Where’s the Jesus Movement?


I became a Christian during the tail end of the Jesus Movement. For those of you who weren’t around then, the Jesus Movement was a Christian off shoot of the counter culture movement of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. It pretty much started in southern California and moved eastward through the States and to other parts of the world. It was an exciting time because traditional church models were being challenged as long-haired, sandled hippies armed with large Bibles began sharing Jesus with ALOT of enthusiasm.

I was 9 years old and my family and I were visiting a Lutheran Church we’d been invited to. I remember the first time I walked into the church. There were drums and electric guitars (I had only known church organs previously)but the thing I remember most was following along with the sermon in the modern day language Bibles provided in the pews. The Bible literally became alive to me, and even more than that, people in the church were excited about Jesus. I’d never seen that before…I mean your supposed to like Jesus because, you know, he’s the Son of God. But this was the first time I saw people wanting to be with Jesus and with others who loved Jesus!

Another big part of the Jesus Movement was the belief in the empowerment and baptism of the Holy Spirit. There are a few events that most church historians point to as the beginning of the Jesus Movement. One of those moments was when Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett stood in the pulpit of his church in 1960 and declaring he had been baptised in the Holy Spirit. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over to big with the Episcopalians and he was asked to resign. But that declaration ignited a charismatic revival that began sweeping the U.S. The Jesus Movement was birthed and became intertwined with the Holy Spirit.

The Jesus Movement, like all movements, had a life cycle. And by the early 1980’s the movement was coming to an end. New church streams such as the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel were products of it and many great ministries such as Jesus People USA are still with us today. However, like most moves of God, once men get a hold of it, they take the fresh breath of the Holy Spirit, package it, market it, and try to sell it…usually with disastrous results.

In the early 2000’s I began to get excited again. I started reading about the “Emerging Church” and some of its proponents such as Dan Kimball and Brian McClaren. I had been getting discouraged with the dry “wineskin” of the evangelical church structure and was looking for a fresh “Jesus Movement”. In the “Emerging Church” I saw some of the same spirit I had known previously. Like the counter culture movement 30 years ago, a new generation of leaders were challenging the present structures with a fresh emphasis on social justice issues that sadly, I saw not taking a proper priority with much of the traditional American Church.

Anyhow, I started reading books like A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McClaren and sharing about missional and post-modern ideas with the church I was pastoring and anyone else that seemed interested.

And then something happened.

I started seeing a some differences between what I was looking for and what Emergent seemed to promote. Some of those areas that concerned me were:

  •  Cynicism: There was an attitude that was coming out of “Emergent” proponants that I didn’t like. During the Jesus Movement there was almost a childlike innocence of people just happy to be Christians and discover Jesus. Most people in the Emerging Church movement did not come to Christ through the movement. They are usually trying to reconcile their years in the evangelical church (and the inevitable bad experiences) with their present relationship with God. In essance, I realized that the Emerging Church was not so much a movement of God but more a 12-step program for recovering evangelicals. That in itself is not so bad, the evangelical church has hurt a lot of people in different ways and a stream of the church to help people work through that would have some benefit. However, there is alot of patronizing cynicism in the emerging church. These two videos show the difference of attitudes, in my opinion, of the two movements.

Yes, it’s a little Corny and cheesy but it’s real. These people love Jesus and each other. The singer is innocent, genuine, and sincere. (And you have to love the hippie beard)

Contrast that to the clip of Emerging Church leader Tony Jones:

Tony, asked if he is “born again”, delivers this patronizing attitude about his walk with God. Rather than finding the common ground that they both share in Christ which they obviously do, he instead creates a “my Christian story” and a “your Christian story” argument. Even when the interviewer agrees with him that coming to Christ is not a one time event but something that you need to do everyday, Jones ignores him and continues as if they don’t agree. Then he ridicules his own emotional encounter with Christ as a young man. Underlying his response is an gnostic arrogance that says “My revelation of Christ is so much deeper and more complex then your simple notions”.

  • Repentance: Nearly every genuine move of God seems to be preceded and sustained by the repentance of God’s people. When the Holy Spirit moves, people have a strong desire to get right before him. Before Jesus came, John the Baptist came “making the way straight” with a baptism of repentance. Within the Emerging Church conversation there is little to no discussion on repentance. There is a push for corporate repentance for past sins of the church including the treatment of Native Americans, slavery, racism etc. These are noble intentions and along with the social justice emphasis, was a major attraction for me to the Emergent model in the first place. But at the end of the day, its easy to say I’m sorry for things I really had no direct responsibility for. However, when true repentance comes, the Holy Spirit reveals to a person their real heart and its relationship to a Holy God. That tends to lead to a brokenness of the person before God in a way that would be hard to find in Emerging Church circles.

