Chapter 1: Eve of Destruction

Part I


The babies born just after World War II came booming into the Sixties and nearly caused a national nervous breakdown. . . That decade ranks as one of the most convulsive periods of social ferment and change in American history.¹

How we ever made it through that decade is a mystery. The sixties were filled with major sociological problems, and one of the most perplexing was the generation gap. America's youth were exasperated with the materialistic living of their elders, the very lifestyle for which the parents had toiled and struggled so much to give to their children.

   In his book The Jesus Generation Billy Graham said, ''We came through the Depression and World War II. Hardship and death made us determined that our children would never have to go through another depression or another war. In pursuit of that goal, we chose the wrong means. Instead of turning to spiritual values, we turned to materialism.''² Graham added that two of the things which drove so many of the youth into radical fervor and revolutionary fever were ''the soulless materialism and the deification of technology in America.''³

   The youth reacted by throwing everything back into their parent's faces. They protested wars (''we're on the eve of destruction,'' one song announced), greediness, hypocrisy, pollution, bigotry, technology, and the Establishment in general. The noisy radicals, the ''stoned'' hippies, and the quiet flower children became the revolution.

   For the radicals, the solution was to destroy. ''Burn, baby, burn''

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was the call to arms. For the less aggressive hippies, the best way to handle everything that was going down was to ''get stoned'' and escape into the world of drugs. For the flower children, the desired world was one of peace, brotherhood, love, and understandinga sort of ''back to the basics'' attitude. Their ideals were admirable, but the youth lacked the knowledge of how to realistically live them out.

   Many of the youth of each type found themselves searching the teachings of scores of foreign and domestic, ancient and brand-new philosophies, religions, and sects. The youth were trying desperately to find answers which technology could not provide, and solutions which American Christianity had failed to convey to them.

   In his study of the generation gap, evangelist Billy Graham listed what he felt were the causes of the rift:

The natural rebellion of the human heart; the emptiness evident everywhere; the constant erosion and dehumanization of personality by a machine-oriented age; the lack of purpose and meaning; the tragic failure of our educational system which seems more and more to alienate the young and consequently anger their parents; the overriding social problems that have no foreseeable solutions; the failure of government to understand that the basic gut-level problems facing the nation are not materialistic and social but moral and spiritual.

   When it came to spiritual values, the young people were more disillusioned than ever. The motto ''In God We Trust'' seemed to them not a creed but a mockery. The youth were convinced that there must be a better way to do things.

   In their zeal to find meaning for their existence, however, the youth hastily concluded that it was ''thumbs down'' to all of Christianity. They failed to carry their investigations past the obvious mistakes and blunders of some of their Christian parents and the ''American'' style of Christianity. They failed to realize the source of the faith: Jesus Christ.

   Some church leaders saw the increasing friction and tried to alert the established church to the growing chasm between the youth and the establishment. Almost prophetically, author Dennis Benson warned in 1969: ''How long will it be before the silent Sunday morning army of youth realize what poor fare it has been fed and will turn away from the church?''

   Benson wasn't through. He warned further:

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Youth's orientation asks of the church ''How does it smell, feel, sound, or appear?'' No longer acceptable are answers such as, ''It must taste like communion wafers and grape juice; or it must smell like damp carpeting and moldy basements; or it must feel to the touch like glass beads; or it must sound like songs pitched too high for men to sing and phrased in language too quaint for this age; or it must appear only at a given time during the week in the dress of the ladies and gentlemen.''

   Not only were the youth growing tired of the hypocrisy in what they saw as Christianity, they were also discouraged by the lack of interest the established church was taking in spiritual matters. In 1971 Norman Vincent Peale admitted:

For years we watched a spiritual vacuum growing in our young people. All the signs were there: dissatisfaction with a materialistic and affluent society; impatience with old forms of worship; a groping for fulfillmentfirst in rock music, then in various kinds of mysticism, finally in drugs. The churches turned off emotionalism and pull all their chips on intellectualizing Christianity. Result: They priced themselves out of the youth market. We saw all this happening. But did we reach out eagerly and offer the seekers a solution they could accept in terms they could understand? I'm afraid many didn't.

