Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Letter to Greg Laurie

Regarding His Book Jesus Revolution


Dear Greg,

In my previous letter to you, I pointed out the primary defect in your new book Jesus Revolution. This letter will now cover some of my notes regarding other problems with the book, so I am going to rain on your parade a little. Because there is much to cover, I'll dive right into it.…
Not too long after Lonnie Frisbee's summer of '67 arrest for public nudity and drug possession, he hit his favorite canyon again, this time without a hundred of his closest friends. His brain was an urgent swirl, full of the beauty around him, questions about the meaning of life, half-remembered threads of everything he'd experienced over his eighteen years, and a nice tab of LSD.

As Lonnie would later explain it, he took off all his clothes, turned his face to the sky, and screamed toward Heaven, "Jesus, if you're really real, reveal yourself to me!"

He felt the atmosphere around him begin to tingle, shimmer, and glow. He was terrified. He felt the presence of God. He saw visions. He felt God's calling on his life.

Lonnie returned to San Francisco, and though there are different versions about what happened next, he evidently met some Jesus People on the street in the fall of 1967.… They lived in a community, modeling a New Testament family of believers, and were loosely headed by a couple named Ted and Liz Wise. [74-75]
What you provided here, on pages 74 to 75 of your book, is a very abbreviated version of Lonnie's personal testimony regarding what happened to him when he was up in Tahquitz Canyon that crucial day back in 1967 when the Lord answered his cry, intervened in his life, and sent him in a new direction. You even quoted from his autobiography what Lonnie screamed out that day in the canyon — it's footnoted, of all things — but your book completely left out almost all the other details given in his autobiography about what had happened to him, including what Lonnie said about it afterward:
It was the most radical moment of my life. At eighteen years old, God was calling me to serve Him. It blew my mind — but I was definitely saying — "Yes, Lord!"

I came off the mountain a different person. I still didn't have all the answers — but I knew for sure Jesus was real. He had responded to my desperate cry. I had an instant revelation of my calling.
However, notice carefully, in what I quoted from your book, this little insertion in the first paragraph: "and a nice tab of LSD". Now I have listened to Lonnie Frisbee's testimony about his calling, in various recordings that are still around today, and I have read what he said in the first book of his autobiography. Lonnie never said that he was tripping on acid at the time. In fact, he affirmed in his autobiography that "I was scared and shocked, and positive it was not an LSD flashback." Now did Lonnie tell you something different than what he has told everyone else? You weren't there in Tahquitz Canyon at the time, so who is the source of information about this "nice tab"? You didn't tell your readers, but you certainly did not get it from Lonnie's autobiography. Did you just read it somewhere on the Internet? Or was the book over-embellishing the facts, possibly because you don't think that God gives people "prophetic visions" nowadays? In other words, you just assumed this must have been the case, that Lonnie was on a LSD trip.

Just how much of a friend of Lonnie's were you anyway? I cannot help but ask, because in effect you have made an insinuation here that demolishes Lonnie's testimony altogether, reducing it to nothing more than a drug-induced subjective hallucination on his part, a mere psychotic episode. I am sorry to say it, but this poisonous little insertion leads the reader to this ineluctable conclusion. It was not the only put-down in your book, but I think it was the first unmistakable instance.

A pattern more and more emerged in your book when it came to Lonnie Frisbee — the cuts get a little deeper as the pages turn. However, I cannot cover every instance, because I don't want to write a whole book on the subject, and therefore I have confined myself in this letter to a few salient examples that I recorded in my notes. You managed to get a few things right, but you also got some things wrong or distorted.
During those days of Greg's experience of the Jesus Revolution, it would be hard to overestimate Lonnie Frisbee's influence on Calvary Chapel. Chuck Smith conducted services on Monday nights, and Lonnie would do so on Wednesday nights. The combination of their skills and gifts was always explosive in terms of the church's growth, but you could be certain that most of the drama would transpire on Wednesday nights. It was surprising: even though Lonnie had the gravitas of looking just like everybody's mental picture of Jesus, he was a slender, physically unimposing person who didn't read well and often mispronounced words. But Lonnie had a power that was more than the sum of his parts. When he spoke or taught, kids would stand up all over the packed chapel to receive Christ. [120-121]
Much to your credit, you were right about it being "hard to overestimate" Lonnie's influence." At least you admitted here that he was one of the laborers in the field of Calvary Chapel's early exponential growth, back during his first tenure there, in the years from 1968 to 1971. For a long time, most CC leadership wouldn't readily acknowledge this, and their public consensus about the matter hovered somewhere around Lonnie being a historical footnote of minor consequence. Furthermore, you also said that "Lonnie had a power," although you didn't exactly explain what this power was or where it originated. I think you should have been able to do so, because a few pages later, speaking in the third person about yourself, you said this:
Greg eventually did get more comfortable sharing his faith, as his track record as a crusade evangelist makes pretty clear. But he realized, from his very first nervous sharing of the gospel, it is not the skill or eloquence of the evangelist but the power of the Holy Spirit that opens people's hearts to recognize the truth of the gospel and yield their lives to Jesus. [126] [emphasis mine]
It is strange that you didn't seem to realize that what you had said here about yourself on page 126 could have been connected to Lonnie Frisbee as well. For during his short time on Earth, the Lord also called Lonnie to be an evangelist (like yourself) and equipped him for the fields where He sent him — for example, South Africa, or the 1980 Mother's Day revival at the erstwhile Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda. The Holy Spirit provided the power in Lonnie's "slender, physically unimposing" clay jar. I think that the same truths that apply to you, also applied to Lonnie as well.

