Harbinger? Asbury, Jesus People, and a Timeline of Crosscurrents
Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. February 2023. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Nicholson.
By Steve Beard —
After two weeks of an extraordinary spiritual stirring on the campus of Asbury University, The New York Times eventually reported in a lengthy story that “more than 50,000 people descended on a small campus chapel to experience the nation’s first major spiritual revival in decades – one driven by Gen Z.” The student-led round-the-clock public meetings came to a crescendo when the live-video simulcast of the Collegiate Day of Prayer on February 23 was broadcast from the campus in Wilmore, Kentucky.
Interestingly enough, the worldwide premiere of Jesus Revolution – a film about a hippie spiritual awakening of the ‘60s and ‘70s – took place on the following day. In the works for six years and told through the eyes of Greg Laurie, the film features charismatic evangelist Lonnie Frisbee and Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel. The Southern California congregation had roughly 30 people in 1966. It grew to 15,000 in less than 10 years. The 200 cribs in the nursery illustrate the age of the new membership wave.
Times change. Culture morphs. But, rolling back the clock, there is a spiritual connection between the Asbury campus in Wilmore and the noteworthy events on the West Coast through the Jesus People.
Fifty-three years ago, also in February, the students at then-Asbury College experienced a similarly lengthy revival in Hughes Auditorium. The 1970 Asbury revival is spoken of in reverent tones for the generation that experienced a “divine moment” that lasted for more than a week. Legions of teams from Asbury testified in churches throughout the country about what had occurred on campus.
“The unusual revival which came to Asbury College early in 1970 and spread to scores of campuses across America is evidence that God is still at work in His world, lifting men and women out of self-centeredness, secularism, and boredom,” observed Billy Graham.
In retrospect, the 1970 Asbury revival was one very unique and distinct aspect of a dizzying array of spiritual touchpoints taking place within a tumultuous era. “With the Lord, it is usually in the worst of times that the best things happen,” observed Graham in the foreword to Robert E. Coleman’s One Divine Moment. “The Protestant Reformation, the Wesleyan Revival, and the Great Awakening in America in the nineteenth century are examples.”
In 1970, Asbury was a heartfelt awakening localized on a college campus that can be seen as a vibrant expression of an unmistakably wider simultaneous and distinct spiritual passion brewing in West Coast coffeehouses, communes, and Pacific Ocean mass baptisms 2,100 miles away.
Completely unique and regionally-oriented, both movements made global impacts and were sparked by the spiritual hunger of young people – from straight-laced students to scruffy hippies.
While the 2023 re-percolating of the historic well of revival at Asbury was broadcast internationally via TikTok and other social media platforms, the chronicling of the Jesus People movement five decades ago was done through the medium of national magazines.
In 1966, Time magazine provocatively probed the question “Is God Dead?” for its cover story. Five years later, Time’s psychedelic cover story reported on “The Jesus Revolution.” In that same year, Life magazine wrote about “The Groovy Christians” and Look magazine declared: “It’s an old-time, Bible-toting witness-giving kind of revival, and the new evangelists are the young. They give their Christian message with cheerful dedication. Turn on to Jesus. He’s coming. Soon.”
Responding to the 1970 experience at Asbury, Graham pondered: “Perhaps the eruptions of revival which swept through a segment of our college youth in the early months of 1970 are harbingers of what the Holy Spirit is ready, able and willing to do, throughout the world, if Christians will dare to pay the price.”
Some modern day church leaders are left wondering the same thing.
When Time reported on the nationwide spiritual movement in the early 1970s, it featured three groups: the Jesus People, the “straights” (non-hippie young people), and charismatic Catholics. “The movement, in fact, is one of considerable flexibility and vitality, drawing from three vigorous spiritual streams that, despite differences in dress, manner and theology, effectively reinforce one another.”
For Good News readers, the following timeline attempts to put broad cultural movements – both good and bad – within an ecumenical faith-based context of the era of 1960-1974.
1960 – YWAM (Youth With A Mission) founded by Loren Cunningham (Fall). More than 60 years later, YWAM is considered the largest mission-sending agency in the world.
• John F. Kennedy is the first Roman Catholic elected as President of United States (November). Amongst supporters, his administration was dubbed “Camelot,” a literary reference to the legend of King Arthur and his court.
• Teen Challenge is launched by David Wilkerson. His mother helped found two coffeehouses in Greenwich Village (The Lost Coin and The Living Room).
