Saturday, January 05, 2019

Letter to Greg Laurie

Regarding His Book Jesus Revolution

Dear Greg,

This letter will cover the some of my notes regarding your new book, Jesus Revolution, and I am going to rain on your parade a little. You can consider this a book review. 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 back in 1967 when he was up in Tahquitz Canyon that crucial day 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 you 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 you made in the first paragraph: "and a nice tab of LSD". Greg, 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, Greg, so who is the source of your 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 were you over-embellishing your facts, possibly because you no longer 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. Greg, just how much of a friend of Lonnie's were you anyway? I have to 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, Greg, but this poisonous little insertion of yours leads the reader to this ineluctable conclusion. This 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 comes to Lonnie Frisbee, the cuts get a little deeper as the pages turn. However, I can't cover every instance in my notes, Greg, because I don't want to write a whole book on the subject, and I have confined myself in this letter to a few salient examples. Greg, you did managed to get some things right, but you also got some things very wrong.
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]
I have to say that, much to your credit, Greg, 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 explosive growth, back during Lonnie's first tenure there, 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 around Lonnie being a historical footnote of minor consequence. Furthermore, Greg, you also said that "Lonnie had a power," although you didn't explain exactly what this power was or where it originated. 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 applied to Lonnie Frisbee as well. For during his short time on Earth, the Lord also called Lonnie to be an evangelist (like yourself). And He also equipped Lonnie for the task, for the fields where He sent him, and His Holy Spirit also provided the power, in his slender, unimposing "clay jar." I think that the same truths that apply to you, Greg, also applied to Lonnie as well.

When it comes to "skill or eloquence," you said that Lonnie "often mispronounced words." What were you niggling about here? I have listened to the few recordings that still exist of Lonnie preaching. He had his particular style of communicating, which was sometimes a little theatrical, sometimes wildly humorous, but nothing suggested to me that Lonnie had a special problem with pronunciation. Greg, you yourself can stumble too sometimes (we all do), as seen on page 160, where you 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 others 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 about as well as anyone else can.

But to continue, on the very same page 121, you next turned around and proceeded to denigrate 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, Greg, what's this crazy "afterglow" stuff? Egads! The lights were getting dimmed! Yikes! 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," which you alluded to earlier, must have included some tricky psychological inveiglement or sly hypnotism, which Lonnie utilized to lure weak-minded people into doing crazy things, unless pastor Chuck Smith happened to come around to stop his insanity.

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

Greg, I think that you have chosen in your book to ignore or forget certain important facts about Calvary Chapel that the reader needs to know and ought to have been told. If they mattered back then, they matter now. Though it is strange to imagine that you would need to be reminded of something you should already know, let's pretend, rhetorically speaking, that I could somehow get past your bodyguard detail, get about 48 seconds of your time, and address you directly face-to-face. What do you think I should say? Maybe I could say something like the following:
¶ Hello, Greg, you probably don't remember me. I was just another face in the crowd, but I was there back when you were still at All Saints, which you called the "stone church" in your new book. My wife goes back to when Lonnie was still holding meetings at All Saints, before you came around and took over the scene. We were there when you finally moved the church to its Arlington Avenue location, and took over the bombed out shell of a building that you bought from the Baptists (with a little help from Chuck). We were there in the Riverside Municipal Auditorium and Raincross Square as well. We remember when Keith Ritter was still the senior pastor, and Duane Crumb, Bob Probert, and Fred Farley were still around. Greg, I know you are very busy, but please bear with me, because my wife and I might might know a few things — kind of like witnesses.
¶ I think there are several items that would be very important to know, which somehow you neglected in your new book to tell the readers. I have listed them in this memorandum. Could you please take a couple of minutes to study it? I tried to keep this as brief as possible and included a concise meme. By the way, I did buy and read your new book. It was interesting to say the least.…
To: Greg Laurie
Re: Jesus Revolution
  1. Calvary Chapel started out as a charismatic church.
  2. Calvary Chapel taught the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" as a distinct experience.
  3. Calvary Chapel taught the "gifts" of the Spirit. These charismatic gifts are supernatural in origin and not merely amplified natural human abilities.
  4. Calvary Chapel also taught that one of the evidences of having received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was "speaking in tongues" or "prophecy" or one of the other gifts mentioned in the Bible. (See 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12.)
  5. The afterglow meetings were also called "believer's meetings". Their purpose was for worship and to pray for people who were already believers to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, often by laying on of hands.
  6. The afterglow meetings were also intended as the place for believers to exercise the gifts, such as speaking in tongues or prophecy or healing or interpretation of tongues.
  7. The afterglow meetings were entirely authorized, and their purpose announced.
  8. Because Calvary Chapel, at that time, was a charismatic church, it should not be surprising that Lonnie Frisbee and others would have been doing charismatic things. (See items #6 and #7.)
  9. Greg, you yourself also conducted afterglow meetings back at All Saints. (We know this because my wife and I were there in those meetings.)
  10. Even after the move to the Arlington Avenue location, afterglow meetings would still be conducted at least for several more years. (See item #7)
  11. "…when the divine is poured into the human, we can expect human beings to act in unusual ways." You said truly, more than you know, on page 243. Sometimes legs can get wobbly. There could be thrills. And tongues can sound like "unintelligible languages," which is why the gift of interpretation is needed. Don't you remember?

What do you think, Greg? Do you like the meme? Can you come up with a better memorandum to describe what actually happened? Or are you claiming that none of it is true?

