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).

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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.

Review: Theologies of the American Revivalists

theologies of the american revivalists

Theologies of the American Revivalists, Robert W. Caldwell III. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.

Summary: A study, not so much of the history, as the theologies underlying the different revival movements in America from 1740 to 1840.

There have been various studies of the histories of particular revival movements in American religious history. What Robert W. Caldwell offers in this work is a comparative study of the theologies of the different revivalists. Undergirding the preaching and methodologies of these revivalists lay considerable thought about the theology of the human will and the sovereignty of God, on how widely the salvation of Christ extended, on the length of the conversion process and a tension between systematic theology and plain reading of scripture.

In seven chapters, Caldwell outlines the theologies of various key figures representing different schools of thought, or religious bodies. These include:

  • Moderate evangelical revival theology. This stream of Puritan Calvinism included George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennent, and notably, Jonathan Edwards. Preaching focused on the law, bringing people under conviction of sin, pursuing “means of grace” as one sought conversion, and finally the consolation of assurance. This process was often emotionally intense and protracted.
  • Free grace revival theology. Andrew Croswell and other radical evangelicals rejected the use of “means of grace” and lengthy conversion processes. They emphasized responses of faith to the Christ who loves, and whose salvation was for the world, by “right.” Conversions were intense, certain, leaving no room for doubt, and quick.
  • Edwardsean Calvinist revival theology. Successors of Jonathan Edwards focused on Edwards idea that people have a natural ability to embrace the gospel, even if morally disinclined to do so. This had ramifications for the understanding of original sin, atonement, and, justification. Conversions continued to be lengthy events, culminating in a “disinterested” spirituality that accepted and even could worship God for his just judgment of oneself as a sinner, leading to the apprehension of God’s grace.
  • Methodist Arminian theology emphasized the love of God, the offer of salvation to all, and the freedom of the will to believe. Conversions were both emotional events and quick, with teaching that encouraged progress to Christian perfection.
  • Early American Baptists. They did not have a single revival theology but different leaders adopted one of the above approaches.
  • Taylorism, or New Haven theology. Nathaniel William Taylor further emphasized both the sinners ability to repent, and the ways in which the means of grace might eradicate selfishness in the sinner even prior to regeneration.
  • Charles Finney’s revival theology. Finney built on Taylor, emphasizing the sinner’s ability to respond to the command to repent and elaborating the means of grace systematically in what became called the “new measures.” Finney asserted that three processes were at work in the conversion process: the work of the Spirit, the work of the minister, and the work of the convert.

Caldwell also discusses two critical responses to these revivalist theologies. The first was that of the Princeton theologians Archibald Alexander and Charles Hodge, who believed these revival theologies deviated from classic Calvinism in the direction of Pelagianism. They emphasized the quieter means of the influence of the Christian family. The second was the restoration movement led by Stone and Campbell that eschewed theological systems for the plain teaching of the Bible and the actions of belief, repentance, and baptism affirmed in scripture as resulting in regeneration.

I thought Caldwell’s exposition quite clear as to each of the theologies coupled the key figures, their ideas, and the theological implications of those ideas. Each chapter provides a summary of salient points that allows for good review of the chapter. I wondered about the focus on the conversion theologies associated with the revivalists. While this was a significant aspect of revivals, equally significant was the awakening of those who had already believed to spiritual vitality. Apart from the focus on Wesleyan perfection, this aspect was not addressed. Richard Lovelace’s classic Dynamics of Spiritual Life gives a much fuller account of the renewal of the church in revival.

I appreciated Caldwell’s closing comments on the importance of revival theology in the church today:

“A robust revival theology, one that intimately unites head and heart, Scripture, proclamation, and life, would certainly help galvanize preaching, capture the religious imagination of the lost, and aid in imparting a theological vision that draws sinners to life and raises up God-glorifying disciples” (p. 229).

Caldwell’s work offers a rich account of how those who have gone before us have conceived of these things, as well as pointing us to primary sources for further study. He helps us see that, beyond the emotion and the changed lives of the successive waves of revivals, there were prayerful and thoughtful human agents whose understanding of the ways of God in salvation shaped and energized their preaching and pastoral ministry.