Home > Brandenburg, Revival > A Modern Revival That Wasn’t

A Modern Revival That Wasn’t

May 18, 2009

In the late 1960s, early 1970s, mega churches exploded with growth in California.   Popular evangelical pastor and author John MacArthur talks about it in an interview with Albert Mohler:

I can trace certain trends and a visible process over the past twenty-two years. When I first came to this church as pastor, I started to preach this way and people flooded the place. It was an interesting time. It was just after the publication of The Living Bible — for what it is worth — and that certainly gave people a fresh insight into Scripture. Then came the New American Standard Version, the “Jesus Movement,” Calvary Chapel, and the intensive interest in personal Bible study. People came to church carrying Bibles with covers featuring a dove and a cross, and all that. Christian bookstores and publishers began to flourish. Maranatha Music hit — and Christian music exploded.  I really think that one hundred years from now the 1970s and the early 1980s will look like a revival — and that period really was.

MacArthur elsewhere says that the Jesus Movement was a primary cause for the phenomenal growth of his church:

We kind of caught the wave of that, the tail end of the Jesus Movement. There were new Bible translations, that was huge. People were beginning to understand the Bible in new ways. There was just a wave, I think, at that time when I came that the Lord sort of allowed us to catch that I think a real moving of the Holy Spirit in a special way.

Churches in southern California became huge at this period of time, filling up with the proselytes of the Jesus movement.   Like so many other fads that start in California, those churches in turn had a huge impact on the church all over the United States through their radio ministries with now well-known names in addition to MacArthur—Chuck Swindoll, Chuck Smith, and Greg Laurie—among many others.   These churches took on a flavor that was admired and mimicked all over the country before there was a Hybels, Osteen, or Rick Warren.

This was the beginnings, even by testimony of those who were part of it, of something that still today has a major influence in Christianity, evangelicalism, and fundamentalism.  The leadership that pioneered this direction and style made decisions about how they would function that continue to affect churches all over the world.  They were uniquely non-denominational, choosing to forego the typical church brands that repulsed the spirit of that era’s seekers.   They made plain choices in their evaluation of cultural issues that clearly impact the belief and practice of churches today.

Was that place and period truly subject to God-given revival?  Does what occurred represent what we would see as revival according to a scriptural understanding?  Did the leadership make decisions befitting of a movement of God among men?  Or was this a bevy of deceit that has since caused more problems than good?

What Kind of Movement Was It?

The Jesus Movement was born out of the  sixties counterculture.   Young people, distrustful of authority, attempted to find fulfillment in an anti-establishment attitude and behavior that characterized the war protesters.  Disenchanted with the status quo, they became hippies.  The Jesus Movement contrasted with established churches both in style and substance, keeping  many of the mannerisms and appearance of the hippies yet tweaking the content of the message.    The hippie culture infiltrated and then changed churches into its image.

Sally Thomas in First Things, The Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life characterizes the start of the Jesus Movement in an article entitled “Grooving on Jesus”:

There’s no denying that, in many places, have it your way was an effective formula. Witness the nondenominational Calvary Chapel phenomenon. In 1968, Pastor Chuck Smith, encouraged by other conservative evangelical California pastors, recruited a youth pastor, the groovily named Lonnie Frisbee, from the Christian-coffeehouse counterculture as a “hippie liaison” to draw in the unchurched.  The results were electrifying. Traditional hymn-sandwich services gave way to an effusively emotive worship atmosphere more like the quasi-religious atmosphere of a Grateful Dead concert.

The Calvary Chapel was a struggling congregation of less than thirty until Lonnie Frisbee started bringing hippies to the meetings.  Thomas explains what happened:

Hundreds of shaggy young people clutching Bibles in zippered leather cases turned up for Wednesday-night Bible study with Frisbees. The church outgrew its space, outgrew it again, and ultimately multiplied into a network of churches, its own freestanding denomination.

