Duane's Interview with Paul Asay

Religion editor Paul Asay from the Colorado Springs Gazette recently interviewed Duane as background for his article Groovin with God. We decided to post the full interview here as a resource for others interested in the history of the Jesus Movement.

The Jesus Movement obviously coincided with the counterculture movement. But I'm not really clear .. was it an extension of that movement or a reaction against it?

Certainly the Jesus Movement was born and took its first toddling steps surrounded by the cultural context of the sixties counterculture, but it gained momentum as the larger counterculture was in decline. The first ripples of what became the Jesus Movement were felt a few months after the assassinations of King and RFK, a few months after the bloody demonstrations at the Democratic convention in Chicago. Almost simultaneously, in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, in Seattle's North End, and on the streets of Hollywood, young people were feeling the first stirrings of a spiritual awakening. I would say it was neither an extension of nor a reaction against the sixties counterculture, that was just the backdrop of the times. The Jesus Movement was something separate, struggling to be born at a time when the dream of the sixties was dying and the shallow, cynical seventies were moving in to take its place, but really a product of neither. Christian musician John Fischer has said that the Jesus Movement "wasn't just a fad or a social phenomenon triggered by a generation's disillusionment with the unclaimed dreams of the sixties, it was a genuine movement of the Holy Spirit of God." I believe he was right.

How did the Jesus Movement differ from most expressions of Christian faith at the time? Was this whole movement a glorified youth group? Or was there some significant push to change how folks did church at play?

The Jesus Movement contrasted with the establishment church of its time both in style and substance. The differences in style were obvious; many of the Movement's leaders and workers were long-haired bearded hippies in sandals who sang and preached on street corners, parks and coffeehouses, our baptisms were often in the ocean at popular surfing beaches, and our folk-rock "Jesus music" became a lasting form of contemporary worship that's still popular in many churches today. Some in the Movement adopted aspects of the sixties counterculture including peaceful demonstrations, marches, and communal living in what we would today call intentional communities. But more important were the differences of substance. I believe the hallmark of the Jesus Movement was its return to a simple Gospel and the New Testament prototype of Christianity, centered in the life and teachings of Jesus and demanding a personal relationship with Him, placing a renewed emphasis on discipleship, evangelism and Bible study. It wasn't about political or social agendas, it was about Jesus and His life in us and centering our lives around His teachings. It caught a lot of traditional churches by surprise, sounding a wake-up call to comfortable Christians while proclaiming good news to those outside.

I may be off base, here, but, it seems to me that before the Jesus Movement took hold, Christianity was largely dominated by traditional "mainline" churches. These days a third of American Christians are evangelical -- a movement marked by (among other things) more contemporary, buttoned-down worship experience. I know of several evangelical pastors here in town that were directly impacted by the Jesus movement. Was this movement influential in the growth of evangelicalism?

I don't think either the rise of evangelicalism or the decline of mainline Protestantism occured because of the Jesus Movement; I think much larger historic forces were at work there. Having said that, however, a family of new churches did grow out of the Movement, including Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard, and they certainly changed "how folks did church." Keep in mind, too, that as the Movement grew, more and more young people from traditional churches were radicalized by these new "hippie" Jesus People and joined the Movement while continuing to attend their home church. As the Movement began to fade in the mid-1970s, many of them stayed in those churches, becoming Sunday School teachers, youth workers, pastors, even missionaries. So in that sense, much of the Movement's very positive influence on both the evangelical and mainline churches came about as the Movement faded and the Jesus People took their experience and message back into their traditional congregations.

What's been the lasting impact of the Jesus movement? Do people think differently about God because of what y'all did? Do they worship differently? Or was it more of a fad?

A friend of ours once wrote that the Jesus Movement "continues to this day inside every brother or sister who remembers the Movement and who still prefers a personal relationship with Jesus to religious moralism and culture wars." The lasting impact of the Movement is in the lives of those individuals who were a part of it and have stayed true to Jesus all these years. Do they, and the people whose lives they have touched and continue to touch, think differently about God? Undoubtedly, and many of them write and tell me so. Do we worship differently because of the Movement? If your church's praise band ever includes a piece by Love Song or 2nd Chapter of Acts, if your church's youth group has ever had a noisy, tearful outdoor baptism in a mountain lake or the Colorado River, the answer is yes. But was it a fad? I believe the Jesus Movement was a spontaneous, miraculous stirring of the Holy Spirit in the lives of thousands of young people across the U.S. and Canada and ultimately around the world. That's no fad.

We live in kind of an interesting religious age. Some studies show that youth are falling away from God and church, but others say that faith is still a massively important part of their lives, and I've heard pastors say we're in the middle of a new spiritual awakening. And then, of course, there's the Emergent Church -- a reaction, adherents say, to rigid evangelicalism (much as perhaps the Jesus movement was a reaction to rigid mainline churches?). Do you believe that we're on the cusp of another Jesus movement?

I do, and more importantly, the young Christians I'm hearing from do, too. There are Gen-X and Gen-Y young people who are praying for a Jesus Movement for their generation, and I'm praying right alongside them. Substitute Iraq for Vietnam and we're in similar times in a lot of ways. I may get in trouble for saying this, but I think a lot of Christian youth are discovering that turning away from their parents' suburban megachurch doesn't have to mean rejecting faith in Jesus, and many of them are praying for God to do something new. Would it look the same? Probably not. You wouldn't have all the beads and psychedelic posters. The kids today are too straight edge for all the long hair and tie-dye, and that's fine, that was just the outward appearance, the style as opposed to the substance. But you'd be surprised, the older Jesus People who still write to us mostly remember the warmth, the closeness to Jesus and each other. The Jesus Movement was intensely personal in ways the sixties culture never could be. For most it became a second, and for some their first, family. For some it was the first time they really belonged and felt connected to something larger than themselves. I pray if there is a new Jesus Movement for our time, that they'll feel that warmth and connectedness, the love. If it's truly a movement of God, they will.

Where the heck do productions like "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Godspell" fit into the Jesus movement? Were they really apart of it? Or was that an effort by folks outside the movement to latch onto the spiritual resurgence of the day? Or was it something else entirely?

Both of those musicals came out in 1971, around the same time that the Jesus Movement made the covers of some of the most influential American magazines -- Time, Look and Newsweek. God was doing a new thing and it was all about His son. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Schwartz are intelligent, creative people who realized what was happening just as the news media did, and used their art to comment on it in a big way. But the musicals weren't a part of the Movement. "Superstar" left out the resurrection, something the Jesus People would never have done. But neither show was really as revolutionary as they were made out to be by mainstream churches. Most of the lyrics of "Godspell", for instance, were straight out of the Episcopal hymnal.




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