1961 – Dr. Gabriel Vahanian publishes The Death of God: The Culture of our Post-Christian Era (January)
• Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) is launched by Pat Robertson (October)
1962 – Marilyn Monroe dies at age 36 (August)
• The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council is launched to renew and reform Roman Catholicism (October)
• Cuban Missile Crisis (October)
• James Meredith becomes the first Black student to study at the University of Mississippi, also known as Ole Miss. (October)
1963 – David Wilkerson writes The Cross and the Switchblade. It sells 11 million copies in the first 10 years. (January)
• In August, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers the “I Have a Dream” speech in front of 200,000 on the Washington Mall (August)
• In September, A Ku Klux Klan bomb kills four African American children at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama (September)
• C.S. Lewis, author of Mere Christianity, dies on same day that President Kennedy is assassinated (November)
1964 – The Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan show in front of 70 million viewers (February)
• Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy is on cover of Time (May)
• Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is signed into law (July)
• John Sherrill, a reporter for Guideposts magazine, publishes They Speak with Other Tongues (August) about the widespread charismatic movement
• Dr. Martin Luther King wins the Nobel Peace Prize (December)
1965 – Dr. Harvey Cox publishes his book The Secular City. “The age of the secular city, the epoch whose ethos is quickly spreading into every corner of the globe, is an age of ‘no religion at all.’ It no longer looks to religious rules and rituals for its morality or its meanings.” (January)
• First American combat troops enter the Vietnam War (March)
• In its article, “The God is Dead Movement,” Time quotes Dr. Thomas Altizer, associate professor of religion at Emory University: “We must realize that the death of God is an historical event, that God has died in our cosmos, in our history, in our existence.”
• The Presbyterian Lay Committee is launched to work for renewal and reform in its denomination.
• Dr. Martin Luther King and Congressman John Lewis, also a clergyman, attend President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. (August)
1966 – John Lennon states: “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.” (March)
• “Is God Dead?” is the cover of Time on April 8, 1966. The provocative 5,600 word essay was written by Time religion editor John T. Elson. “In search of meaning, some believers have desperately turned to psychiatry, Zen or drugs. Thousands of others have quietly abandoned all but token allegiance to the churches, surrendering themselves to a life of ‘anonymous Christianity’ dedicated to civil rights or the Peace Corps.”
• Anton LaVey launches the Church of Satan. “This is a very selfish religion,” LaVey said in an interview. “We believe in greed. We believe in selfishness and all of the lustful thoughts that motivate man because this is man’s natural feeling.” (April)
• Charles Keysor writes “Methodism’s Silent Minority” in the Christian Advocate, the journal for Methodist clergy (July). “Within The Methodist Church in the United States is a silent minority group. It is not represented in the higher councils of the church. Its members seem to have little influence in Nashville, Evanston, or on Riverside Drive. … I speak of those Methodists who are variously called ‘evangelicals’ or ‘conservatives’ … A more accurate description is ‘orthodox,’ for these brethren hold a traditional understanding of the Christian faith.”
• World Congress on Evangelism sponsored by Billy Graham and Christianity Today’s Carl F.H. Henry held in Berlin (October)
1967 – Timothy Leary urges 30,000 hippies at the “Human Be-In” held at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to “Tune in, Turn on, Drop out!” (January)
• Elvis Presley releases his album, “How Great Thou Art” (February)
• Catholics from Duquesne University (Pittsburgh) experience a Holy Spirit encounter at a Episcopalian retreat. Subsequently, the “First International Conference” of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is held at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. (February)
• Evangelical United Methodists publish the first issue of Good News magazine (March). The lead article by Los Angeles Bishop Gerald Kennedy was titled “The Evangelicals’ Place in The Methodist Church.” The issue also included the sheet music and lyrics to the hymn “God Is Not Dead” by the Rev. M. Homer Cummings.