Rock music itself had already swept the nation through its collection of noncomformists and malcontents.   The Jesus movement was the beginnings of Christian rock.  It began when some hippie and street musicians of the late 1960s and early 1970s converted to this brand of Christianity. They continued to play the same style of music they had played previously, but began to write lyrics with a quasi-Christian message.  Many music groups developed out of this, and some became leaders within the Jesus movement, rockers like Larry NormanKeith Green,  and others.

The same Chuck Smith  founded the first Christian rock label when he launched Maranatha Music as an outlet for the Jesus music bands performing at Calvary worship services.  It was here where the whole contemporary Christian music industry got its start as well as the new viewpoint that the music itself was amoral.   The new innovation was that only the words communicated any moral content.  The only ones still who hold this deceived position are those who like and support Christian rock, country, rap, rhythm and blues, and even grunge.

The churches that saw amazing numeric growth were those receptive of the hippie lifestyle, not expecting it to change.  The Jesus movement was a trojan horse to wheel the world into the church.  There were several keys for contextualizing God to this worldly crowd:  non-denominationalism (an anti-establishment move), toleration, come-as-you-are dress, modern language translations, long hair on men, pants on women, the world’s music, and little application of scripture to the culture (dismissive of worldliness).

John MacArthur calls this time period of the Jesus Movement a genuine revival.  This is when his church saw amazing numeric success.  You see pictures of MacArthur in those days on his book covers wearing long hair.  This is when, more than ever, you would hear the accusations of “legalism” and calls for grace.   It was obvious in the counterculture hippie movement that the long hair was rebellion.   If you moved that direction with your hair, you were making a statement that contradicted God’s Word in 1 Corinthians 11:14.  Although MacArthur’s hair wasn’t as long as Lonnie Frisbee‘s, it was a clear signal to hippies that he wasn’t a part of the establishment.

A later contribution as a polemic for worldliness and the new view of grace to vindicate the worldly practices of this Southern California “laid-back” style was Chuck Swindoll’s 1990 book, fittingly named Grace Awakening.  The Jesus Movement was a Grace Awakening in the opinion of the participants.   Here are some of the statements by Swindoll that typify the defense necessary subsequent to lowering the barriers to the world:

[It is a] freedom from the demands of other people, from all the shoulds and oughts of the general public.

I can be me—fully and freely.  It is a freedom to know Him in an independent and personal way.

It means I’m free to choose righteousness or disobedience.

At one point in the book, inspired by an “awakening of grace,” Swindoll asked why it is that we couldn’t visualize God in a pair of bermuda shorts.


You can’t explain a true revival outside of the gospel.  When measures are adopted to produce results, you have revivalism.  The Jesus Movement was very careful to adapt its methods to the tastes of the hippy culture.  They liked rock music.  Rock music was a new method to gather and excite a crowd.  They labeled and relabeled their churches with names not packed with the theological dogma of denominationalism.

When you hear MacArthur talk about that time period that fueled the numerical growth of his church, you read of the key conditions that must be met for God to work in a tremendous way:  new translations of scripture and even the paraphrase, the Living Bible, use of contemporary Christian music, and verse-by-verse teaching.

David Wells writes in No Place for Truth, speaking of fundamentalism and evangelicalism (p. 129):

Strong, authoritarian preachers emerged whose very demeanor banished doubt on sight.  The stronghold of faith was thus made invincible. . . .Fundamentalism was a walled city; evangelicalism is a city.  Fundamentalism always had an air of embattlement about it, of being an island in a sea of unremitting hostility.  Evangelicalism has reacted against this sense of psychological isolation.  It has lowered the barricades.  It is open to the world.

Chuck Smith, MacArthur, and many others used the verse by verse expository type of teaching.  Smith would sit on a stool in front of a microphone before a sea of hippies and work his way through the text.  Certainly whatever good that did occur could result from the Bible they did get.  However, what was missing was strong, authoritarian preachers, who wouldn’t lower the barrier for the world, who by their very demeanor would banish doubt on sight.

