For several years, beginning back in the early 2000’s, I followed Greg Laurie’s daily radio ministry, A New Beginning, and also later on podcast. I found him to be a very likable and effective evangelist. I have several of his books, The Great Compromise, Worldview, Run to Win, and Lost Boy, with my favorite being The Great Compromise.
On a January 2006 visit to California, I visited his church in Riverside, with two of my daughters for a Sunday morning service.
In 2009, my oldest daughter and I went to hear him preach at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, where my step-grandson, Ethan, went forward to profess faith in Christ that evening.
A few years later I went to his 2016 Harvest Crusade in Dallas, also with my oldest daughter, and then again to his 2018 Harvest Dallas Crusade, where I sang in his choir.
So, it’s fair to say I’m very familiar with Greg Laurie’s ministry, although I have to say I’ve not been as active of a listener of late. For the past five years or so I have shifted more toward reformed Bible teachers, such as Alistair Begg, Steve Lawson, John MacArthur, etc. I’ve also developed a dislike of popular contemporary music being played at church, but that perhaps is a story for another day.
So, when I heard late in 2022 that Greg Laurie was involved in a new movie, Jesus Revolution, and that it was going to be released in February 2023 on a limited basis I was hopeful that it would be shown nearby. I’m old enough to remember the Jesus Revolution TIME magazine cover from June, 1971, and recall hearing people talk about it as the Jesus Movement. I was 16 years old at the time.
So, come February 24th, I was very happy to find out that Jesus Revolution was being shown in a theater within walking distance of our home! I bought tickets for the 6:10 p.m. showing, which actually was the first time in a long while that I’ve bought movie tickets. The stuff that Hollywood has been cranking out the past few years is mostly junk, so we rarely go to the movie theater anymore, also perhaps another story for another day.
So I was very hopeful and excited to go to this movie. I liked it but I have to admit it was a little different than what I was expecting. As I watched it and since watching it, several questions and concerns popped up in my mind. Thus, it’s the topic of this writing.
– First, I was a little surprised the movie didn’t clearly present the gospel. Or, did I miss it?
– The words spoken at Greg’s baptism were so vague. It was like he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing there. Like he was caught up with the crowd?
– And the under water portion of the baptism scene seemed overly dramatic. Why so much emphasis on the water? Baptism is a first step in obedience; an outward sign of an inward change. Why over dramatize the water? What about faith in Christ?
– I also don’t recall hearing much about repentance in the movie. Did I miss that too?
Now, I know Greg Laurie’s ministry. I’ve heard him clearly present the gospel many times. I even checked his current statement of faith on his church website in case something had changed, which it did not. It’s biblical. So I decided to look a little more into the making of this movie.
So after just a little research I learned that while the story is based upon Greg’s autobiography, the co-directors and screenwriter, together with Lionsgate had the artistic license to present the movie as written by the screenwriter. It’s not a documentary, nor is this the first time a movie is different from the book.
I also believe there’s an inherent risk whenever entertainment is combined with the gospel message. The gospel is Holy and is God’s perfect plan for sinful man. Movies are entertainment, created by man. Movies are not Holy and are not church, and repentance of sin has never been a popular subject with man. In our natural depraved state, we love our sins and do not want to part with them. Faith and repentance are gifts of God, and it’s only by the grace of God that we become convicted of our sin, turn from it and turn toward Christ.
Which brings me to two concerns this movie raised, both of which center around Lonnie Frisbee.
1. The actor who played Lonnie Frisbee, Jonathan Roumie, was involved in a practice called “grave soaking” in preparation for this movie. He actually visited Lonnie Frisbee’s gravesite and laid down next to his grave in an effort to “connect in some way with Lonnie” and “to pray with him.” That’s plain creepy and in no way Biblical. Period. What’s up with Jonathan Roumie? 🤔
2. And, what happened to Lonnie Frisbee?
While Chuck Smith and Greg Laurie went on to have successful Christian ministries, Lonnie Frisbee, I’m sorry to say, did not. Toward the end of his approximate one and a half year involvement with The Jesus Movement at Calvary Chapel, Lonnie grew increasingly erratic, self-centered, and overly focused on “faith healing.” After he left Calvary Chapel, Lonnie got involved with several questionable ministries, referred to himself as a “seeing prophet,” reportedly struggled with drugs and homosexuality, and died at age 43. I found several disparaging articles, comments, and videos on the internet about Lonnie Frisbee. Not a great legacy I’m also sorry to say.
Greg Laurie, in a recent interview, explained briefly that although he was not in contact with Lonnie Frisbee after Lonnie left Calvary Chapel, he did visit him just prior to his death in 1993. Greg stated that Lonnie Frisbee was in fact repentant of his sins. Greg then eloquently reminded us that we’re all flawed in one way or another, and that God often uses flawed people to accomplish His purposes.
To be clear, salvation grants us forgiveness for our sins and gives us a renewed life in Christ, but Christians still struggle against the flesh and the negative influence of our former sin nature. Ideally we sin less as we grow in Christ. It’s the process of sanctification. Why some stop growing or regress excessively I do not know. God knows. But I do believe that Lonnie Frisbee was used by God for a specific time period for a specific purpose. That specific time period and specific purpose was portrayed in this movie.
With all that said, my gut reaction is that if Greg Laurie was the screenwriter as well as the author perhaps the movie would not have raised so many questions. Regardless, I think the movie is still inspirational, despite all of my questions and concerns. In fact, it’s probably one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. While it may have some flaws, the message is still inspiring, the acting is good, etc. Moreover, I think the overall theme of this movie is that Jesus still seeks and saves the lost, and still sets the captives free. In addition, both Greg Laurie and this movie reminds us that God can and does use flawed people to accomplish His purposes.