In light of the astounding success of the new film “Jesus Revolution,” many are wondering why critics and Christians alike are flocking to the theaters in droves to see the film. For one thing, it is a much-needed break from the constant bombardment of increasingly “woke” films and television — many of which have flopped at the box office. However, I believe that the real reason people love this film so much is because we as a country are long overdue for a spiritual revival of our own.
The spiritual revival that the film documents was a powerhouse of spiritual awakening that was felt around the world. A Time magazine cover story (June 21, 1971) was one of the countless examples of coverage devoted to “The Jesus Movement,” which by that time had been building for several years. ABC News did a “Special Report” in 1972, offering documentation and analysis.
Gospel-themed hits dominated pop radio, like “Put Your Hand In the Hand,” “Jesus Is the Answer,” and even the Doobie Brother’s 1972 remake of “Jesus Is Just Alright.” Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In the Sky” has continuously remained in the public consciousness since its release in 1969, and even Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” contained a lyrical reference instantly and internationally understandable to radio listeners of 1971: “Jesus freaks, out in the streets, handing tickets out for God …”
When your movement is referenced to that degree even within its own “moment” – and the echoes of the times linger on for, well, decades – it is worth the investment of one’s attention to find out exactly what went on.
This Jesus movement (from the late-1960s through the mid-1970s) was significant on a number of levels. Of primary significance was that in under a decade, millions of people throughout the U.S. and internationally would find a personal, soul-saving relationship with Jesus Christ. I have personally interviewed hundreds of people who experienced radical life change more than five decades ago, and their Christian transformation was permanent.
Moreover, global Christianity to this very moment has been shaped by events that took place during this revival. While much is made of the “rise of the nones” in America, and that Gen Z is the “least religious” demographic in U.S. history, the fact is that Christianity around the world is growing – rapidly. The Jesus movement is a large part of why this is the case.
Stats reveal that the faith position shrinking most dramatically is atheism (except in that place where biblical expression is consistently censored — the American university campus). Perhaps the publicly visible high-watermark of the Jesus movement was “Explo ’72,” a festival that brought an estimated 200,000 youth to Dallas, Texas, for corporate worship and encouragement to lives of discipleship.
In the aftermath of the Jesus movement, ministries were formed that would take the message of Christianity throughout the world. Also birthed were organizations that would take the Christian ethic of human relief and service across the globe.
Entrepreneurial alumni of the Jesus movement, suddenly filled with the life and love of Jesus, would spend the 1980s onward launching medical missions, and engineering and infrastructure efforts in developing nations. Followers of Jesus created schools and literacy programs, campaigns to provide fresh water for impoverished people groups, and brought sustainable economic liberation to victims of socialism and tribalism through micro-finance programs.
The Jesus movement was certainly not the first time that pervasive Christian awakening would sweep America (and beyond). Regardless of any religious loyalties, the histories of biblical revivals make for serious, inspirational study.
When Benjamin Franklin wrote his memoirs over several years, the one often called “The First American” gave much insight into the religious revival that paved the way for our nation’s birth. Franklin wrote about the preaching done by his friend Rev. George Whitfield, and he noted the positive impact Christianity made among the beleaguered colonists:
“It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing Psalms sung in different families of every street.”
Benjamin Franklin would ultimately profess faith in Christ under the mentoring of Whitfield. With the help of Dr. Thomas Bond (himself a devout Quaker), Franklin would go on to build America’s first hospital in Philadelphia. The cornerstone (laid in 1755 and visible to this day) was written by Franklin himself and contains the words “In the Year of Christ” and “May the God of Mercies Bless this Undertaking.”
How is this connected to us today? Whether it be the Great Awakening of the colonial era or the Jesus Movement of the 60s era, when God visits a people group, the impact is extensive. Historical accounts of revivals reveal a pattern of God’s Spirit moving when times seem dangerous, and people feel desperate. Like in the 1960s. Or now.
Gospel awakenings (as depicted in “Jesus Revolution”) seem to come about in roughly 50-year increments. That being the case, our tired world today is likely on schedule for a visit from the living God.
Forget your favorite website’s “breaking news.” What our thirsty souls need is Jesus’ actual “Good News.” In light of the progressively darker culture that we are seeing in America (and around the world), the Lord is already at work stirring up His people to start a new spiritual awakening. It is now up to us, the believers of the faith, to follow His calling and ignite a movement that will spark the “Jesus Revolution” and make its mark on America.
Dr. Alex McFarland is a youth, religion and culture expert, a national talk show host and speaker, author of more than 20 books and Exploring the Word on the American Family Radio Network, airing daily on nearly 200 radio stations across the U.S. He is also the host of the “Alex McFarland Show,” which airs weekly on NRB TV.