckinridge Peters, The Jesus People: Old-Time Religion in the Age of Aquarius (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 12.
Enroth , Ericson, and Peters, The Jesus People, 139. 12.
Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 42.
William Edgar, “Francis Schaeffer and the Public Square” in J. Budziszewski, Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 174.
Gary North and David Chilton, “Apologetics and Strategy,” in Tactics of Christian Resistance: A Symposium, ed. Gary North (Tyler Texas: Geneva Divinity School, 1983), 127-128. Emphasis in original.
Chuck Smith, End Times (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 1978), 35.
Smith, End Times, 36.
Chuck Smith, Future Survival (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today,  1980), 17.
Halley’s Comet also appeared in A.D. 66 and passed over Jerusalem, four years before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans. Could this have been the fulfillment of Luke 21:11?
Smith, Future Survival, 21.
Chuck Smith with David Wimbish, Dateline Earth: Countdown to Eternity (Old Tappan, NJ: Chosen Books, 1989), 26.
Chuck Smith’s interview with William M. Alnor in Soothsayers of the Second Advent (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1989.