Without knowing it at the time, I was a product of the Jesus Revolution of the late 60s and early to mid-70s.
Coming to faith in Jesus in 1971 as an LSD-using, heroin-shooting, Jewish, hippie rock drummer, I had no idea that I was one of countless thousands (millions?) of hippies, radicals, and rebels all getting born-again at the same time, all around the world.
What a season it was!
The spiritual movement was so great that the cover of Time Magazine on June 12, 1971, featured a hippie-like Jesus with the heading, “The Jesus Revolution.” Just 5 years earlier, April 8, 1966, Time carried a very different cover, for the first time featuring text only without a graphic, starkly captioned, “Is God Dead?” God Himself answered with a resounding, “No!”
As there is much talk today about another Jesus Revolution, especially in light of the release of the Greg Laurie movie by that very title, it is essential that we learn some important lessons from the past, lest we repeat the same mistakes. We cannot afford to miss this sacred moment, given the state of the nation and the desperate need for a massive spiritual awakening among America’s young people.
What, then, were some of the critical errors of the previous Jesus Revolution? Two stand out immediately.
First, during the counterculture revolution of the 60s, a time marked by sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, Eastern religion, and rebellion, the church failed to see the deep spiritual search that was also taking place at that time.
As I noted in my 2002 book Revolution in the Church: Challenging the Religious System with a Call for Radical Change,
“It seems that even Mad Magazine had more spiritual insight into those critical years than did many Christian leaders, satirizing the late 1960s as a time of great spiritual hunger, especially among young people. . . .
“Among the headline articles [in the April 1968 edition of Mad] was, ‘What To Do About God After You Finally Find Him,’ while Hippie’s classified ads included: ‘YOUNG MALE HIPPIE, leaving for India to find God, desires Young Female Traveling Companion in case I don’t connect’; and, ‘LOOKING FOR GOD? I will tell you where to find Him. No kidding, I know where He’s at, and who He is. $1.00 gets this information. Your money back in 7 days if you’re not completely satisfied with Him.’ Other ads pointed to Eastern spirituality, including mountains for both meditation and sexual adventures along with cures for hernias by sitting in the Lotus position. How accurately this parodied the spiritual journey so many young people were on.
“Mad even had the insight to recognize how many Jewish seekers there were in that 1968 generation, creating hippie names such as Mohammad Tishman, Zen Rappaport, and Shah Bernbaum, and featuring a counseling column by ‘Abba Bennadam’ (Hebrew for Father, Son of Man), a ‘Mystic, a Seer, a Prophet, a Poet, a Free-Thinker and an Aluminum Storm Door Salesman’ (the latter, of course, to provide an income!). One of the questions posed to him came from ‘Rattled,’ living in Chicago: ‘Dear Abba: I am approaching 30, and I still haven’t found God! Man, I’m getting uptight over it! How and where can I find Him?’ Abba replied, ‘Dear Rattled: Don’t lose your cool. I’ll tell Him you’re looking for Him the next time I see Him.’”
Unfortunately, many Christian leaders at that time saw the obvious and the outward – the rebellion, the rise of radical feminism, the birth of the gay liberation movement, the decadence, the immorality – while failing to see the spiritual hunger that also burned in these young hearts.
The uncertainty and turmoil of the 60s, marked by assassinations, social upheaval, and the shattering of ideals, all against the dark backdrop of the Vietnam War, produced a deep unsettling in the hearts of young people. That’s why Satan rushed in to fill the void with all kinds of carnal substitutes, to the point that many church leaders said, “This is the end! This is the final apostasy! Jesus is coming back any minute.” (Does this sound familiar?)
Today, we must recognize that behind the outward and the obvious – the radical movements like Antifa and BLM; the strong identification with LGBTQ+ causes and people; the lack of a biblical worldview; the addiction to social media; the “Shout your abortion” movement – there is a hunger for justice, a longing for a better world, a desire for meaning, a search for authenticity, and more.
Every good thing these young people are searching for can be found in Jesus, and it is to Him and the transformation He offers that we must point them.
Second, when God began to pour out His spirit and save these young seekers 50 years ago, the church was not ready for the massive harvest of hippies, radicals, and rebels. There were too few spiritual fathers (and mothers), there was too little discipleship, and there were not enough new wineskins for the new wine. Those leaders who did seize the moment, like Pastor Chuck Smith in California, rode the wave of that holy season for decades, birthing a powerful new movement in the process.
As one pastor said to me years ago, “It’s exactly as you said. We had about 30 hippies show up in our church back then, long hair, beads, and all. They attended our services for a while, but we weren’t able to assimilate them. Eventually, all of them left except one.”
Hearing that broke my heart. How does the Lord feel?
To say it once more: We cannot afford to repeat that same error in the days ahead, as thousands (millions?) of young people (and others) from many different backgrounds begin to pour into our churches, looking for God, looking for hope, looking for meaning, looking for truth.
I fully expect that among them will be many who identify as LGBTQ+, including men wearing dresses and carrying Bibles, and same-sex couples, telling us how they really felt the Spirit in our services.
Will we have wisdom to meet them where they are, helping them truly encounter the Lord while the Spirit convicts them and changes them?
Will we have the patience to recognize that they are coming from many different backgrounds and, in some cases, are totally without biblical foundations?
Will we have sensitivity without compromise?
Will we walk in both grace and truth?
I know of hippies in the Jesus Revolution who were holding Bible studies for several years while still using LSD, thinking that this enhanced their spiritual understanding. It took them awhile to recognize their errors and turn away from their sinful habits. (In my case, God confronted me very clearly about my drug use right from the start, and I knew that following Jesus meant leaving those drugs behind.)
One older colleague of mine who came to faith around 1967 told me that the woman who baptized him was topless during the baptism. Yet she was supposedly the more mature believer between them! Talk about spiritual infancy.
But that was then and this is now, and so we must ask: What about us? Will we be ready for the coming harvest?
It will look different than anything we have seen before, which means we should be praying now for God’s heart of compassion, long-suffering, and wisdom.
Some of the people who look the most lost will become great leaders in the generation to come, helping turn the tide in our nation, but only if we have spiritual eyes to see and understand.
May we learn our lessons from the last Jesus Revolution for the sake of the new Jesus Revolution.