Following a pastor, a former hippie, and a love-struck teenager as their lives converge, 2023’s Jesus Revolution pulls off what most Christian entertainment falls short of; it tells an honest story about faith. It paints believers not in a pure, prayerful light but in a shadow of frailty, rigidity, self-righteousness, ego, and childhood pain, subordinate to Jesus Christ, the true light into which they all must step.
The film, directed by Brent McCorckil and Jon Erwin, rises above the faith-based movie norm that is cringe dialogue and preachy, religious overtones. Kelsey Grammar, star of the 1990s show Fraiser, plays Chuck Smith, the pastor of a little southern California congregation; he is not the hero. Next to Grammar is the star of the crowd-funded show The Chosen and rising heavy-weight talent Jonathan Roumie, who plays former hippie Lonnie Frisbee, whom God uses to jump-start Chuck Smith’s quiet, composed, and wooden church into the infectious, musical, heartfelt rhythms of the Jesus Movement. Through Lonnie’s genuine, authentic nature, the love of Jesus shines brightly and with inviting warmth; but true to the film’s message, Lonnie is also not the hero.
Greg, the protagonist, seeks liberation from the uniformity of the military academy and the conservative-dominant culture. His solution: drugs and the affections of a girl who, like other hippies, hopes to connect with the divine. His life runs aground after a near-death experience, and he stumbles into Chuck Smith’s resurrected church where he meets Loonie Smith who becomes like a brother to him. Despite this positive turn, Greg has yet to see a path forward, blinded ultimately by the painful weight of caring for his wallowing, co-dependent mother, Greg is not the hero either.
Beyond its characters, the film remembers a spiritual movement in American history orchestrated not by charismatic human minds but by the Holy Spirit. As portrayed in the movie, the movement shook the foundation of a rigid, traditionalist American church in the late 1960s. Its impact was natiowide. However, its leaders failed to keep the focus on Jesus, and the film shied away from developing the whole picture of the movement, which did stray considerably from its true Spirit-led purpose. Even though the film failed to explore more deeply the flaws in its characters, Jesus Revolution does unpack the flesh of human leadership with a pinch of truth. By doing this, it at least succeeds in showing the conditional Christian desire for righteousness. It’s never easy to step into humility, which by God’s standard challenges the human propensity to preserve the clean self-image so many protect at all cost when underneath there’s shame and misdeeds of a lost, broken heart.
The hero of Jesus Revolution is intimately involved off-screen. As the title suggests, the one to whom the revolution points ascended to his rightful place over 2,023 years ago, and over 20 centuries later, through the Holy Spirit, his ministry and ultimate act on the cross captured the hearts of an entire generation on a scale unseen anywhere else in American history. This film, succeeding on the shoulders of Kelsey Grammar and Jonathan Roumie, does what only a few Christian movies and one show nails with anointed care and authenticity. It visually captures what happens in the heart during a baptism, a touch of the divine that jumpstarts a lifelong connection with the Savior who knows our pain and shapes our hearts to look more like his – more precious than gold, more precious than rubies.