Supposedly they don't make the difference, but when it came to "skill or eloquence," you said that Lonnie "often mispronounced words." What were you niggling about here? Lonnie had his particular unpolished style of communicating, which was sometimes a little theatrical and sometimes wildly humorous. Whatever faults his style might have had, nothing in the recordings that still exist of him preaching indicated to me that Lonnie had a special problem with pronunciation. You yourself can stumble too sometimes (we all do), as seen on page 160, where the book recounted a funny incident where you mangled a particular verse in the Bible into "quenching all the diary farts of the wicked one." Furthermore, I have asked other people who have heard Lonnie preach, and they don't recollect that he had a particular problem with pronouncing words. And he seemed able to read out loud the King James Version, written in the English of the year 1611, about as well as anyone else can.

However, on the very same page 121, you proceeded to depreciate Lonnie's "hard to overestimate" influence by adding the following:
Then, after the chapel services, Lonnie would have follow-up "afterglow" meetings in a side room. He'd dim the lights and preside over extended times of singing and prayer. Then he'd begin to call things out about kids who were in the room.

"There's someone here who has a problem with his neck," he'd say from the front. People would be standing, swaying, and then someone would say, "Yes! That's me!" That person would come to the front, Lonnie would pray for him or her, and usually the hurting person would swoon to the floor. People were lined up in a row to catch those who fell.

For Greg, this was all new, just like the experience of even being in church was new. He noticed that if Chuck Smith was around, Lonnie was more reined in. But if Chuck wasn't there, Lonnie would focus more on getting people to pray in unintelligible languages or to fall down in the front of the church. Lonnie told him it was called "being slain in the Spirit."

Greg reasoned that God could, of course, do anything He wanted. Ever the observer, though, he also saw that people could get a bit hooked on emotions and psychological suggestion, looking for a certain thrilling experience over and over. He felt more centered when Chuck was in charge, teaching everybody straight from the Bible. [121]
Oh my goodness, what's this crazy "afterglow" stuff? Yikes! The lights were getting dimmed! Egads! People were "swaying" and "swooning" and "falling down in front of the church" and talking in "unintelligible languages"! Oh noes! They're getting "slain" and "hooked"! This sounds like Lonnie was a sneaky scapegrace who easily manipulated others to do his bidding. And his influence, alluded to earlier, must have included some tricky psychological inveiglement or sly hypnotism that Lonnie utilized to lure weak-minded people into talking gibble-gabble and doing crazy things, unless pastor Chuck Smith happened to come around to stop the insanity.

If there is a more polite and kinder way to describe what you did here on page 121, someone please tell me what it is, for I cannot imagine how to say it other than your book was not telling the whole truth about the situation. Consequently, because critical background information has been left out, the reader will likely misconstrue what Lonnie was doing, get the completely wrong idea, and mistakenly conclude that he must have been a shifty hippie and crazy, loose cannon at Calvary Chapel. What other conclusion did you expect the reader to draw?

In other words, I think that you have chosen in your book to ignore or forget certain important facts about Calvary Chapel, those that I outlined for you in the memorandum given in my previous letter. Here they would have been especially important for the reader to know in order to properly understand what the "afterglow" meetings were really about. As it is written now, the book is hardly better than counter-informative propaganda, for it does not provide an adequate explanation about why, for example, people in the afterglow meetings were speaking in "unintelligible languages." And because your book has left out this essential contextual information, the readers can only suppose — going by what's on page 121 — that Lonnie Frisbee was engaging in some kind of cult-leaderish-snake-handling jiggery-pokery. Or is this your actual opinion about him and precisely what you wanted the readers to believe?

On the other hand, suppose that somehow the readers had been made aware of the items in my memorandum, especially item #9. In this case, they would have developed an entirely different perception of the events. At a minimum, they would have asked, "why does Greg have a problem with what Lonnie was doing if Greg himself also conducted afterglow meetings?" Do you see what I mean? Context is everything. Your book subtly slanted things and twisted the perspective by controlling the context — in this case, the absence of context by not divulging all the pertinent facts behind the picture being depicted of Lonnie Frisbee.

It's very sad to say but what I have pointed out so far is really not the worst of it — your book said other things about Lonnie Frisbee that are mangled. And sometimes I was taken aback because of how deviously mangled they are. My wife became so disturbed by what you had written about him that she couldn't finish reading the book. And why did it bother us so much? Well, because it seemed pretty obvious that you were subtly revising parts of history to suit your own agenda and in the process Lonnie was given a knife between the ribs, so to speak. Your book has been boosted by hefty amounts of promotion and advertising, and it will therefore likely become by default the "official version" of events — and for Lonnie, the final nail in his coffin — but it seemed to me that an injustice was being done, and so I had to speak up and say something because he was being depicted in a unfair manner.

Greg, really, you ought to have done better.

Sincerely yours,
Revenant from a Bygone Era