David Ayers

Jesus Revolution Presents a Relevant Revival

What we see is the genesis of an unplanned spiritual juggernaut that ultimately swept the country and led to the evangelical conversion of millions, including many outside the hippy subculture from which it sprang. This movement was rooted in the plain, unadorned teachings of the Bible and emphasized turning away from sin to uncompromising faith in, submission to, and relationship with Jesus Christ. Its original foot soldiers — often living in communal households, reeking of patchouli oil, and wearing beads and bell bottoms — walked the beaches, boardwalks, and streets of Southern California passing out tracts and inviting people to religious worship, evangelistic services, Bible studies, coffee houses, and baptisms.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared at The American Spectator.
On Thursday, February 23, the two-week-long, nonstop religious revival at tiny Asbury University in rural Wilmore, Kentucky saw its official end. Starting with about 20 students who stayed after a regular campus chapel service, tens of thousands had been drawn from across the country in that short span to participate in almost radically simple prayer, singing, and worship. By then, this “awakening” was reported to have spread to several other religious colleges.
In what even the most religiously cynical person must admit is a surprising coincidence, Jesus Revolution — a film exploring the genesis of the Jesus Movement that began among drugged-out hippies in the late 1960s in California and rapidly spread nationally and even internationally — hit the theaters the very next day. It has already quadrupled original box office expectations, grossing almost $33 million in slightly under two weeks. Not bad for a small-budget independent film with only one big-name actor.
Jesus Revolution focuses on the remarkable transformation of the life and ministry of conservative pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), his unlikely partnership with hippy evangelist Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus in The Chosen), and the salvation of Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) from the “sex, drugs and rock & roll” lifestyle. Laurie, who now pastors a Southern Baptist megachurch, co-authored the book that inspired this movie.
What we see is the genesis of an unplanned spiritual juggernaut that ultimately swept the country and led to the evangelical conversion of millions, including many outside the hippy subculture from which it sprang. This movement was rooted in the plain, unadorned teachings of the Bible and emphasized turning away from sin to uncompromising faith in, submission to, and relationship with Jesus Christ. Its original foot soldiers — often living in communal households, reeking of patchouli oil, and wearing beads and bell bottoms — walked the beaches, boardwalks, and streets of Southern California passing out tracts and inviting people to religious worship, evangelistic services, Bible studies, coffee houses, and baptisms.
This movement jumped over boundaries of race, denomination, political ideology, lifestyle preferences, and social class to unite millions in a common faith as it expanded and, at times, exploded old forms of worship — not to mention that it gave us what we now think of as contemporary Christian music.
This startling evangelical revolution, which focused heavily on disaffected young people destroying themselves in the vain pursuit of liberation and authenticity, emerged in a nation that was deeply divided over everything. The cultural fabric had been seriously weakened by other revolutions, such as sexual, divorce, and the New Left. Intractable conflicts over race and civil rights, feminism, busing, and integration played out on the streets. Headlines regularly highlighted the depredations of violent groups like the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Black Panthers.
Campuses convulsed with protests, culminating in the accidental shooting of four by National Guardsmen at Kent State in 1970, which is memorialized in Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s famous song. In full color, Americans watched young men die in a war that most people had come to doubt we would win. Draft cards were being burned, and thousands of young men fled to Canada. Millions of young people were on drugs, which kept penetrating schools at younger levels. Terrible urban riots marked too many “long, hot summers.” The worst were those following the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, which one commentator called “the greatest wave of social unrest since the Civil War.” This came on the heels of over 150 race riots the summer before.
The world seemed to be constantly on the brink of nuclear disaster and was certainly marked by tensions ever-ready to boil over, including the omnipresent Cold War and the expansion of Communism. At the end of the decade, the lunar landing brought Americans together and gave us a much-needed shot of national pride — but not much and not for long.
What would have happened to America but for the Jesus Revolution?
As Josiah (DeVon Franklin), a Time journalist covering the movement, says in the film: “Our country is a dark and divided place, but now there’s hope. And it’s spreading.”
Many historians, including one of my atheist professors in graduate school, argued that the evangelical movement in England in the 1700s had prevented disaster in the face of serious social decline, inoculating it against the curse of the French Revolution. Scholars could make an equally compelling argument for the impact of the Jesus Revolution.
Millions of people were desperate because of the conditions of their own lives or the realistic fears they harbored about their children, families, society, and world. Suddenly, in the midst of their hopelessness, unlikely people were aggressively reaching out to lost and troubled youth and young adults with a saving message expressed in a language they understood.
Untrained newbies barely established in the Christian life themselves worked alongside seasoned believers to share hard truths with lost people. Then, they did whatever it took to help them live out these truths when and if they made the decision to turn from the paths they were on.
