‘The Jesus Revolution,’ Lonnie Frisbee, and What We Can Learn


I have yet to see the movie, The Jesus Revolution, but I look forward to when I can. While I was just a small child during the time this revival was transforming the country and the world, I am a blessed recipient of this movement through the music birthed from it. The Maranatha and Vineyard worship, the music of Andrae Crouch and the Disciples, and the whole genre of Contemporary Christian Music that was produced during that time has shaped my life and my walk with Jesus.

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If you haven’t heard about the film, or have no idea about its subject matter, Religious News Service does a good synopsis of the story:

The film “Jesus Revolution,” produced by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin, explores how Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel, changed his mind about hippies and how that change of heart revolutionized his aging, declining church, turning it into a thriving community and eventually a denomination. Rather than viewing hippies as a threat to the established social order, Smith and Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa began to see them as potential converts. In churchy language, hippies became, for Smith, “a field white unto harvest.”

Chuck Smith was not just the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, but the apostle of the Calvary Chapel movement, which now has churches worldwide. Smith discipled millions locally and around the world. One of those disciples who has spearheaded his own major movement is Pastor Greg Laurie, the founder of The Harvest Crusades. Laurie is an executive producer and shepherd of this film, so as the RNS article states, much of it is through his memories and his lens. Smith is portrayed by Kelsey Grammer, an incredible actor in his own right, and also a person of faith.

Smith also discipled Lonnie Frisbee, who was the evangelist and prophet who first brought what became known as The Jesus Movement to Chuck Smith’s doorstep. Frisbee is played by actor Jonathan Roumie who portrays Jesus Christ in the popular series The Chosen, another series I have not yet seen—but not for lack of desire. From my reading of The Jesus Revolution reviews and what my friends and colleagues who have seen it tell me, Frisbee has been given short shrift and transitions out of the main story fairly quickly.

After the initial foundation of the birth of The Jesus Movement and the incredible growth of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa from a tiny, dying church, to a place where thousands come to hear the gospel and learn more about Jesus, the story moves into Smith’s discipleship of Greg Laurie. The sanitized version of Lonnie Frisbee is shifted to the background and the Smith-Laurie partnership is moved to the foreground.

In the film, Frisbee is married (somewhat unhappily) to a young woman named Connie; in real life, Frisbee’s sexuality was complex. He had sex with men (how he defined his sexuality is a subject of debate among those who knew him) and died of AIDS at age 43. The film does not include these details; the epilogue simply states that, “Lonnie died in 1993, still preaching the good news and dreaming of another Jesus Movement.”

It is understandable why the producers and directors chose this route. They want the Lord Jesus and The Jesus Movement to be the focal point, so giving emphasis to the controversial and tension-infused relationship between Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee, and Frisbee’s rocky path after, could well derail that. But it is also a missed opportunity, as Frisbee’s influence, life, failures, redemptive reconciliation, and death speaks more about the heart of God and why we need a revival in our time. This could well be happening, as reports of the Asbury Revival and its fire is spreading to other secular universities. Perhaps many Lonnie Frisbees, Chuck Smiths, and Greg Lauries, will be birthed from this move of God.

This opinion article on Lonnie Frisbee written by Greg Laurie alludes to the teeter totter balance between a powerfully gifted artist and evangelist, and a horrifically broken and wounded young man. Frankly, that is often the tension of many of us who come to faith in Jesus Christ. There are some that have beautifully forward trajectories to their lives, and then there are others whose walk, life, and witness represent the highest highs, the lowest lows, and the tragic consequences in between.

Robby Dawkins does a meaty interview with Lonnie Frisbee’s older brother Stan. I love Pastor Chuck Smith and he was a powerful instrument for God’s Kingdom, a disseminator of the word of truth, and he discipled many directly, and indirectly through his radio program. I was a faithful listener back in Chicago when I accepted Jesus at the age 16, and when I moved to California at 22. But as Lonnie’s close friend John Ruttkay explained, dealing with sexual abuse and trauma was a foreign thing to many of these pastors, and Chuck Smith’s ignorance in knowing how to help Lonnie through his pain was another fatherly rejection Frisbee had to suffer through. While Frisbee’s life and testimony are complicated, as Robby Dawkins said, Lonnie Frisbee was the precipitator of The Jesus Movement and it would not have happened without him. Nevertheless, the gospel is being preached and a time in history that was pivotal to the world is getting the attention it deserves.

John Ruttkay also gives greater context and platform to Lonnie Frisbee’s life, influence, and struggles. Ruttkay was a dear friend, and speaks about Frisbee with the love, wonder over all the powerful memories, and a bit of regret over a life cut short, sadly by his own choices. Ruttkay reads from Not By Might, Nor By Power, Frisbee’s own autobiographical books, in his own words, clearing up rumors and misconceptions about Frisbee’s lifestyle choices and how, in the end, he had made peace with his Lord and restored relationship with those whom he had broken fellowship.

If you grew up or were present in the charismatic church between 1969 and 1979, this next video will be a trip down memory lane. If you never knew this music existed, I give you a taste of what was birthed from Lonnie Frisbee’s profound influence on The Jesus Movement. It is also a little piece of what I consider an inspirational and impactful childhood that hopefully morphed into an influential adulthood.

In My Orbit with Jennifer Oliver O’Connell is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Written by CONK!


Murray Rothbard, March 2, 1926-January 7, 1995


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