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The Making Of ‘Jesus Revolution’

The Making Of ‘Jesus Revolution’

  • The Record-Breaking Film Wants to Start Another Movement

Before the Emergent Movement, before the rise and fall of flashy megachurches, before the Asbury Outpouring, there was the Jesus Revolution.

The movement, initially sparked by pastors Chuck Smith, Lonnie Frisbee and Greg Laurie in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was characterized by its emphasis on a personal and experiential relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than adherence to formal religious practices or theological doctrines.

It was a religious and cultural phenomenon that emerged as a response to the countercultural and political upheavals of the era, as well as a reaction against the traditional mainstream Christian churches.

The 1970s were the perfect time for a Christian movement like this to emerge. The country was at war, experiencing just as much turmoil and unrest inside of its borders as outside of them. Culture was changing quickly, and many churches struggled to keep up with the times. Many dug their heels into their tried and true ways, refusing to budge on their practices, leading younger believers to turn elsewhere.

Sound familiar?

Fifty years later, and a strong case can be made that things are back where they started. Church attendance is in decline as pastors struggle to adapt to cultural and technological changes grabbing the attention of their members. More churches are closing their doors than opening them year after year. It’s easy to think that Christianity is fading away.

But just like the Jesus Revolution in the ’70s, things can turn around in an instant. All it takes is one spark.

Jonathan Roumie, who portrays Frisbee’s character in the new film Jesus Revolution, believes this movie can be that spark.

“We hope this movie can contribute to a new revival because I think, at least culturally, we’re at a place where people are searching,” Roumie said. “They’re searching hard, and they’re looking in all the wrong places. I think it’s going to resonate with so many people for that exact reason.”

Jonathan Roumie as Lonnie Frisbee in Jesus Revolution. Photo Credit: Dan Anderson

This isn’t the first project Roumie has joined that’s sparked something. For the last three seasons, Roumie has portrayed Jesus on the popular TV show, “The Chosen.” He’s drawn to projects that give him the opportunity to say something substantial and use his talents to draw others in.

“I always check with the Spirit and discern everything,” Roumie said. “Should I be doing this? Should I be in this next project or a relationship with this person. And God shows me what’s right through continual confirmations during every step of the process.”

When asked what confirmations he received during the filming of Jesus Revolution, he told multiple stories: From the bells of a church ringing immediately after a prayer, to discovering an image he painted of a dove with an olive branch in its mouth matched a painting Lonnie Frisbee had created decades before. But the biggest confirmation came on set, the day the cast and crew were filming a baptism scene out in a lake.

“This woman walks up to me in the middle of the scene as we’re rolling,” Roumie shared. “She’s wading through the water to get to me. And she said, ‘I have to tell you something.’ And the cameras are rolling, at a distance, but they’re rolling. And she gets closer, so I ask, ‘What do you want to tell me?’ And she said, ‘I want to do this for real.’ I said, ‘You want me to baptize you?’ And she goes, ‘Yeah, can we do that?’”

Roumie, of course, said yes. With the cameras rolling all around them, Roumie prayed with the woman and baptized her in the water. And she wasn’t the only one. Roumie baptized nearly a dozen other people that day on set, all captured on film.

“The whole movie was just something of a mystical experience,” he said.

It’s easy to see why the cast and crew felt like this story needed to be told now. But beyond the message of hope and salvation, the movie touches on another issue our culture needs to hear right now: unity.

“The theme is loving the other, creating a place of belonging, compassion, understanding, empathy for people that don’t look like you, maybe don’t carry the same beliefs as you,” said director Brent McCorckle.

Joel Courtney, who takes on the role of a young Greg Laurie, was drawn to the film when he saw that at its heart, it was a story that sought to unite everyone.

“I was very attracted to the script and the message of hope that the film brings,” Courtney said. “It’s not an old school Christian film that kind of alienates and judges or is cheesy and lighthearted. It’s heartbreaking. It’s powerful. These are real people’s stories. I connected to the redemptiveness of it.”

Courtney studied Laurie’s sermons and was able to speak directly with him. Laurie was even on set some days to watch the film play out, which added a bit of nerves to Courtney’s performance.

“Oh, it was definitely nerve-wracking having [Laurie] on set,” Courtney admitted. “But after a few days, it was actually nice to be able to speak with him and ask for direction. I got to learn a lot from him and he helped me figure out a way to connect with people better, on screen and off.”

Nicholas Cirillo and Joel Courtney filming Jesus Revolution. Photo Credit: Dan Anderson

For Courtney, getting to be part of Jesus Revolution was a bit of an answered prayer.

“I’m a Christian and an actor, so getting the chance to do something that combines the things I’m passionate about is like a dream come true,” he said. “And to be part of something with such a powerful message makes it even better for me.”

Turning the story of the real-life Jesus Revolution into a film took years. Back in 2015, director Jon Erwin came across the story after discovering an old TIME magazine from June 21, 1971, on eBay with an image of Jesus on the front, underneath the headline “The Jesus Revolution.”

The June 21, 1971, cover of TIME Magazine featuring a major story on the Jesus Revolution.

“I found this magazine on eBay, and I was like, ‘What is this?’” Erwin said. “Jesus was on the cover of TIME magazine, four years after there was a TIME magazine cover that just was very bleak, it said, ‘Is God Dead?’ Four years later, Jesus is on the cover of TIME, and there’s this 10-page article that just talks about how God swept this country at a time of despair and division. Sounds pretty familiar.”

The TIME story detailed the rise of the movement, diving into the appeal of the revolution and the spark it created.

“There is an uncommon morning freshness to this movement, a buoyant atmosphere of hope and love along with the usual rebel zeal,” the author wrote. “Their love seems more sincere than a slogan, deeper than the fast-fading sentiments of the flower children; what startles the outsider is the extraordinary sense of joy that they are able to communicate.”

Reading about the love and hope that connected with a generation in need pushed Erwin and his collaborators to make the story into a film.

“For a long time, we were just dreaming of being able to make this movie, and it’s a miracle that Lionsgate let us make it, a movie called Jesus Revolution,” Erwin said.

As Erwin began working on the film, he looked to Laurie’s own words for more inspiration. In 2018, Laurie released a book, Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today, to share his perspective on what happened so many decades ago.

“I think this is the right time for the story to be made,” Laurie said. “This story has never been told. Other stories of the ’60s have been told, but never this story. This is a significant story that changed our nation and in many ways changed the world.”

Just as he did decades ago, Laurie’s hope is that another spiritual movement would happen in the next generation.

“In America, we’ve had four great spiritual awakenings,” Laurie said. “The Jesus Movement was the last one, and now I feel like we’re overdue for another. And I’m hoping that this film will inspire people to pray, ‘Lord, do it again.’ Because the fame of revival spreads the flame of revival.”

Of course, it’s hard to force a revival to start, much less predict when one could happen. And yet, somehow, the week that Jesus Revolution premiered in theaters, an outpouring broke out in a small town in Wilmore, Kentucky. The Asbury Outpouring brought in thousands of people from around the world, and has created a ripple effect that has lasted long after the revival shut down.

The crew felt like it was just one more confirmation from God.

“I just think there’s a divine hand on the timing of the film,” Erwin said. “And the reason we made it was … the thing that we’ve said for years is, if it happened then, it can happen now. If it happened once, it can happen again.”

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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