Like Finney’s Second Great Awakening, the numerical success is the main evidence for the revival.  Iain Murray writes in Revival and Revivalism (p. 283):

Numbers seen to be responding were claimed as more than sufficient evidence for the rightness of the changes in practice and teaching.  If the argument for the new measures had been based upon the testimony of Scripture or the witness of church history, the likelihood of the propaganda succeeding would have been small, but these were not the grounds on which the case for the new measures was based.  The proof urged for them was much simpler:  people had only to look at what could be seen across the country.

Finney himself wrote in his Memoirs (p. 83):

I used to say to ministers, whenever they contended with me . . . Show me the fruits of your ministry. . . . Much fault has been found with measures which had been preeminently and continually blessed by God for the promotion of revivals.

For the numerical success, the cooperation with Lonnie Frisbee, hippies, and rock bands was a necessary measure for continuing revival for Chuck Smith.  Then numerical success validated the new measures.  This was the way to revival that others had missed and became necessary to continue.  Then, like Finney, new theological explanations must be developed that would authenticate the fellowship with the world.  John MacArthur said this about that time at his church:

[I]t doubled about every two years for the first ten, just kept doubling and it went from three hundred, to six hundred, to twelve hundred. Obviously our growth has slowed down eventually. But in those early years it was amazing growth. We were doing something that was fresh, expositing the Scripture, there was a new hunger for that. We kind of caught the wave of that, the tail end of the Jesus Movement.

In his break-down of revivalism, Murray writes (p. 22):

Revival are not brought about by the fulfillment of ‘conditions’ any more than conversion of a single individual is secured by any series of human actions.

I believe that the Jesus Movement and Finney’s revival were both authored by human measures uniquely adapted to their time.  Murray explains it this way (p. 298):

[A]ll christian rightly want to see success, and the new measures seemed to offer that possibility in a way not known before. . . . [T]he introduction of the new measures in a time of real revival gave weight to the claim that their ‘successes’ were due to divine blessing. . . [T]he illusion was ultimately accepted because the alleged successes received far more publicity than did the evidence of harm done to the life of the churches.

The Jesus movement was a revival in the tradition of the Second Great Awakening.  It wasn’t.  However, the numerical successes have influenced thousands of pastors and churches to follow the style of the Southern California mega-churches.  If there is a new wave today, it is the manner of Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, or in another way, that of Mark Driscoll and those imitating him.

Rotten Fruit

Lonnie Frisbee, as much as anyone, ignited the Calvary Chapel phenomena.  He sat cross-legged in the front lawn of a local public school, wearing a long robe, beard, and shoulder length hair, the identical circumstance at which Greg Laurie made a profession of faith.  Lonnie Frisbee died of a AIDS, a long time closet homosexual.   Frisbee not only led in the beginning of the spread of the Calvary Chapel, but also the Vineyard churches.

Recently Phil Johnson, a right hand man of John MacArthur, has written a lengthy series against contextualization, coming from Acts 17.  In a comment on vv. 16-18, he writes:

What’s crucial to notice here, first of all, is Paul’s relationship to the culture. He doesn’t try to assimilate. He doesn’t embrace the culture and look for ways to shape the gospel to suit it. He is repulsed by it.

As part of the Jesus movement, the churches of Southern California embraced the culture and did try to assimilate, including Johnson’s own Grace Community Church.

A new type of Jesus movement is exploding all over the country, perhaps best represented by Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill in the Seattle, WA area. They have embraced the grunge culture of Seattle.  Driscoll’s presentation, the design of the building, the dress, and activity are like the world where Mars Hill exists.  John MacArthur wrote about it in an article he entitled, “Grunge Christianity: Counterculture’s Death-Spiral and the Vulgarization of the Gospel”:

You have no doubt heard the arguments: We need to take the message out of the bottle. We can’t minister effectively if we don’t speak the language of contemporary counterculture. If we don’t vernacularize the gospel, contextualize the church, and reimagine Christanity for each succeeding generation, how can we possibly reach young people? Above all else, we have got to stay in step with the times.

