Review: Jesus Revolution

jesus revolution

Jesus RevolutionGreg Laurie, Ellen Vaughn. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018.

Summary: An account of the Jesus Movement centered around Calvary Chapel and Chuck Smith, who mentored Greg Laurie into ministry, and how such a revival might come once more.

Some might argue that the last major American Awakening took place in the late 1960’s to mid- 1970’s in what was known as the Jesus Movement. Young men and women were coming to faith out of the hippie, drug culture. It was happening all over the United States in locality after locality. There was no national campaign. I know. I was a part of it.

So was Greg Laurie, and in this book, he, along with Ellen Vaughn offers a personal narrative of the times, the Southern California movement that centered around Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel, and Greg’s conversion to Christ, growth as a young believer under Smith’s mentoring, and the beginnings of his own ministry, resulting eventually in Harvest Christian Fellowship.

Laurie and Vaughn narrate the times: the transition from the staid 1950’s to the tumultuous 1960’s, the rise of the civil rights and anti-war movements, the proliferation of drug use, the rock festivals, and how the promise of Woodstock rapidly unraveled, leaving the children of the counter-culture desperate for something better.

Greg’s own story involved growing up in a single parent family with his mother and a series of her boyfriends. He didn’t know who his father was. Then he encountered Lonnie Frisbee, a charismatic minister who, at the time, was working with Chuck Smith, an older pastor who was open to this movement of God among young people and taught them the Bible, training converts to be disciples and witnesses.

Greg narrates coming to faith, and plunging into the life of Calvary Chapel, learning that drugs and discipleship could not go together. He began bearing witness to his faith, using art talents to create what became a popular pamphlet. Eventually he is invited to lead a Bible study over in Riverside that explodes, at which time Chuck Smith helps him plant a church that became Harvest Christian Fellowship.

The book goes on to interweave the subsequent life of Greg Laurie, and his wife Cathe, also converted through the ministry, and the subsequent narrative of the next forty years in the U.S. This includes some of the personal tragedies in his life including the death of his own son, and the falling out he had with Chuck Smith when he planted a church in Orange County, where he grew up and where Calvary Chapel was based. Fortunately, the two of them reconciled before Smith’s death.

One of the most significant parts of the book for me were a couple pages where he cited Billy Graham’s The Jesus Generation (a book I read during that period, so grateful for the affirmation of the evangelist for the work of God we were seeing all around us). Graham noted strengths of this movement that were evident in Greg’s narrative and that I saw as well:

  • “It was spontaneous, without a human figurehead…”
  • It was “Bible based.” All of us had dog-eared, marked up Bibles.
  • “The movement was about an experience with Jesus, not head knowledge.”
  • There was an emphasis on the Holy Spirit.
  • “[L]ives were dramatically transformed” as people were liberated from “addictions, and ingrained patterns of sin.”
  • “The movement’s emphasis was on Christian discipleship.” We talked about being “sold out” to Christ in every area of life.
  • “It was interracial and multicultural.”
  • “The movement showed a great zeal for evangelism.” I’ve often joked that if it moved, we tried to witness to it!
  • “The movement emphasized the second coming of Jesus.” Given the turbulence of the times with assassinations, Middle East conflict, and so much discord in the country, we thought Christ could come in our lifetime (pp. 165-166).

An odd characteristic of the book is that references to Laurie are in the third person, perhaps due to it being a co-authored work. Nevertheless, the book offers an eyewitness account of the times and the Jesus Movement that is helpful for anyone who wants to know more about this revival. While the cultural history offers a broad summary, and the account is centered in Southern California, I found that it rang true to my own experience, and that of others I’ve talked to from other cities.

It has been debated whether the Jesus Movement was a revival. The authors argue that it was, as a movement orchestrated by God and not human agency, in which Jesus was powerfully transforming lives through the Holy Spirit. Their purpose is not nostalgia, but rather to challenge the church that it can happen again. They ask whether, like the youth, and some of the churches of the 1960’s, we are desperate enough in our day:

“God grants revival. He grants it to those who are humble enough to know they need it, to those who have a certain desperate hunger for Him. Only out of self-despair–a helpless understanding of the reality of sin and one’s absolute inability to cure it–does anyone ever turn wholeheartedly to God. That desperation is sometimes hard to come by in America, because it is the opposite of self-sufficiency. In the US, many of us live under the illusion that our needs are already met, that maybe God is an add-on to our already comfortable existence” (pp. 232-233).


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Remembering “Johnny Kay”

Richard "Johnny Kay" Kutan. Picture accessed from

Richard “Johnny Kay” Kutan.

“Johnny Kay” was the on air name of Richard Kutan, a long time resident of Youngstown, Ohio. I learned last night that he passed away on Friday December 5, 2014 in Marysville, Ohio, living near family. This is a loss that touches me personally. He was a mentor to me during my high school years and one who played a profound influence in shaping my faith.

I first heard of “Johnny Kay” in my middle school years. I would listen to him in the mornings on WHOT, our local rock music station while I washed up for school. In between songs by the Beatles or the Monkees, he would read the lunch menus for different schools in the area. At some point around then, he began attending our church. His sister, Louise Schenk had long been a member and was a woman of faith. I still have, and treasure, a copy of My Utmost for His Highest inscribed by her.

In the summer of 1970, he began hosting Bible studies at his home for teenagers searching for faith. I started going along with several friends. A few months before, I had made a commitment to follow Christ at a retreat but I was still pretty clueless as to what that meant. Those weekly discussions taught me what it meant to trust Christ in daily life and also the radical kind of love that was to be the mark of Christ’s followers.

Out of these weekly gatherings, the idea was hatched to hold an outdoor rally on the lawn of our church. Phil Keaggy, a musician with Glass Harp and several other local musicians who had come to faith played. Others were invited to speak about their faith. I was one who stood up–kind of my “coming out” day as a Christian in front of some of my high school friends. Johnny Kay was among those who spoke about what it meant to trust in Christ and how this could fill the place in our lives we were trying to fill with music, drugs, or sex. Many responded that day and the Bible studies moved out of Johnny’s den into the church.

Before we knew it, we found ourselves swept up in an awakening that was going on around the country, known as the “Jesus Movement.” Many of us would pile into cars and vans and do rallies at a number of the local high schools. Because I didn’t have a car, Johnny Kay often picked me up in his green VW Beetle enroute to these rallies and what I remember was his willingness to talk, listen, or pray with me about all the things I was wrestling with as a teen and a beginning follower of Christ. I remember how he listened when I talked about the pain of a break-up. He also challenged me to take steps of faith, most often in terms of being willing to speak up about my faith in school settings as well as at rallies. I’m still doing that and I think I owe that largely to him.

Our lives only intersected closely for about two and a half years. But I will always be grateful that he “had time” and challenged me in my faith. And what he did for me, I know he did for countless others over many years. I learned that he received the Victory Star Medal for his service as a radio operator in the Pacific theater during World War 2. He was buried with military honors. In later years he moved over to another local radio station. He was beloved in the community. Even in his retirement years he was the Director of Lay Ministry at the church where I grew up overseeing a food pantry and helping with efforts to create a community center in the church.

At one time, I think the DJs at WHOT were known as “The Good Guys.” There could not be a more fitting description for Johnny Kay. A member of “The Greatest Generation” who served with distinction, a voice that brought a smile to our faces as we were waking up each morning, a caring follower of Christ who took time with a rather “nerdy” teenager, and one who lived for others as long as he could. Johnny Kay was all that and more. I thank God for Richard “Johnny Kay” Kutan. Rest in Peace my friend.  I will always remember you.