The Jesus People Movement: An Annotated Bibliography and General Resource

Religious Studies, Bibliographies and Indexes in, No. 49 (ISSN: 0742-6836) Greenwood Press. Westport, Conn. 1999. 280 pages. by David Di Sabatino

The Spiritual Sixties and the Jesus People Movement (portion of larger introductory essay)

Regardless of what one thinks when mention of "the Sixties" is made, there is rarely any middle ground when opinions are formed concerning the decade's legacy. As those who never trusted anyone over thirty now enter their fifties and sixties, they have found controversy to be a constant companion. Many of the emerging histories of the era offer extreme interpretations. While some offer sympathetic remembrances of dissent in the face of "systemite" tyranny (at the hands of Moloch), others condemn the permissive generation as having fathered (or mothered) the "sins" of single parenthood, soaring divorce rates, AIDS, and other perceived immoralities. Those who view the Sixties as an attack against traditional values identify the election of Ronald Reagan as the death knell of the "lost generation." Their celebrations were curtailed, however, by the Clinton administration that entered the White House as the apotheosis of Sixties ideology. Whether one sees the decade as commencing a "slouching towards Gomorrah" or the reestablishment of a continental conscience, "the Sixties" remain opposed to simplistic definition.

The 1960s left behind an indelible collection of powerful visual images: Abraham Zapruder’s shocking footage of President Kennedy’s assassination, the self-immolation of a Vietnamese monk, fire hoses being turned on southern blacks, the National Guard advancing at Kent State, and Meredith Hunter being stabbed to death by Hell’s Angels at the Altamont rock concert. All these contribute to an optical montage that portray the era as a turbulent maelstrom of activity. These violent images have undergone a renaissance of sorts, finding new life in the endless barrage of visual impulses of our media saturated culture. The 1960s were a made for television era.

While all of these events are no doubt important, representative of the political and social themes that reverberated throughout the era, preoccupation upon these all too familiar events distort as much as they offer explanation. It is sometimes an unfortunate reality that history is often the recollection of some events to the exclusion of others.

Though many who came of age during this time identified themselves with the fight for civil rights, women’s liberation, or the anti-war movement, thousands of others remained unmoved by these struggles save what they gleaned from media sources. The goal of this study is not to relegate the aforementioned events as unimportant, but to seek to broaden the parameters of study beyond the usual schema. This resource is an attempt to counter the perceived imbalances and to resurrect interest in a social movement that merits mention as an integral part of "the Sixties."


The Spiritual Sixties

While most intellectuals still tend to view the 1960s through the lens of political, economic, and other social analyses, another framework of study has emerged. Many scholars now view the era as a watershed of North American religious history initiating a fragmentation of the Judeo-Christian hegemony and the emergence of a more pluralistic setting where thousands of new religious movements became part of the spiritual landscape. In his book The Sixties Spiritual Awakening, Robert Ellwood, Jr., cites that the importance of the 1960s was "the emergence of a wholly new culture, based on a new spirituality" and that furthermore, the great event of the decade was not political, but was "the coming of the Love Generation, the Aquarian Age, or secular Christianity."1 His thoughts echo William G. McLoughlin’s essay, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform, that suggests the era’s cultural distortion offered a tremendous challenge to traditional Judeo-Christian dominance. By studying the era as an age of recurring religious epiphany, scholars have rendered the decade, whether explicitly or implicitly, as the Spiritual Sixties.2

Regardless of how helpful this framework is, it has not come without one glaring blindspot. Up until recently the study of religion during this time has been dominated by the presupposition of secularization: the theory that traditional religion was either in decline or was being replaced by a host of new religious movements (NRMs). There is no doubt that religious impulses during this time represent the triumph of non-conformity over tradition, Dionysian ecstasy over Apollonian order, and even, as McLoughlin states, the move away from the "angry father above" to the mother-love qualities of the divine.3 But while spiritual innovation captured public attention it remains unclear that the NRMs ever made a lasting cultural impact.4 It remains less obvious that North Americans ever strayed from traditional Judeo-Christian allegiances, although it can be stated that religion has undergone significant alteration and relocation since the 1960s.5 Regardless of this imbalance, the Spiritual Sixties is a useful category with which to trace out the complex streams of alternative and traditional religion that battled throughout the decade.

As scholars probe the religious aspects of the era it is my contention that they will rediscover elements of conservative Christian revivalism to be a much more significant force than first imagined. This realization has already being discovered by a few. Harvey Cox, whose book The Secular City in 1966 heralded the metropolis and technology as the new loci of religious devotion, has openly recanted his contribution to the secularization thesis, recently confirming that conservative Christianity (especially Pentecostalism) has been a powerful cultural force throughout the twentieth century.6 Donald E. Miller, in his recent work Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium, suggests that the 1960s mark the beginning of a second Protestant reformation based on the reprioritization of emotive spirituality over propositional theology. Miller contends that a new breed of conservative evangelical churches emerged from the Jesus People Movement have taken over the mainstream of American church life.7 Those who argued that the softening of religious strictures and theological barriers were due to the influx of eastern spirituality often remain oblivious to the moderating influence of pentecostalism. Albeit rather meekly, Ellwood admits that "instead of secular Christianity" the most prominent religious legacy of the era was "an evangelical revival."