Those arguments have been stressed to the point that many evangelicals now seem to think unstylishness is just about the worst imaginable threat to the expansion of the gospel and the influence of the church. They don’t really care if they are worldly. They just don’t want to be thought uncool.

We could turn the clock back to the early seventies and say the same thing about MacArthur’s compromise with the Jesus Movement.  We could even look today at the youth conference of his church, called Resolved, that dresses up the room to fit the vernacular of secular culture, to make the preachers “cool” with the young people.  What I see Driscoll doing is operating with the same strategy as the Jesus Movement and Lonnie Frisbee, except with the world having gotten that much worse and his targeting the Seattle grunge culture.

Even John Piper, whose churches have followed the Jesus Movement pattern of rock music, is rethinking this now.  He was in a recent Q & A along with D. A. Carson, and he was asked, “What are some of the biggest issues you think the church and evangelical scholars will need to deal with in the next twenty years?”  As part of his answer he said:

Whether the ethos of the explosion of contemporary worship music and worship forms (i.e., chummy rock music) can sustain the gravitas of the glory of God over the long haul.

How could he be questioning the gravitas of rock music?  That’s a done and settled case, isn’t it?  Piper knows in his heart that the rock music is a self-gratifying sell-out to the world.  He said it in a very understated way, but you can still catch his thinking on it.

One of the tragic casualties of the Jesus Movement and its offspring is spiritual discernment.   People see numbers and they assume it must be God.  They have a feeling and it must be the Holy Spirit.  They want to see something spectacular and so they produce it.  And then the methods are copied with very little evaluation.  Later they defend it by calling it grace, so grace becomes a casualty as well.  Many evangelicals and fundamentalists who decry the revivalism of Finney latch on to the revivalist children of the Jesus movement.

Holiness is more than moral purity.  It is separation from that which is common and profane.  God in His unique and supreme attributes retains a majestic separation far above His creation.  He desires a difference be put between the sacred and the profane.  As He is holy, He calls on His own to be holy as well (1 Peter 1:14-16).  The angels hovering about His throne repeat “holy, holy, holy.”   He says, “Come out from among them and be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17).   The Jesus Movement was not compatible with holiness or separation, but that wasn’t a problem for its adherents, as long as they could catch its wave.

The Jesus Movement birthed modern day non-denominational evangelicalism, it’s music, methods, and mega-churches.   It made worldliness the norm for the church.  It spawned even worse paganism in churches for today.  It concocted the entire Christian music industry with its Dove awards and entertainers.  It encouraged an all-time low for reverence in the house of God.  It watered down grace.  It demeaned Christianity.  As much as or more than anything that Finney did, it profaned the holiness of God.  It contaminated and perverted true worship of God. It produced a wicked generation that seeks after signs.

  1. reglerjoe
    May 20, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    I give up. I’ve googled my brains out, and all the pictures I see of MacArthur are all very conservative. I even tried looking through the old books on ebay. Care to link to a pic of the hippie J-Mac?

  2. May 20, 2009 at 1:44 pm


    I searched and searched for something to link to and I couldn’t find one either. They may have scrubbed the web of all those now out of fashion photos. However, I have hard copies of some paperback books/booklets that he published over 20 years ago that has JMac with the longer hair. Again, it wasn’t in the Lonnie Frisbee category or even close, but enough to make the statement.

    I found something that will give you a hint off of a VHS on parenting that he did. Here. I’ve never said he was a “hippie,” nor that he had to pass my hair check, but it is one piece of the puzzle. The ones I have on booklets have the hair a little longer.

  3. Joshua
    May 21, 2009 at 12:36 am

    Wow. Every time I think I have the history of fundamentalism/evangelicalism just about down, some large piece of the puzzle turns up I’d never even heard of. Thanks for this!

