The Jesus People: Old-time religion in the age of Aquarius

by Ronald Enroth, Edward C. Ericson, and C. Breckinbridgc Peters, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan


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This trio of authors from Westmont College attempts a thorough and objective analysis of the state of the Jesus Movement as of the fall of 1971. They begin with a review of other attempts to cover the same or similar ground and indicate the shortcomings of each, which they have consciously attempted to overcome. They pinpoint the origins of the modern Jesus Movement in the beginnings of several ministries in 1967 and 1968, one of the first of which was the conversion of dope-addict Ted Wise in 1966 in Sausalito, California; Wise is now in charge of a drug prevention center in Menlo Park, California, The most striking fact about the Jesus People is this: whereas theologically they are fundamentalists, sociologically they are anything but.

The authors devote six chapters of historical resumes of the main branches of the movement, four chapters to a summary of their theological doctrines, and two chapters to an overview and analysis. Among the groups treated are the Children of God-possibly the fastest growing group, with the strongest organization of any group, and emphasis on 100% commitment to Jesus including alienation from all other relationships, a post-tribulationist view of the second coming, and frequent charges of kidnapping against them; the Christian Foundation of Tony and Susan Alamo-the most attractive group for black converts, characterized by a ceaseless emphasis on the fear of God, the insistence on the King James translation of the Bible as the only inspired version; the Christian Brothers of Fresno, California, who also emphasize doom and judgment. These three groups are also characterized by their emphasis on communal Christian living.

Also included are summaries of the careers of Arthur Blessitt, Minister of Sunset Strip; Duane Pederson and the Hollywood Free Paper, the simple approach to evangelism contained in which has been the pattern for many other Jesus People newspapers; singer and composer Larry Norman. The Jesus Movement has produced some nondenominational “hip” churches out of their rejection of the institutional establishment churches. These include Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Bethel Tabernacle in North Redondo Beach, and the Sierra Madre Congregational Church in Sierra Madre. “A unique ministry to the street people of Berkeley and the students of the University of California campus there” is provided by the Christian World Liberation Front and its superior underground newspaper Right On. This work began with Jack Sparks, a dropout from Campus Crusade. The authors feel that CWLF has “an edge on other Jesus groups in terms of intellectual and spiritual maturity,” and has been helped by the Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church.

The above summary emphasizes the dominance of California in the Jesus People movement. There are other outposts of the movement throughout the United States. These include The East Coast Jesus People who publish The Ichthus, Linda Meissner and the Jesus People’s Army of Seattle (although she has more recently joined the Children of God), Carl Parks and the Jesus People’s Army in other regions of Washington and Idaho who publish Truth, Jim Palosarri and the Jesus Christ Power House in Milwaukee, Sammy Tippit and “God’s Love in Action” in Chicago, Ron Rendlemen and his work in West Chicago which achieved national notice when they successfully withstood Satanists attempting to break up a Billy Graham Crusade in Chicago; David Rose and the House of Agape in Kansas City, Missouri; Don Pauly in Florida.

The Movement has naturally generated much activity on the fringes on the interface between radical and establishment Christian practice. Ex-staff members of Campus Crusade are noticeable. Hal Lindsey and Bill Counts head up the J. C. Light and Power House in Westwood, California. Gordon Walker directs Grace Haven Farm in Mansfield, Ohio. Jon Braun’s work is associated with the Brothers and Sisters of Isla Vista, California. Of established churches working in the context of the Jesus People, the most outstanding are Hollywood Presbyterian Church, and Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. Others working on the fringe include Mario Murillo and his Resurrection City in Berkeley, David Wilkerson and Teen Challenge, evangelist Richard Houge working in the Southwest and Midwest, and Lutheran Youth Alive headed by David Anderson.

Whenever a movement gets going, there are also those who associate with it for motives that are not always sincere or constructive. In this category the authors point to Ed Human and Hollywood’s gospel night clubs, the Mustard Seed in Van Nuys with the symbols but not the spirit of the revolution, a shaky alliance with classical Pentecostalists as personified in Kathryn Kuhlman, Victor Paul Wicrwille and “The Way” with its ultra-dispensationalist heresies, and the upswing in commercial music including Jesus Christ Superstar and God Spell.

The doctrines of the Jesus People, more or less common to all the groups regardless of the rich variety
in details, have four major emphases. (1) The simple gospel. Set forth with “the simplistic mentality endemic to fundamentalism,” the Jesus People neglect the profound implications of the doctrine of Creation and center almost total attention on the doctrine of Redemption. Because of this they are experience-oriented, anti-intellectual, proof-texters of “the worst sort,” anticultural supported by such writers as Watchman Nee, anti-social, anti-historical resulting in “tendencies toward exclusivism,” and radically existential, (2) We are living in the last days; Christ will return in our lifetimes. All three tribulational views: pre – mid – and post-tribulation rapture, are held by various of the Jesus People, but all believe that only a few years are left for them to bring the message of repentance to a doomed world. A new ingredient is “the mixture of the charismatic experiences traditionally associated with Pentecostalism with the eschatology traditionally associated with dispensationalism.” (3) Involvement in the Pentecostal scene. Active practice is directed toward speaking in tongues, divine healing, and visions and visitations. The Jesus People experience “a strong sense of the presence of evil and the rule of the demonic.” (4) The Christian commune. The motivation for establishing self-sufficient Christian communes stems in part from the post-tribulational theology which sees the need to protect the community from Antichrist and his reign of terror. Desire for social control is also a strung factor. This “social and theological isolation quite often produces an inbred ethnocentrism.”

Whatever else may he said about the Jesus People, the authors see “their existence” as “a searing indictment of a desiccated, hidebound institutional church.” The future of the Jesus People depends strongly on the future of their relationship with the “straight” people of God. Three possibilities are foreseen for present members of the movement if indeed their prediction of an immediate return of Christ is not fulfilled: (1) attraction for the more disciplined and organized groups such as the Children of God, (2) moderation so that cooperation within established churches becomes possible, or (3) rejection of the whole Christian position: “there is no anti-Christian like an ex-Jesus person.” Development of option (2) is certainly the healthiest for the entire Christian community. For this to be realized there must be a real determination and effort on the part of church Christians to understand and help, to accept Jesus communes with brotherly love. The “new social acceptability of bearing a public and outspoken witness for Christ is one of the best effects of the Jesus Revolution.” But, “without maturity, without education, without grounding in Christian thought, the Jesus People cannot avoid a commercialized end-what Larry Norman terms ‘pop Christianity.’

This is a really useful and informative treatment of the Jesus People. It is to be recommended for reading by all Christians.

Reviewed by Richard H. Bube, Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California

In: Books

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