Folks on all sides who came together over Jesus had to overcome deeply engrained prejudices, animosities, traditions, and habits. A lot of lives were turned upside down as the walls came down — not instantly or easily, but steadily and surely. This was a new kind of “radical” for a period worn out by radicalism: radical grace, radical forgiveness, radical love, and radical obedience to the plain text of the Bible.
Jesus Revolution does an excellent job portraying all this without schmaltz or gimmicks. I lived through these times and came to Christ myself through the ministry of mostly ex-hippy art students living together in “covenant households.” Watching this film, I found myself reaching for the hanky — not just because of what I was seeing but because of what I was remembering. An old friend and former bandmate of mine told me that he and his wife had the same experience. We know where we would have been but for the Jesus Movement. Before seeing the movie, it seemed odd to me that Kelsey Grammer, a guy about the same age as I am, kept choking up in interviews about this film. It does not seem odd to me now.
Were there serious problems in this movement? Of course, and the film addresses obvious ones: theatrics, an unhealthy obsession with miracles and the spectacular, and too many gifted but untested leaders. Inadequately prepared potential leaders were given too much responsibility too soon, and some fell prey to their own egos and the adulation of admirers, as is evident in the breakdown of Lonnie Frisbee and his relationship with Chuck Smith.
Not addressed in the film was the role of “end times” speculation fueled by events in the Middle East. Students of biblical prophecy in the Jesus Movement interpreted these events to signal an imminent Second Coming, exemplified by the wildly popular 1970 Hal Lindsey book, The Late Great Planet Earth. And in the rush to, as they often said, “make sure there were new wineskins for the new wine” (Mark 2:22; Matthew 9:17), traditional forms of worship and classic hymns were discarded too quickly and thoughtlessly.
Yet millions “saved” through this movement persevered through these difficulties, made corrections, learned, and moved on in the faith. We already see that dynamic in the film in the early stages of the remarkable biography of Greg Laurie, who ultimately became intimately connected with Billy Graham, a powerful senior statesman of evangelicalism who thankfully embraced and supported the Jesus Movement without ignoring its foibles.
So why is this film such an unlikely success? There are no simple answers to questions like this, but I would like to hazard one, which I think is also connected to the remarkable phenomena that just unfolded in rural Kentucky: Jesus Revolution speaks to our nation at a time at least as, if not more, divided, hopeless, and troubled than the era of Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison.
Drug epidemics and overdoses rage, penetrating every racial group and social class, while suicides, mental illnesses, and sexual and gender confusion among young people climb. Social media makes us sicker and more divided as people retreat to echo chambers when they are not shouting, denouncing, or “canceling” those with whom they disagree. Educational institutions are increasingly Orwellian ideological training centers rather than places dedicated to communicating true knowledge and literacy. Young people are abandoning religion — not for atheism but for vague personal spirituality that is little more than repackaged ancient paganism. Elites in and out of government keep lying to and manipulating us. We cannot trust our FBI or intelligence services, and now even the venerable CDC has betrayed us.
Trust in our major social institutions has hit new lows, and rightly so. Urban race riots returned with a vengeance in 2020, along with now-chronic violence in cities where woke politicians are no longer able to put public safety ahead of ideology and businesses cannot protect the wares on their shelves from shoplifters and flash mobs.
The international scene looks less stable and more dangerous than it appeared 50 years ago. Will China invade Taiwan? Will Putin or Kim Jong-un launch nukes? Will the brutal invasion of Ukraine draw us into World War III? The reservoirs of strength available to us half of a century ago, which Nixon accurately called “the silent majority” in 1969, are grossly depleted. Our brokenness extends across the political, ideological, and cultural spectrum.
For many of us baby boomers influenced by the Jesus Movement, the hope we felt through our first “born again” president — and then on through the Reagan years and beyond — is now replaced by disappointment, cynicism, and fear. Those of younger generations vacillate between focusing on personal material welfare, comfort, and safety and getting caught up in social justice causes and tribal identities with simplistic views of reality rooted more in slogans and emotions than facts and logic. Historically low marriage and birth rates in our nation are poignant evidence of young people allergic to commitment — but perhaps even more just paralyzed by fear, mistrust, and lack of confidence about the future. At least hippies were searching for “truth”; millennials and beyond increasingly do not believe it exists anywhere beyond their own preferences.
While political and cultural engagement is more vital than ever, no political or cultural fix we can engineer is likely to turn things around. Increasingly, many Americans are coming to believe that, if our civilization is to survive — if Baby Boomers and their children are going to have any hope in a good society for themselves and their progeny — the answer must come from outside of us, from above.
Our hope is not in ballot boxes, lobbying, marches, or media campaigns, important as they are. But the answer will be found on our knees and in face-to-face faith communities across denominations and churches renewed, revitalized, and refreshed by God himself doing for us what we cannot hope to do for ourselves.
Are Jesus Revolution, the overwhelmingly positive public response to it, and events like these recent religious awakenings positive harbingers of a fresh spiritual revitalization of America? Are we in the darkness before a glorious new dawn? Whether you are a person of faith or not, you should hope so. Because if this does not happen — and soon — well, God help us.
Dr. David J. Ayers is the Fellow for Marriage and Family with the Institute for Faith & Freedom. His latest book is “Christian Marriage: A Comprehensive Introduction.” This article is used with permission.