    Off hand, is this the follow-on to Reacquiring a Christian Counterculture pt. 1, or is that still to come?

  4. May 21, 2009 at 12:44 pm


    Thanks for commenting. I don’t have things figured out as to what people are thinking, but I do know this, to me this post was one of the most important ones I’ve ever written. It explains historically what we see in evangelicalism today. It can help people diagnose what happened to know better why they should take the stand they do. I’m glad you ‘got it.’ I hope others ‘get it’ too.

    Good catch on this containing things from the part one of Reaquiring a Christian Counterculture. I’d been already reading about that and mixed with more reading about revival—the two came together for me. I do want to write part two on some point. And I should. I have a record number of unfinished series. I think of something else I’d rather write about and do that and sometimes never return.

    If there is ever anything you doubt in what I’m writing, I won’t be offended if you ask about it. It would help me, I’m sure.

  5. P S Ferguson
    May 23, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Oh dear, you have done it now Kent. Criticizing Obama, Piper and finally the Mother Theresa of Young Fundamentalists “Johnny Mac.” You have moved beyond the pale of toleration for even the most benign of the young lefties. Expect pages in blogsphere dedicated to explaining what an extremist, cultist Ruckmanite you are. You may even get a mention by Rod Decker on his blog for upsetting one of his idols.

    It always amuses me the irony of the pejorative attacks by the YFers on the old timers for being “personality driven” when few of the old timers gave free passes to Bob Jones Jr, John R Rice the way the YFers do to Piper and MacArthur.

    MacArthur experienced tremendous growth because he tolerated almost everything and only separated from the separationists! THOSE ARE THE FACTS. Rick Warren discovered the same trick 20 years later and that it worked even better if your ramped the decibels up a notch. MacArthur was seduced by Lady Pragmatist but he never realized that she produces very ugly offspring until it was too late when his flirtations spawned progeny such as the foul mouthed Driscoll and the effeminate Charismatic, Mother Theresa-loving Rapper John Piper. Unfortunately divorce is too expensive as influence in T4G and the Wolves (sorry Shepherds) Conference really brings in the dollars. Besides there is the little issue of pride and having to ask Phil Johnson to exchange his goatie, movie collection and Hawaii shirt for a IFB suit. So the charade continues that Mac and his trendy truncated hippy followers are the natural inheritors of the legacy of the anti-theatre Downgrade Separationist, CH Spurgeon. Neo-EvanJELLYicals don’t you just love them!

  6. Joshua
    May 23, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Pastor Brandenburg,

    I do “get it”, kind of. I’m in the same boat most separatist Bible-believers are in: we all know something is wrong, it’s just everyone has their own pet theory as to what it is and what needs to be done. I sometimes struggle to weave together all the various threads into a coherent explanation for what happening. I appreciate your posts to help crystalize matters.

    As for speaking up if I disagree – it’s usually a matter of seeing strong points, weaker points and “whoa I didn’t think of that before” points. I do have a whole list of questions I’d appreciate your thoughts on some time, but that’s on a whole range of issues so I’ll ask another time.

    Finally, I was wondering if it is possible to get both TSKT and your book on music from your church? I can only seem to find TSKT. Is the other one still in print? Thanks.


  7. May 24, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Thanks Paul, your comment was fun and interesting to read. Thanks for your encouragement.


    I have copies of Sound Music and Sounding Brass, and TSKT. Email me and we can make arrangements to send both to you. Thanks for asking. I’ve enjoyed our interaction.

