Saturday, February 02, 2019

Revival Remarketed

A Book Review
Title: Jesus Revolution
Subtitle: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today
Authors: Greg Laurie & Ellen Vaughn

Greg Laurie wanted to market a new book which would help keep him in the spotlight as one of America's leading stadium evangelists — holding the mantle and following in the footsteps of Billy Graham — and what better than a book that extols the revival that happened 50 years ago at Calvary Chapel as the premier model to follow for starting a revival across America. As a shining example of the model's lasting success, Greg's own spiritual odyssey would be the main focal point of the book's storyline, with other primary characters being pastor Chuck Smith and Greg's wife Cathe (née Martin). Since a nostalgic and hazy romanticism has grown up over the years around the Jesus Movement that happened in Southern California, a new book on this subject by one of the movement's participants 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 orderly, rational, and easy-to-process, would of course be based on pastor Chuck Smith's tried-and-true prescriptions, primarily "expository Bible teaching" 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 leadership 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 at that time, 50 years ago, Calvary Chapel was an actively charismatic church, somewhat of a mellowed 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 component 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 I briefly outlined in a memorandum. And who is going to raise an objection to this omission? Who even cares anymore? A sanitized version of the Jesus Movement revival, with minimal glossolalia, would be presented instead and thus more acceptable to a mainstream market. The Baker Publishing Group probably wouldn't fuss too much about the verisimilitude; for them it was only important to have a salable book on a glamorous topic 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 artistic 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 enduring success: pastor Chuck Smith, and Chuck's most exemplary protégé, Greg Laurie, of course.

As books go, Jesus Revolution is an interesting and curious hodgepodge. Yes, for a backdrop, it does contains a thumbnail history of America in the 1960s and 1970s, and hippies and Calvary Chapel and pastor Chuck Smith — mainly for the benefit of the Millennials, who were born too late to know about this stuff. But the book was primarily intended to be a memoir about the lives of Greg Laurie and his wife Cathe, although it was told in the third person, which was an odd technique to use in a memoir. And though they are the book's primary characters — and the readers will sympathize with them — not all that much is revealed about them that hasn't already been made known publicly from other sources. One of the few surprising details disclosed in the book was pastor Chuck Smith's strong opposition to Greg's plan to expand his Harvest ministry by opening a campus in Orange county, which eventually landed in Irvine, California. However, pastor Chuck later acquiesced to Greg's decision, not long before dying from lung cancer in October of 2013. The book finishes up with the funeral of Chuck Smith, followed by three additional chapters of general sermonizing about revivals in America, which mostly reflects or amplifies the conventional, evangelical wisdom about the subject.

I think a more descriptive subtitle for the book could have been The Adventures of Greg and Cathe During The Jesus Movement and Beyond, and How You Too Can Have Explosive Success in Your Church Just Like Pastor Chuck Smith Did. The book didn't reach as far as becoming an earth-shattering literary work of stunning, heartbreaking genius, nor was it tiresome dreck. It was a fair, passable book, notwithstanding how it devaluated the charismatic side of Calvary Chapel and slanted the perspective regarding Lonnie Frisbee. And while it did not present any new and extraordinary ground-breaking insights that elucidate the nature of revivals, I nonetheless think that Greg Laurie sincerely wishes to see a revival happen again in America, which indeed sorely needs it. Writing books about revivals, however, doesn't start revivals — the power of God does, with signs and wonders following, mixed in with a heap of controversy. Despite my reservations, I would still recommend Greg's book, cautiously, and rate it at about two-and-a-quarter stars out of five.

Jesus Revolution has been out there since September of last year and is getting heavy-duty promotion and plenty five-star reviews — a movie version is already in the works — so I suppose it can be said that success rebuts any fool's clever argument. My book review may be the only one that is less than adulatory. 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 Greg's famous cartoon character "Ben B. Again." To end things on a lighter note, I wanted to ask Ben to come around and put in a good word, but unfortunately he wasn't available due to contractual obligations. Ben's older brother Ziggy and his trusty friend Inkman were kind enough to volunteer instead.