By the way, Greg, here is a odd coincidence: It so happened that several years before you acquired that "bombed out shell of a building" on Arlington Avenue, I went there one Sunday with a friend when it was still a Baptist church. I guess by now that building has been so thoroughly remodeled that it can be debated whether it exists anymore, rather like  Plutarch's Ship of Theseus. Another hard-to-believe coincidence is that, years ago, my wife was once acquainted with your wife's sisters, who get mentioned in the book. They probably would still remember her if they met her again.

Greg, I have read your book, Jesus Revolution, three times. Maybe I need to read it again a fourth time, but I don't recollect anywhere in your book where you bothered to explain to the readers any of the points in my memorandum. In this respect, because it is an incomplete picture, your book is little better than counter-informative propaganda. As it is written now, it provides no adequate clues about why, for example, people in the afterglow meetings were speaking in "unintelligible languages." And because your book left out essential contextual information about Calvary Chapel, the readers can only suppose — going by what's on page 121, for example — that Lonnie Frisbee must have been engaging in cult-leaderish jiggery-pokery. It would be hard to blame them for thinking this.

On the other hand, Greg, suppose that somehow the readers had been made aware of the items in my memorandum, especially #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 afterglows?" Do you see what I mean, Greg? 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. How was this not what you intended to accomplish?

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, Greg, because it seemed pretty obvious that you were "revising" parts of history to suit your own agenda and in the process Lonnie was given a knife between the ribs, so to speak. And because your book will probably become by default the "official version of events" — and for Lonnie, the final nail in his coffin — I had to speak up and say something, no matter how stumbling and clumsy, because it felt like an injustice was being done, that he was being depicted in an unfair manner. Furthermore, the items in my memorandum counted as something back then, supposedly. What are you now trying to tell us, Greg? That none of it ever mattered? Are parts of my life and my wife's and what we remember being nullified as well? That it was all nothing?

Before I sign off on this letter, Greg, let me conclude by theorizing a little about what your book was trying to accomplish.…

Greg Laurie wanted to market a new book that would serve to keep him in the spotlight as one of America's leading stadium evangelists — following in the footsteps of Billy Graham — and what better way to do this than one that extols what happened 50 years ago at Calvary Chapel as the premier model to follow for starting a big revival in America. And to showcase Greg as a shining example of the model's enduring success, he would be the main focal point of the book's storyline, with other primary characters being pastor Chuck Smith, Greg's wife Cathe, and other members of Greg's family. Because over the years a nostalgic and hazy romanticism has grown up around the Jesus Movement, a new book on this subject would likely draw much attention, and the resulting media buzz could potentially be utilized for promoting various evangelical initiatives by Greg's Harvest ministry. Furthermore, the Calvary Chapel formula for success, presented as tidy, rational, and easy-to-digest, would of course be based on pastor Chuck Smith's standard prescriptions, primarily "expository Bible preaching" as the secret sauce that made the revival work — this was a theme often repeated throughout the book. Nothing in the formula will be unpalatable to today's evangelical leaders because the book would repeat much of what they already think.

However, there was one big problem: The Jesus Movement revival had some indecorous stuff down in the crawl space — because back then, 50 years ago, Calvary Chapel was once an actively charismatic church, somewhat of the Foursquare flavor, although this aspect would later change over the years — much like how the Ship of Theseus gradually changed, its timbers being pulled out and replaced one at a time. Nonetheless, any "history" fully disclosing the charismatic side that existed back then probably would have been an embarrassment to an evangelical audience and to Greg's evangelical peers, especially the ones who are cessationists — maybe Greg himself would have been embarrassed — and more so if any hint or suggestion were made in the book that the charismatic aspect might have been a integral part of the revival. However, the book easily solved this problem by sweeping the issue under the rug and simply not mentioning the relevant facts, such as those outlined in my memorandum. And who is going to raise an objection to this omission? Who even cares anymore? A sanitized version of the Jesus Movement would be presented instead, one that is more acceptable to a mainstream market. The Baker Publishing Group probably wouldn't fuss too much about this; for them it was only important to have a marketable book on a glamorous subject by a celebrity megachurch pastor, which is always a safe and profitable bet as far as the publishing business goes nowadays. Welcome to the "Evangelical Industrial Complex."

The only ticklish problem that remained was what to do about that pesky, charismatic Lonnie Frisbee, for there was no feasible way to completely leave him out of the picture. But the book handily took care of this by keeping Lonnie in the storyline but at the same time using every opportunity to suggest that he was an erratic and unstable personality — an aberration, who ended up being a pathetic failure, shrunken, dying in a hospice somewhere. There was indeed a certain ingenuity in constructing the narrative this way, because Lonnie could then be used as a foil to draw a sharp and dramatic contrast with those who are the real and abiding heroes of the Jesus Revolution book, its towering pillars of solid stability and lasting success: pastor Chuck Smith, and Chuck's most exemplary protégé, Greg Laurie, of course.

Greg, I have come to the end of this letter. Your new book is getting plenty of five star reviews, and there is already a movie in the works — success rebuts any fool's argument, I suppose. This review may be the only negative one your book will ever receive. On the other hand, I did like the book's jacket cover. I noticed on the decorated hippie VW van, depicted on the cover, there was a drawing of your famous cartoon "Ben" character. So I have asked Ben and his trusty friend Stickman to put in a good word.

Sincerely yours,
Revenant from a Bygone Era