  8. PS Ferguson
    May 25, 2009 at 4:06 am

    Thanks Kent

    There seems to be a lot of enigmas and anomalies arising. I admit that I never thought I would see the day when Doug Kutilek rejected any Bible other than the KJV but it happened:


    The shock almost convinced me that the postmillennialists were right and the golden age had arrived! As you know, the CT Ruckmanite Doug likes to preach great sermons on preservation but ultimately has no way of ever coming up with a real text! Some prize examples of his semantic gymnastics was found in his article:

    “While the various cults are forever quoting Scripture (and very often perverting its sense and meaning), they commonly find it very convenient to produce their own “Bible” with their own peculiar theological spin to make the “Bible” say what they want it to say and mean what they want it to mean rather than employing some standard conservative translation which may not be so accommodating to their heresies.”

    So Doug rejects the cultish heretics who produced the NWT but accepts the related heretics who produced the Westcott and Hort Text. One of which happened to be the Unitarian George Vance Smith who boasted that he managed to expunge a number of Trinitarian passages from the Text. Of course Doug of that well known Fundamental School “Hebrew Union College” (he has an MA from here so he MUST know what he is talking about!) balanced this by expending his limited spiritual and intellectual capital in another SI article (strange they never have anyone writing on mistakes in the CT) on an attack on promoting scepticism for believers without doubt in their Bibles over the issue over “mansions” in heaven. Clearly Doug is running out of ideas in the Baptist Bible College for attacking the TR. And they think you are obssessed with the TR issue!

  9. May 25, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    I can’t disagree with anything you’ve written here, Paul. You are amazingly “on” with it. It crossed my mind too of the irony of Kutilek attacking another BIble besides the KJV. I have a hard time thinking that it isn’t a strategy to vindicate him as a equal opportunity critic of translations.

  10. Lance
    May 29, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    In his book, A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church, Warren Cole Smith writes that the proliferation of megachurches and Christian organizations is not accompanied by a significant growth of professing Christians as a percentage of the population. Contrast that with the explosive growth of the church in China, where the government has regularly rounded up and imprisoned the leaders, forcing the laity to carry on the work of planting churches and spreading the Gospel. I don’t imagine that technique or relevance, or even theological purity have been major factors in this growth.

    Mt. 16: 16-18 “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock (referring to Peter’s confession in vs. 16 that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God) I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (ESV) It will not be accomplished by men with powerful intellects or strong personalities. Then, as now, God empowers ordinary believers to advance His Kingdom.

  11. May 30, 2009 at 7:08 am

    Very interesting point, Lance. I wonder if I could qualify it by saying that it will not be accomplished by men who depend on their intellects and strong personalities. I would say that Paul had a great intellect and strong personality. But I get your point and agree with it.

  12. June 8, 2009 at 5:01 pm


    Very intersting read. I cannot beleive the level of Hypocrisy that just goes unnoticed by many. How can Phil Johnson reconcile his own church’s youth event with his own comments! I am sure he does, but how?!

  13. June 9, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Thanks Terry. I agree. I wonder why this doesn’t get more play. I think it is because Phil isn’t KJV only. And John MacArthur preaches expostionally. Those are two sacraments in the new sacredotal society.

  14. June 9, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    John Piper’s quote above seems to question whether the inherent worldliness in their music is a good thing. Peter Master’s article on worldliness in the new Calvinism blasts Piper, Mahaney, and MacArthur over this issue: http://www.metropolitantabernacle.org/?page=articles&id=13

  15. Joshua
    August 7, 2009 at 1:19 am

    Just an interesting side-note to this…

    I was in the US a few weeks ago at a conference in Lancaster. After the conference we drove down to San Diego, but along the way we dropped in to explore the house that heresy built: Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral.

    In the middle of the church grounds they have a crematorium/burial garden, and I was a bit surprised when I found Lonnie Frisbee’s grave there. I remembered the name from this post.

  16. August 7, 2009 at 9:45 am


    Interesting and it, as you would likely agree, backs up my point.

    I am surprised that there wasn’t more reaction to this piece. If it is true there should be some reaction and if it isn’t true, there should be. I think ignoring it is tell-tale. Some might say, well, it’s ignored because it is so outlandish. Absolutely not so. My quotes are not taken out of context. This represents what happened and is happening.

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