  • Biblical Directives: The Emerging church tends to champion the commandments found in the Bible that have a social justice flavor to them. Because Emergent has positioned itself as the counter-evangelical culture, pretty much anything evangelicals champion are immediately suspect. Beyond that though, directives that are given in scripture that are palatable to non-Christian society (loving the disenfranchised and poor or providing sustenance for the needy) are embraced. Preaching the gospel, casting out demons, believing for supernatural miracles are pretty much conveniently ignored. To be fair, the evangelical church is just as guilty of ignoring Bible commands that would embarrass them in outside society. To be even more fair, I’m guilty of ignoring God’s commands that would embarress me.

I contrast this to the Jesus Movement when people said, “Hey, if the Bible says I should prophesy, well heck, I’m going to find out what prophesying is…and do it!”

  • Evangelism: A lot of Christians that are 40+ years old became Christians during the Jesus Movement. The main reason for that was a heavy emphasis on telling other people about the relationship we had with Jesus and asking them if they would like to have one too. Within the Emergent Church there is a deep suspicion of evangelism, mainly because anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has experienced some bad, or worse, manipulative evangelism techniques. Unfortunately their views on evangelism get shaped by those experiences rather than on what Jesus asks us to do. I’m not unsympathetic to their concerns as I’ve wrestled with it as well. The reality though is not to many people “become Christians” in the post-modern models. Mainly because evangelism is very passive if done at all. I came to a decision during this time that I was not going to let bad models or experiences unduly influence me. If I’m not sharing Jesus with people I need to ask some serious questions on why not.

This is, unfortunately, a simplified list of some very complex issues.

At the end of the day, I don’t want to to be overly critical of the Emerging Church movement. There are some noble things that they bring to the table. However, for me, there were too many bones…so I’ll keep looking.

I realize there won’t be another Jesus Movement…that day has passed. With Jesus though, things are always fresh and new. I’m not looking to eat yesterday’s manna but I do know that Jesus is on the move and the Holy Spirit is alive and well in His church.

So, in the meantime, I’m getting ready!

8 comments

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  • While I wouldn’t agree point by point I do think some of your criticisms of the emerging Church (actually certain people in the emerging Church)are valid.

    No movement is perfect. Personally I view the emerging Church as a bridge movement, not the end all. (and I view the Jesus movement the same way)

    The failure of organic movements comes when they institutionalize. The Jesus movement gave us Vineyard, Calvary Chapel, etc. I see the same thing in the Emerging Church. Instead of being a fluid movement it is congealing around people and certain ideologies. Sooner or later an institution will be established.

    What man touches he tries to organize.

    Bruce

  • Bruce: Yes, Every movement has a cycle and its unfortunate when organic movements “harden”. I’m still yet to be convinced that Emergent is a movement at all though. (At least in the sense that we traditionally define Christian movements) It’s very exisistance is still confined to a certain stream of Christianity. I run in to many people who have never heard of it. Outside of middle-class whites, its still too unknown.

  • Steve, thanks so much for this. I have been casually studying the Emergent church for the past year or so, but this is the first objective narrative I’ve read. I also trusted Christ during the ‘Jesus Movement’ when the Spirit took hold in my mainline denomination church. After college I joined a non-denom. church, met my wife there and we’re still a part of a church of that ilk. Several years ago I began questioning some of the teachings and have finally come to a place where I think it’s OK to disagree on some things.

    Thanks again. Would love to read your thoughts on ‘absolute truth’ sometime . . .

  • Bob: Thanks for the encouraging comment. I’ll have to do an absolute truth entry in the future!

  • Steve, I started following Jesus in 1981 in california and trace my 180 turn back to stuff I heard out of the whole JC movement. I have also been thinking long and hard around these areas, in fact I found your post whilst writing a blog post around similar themes. Baptised in a baptist church, filled with the holy spirit and more recently part of a Mosaic group blah blah balah. Not to rave on further, but you are SO RIGHT! The childlike innocence of the “One Way Jesus” contrasts so clearly with the ‘oh so knowingness’ of the particular movement/s you describe. sadly. that;s not judgement on them, just observation by a fellow pilgrim. BUT they’re most definitely not the only game in town, and there are some far less publicity seeking ‘on their knees’ disciples out there who give me a TON of hope for the days and years ahead. God bless and guide!

  • Steve, I started following Jesus in 1981 in california and trace my 180 turn back to stuff I heard out of the whole JC movement. I have also been thinking long and hard around these areas, in fact I found your post whilst writing a blog post around similar themes. Baptised in a baptist church, filled with the holy spirit and more recently part of a Mosaic group blah blah balah. Not to rave on further, but you are SO RIGHT! The childlike innocence of the “One Way Jesus” contrasts so clearly with the ‘oh so knowingness’ of the particular movement/s you describe. sadly. that;s not judgement on them, just observation by a fellow pilgrim. BUT they’re most definitely not the only game in town, and there are some far less publicity seeking ‘on their knees’ disciples out there who give me a TON of hope for the days and years ahead. God bless and guide!

  • Thanks JD for the encouraging words. I am looking for those “less publicity” seeking disciples with their knees on the ground. Hope to join them 🙂 Cheers!

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