   There were, fortunately, some youth who did not pass up the possibility that perhaps the trouble with America and American Christianity existed not in the faith's early foundations, but rather in the more recent waverings from ''gospel truth.'' These youth had the maturity to ''hang in'' with the Christian faith. Rather than break with the church entirely, they began their own movement outside of the church to relate teachings and lifestyles which they felt more closely paralleled the early church. They sought to ''get back to the Bible.''

   Thus, an ''underground church'' began again, as it had in catacombs and private dwellings centuries before. It had no organization; it consisted of individuals, sometimes thousands of miles apart, who had the same goals: communicating Christ to millions of stranded and confused young people caught in the middle of a generation gap, and instilling joy and excitement about true Christian living to

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the millions of churched young people who had grown tired of church life.

   In his book The Underground Church Edward Plowman, a noted historian on the Jesus movement, observed:

They are not flag-waving destructionists bent on overthrow; basically they seek spiritual renewal and satisfaction for themselves. They hope the wider Church will join their quest. I have found little bitterness among them and almost no inclination to mount a holy war of liberation against the formal church.

   The beginning of the Jesus movement in modern America has been traced back to 1967, when the Christian World Liberation Front opened the first Christian coffeehouse in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Haight-Ashbury was a gathering-ground for every imaginable type of dissident youth. A freckled street minister, ''Holy Hubert'' Lindsey, preached on the street corners of Berkeley, telling dissidents and derelicts alike about Jesus Christ.

   As Lindsey recounts it: ''In 1965, there were fifteen thousand rioting students at Berkeley. In 1966, they didn't have a riot at Berkeley. In 1967 we had a revival! We turned that revolution into revival!''

   By early 1968 another street preacher, Arthur Blessitt, was spending his Tuesday nights preaching to club-goers at Gazzarri's Hollywood-A-Go-Go on Sunset Strip. ''I kept going into Gazzarri's trying to witness to him and all the nightclub people,'' explains Blessitt. ''Finally one night he agreed to let me do a gospel rally. After that, it became a regular weekly thing, 10 to 12 each Tuesday.''

   Calvary Chapel, a small Orange Country church, was beginning to experience growing pains. The congregation was growing so rapidly that a large circus tent had to be raised to house the growing throngs of California youth and adults. Pastor Chuck Smith led his congregation with a special sensitivity for the young people.

   Before 1969 had passed, the increased activity of the Christian youth underground also included the publication of newspapers (called ''Jesus papers'') and their free distribution on street corners and on college and high school campuses. At Berkeley, Right On!, the pioneer Jesus paper, debuted as a Christian response to the radical underground Berkeley Barb. Twenty thousand copies were distributed. In Seattle Agape hit the streets. The Hollywood Free Paper, later to have the largest circulation of any of the papers, was

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started by former entertainer Duane Pederson in October 1969. In Spokane, Truth began publication.

   These papers made no secret that they were Jesus papers. They mainly consisted of testimonies, Bible studies, and comics relating gospel-oriented tales. Right On!, published from a more intellectual perspective, was devoted to attacking propaganda from radical non-Christian groups.

   All of the action wasn't in California, though. In the small berg of Freeville, New York, an ex-rock disk jockey from New York City, Scott Ross, was celebrating his discovery of Christ by broadcasting a radio show on five New York stations from Buffalo to Albany. Ross also founded ''Love Inn,'' an old barn which had been converted in more ways than one. The renovated barn became one of the earlier Christian communities of the Jesus movement.

   In West Palm Beach, Florida, the movement was gathering momentum under the auspices of the First Baptist Church. First Baptist had seen the early warning signs of restless youth. Fenton Moorhead, a professor at Palm Beach Atlantic College and specially appointed ''Minister to the Generation Gap,'' was stirring up the enthusiasm of Florida teens. Despite opposition from some church members and West Palm Beach citizens, the youth of the church as well as college students from all over the country were challenged to reach the estimated forty thousand hippies, radicals, flower children, and others who were to attend the 1969 West Palm Beach Rock Festival. The extravaganza featured Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, the Rolling Stones, and many other top rock performers. Arthur Blessitt led a special training session, and then the Christians descended on the festival. The result was an admirable witnessing effort. An estimated three thousand youth responded by becoming followers of Jesus Christ.