Despite international media exposure, the Jesus People have remained largely neglected from historical reflection. Not comfortably fitting the usual definition of counterculture, their impact has been minimized with the charges of political and cultural escapism. In most histories of the 1960s conservative revivalism is an afterthought or simply brushed aside as unimportant—an uncomfortable challenge to the widely held view of the era as a watershed of religious pluralism.8 If one’s presupposition has been that the 1960s represent the "secularization" of society, it is understandable how such a widespread recommitment to the most enduring religious figure of western civilization poses a dilemma.9

Alongside the Black Panthers, Peaceniks, hippies, Yippies, Weathermen, women's liberationists, Diggers, New Leftists, and campus radicals, then, also stood the Jesus People—the forgotten children of the Spiritual Sixties.

Sample Citations

A. Historical Resources

0001 Adler, Gerhard. "The Jesus People and the Churches." in Jesus Christ and Human Freedom eds., Edward Schillebeeckx and Bas van Iersel, 129-34. New York: Herder and Herder, 1974.

Adler argues that the Jesus People Movement is polymorphous although its one common tenet is the experience of God as a "living, personal reality" (p. 131). Though the essay cautions against the excessive emotionalism and anti-intellectualism of the revival, Adler asserts that the return of fundamental Christian beliefs must be acknowledged. He also states that the "movement arose. . . outside the usual church framework" (p. 129), thus offering a challenge to the established church. Comments on the vulgar commercialization of the One-Way symbol and "Christian underclothes," although he concedes that there is a profound link between spirituality and economic realities. Views the ultimate meaning of the Jesus People Movement as a defiant challenge against technocracy and the quest for reality beyond the material plane. Concludes by asking "whether the Jesus freaks did not know something hidden from the wise and clever" (cf. Mt. 11:25). Analytical theological observations of the Jesus People are rare and should be appreciated.

0002 Allan, Maurice. "God's Thing in Hippieville." Christian Life 29 (1968): 20-23, 35-38.

Centering on the conversion of hippie Ted Wise, Allan offers an account of the establishment of the first indigenous "turned-on Christians" and their evangelistic efforts within San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. The article relates the opening of the first Christian hippie mission called the Living Room. Allan's account is entirely positive citing that "without a doubt, God is at work in Haight-Ashbury. The Living Room Set are part of what He is doing. It is a grass roots movement. . . . Psychedelic evangelists like Ted belong in this culture. It is part of them; they are part of it. They do not accept all its more and myths, and everyone in it does not accept their message. But these men are in as not even Billy Graham could be" (p. 35). The article fostered a storm of controversy among conservative evangelicals. See also 0092, 0138, 0182, 0230, 0261.

0013 Blessitt, Arthur. Life's Greatest Trip. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1970.

A brief behind the scenes look at the establishment of the His Place coffeehouse on Hollywood's streets and its founder Arthur Blessitt, self-proclaimed minister of the Sunset Strip. Provides examples of Blessitt's gospel sloganeering - "Get loaded on Jesus, 24 hours a day, you can be naturally stoned on Jesus!" (p. 26). Psychedelic New Testaments and the good news proclaimed in hip street lingo are all part of the evangelist’s technique. See also 0014-0018, 0046, 0048, 0118, 0182, 0236, 0246, 0254, 0380, 0436, 0437, 0439-0442, 0482, 0582, 0617, 0628, 0633, 0755, 0783-0785, 0789, 0790, 0795, 0804, 0811, 0812, 0831.

0196 Plowman, Edward E. "Whatever Happened to the Jesus Movement?" Christianity Today 20 (24 October 1975): 102-4.

A remembrance of the movement through the eyes of its most favorable observer. Plowman relates that though much of the media attention dwindled in 1973, there was much more going on in the midwestern United States and overseas than had ever been going on in California. Points out that the movement is in transition, from street evangelism to personal development and social responsibility, from action to introspection. Centers on three of the key figures as examples of the shift. Ted Wise, the first indigenous hippie Christian convert, moved from his original work in the Haight-Ashbury and headed a college and career group at Peninsula Bible Church while heading up an anti-drug program in San Francisco. Jack Sparks and the Christian World Liberation Front is cited as suffering a split due to the increased measures of authority imposed by the leadership. Calvary Chapel pastor Chuck Smith; continues to harness the incredible and inexplicable growth of their 15,000 strong church attendance. Calvary Chapel is stated as having "reaped more in sheer volume from the spiritual harvest of the Jesus movement than any other church" (p. 104). For other retrospective articles see 0008, 0052, 0111, 0152, 0171, 0257, 0272, 0595.