• The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (May 26)|
• Six-Day Arab-Israeli War (June 5-10)
• “Summer of Love” draws 100,000 hippies to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury to hear rock music, experiment with hallucinogenic drugs, and hear anti-war and free-love speeches (June)
• At an inter-denominational gathering hosted by Billy Graham and Christianity Today in Washington D.C., three of the Methodist delegates were Charles W. Keysor, editor of Good News; Dr. Frank Stanger, president of Asbury Theological Seminary; and the Rev. Philip Worth, chairman of the board of Good News and Methodist clergy from New Jersey (September)
• The Living Room, a Christian hippie outreach/refuge, is launched in Haight-Ashbury
1968 – Christian Life magazine’s January cover proclaims: “Psychedelic Christians: Where and How They Live.” The story, “God’s Thing in Hippieville,” is written by Maurice Allan. “They are by all conventional standards, a weird mob. I like to think of them as a kind of evangelical Robin Hood and his merry men. With their different costumes, communal ghetto-style living, and anti-authoritarian ways, they outwardly resemble the mythical English folk-hero. Also, like him, they are essentially on the right side of what is righteous and good. Sideburns, para-military jackets, thigh-high dresses, red Indian motifs –they dig these and/or other tell-tale marks of the interstitial culture of the psychedelic scene. Strongly pacifist, not unduly patriotic, yet they love Jesus Christ, and their allegiance to him is undeniable. They stroll like medieval mendicants along Haight street, strumming autoharps, playing harmonicas and passing out day-old doughnuts.”
• Johnny Cash records “At Folsom Prison” (January)
• Evangelist Oral Roberts becomes a member of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma (March)
• At “His Place,” a coffeehouse rescue mission on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, Arthur Blessitt urges addicts and runaways to try “getting high on Jesus.” (March)
• Dr. Martin Luther King is assassinated (April)
• The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church merge to form The United Methodist Church (April)
• Senator Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated (June)
• Calvary Chapel pastor Chuck Smith meets “Jesus People” evangelist Lonnie Frisbee in Costa Mesa, California. Together, they launch House of Miracles communal house.
• On Christmas Eve, the crew of Apollo 8 read in turn from the Book of Genesis as they orbit the moon (December)
1969 – The Christian World Liberation Front (CWLF) is established by Jesus People in Berkley, California, by former Campus Crusade for Christ staffers (April)
• The Byrds record Art Reynolds’ gospel song “Jesus is Just Alright with Me” (June)
• Right On, put out by the Christian World Liberation Front, was the first of the underground published Jesus newspapers, appearing in Berkley (July).
• Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee baptize thousands of young Jesus People converts in the Pacific Ocean at Pirates Cove in Newport Beach, California
• The Woodstock music festival attracts more than 400,000 young people to Bethel, New York (August)
• The Hollywood Free Paper is launched in Los Angeles as a Christian response to countercultural underground newspapers. Published from 1969-1978, it had print runs that sometimes exceeded more than one million copies per issue. (October)
• Billy Graham preaches at the 1969 Miami Rock Music Festival from the same concert stage as Canned Heat, the Grateful Dead, and Santana. Graham actually donned a disguise to get a feel for the festival the night before he would preach. “My heart went out to them,” he wrote. “Though I was thankful for their youthful exuberance, I was burdened by their spiritual searching and emptiness.” (December)
1970 – The students at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, experience an unusual revival beginning on February 3. Classes were cancelled for a week. “The young people in this movement have been the key,” Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, president of Asbury, wrote in Good News. “Faculty and administrators have been chauffeurs and guides while the Spirit has used the young to open closed doors and storm the enemy’s bastions.” An estimated 2,000 witness teams went out to churches and at least 130 college campuses around the nation.
• Professor Bob Lyons and students from Asbury Theological Seminary (also in Wilmore, Kentucky) host the first Ichthus music festival in May. It would be held in Wilmore from 1970-2015.
• Good News publishes the testimony of a transformed drug addict named Coni, republished from Right On, the Jesus People newspaper in Berkeley. “Jesus, they call you God. They say you can change people’s lives. Right now I can’t dig life. Living in this rotten world is a bummer. All I can think about is nodding out forever. But for some outrageous reason, life wants me anyway. I’ve tried to end it three times, but every time I came through,” confessed the young woman. “I don’t believe in anything and I don’t have anything. And since I am cursed to live, I want a reason to live. I’ve hit bottom and can’t seem to get out.”
• The Cross and the Switchblade film released nationwide starring Erik Estrada and Pat Boone (June)
• Good News hosts the first convocation for evangelical United Methodists in Dallas. Speakers include E. Stanley Jones, Bishop Gerald Kennedy, and Tom Skinner. (August)
• “Some call it an ‘underground’ movement. Others describe it as the closest thing to New Testament Christianity this country has ever seen,” reports Rita Klein in Christianity Today. “But those involved – thousands of bearded, long-haired, rather unkempt former hippies – term it a ‘spiritual revolution.’”