   There were plenty of other places where the Spirit was stirring, leading into a climatic decade of spiritual renewal: Dallas, Wichita, Palo Alto, even Waikiki.

   Like the waves of Waikiki, the expanse of the Jesus movement swelled. Sometimes through the efforts of earlier pioneers and sometimes through their own searching, the youth of the generation gap began studying the character of Jesus more closely than they had in decades. They found that Jesus Christ had taught the very things for which the youth of the twentieth century were striving.

   For these youth, the words of Christ spoken two thousand years ago could have been spoken just as well in the 1970s. Two thousand years ago Jesus said of love: ''This is my commandment, that ye love

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one another, as I have loved you.'' Of peace, Christ preached on the Mount of Olives. ''Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.'' On brotherhood, Jesus' advice was: ''Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.''

   More and more youth were rediscovering the classic words of Jesus of Nazareth. Norman Vincent Peale described it this way:

So what happened? A miracle, in a way. Without much leadership from anywhere, some of these young seekers groped and blundered and fought their way to an encounter with a Person so majestic, so appealing, so loving, so life-giving that the aching void in their lives was filled with a tremendous explosion of joy.

   Joy was the most noticeable attribute of the Jesus people. Even Time Magazine was impressed: ''What startles the outsider is the extraordinary sense of joy that they are able to communicate.'' Those outsiders, on the whole, welcomed the exuberance of the Jesus people.

   By 1971, the movement was going full steam and had drawn the attention of Time, Life, Look, CBS-TV, and NBC-TV. Even Rolling Stone, the bible of the antiestablishment youth underworld, reported:

This new-style fundamentalist revival has spread rapidly across the country. ''Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,'' say these mostly young, long-haired children in America: Middleclass teenagers from the suburbs, ex-drug addicts and acid cultists, blacks from big-city ghettos, and babyfaced veterans of Vietnam. All of them born-again Christians.


   That was reported in June 1971, several years before a man named Jimmy Carter would cause worldwide awareness of the term ''born-again.''

   Time magazine appeared to have a running commentary of God in American life on its covers. The April 8, 1966 issue of Time had sported a cover asking, ''Is God Dead?'' On the cover of the last issue of 1969, the question had been ''Is God Coming Back to Life?'' Then, in the same week as the 1971 Rolling Stone article on the Jesus movement, Time featured a modernistic cover printing of Jesus and ran a feature article on the ''Jesus revolution.'' Said Time:

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Jesus is alive and well 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.

   Time had answered its own questioning covers.

   Miracles come with just about any larger spiritual revival, and one of the miracles of the Jesus revolution was the penetration of its message into so many different types of lifestyles. The movement permeated all portions of the youth culture: Satanists, dropouts, rock musicians, flower children, cultists, athletes, students, and even the not-so-rebellious, but often apathetic ''straight'' youth. Jesus' teachings were as full of salvation for one type of person as for another.

   The common language of youth in the sixties and seventies assured rapid transmission of ''new'' ideas. It wasn't so much in the cute cliches of that era''feelin' groovy,'' ''right on,'' ''far out,'' and ''heavy''though these exclamations were very much a part of the Jesus movement. It was in the methods of communication. Among the youth, word of Christ was not spread to any great degree over the airwaves or in books, as was so common with many other ideologies or current ''fads.'' The method was ancientfrom one person to another. It was an amazing example of the power of ''word of mouth'' and street witnessing. The message was taken to the streets.

   As often as it was spoken, the message was sung. Just as the work of the Spirit knew no boundaries, neither did music. There may have been differences as to what style of music was preferred, but hardly a person did not relate in some way to music. And the people of the Jesus movement used music to its fullest advantage.

Chapter Two  ||  Table of Contents