B. Sociological Resources

0280 Adams, Robert Lynn, and Robert Jon Fox. "Mainlining Jesus: The New Trip." Society February 1972, 50-6.

The earliest sociological study of the Jesus People Movement. A negatively skewed article, Adams and Fox state that "religion as represented in this movement is a step backwards" (p. 53). They argue that the reason for the Jesus People's allegiance is due to the need for both "peer-group approval and a need to resolve the identity crisis" in transition from adolescent to teenager (p. 52). Commitment to the movement preserves the safety of childhood morality resolving issues with a rigid "black or white" mentality. In essence, the author's find the movement sexually repressive, anti-intellectual, apolitically escapist and naively embracing the excesses of authoritarianism. In deference to the drug culture, which the authors represent as a true quest, "the Jesus trip is a panacea" (p. 54). Further criticism of the movement forecasts that the Jesus People will become fodder for a right-wing coup that will eventually assimilate adherents into the ranks of conservative America. Typical of most sociological studies, the authors go to great lengths to hide the identity of the church they are scrutinizing pseudonymously naming the church Gethsemane Chapel. Those familiar with the movement's history will discern that the study was done at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. The young charismatic evangelist that they disguise as "Rennie" is in fact Lonnie Frisbee whose picture is readily identifiable (p. 50). See also 0006, 0007, 0061, 0220-0224, 0228, 0237, 0252, 0271, 0290, 0308, 0615, 1182-1185.


The Extremists

1192 Bromley, David G. and Anson D. Shupe, Jr. Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare. Boston: Beacon Press, 1981.

Bromley and Shupe are herein concerned with the religious freedoms and liberties of religious groups that have been deemed "cults." The authors boldly assert that "there is no avalanche of rapidly growing cults" (p. 3) and that the myth of the "cult explosion" had been greatly exaggerated. Regardless of what one thinks of these groups, the authors argue that their rights are being denied by conservatives and anti-cult groups. One of the first studies to summarize the development of the new religious movements in an attempt to diffuse some of the rhetoric and "cult-chasing" frenzy in vogue during the early 1970s. Includes insights into the Children of God group. The introduction, written by Harvard theologian Harvey Cox, is of particular interest for its brief but poignant critique of American intolerance to religious innovation; "It seems Americans are never really happy unless there is some unfamiliar religious group to abuse" (p. xi).

1207 Davis, Deborah (Berg). The Children of God: The Inside Story. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.

Written by the daughter of COG leader Moses David Berg, the book is Davis' struggle to make sense of her infamous father's activities. She goes into great detail concerning the progression of Berg's worldview which were shaped largely by his domineering mother. After his mother's death the author argues that the last restraint was removed from her father whereupon he created a small but radical following of converted hippies. Davis charges that her father's theology was centered upon sexual deviancy and demonic possession. Heavily criticized by sociologists the book remains one of the best resources for understanding the internal machinations of the COG and David Berg.

Jesus Music Discography

D001 Agape. Gospel Hard Rock. Mark Records MRS-2170, 1971.

The first hard rock band to emerge from the outbreak of street Christianity. After being converted while visiting the Light Club coffeehouse (the place of origin for the Children of God), guitarist/singer Fred Caban formed a band to play venues throughout California beginning in 1968. Agape became a mainstay at Hollywood First Presbyterian's Salt Company coffeehouse and is cited as being the impetus for Larry Norman to begin to play religious oriented music (see D193-D203). Centered in Covina Park, California, the band was the nucleus of what became Covina Church in the Park and later the International Agape Ministries (I. A. M.). Along with Mike Jungkman on drums and John Peckhart on bass, this trio merits serious consideration as the founding fathers of Jesus rock music. Musically, the album is raw blues-rock sounding something akin to Jimi Hendrix meets Grand Funk Railroad with a touch of (Eric Clapton led) Cream. Outstanding cuts include "Rejoice," "Freedom," and "Happy." Pressed in limited quantities collectors have paid up to $150 for single copies.

D008 All Saved Freak Band. Sower. War Again LH8188, 1980.

The fourth and final record released in 1980 although it may have been recorded much earlier. By the end of the seventies the group's apocalyptic outlook had forced their retreat from any contact with mainstream society. A fold-out insert entitled "Illustrated Chart of Visions" outlined a series of five pessimistic visions divinely received by Rev. Hill. Offers the group's thoughts on the impending battle of Armageddon. Liner notes were written by Jesus Music radio show host Dale Yancy. By far their best release.

D099 Heard, Mark. Mark Heard. Airborn 751005, 1975.

Heard's first solo album produced and released through Ron Moore's Airborn label. A collection of acoustic folk-rock songs. The original cover of the album has a picture of a butterfly. The musical integrity that was his trademark is evident in this early recording. The back cover states the album is a "collection of attitudes concerned with life in the framework of Biblical Christianity." After aligning himself with Larry Norman, Heard's first self-titled album was repackaged and re-released as On Turning to Dust (AB Records AB 778, 1978). Heard's first musical effort was as part of a high school folk rock group (see D120).

Author’s Note: This resource guide is intended mainly to facilitate those who wish to study this unique revival movement.