• The Rev. Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest, publishes Nine O’Clock in the Morning, about experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.
• First Baptist Church of Houston sponsors SPIRENO (“Spiritual Revolution Now”) youth rallies featuring evangelist Richard Hogue.
• The Word of God covenant community is launched for charismatic Catholics in Ann Arbor, Michigan
• Judy Collins includes “Amazing Grace” on her “Whales and Nightingales” album
• Rick Griffin, a leading designer of 1960’s psychedelic posters and closely identified with the Grateful Dead, became a born-again Christian.
• Time publishes “Street Christians: Jesus as the Ultimate Trip” in August. “Jesus freaks. Evangelical hippies. Or, as many prefer to be called, street Christians. Under different names – and in rapidly increasing numbers – they are the latest incarnation of that oldest of Christian phenomena: footloose, passionate bearers of the Word, preaching the kingdom of heaven among the dispossessed of the earth.”
• Hal Lindsey publishes end-times best-seller The Late Great Planet Earth
• Inter-Varsity Christian Youth Conference has 12,000 participants at the University of Illinois (December)
1971 – Billy Graham uses index-finger gesture while riding in the Tournament of Roses parade on New Year’s Day and acknowledges the Jesus People chanting “One Way!” along the parade route
• Look magazine’s February cover proclaims: “Today’s Kids: Turning to Jesus, Turning from Drugs.” In his story, “The Jesus Movement is Upon Us,” Brian Vachon reports: “It’s an old-time, Bible-toting witness-giving kind of revival, and the new evangelists are the young. They give their Christian message with cheerful dedication. Turn on to Jesus. He’s coming. Soon.” The now-defunct Look was a national bi-weekly with a circulation of about six million. “It was unquestionably the most remarkable week of my life,” wrote Vachon. “They had the best sounding music I’ve ever heard. Everyone wanted me to accept Christ, too. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m thinking about it.”
• With a circulation of seven million, Life magazine publishes “The Groovy Christians of Rye, N.Y.” – a 3,500 word feature by Jane Howard about newly-converted teens and their befuddled parents. “They don’t see their new faith in terms of rebellion, or of fundamentalism, but as the dazzlingly simple cure for a ‘hunger’ for absolute truth – a famine … as acute in Westchester County as anywhere else. … the growing band of new Christians have been looking intently backward, all the way to the first century A.D., and are clearly transfixed by what they find.” (May)
• The musical Godspell is first performed off-Broadway in the East Village of Manhattan (May)
• With a circulation of four million, Time‘s cover proclaimed “The Jesus Revolution.” The provocative 5,600-word essay was written by Time religion editor Mayo Mohs, with reporting from Richard Ostling, Barry Hillenbrand, and Margaret Boeth. “Jesus is alive and well and living in the radical spiritual fervor of a growing number of young Americans who have proclaimed an extraordinary religious revolution in his name. Their message: the Bible is true, miracles happen, God really did so love the world that he gave it his only begotten son.” (June)
• “Youth are turning to Christ on a scale that perhaps we’ve never known in human history,” Billy Graham tells the crowd gathered at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Christian World Liberation Front arranged for busses from the University of California campus in Berkeley, luring curious onlookers with the bold letter message on the side of the busses: “People’s Committee to Investigate Billy Graham.” (July)
• Donald M. Williams writes “Close-up of the Jesus People” for Christianity Today. “Up until now, youth evangelism has been inaugurated by adults. Now it comes by youth. The same hip teen-ager who last year turned his friends on to drugs may now be turning them on to Jesus.” (August)
• Billy Graham publishes his book, The Jesus Generation. “Tens of thousands of American youth are caught up in it. They are being ‘turned on’ to Jesus.” Other books in the genre published in 1971 included The Jesus Movement in America, by Edward E. Plowman; Jesus People Come Alive, edited by Walker L. Knight; House of Acts, by John A. MacDonald; Turned On to Jesus, by Arthur Blessitt; The Jesus People Are Coming, by Pat King; Jesus People, by Duane Pederson; The Jesus Trip, by Lowell D. Streiker; and The Jesus Kids, by Roger C. Palms.
