The new biopic film, ‘Jesus Revolution,’ is a love story. If you walk into the theater expecting to see an historical account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, better known as the Jesus movement of the 60s and 70s, you may be a bit disappointed. The backdrop is the early days of Calvary Chapel and the Jesus freaks, but it is not the main plot.
It has less to do with Jesus and more to do with hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee and mega-church pastor Greg Laurie pursuing his future bride. Chuck Smith, the pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa whom the Lord chose to oversee His work of grace in Southern California, plays a co-staring role, portrayed by Kelsey Grammer.
That doesn’t mean it’s not entertainment, although the gospel got lost on the cutting room floor. To be sure, the movie will spark many conversations recalling the glory of those days, as God took mercy upon the baby-boomer generation and poured out His Spirit. The zeal for God’s Word was dynamic in contrast to the turmoil of the Vietnam war and the popularity of the occult, sex, drugs & rock ‘n roll.
I had to come to terms with the fact that this is a MOVIE and not a documentary… Dad loved Lonnie like a son. Dad was 40 when they met and Lonnie was my age, 18. Lonnie had a lot to learn and sometimes didn’t think he needed to listen to Dad. Dad was not jealous of Lonnie, as the movie suggests. He was trying to rein in what were Lonnie’s tendencies to prefer signs and wonders to sound Bible teaching. Dad did not fire Lonnie; Lonnie was ready to move on. Dad understood and Connie really did want to leave to work on their marriage because Lonnie wanted to be at church 24/7. When Lonnie and Connie came back about a year later, Dad welcomed them back with open arms.
– Janette Smith Manderson
Daughter of Chuck Smith
“It’s a Movie”
I took a class in college, a History elective, that examined historic films for the students to analyze for their historicity. It was a fun way to earn three credits. We watched a movie every week and in the next class we turned in our research papers and discussed our findings. After about 20 films, we all agreed that not one recorded details with 100% accuracy.
But that didn’t make them bad movies. Imagine watching the Cecil B. DeMille movie, The Ten Commandments, and seeing Charlton Heston playing a true-to-life Moses without any steamy love scenes with Anne Baxter’s Nefertari. This is where artistic license comes in.
Since Jesus Revolution is based on an autobiography written by Greg Laurie, he is the only one that can say whether or not the film studio honestly reflected his personal story. No doubt, lots of details were left out, and likely creative content added to move the story along. With that in mind, what things seem skewed is not necessarily his doing.
We show that Lonnie had his struggles. We showed Lonnie was flawed. Everyone in this film is flawed…I would say Lonnie fell away spiritually. He clearly was backsliding… he started using drugs and he was living immorally. . . he fell away and he got involved with the Vineyard and then it came out what he’d been doing… and then ultimately he gets AIDS… He was repentant. He knew what he did was wrong.
Setting the Stage
The story begins with cut-aways between the family of Chuck and Kay Smith, and a young Greg Laurie struggling with abandonment issues with a single alcoholic mom who tells him his dad is not his real father. Hippie Jesus freak, Lonnie Frisbee, is shown walking in the wilderness wearing a flowing robe resembling John the Baptist – the only thing missing is locusts and honey dripping from his mouth. Fortunately for him, the Smith’s daughter, Janette sees him and gives him a ride back to her parents’ house.
Her dad, who at that time was pastoring a small church associated with a mainline denomination, was not happy with his rebellious daughter bringing this dirty hippie home. But since he professed to believe in Jesus, Chuck had a change of heart and took him to his church the following Sunday. The uptight elders were not as welcoming and as Lonnie brought in more of his unsavory long-haired friends, it drove away the nose-in-the-air regulars.
In the meantime, a teenaged Greg Laurie was hit with love-at-first-sight with a pretty blonde named Cathe. At first she was not very welcoming to his awkward moves on her, but then going with her and her friends to an outdoor concert featuring Janis Joplin, she warmed up to him. It was Cathe who was first drawn to the Lord by hippies witnessing and passing out tracts. Greg meets Lonnie who at first creeped him out, but later all the parties come together in ‘the faith.’ And, as they say, the rest his history. But is it really?
“I met and knew Lonnie Frisbee, but didn’t know him well. I attended his and Connie’s wedding in the open air (as I recall) in Marin County. He had worked for a florist, and they had him all decked out in white with a halo of flowers. I joked to John MacDonald (the communal group’s pastor at First Baptist, Mill Valley) that Lonnie was more beautiful than the bride…. I lost touch with Lonnie after he went south to help John Higgins and Chuck Smith mount counter-culture ministry at Calvary Chapel.”
(Opened first Christian coffeehouse ministry
in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in 1967
called ‘the Livingroom’ which became a beacon
to the many runaways and disillusioned
dropouts in America at that time.)
Testing for Historicity
The story is Greg’s, as is evident in the movie posters showing him up front and the others behind him. So one can gather that his affection for Lonnie trumps his opinion of Chuck Smith, perhaps because the hippie led him to the Lord. Lonnie is portrayed as a dynamic, charismatic zealot in contrast to Chuck’s characterization as a failing minister struggling to succeed in a dead and dying church structure. Chuck never quite gets the Spirit but falls upon his dried up sermons.
So, is this an accurate portrayal of these men?
First of all, having Kelsey Grammer (aka Frazier) play Chuck Smith was an odd choice considering he is 25 years older than Chuck would have been in 1969. Yet you have to give him kudos for his willingness to act in a Christian film – his heart was in the right place. There is a limited pool of actors to choose from to keep within a small budget by Hollywood’s standard.
But for those well acquainted with Chuck, his portrayal wasn’t convincing. And that might not be the actor’s fault. If the director did not know Chuck, but only relied on what he could derive from the autobiography, the interpretation would be wanting.
