A countercultural Christian movement rooted in the late 1960s’ hippie culture, emphasizing a return to New Testament Christianity.
The Jesus People Movement, originating in the late 1960s and early 1970s on the West Coast of the United States, represented a unique fusion of the countercultural ethos of the era with evangelical Christianity. This movement, at times referred to as the “Jesus Movement,” sought to embody the principles and practices of early Christianity, emphasizing a restorationist theology, simple living, and asceticism in some cases. Participants in the movement, often called “Jesus people” or “Jesus freaks,” were distinguished by their countercultural political stance and a strong belief in miracles, signs and wonders, faith healing, prayer, and the active work of the Holy Spirit.
Beliefs and Practices
The theology of the Jesus People was marked by a drive to return to the original life and practices of the early Christians. This perspective often led them to view established churches, particularly in the United States, as having strayed from true Christianity. Their beliefs fueled a broad evangelical and millennialist effort, with literature like Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth becoming particularly influential among them.
Communal Living and Jesus Music
A notable aspect of the Jesus Movement was its communal dimension, with many adherents living together in communes. This practice was exemplified by the commune led by Graham Pulkingham, detailed in his book They Left Their Nets. Additionally, the movement had a profound impact on Christian music, giving birth to the genre known as “Jesus music” or gospel beat music in the UK. This genre emerged from street musicians who converted to Christianity and began to write lyrics with a Christian message, leading to the formation of many music groups that became integral to the movement.
Key Organizations and Figures
The movement was characterized by a lack of a single leader or figurehead, but several organizations and individuals played significant roles in its development and spread. Notably, Chuck Smith, the founder and pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, was instrumental in the movement’s growth, particularly through his engagement with hippies and establishment of communal homes for converts. Other significant organizations and figures included the Belmont Avenue Church of Christ, transformed by an influx of countercultural Christians under Don Finto, and the Shiloh Youth Revival Centers, which became the largest Jesus People communal movement in the United States during the 1970s.
Expansion and Impact
The Jesus People Movement quickly expanded beyond its Southern California origins, influencing Christian coffeehouse culture and establishing a presence across the United States. By the early 1970s, the movement had gained enough momentum to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine, signaling its national significance. Estimates suggest that at least 250,000 people became Christians through the movement, which left a lasting impact on the American church, notably revolutionizing Christian music and leading to the establishment of contemporary Christian music as a recognized genre.