• Associated Press names “Jesus People” one of its top ten stories of 1971
• People of Praise, an ecumenical intentional community begun by charismatic Catholics, is begun in South Bend, Indiana
• Andrew Lloyd Weber’s rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” is first performed on Broadway (October)
• Kenneth N. Taylor’s personal paraphrase The Living Bibleis published
• J. Benton White, coordinator of the religious studies program at San Jose State College in California, writes “New Youth Revival Exploits Feelings of Powerlessness” about the Jesus People for the Christian Advocate, the journal for Methodist clergy. “How do we respond? How do we get involved? I’m not certain we need to. Perhaps as some of these youth mature in Christian faith, they will find that the established churches will meet their needs. In the meantime, the professional role should include trying to understand young people while at the same time preserving the essentials of faith as we have experienced it. And we need to ask ourselves why this religious revival had to take place outside the confines of established denominations?” (December)
1972 – Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm announces her run as the first African American woman for the U.S. Presidency from Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn (January).
• The United Methodist Council on Evangelism was held in San Francisco. According to the February 3 issue of the Christian Advocate, there was heckling and debate between a contingent of Jesus People from Berkeley and the controversial pastor of Glide United Methodist Church. The booing occurred after the Rev. Cecil Williams claimed that evangelism was “theologically abstract, irresponsible, and unchristian.” The session was “quickly overshadowed by a verbal confrontation between the Berkeley group, Mr. Williams and his friends.” Speaking at the Council on behalf of the Jesus People was Dr. Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front.
• Explo ‘72 was an event organized by Campus Crusade for Christ and held at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas. Tens of thousands of young people attended the event. “The Rev. Billy Graham, the evangelist, says it’s a ‘religious Woodstock,’” reported the New York Times.“In any event, a meeting under way here is the largest religious camp meeting ever to take place in the United States.” Special guests included Roger Staubach, quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, and Johnny Cash. (June)
• Life’s cover story, “The Great Jesus Rally in Dallas,” covered the Campus Crusade event (June)
• Dr. Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front speaks in St. Louis at the Good News Convocation for United Methodists. He shares about his counter culture ministry in Berkeley, California, and challenges the young people in attendance to abandon the hotel and witness for Jesus in a park. According to Christianity Today, the following day, sixty young people and fifteen adults shared their faith with strangers at the St. Louis Zoo. (August)
• A Time to Be Born, a book documenting the Jesus People movement in Southern California, was published by Brian Vachon with pictures by Jack and Betty Cheetham. The three had worked together on the February 9, 1971, feature for Look magazine.
• “Surely we can extent the hope to Jesus People that in spite of our dissimilarity, change can and will take place within the established church,” wrote the Rev. Ralph Bailey in an article titled “Both Generations Needed to Bridge the Spirit Gap” for the Christian Advocate, the magazine for Methodist clergy. “In so doing we would be helping them to see the possibility that they may be able to ‘put it together spiritually’ with that context. We could, but will we? The old questions come back to haunt us. ‘Why bother? Do we want them here?’ How we deal with these questions and their attendant fears may determine whether thousands of Jesus People decide to ‘do their thing’ in or outside the church as we know it. Hopefully we can both reach out across the Spirit gap and then cross over to iron out some of the other kinks in our relationship.”
• The Doobie Brothers release their version of “Jesus is Just Alright with Me” (November)
1973 – Jesus People USA, an intentional Christian community, sets up base of operations in Chicago’s North Side
• Larry Norman releases his album, “Only Visiting This Planet”
• The Rev. Dennis Bennett helps start Episcopal Renewal Ministries, soon renamed Acts 29, to promote the charismatic renewal movement within his denomination.
• Key ‘73 was launched as an ambitious nationwide pan-denominational evangelistic campaign. According to its Congregational Resource Book, the program had the “vision of every unchurched family in North America being visited by someone who comes with loving concern to share his faith in Christ.”
• Johnny Cash releases film Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus, a project he and his wife June fully financed. “It’s my life’s proudest work,” Cash told the Nashville Tennessean. “John came up with the idea of doing the crucifixion in lots of places to show that Christ died for people all over the world,” said documentary film director Robert Elfstrom, an agnostic. “We ended up doing it once at Jericho in Israel, on the waterfront in Brooklyn Heights, on the Strip in Las Vegas, at the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, and in Death Valley.” While they were filming in Death Valley, reports Robert Hilburn in Johnny Cash: The Life, “a VW minivan filled with hippies drove up, and they stopped to watch. They got out, smoked some dope, and then returned to the van. As they sped off, the driver yelled, ‘Good luck with the resurrection!’”
Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.