Chuck Smith was not known to be a wishy-washy directionless Bible teacher worried about his career choice. He was not going by his wits as the film portrayed him, but was led by the Holy Spirit without care for the future. He loved those young people he discipled and taught them all he knew about ministry and God’s word. They were all like sons to him. That sort of caring and hands-on attention did not come across. The character seemed really unsure of himself and his calling.
On the other hand, the actor who played Lonnie, Jonathan Roumie, was a better fit. Critics complain that he’s a Catholic and should not have been cast, but that would further shrink an already small pool of actors. He already made a name for himself playing ‘Jesus’ in the TV series, The Chosen. In my opinion, he plays a better Lonnie than the Savior of mankind.
Greg Laurie’s character was a flattering choice. Some of his dialog not so much. He had “hopes and dreams and goals” at least. In retrospect, it appears he lived up to them.
When we have time I would love to sit down with you and cover the unclean spirits of the Jesus People Movement. There were many and they still are at work in destroying the faith of many as we look for Jesus to come.
Pastor of His Church Calvary Tri City in Arizona
There were a few scenes that really struck home with me – ones that do not translate well to the screen. One was his baptism at Pirates Cove, coming up out of the water, the Holy Spirit came down as he came up. That was a common testimony during the Jesus movement. The Lord was truly there.
The other is when the young Greg Laurie gets struck by a supernatural bolt out of the blue when he spots Cathe from a distance. That must be a God thing. I can relate to that same experience years ago in a church. Does this only happen to born-again believers?
Then the scene with the born-again hippies raising their Bibles and giving the ‘one way’ sign pointing up to heaven. Everywhere they went, as I recall, they had Bible in hand even on the Huntington Beach pier. That would attract some the Lord was drawing, and send the others off onto the beach below.
What wasn’t shown was how when the young people got saved, they would dump their drugs and paraphernalia into the trash. It is a false accusation that they continued in them – these guys were truly new creatures in Christ and desired to follow Him and be transformed by His righteousness. The miracles happening at that time were also not seen – people being healed, many prophesying, and given words of knowledge that ministered to each other.
The Jesus movement was a sovereign work of God. Many today thinking they can examine this historical event and find some formula to recreate it are sadly mistaken. If it can be duplicated by human effort, it is not a God thing. That’s been tried and failed in the denominational and Catholic charismatic renewals of the day, with the assistance of ‘church growth’ wizards.
Aside from Calvary Chapel house ministries, there was a branch connected to Calvary Chapel which independently sprung forth many house ministries all over the nation called The Shiloh Youth Revival Centers. Shiloh was the largest Jesus People communal movement in the United States in the 1970s. Founded in 1968 as a small communal house (House of Miracles) by John Higgins,it grew to 175 communal houses with a main base in Oregon.
Pastor of Poiema Christian Fellowship, Costa Mesa CA
More to the Story
The scroll at the end of the film gave a glimpse of how each character ended up. So it must have mattered to the film maker. Let’s not alter history and white-wash the outcome.
Greg Laurie – Went on to host successful stadium events with the assistance of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) who televised his Harvest crusades. Over the years, it slipped into ecumenism, featuring unsaved Hollywood celebrities and Roman Catholics, emulating Billy Graham’s ministry model.
Lonnie Frisbee – Ended up joining false teacher John Wimber at the Vineyard Ministries where Frisbee entertained unclean spirits in his administering of false gifts of a spirit. Took eyes off of Jesus and onto some presence that empowered him in lying signs and wonders that remain to this day in the laughter/drunkenness madness within charismania. The Vineyard begat the Kansas City Prophets that begat IHOP and Catch the Fire churches that begat the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) that begat an element of the Great Apostasy. Lonnie Frisbee lived a double life dabbling in lying spirits and homosexuality, resulting in dying of AIDS before his time.
Chuck Smith – Taught insightful Bible studies at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa faithfully, remaining in the pulpit all the way to the end. He left behind decades of valuable teaching that builds up believers in the faith to this day.
Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa – After the death of its founder, it fell into the hands of his son-in-law, Brian Brodersen. Chuck’s youngest daughter, Cheryl continues leading the women’s ministry, her Joyful Life studies are used by many of Calvary women’s ministries. Sadly, Pastor Brian brought division into the mix, by honoring false teachers like his friend, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. And is ecumenical with Catholicism and even has a female canon of the Anglican Church heading up one of his outreaches in the UK.
Calvary Chapel Fellowship of Churches – split into two factions: the Calvary Chapel Global Network and the Calvary Chapel Association. The Brodersens lead the former and the latter is led by a board of long-time Calvary pastors who held onto the CC distinctives. Many of these churches are the last bastions of sound Bible teaching in an era of seeker-friendly, purpose-driven worldly fellowships headed up by various motivational speakers posing as pastors. These Calvary Chapels are now a remnant – no longer in fashion – in these end times, that keep pointing the saints to the encroaching end times heralding the return of the Prince of Peace.
Yes the beginning of their relationship was pretty right on! Their break up was a whole lot of ego I believe! Their ending was not good! I took Lonnie to meet with Chuck for a healing! Chuck would not meet with him! Lonnie had deep daddy issues with Chuck! And during same time John Wimber rejected Lonnie.
founder Set Free Ministries, Anaheim
I’m told by an insider that CC Costa Mesa is getting inundated with phone calls from aging Jesus freaks, some that have been backslidden, who’ve seen the movie and it brought back a lot of nostalgia. They’re calling to find out if they can come to the property and walk around in and out of the buildings. Some who have strayed are coming back to Jesus. “We know them by their gray heads.”
Perhaps as the end times play out and persecution increases, the two factions will sit down and work through their differences. Certainly the time is close to where the battle lines are being drawn between truth and wokeism and the saints need to bunker down and strengthen what remains. Pray it is so!