In this issue of “Theology & Culture” (T&C), we are going to return to a discussion we began in March, the topic being the Jesus Movement, or Jesus Revolution as it was also know, and focus specifically on some of the key theological beliefs that seemed to guide the movement. It is, to be honest, somewhat difficult to pinpoint all the focal doctrines that were key elements that were taught and passed on but some do stand out.
Before reading further, to get a short historical glimpse of this time in history, I would encourage you to read “Part 1” of our look at the Jesus Movement. You can find it by clicking on our resource tab at oakridgebc.org and then look for the article under the “Theology and Culture” section. You can also go to my website, scottreeve.org, and click on the blog tab and you can read it there.
So let’s move on to some of the doctrinal distinctives of the movement and make some applications for us here in 2023.
What follows is just a quick overview of some of the key things that were taught or emphasized that you would hear or read during the Jesus Revolution.
We can begin with what was absolutely crucial at that time and still is. There was a strong emphasis on evangelism. At times, emotions and feelings were overemphasized, but there was a definite call for people to repent and make a decision to give their lives to Jesus Christ. You saw this also in the street preaching that earmarked the movement, where there was boldness in sharing with others about Christ.
There was also an emphasis by some on apologetics, showing how Christianity compared to other belief systems. This was seen, for example, in the founding of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP) led by Jack Sparks. SCP was an important ministry during this time because so many various things were influencing our culture, such as Eastern mystic religions, for example.
The movement also had a focus among many on end times teaching, specifically regarding the return of the Lord. Hal Lindsey’s “The Late, Great Planet Earth” lined up with what many saw as the apocalyptic future of America. There was a prevalent mood that Christ’s return was very near and as a whole, the belief in premillennialism was a part of the eschatology of the Jesus Revolution.
Depending on what church you attended, there was also an important emphasis on discipleship. This became more prevalent at places such as Calvary Chapel, where Chuck Smith, over time, focused on going through books of the Bible verse-by-verse. Topics were indeed discussed, but a desire to teach the Word of God to such a number of new Christians was important. Helping these young converts grow in their faith was important, since some, or probably many at the start of things in the late 60’s, had made a radical turn to Christ.
For the most part, the movement lined up with key doctrines of the historic faith, but again, who you were connected to church-wise could play a part in what was emphasized. The movement held the Bible in high esteem, a good thing to note.
One of the problems was at times the changing landscape of where someone landed theologically. One website noted, “Indeed, it’s important to note that for many Jesus People groups theological beliefs and views were often in a state of flux. The fluctuating influence of particular individuals, authors, and Bible teachers would cause groups to modify or change their views over time...the coming and going of particular individuals as well as personal and group experiences (positive and negative) would cause Jesus People groups to reconsider or modify various assumptions and beliefs.”
As a whole, and this was important, there was the belief that we as humans are sinful, a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the garden. Thus the need for Christ to save us. There was an emphasis on Christ dying on the cross as our substitution and offering salvation to anyone who puts their faith in Him. I myself hold to the substitutionary death of Christ, where He took on the penalty of our sins so we could be forgiven. There seemed to me to be an emphasis also on the importance of not only believing in Christ for salvation, but also be willing to follow Him as Lord. At least that is my take on what I read.
They also, outside of a few groups that made up the movement, had a strong view of the Trinity. They held all members of the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in high regard, especially the Holy Spirit. This can lead to being theologically off-balance if we are not careful. All three Members of the Trinity are involved in our lives and the Holy Spirit points people to Jesus and glorifies Christ (Jn. 16:14). This by no means downplays Spirit and Who He is.
The movement varied in their view of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There were those who were convinced that the baptism of the Spirit was accompanied by speaking in tongues, while others did not hold that view or were willing to tolerate it, but did not necessarily agree with it. A sizeable minority of the group, according to one individual who in 1971 did a nationwide tour of those involved in the Jesus Movement, had “Baptistic” leanings.
In addition, again depending on who was teaching and where you were living and taking part in the Jesus Movement, there was a strong emphasis on what are known as “signs and wonders.” Lonnie Frisbee, who would help John Wimber in getting the Vineyard Movement off the ground, was an advocate of this doctrinal viewpoint.
For the most part, as with today, the overall movement, though made up of so many group and individuals, held to the historic Christian faith when it came to key doctrines. It must also be noted that when God is working, so is the enemy. Cults, such as the Way International, led by Victor Paul Wierwille, and the Children of God, founded by David Berg, grew in number during this time.
In closing this blog, let me share just a few thoughts regarding the beliefs of the Jesus Movement and what we can take and apply today.
1) We need to know the essentials of the faith, those beliefs that bind us together as Christians. We may differ on some things, but certain doctrines can never be set aside. The Jesus Movement knew that as well. Even those who were young in the faith learned of the Biblical view of the Trinity, sin, salvation through the substitutionary death of Christ, and the centrality of Scripture.
2) Evangelism and discipleship are both functions of the church. The Jesus Movement was big on evangelism, but there were those within who saw the need for discipleship as well. People may come to Christ and flounder because they are not taught the Word of God. It must be a priority as churches to be willing to invest in people to help them grow in their faith.
3) Be aware of aberrant teachings. There were those, and still are, who teach that salvation must be accompanied by speaking in tongues. A small number within the movement were caught up in “Jesus Only” teaching, a view that says Jesus alone is God and manifests Himself in various ways, as the Father, then the Son, then the Spirit. We must discern and be aware of what people teach.