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What’s Happening to Young Evangelical Women?

The sexual arena has become deeply contested and perverted in modern culture because Satan himself knows that by striking at this—by stirring up sexual confusion, apostasy, and disobedience—he is undermining a vital element of human life and thus bringing devastation on the human race and God’s people. 

We have grown accustomed to a great deal of concern over the recent trajectory of males, particularly boys and young men. These concerns are well-founded. Addiction to porn and video games, the lack of fathers modeling positive masculinity in the face of high divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates, and lower levels of academic achievement for men are all well documented. So are men’s higher levels of suicide, substance abuse, crime, and delinquency.
However, there are frightening trends among females that deserve our attention as well. Nowhere is this clearer—at least for conservative Christian believers concerned with transmitting a sound, biblical sexual ethic to the next generation—than in matters related to beliefs about sexuality and sexual practice. Here especially we often assume that females are at least doing better than males, even while recognizing decline among both. Yet overall, this is not true, and in a handful of important ways women are doing worse. Regardless, there are serious problems among religious females. Those charged with providing moral direction for young believers, including not only parents and Christian school teachers but also pastors and youth workers, need to pay more attention to what is happening among young Christian women.
Allow me to set forth a sampling of facts from my own, recently published work on sexual activity and beliefs, focusing on professed Evangelicals: the largest conservative wing of Protestantism.1 I do this not to scandalize or humiliate, but to inform.
First, let’s take a look at behaviors. As I set forth in my just-released Against the Revolution: Sex and the Single Evangelical (Lexham Press, 2022), in the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), a huge survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of evangelical girls ages 15 to 17 admitted to having had sexual intercourse. This compares to 22 percent of evangelical males of that age. By ages 23 to 32, 83 percent of both unmarried evangelical males and females had engaged in sex.2 Among all evangelical women, regardless of marital status, who had ever had sexual intercourse, 9 percent had begun by age 13, 18 percent by age 14, and 33 percent by age 15.3 To be sure, on this last point, males didn’t do much better (or surprisingly, worse). However, considering the greater risks this activity poses to women, especially at these ages, this should be a matter of great concern not only spiritually, but practically.4
Same-sex sexual relations among evangelical women are quite concerning, and dramatically more common among them than among evangelical males. As I documented recently in the pages of this publication, 17 percent of evangelical women ages 15 to 44 in the most recent NSFG admitted to having had sexual relations with another female, up from 13 percent only about six years earlier. For those 23 to 32, at least one in five had. Male percentages had changed little and stood at about 5 percent. Meanwhile, while evangelical males 15 to 44 were more a bit more likely to identify as homosexual or gay (1.7 versus 1.1 percent), evangelical females were much more likely to identify as bisexual (1.4 versus 4.6 percent). Combining these, we see that at least 5.7 percent of these evangelical females claimed something other than a heterosexual orientation, compared to 3.1 percent of the males.5
With regard to sexual beliefs regarding heterosexual sex outside of marriage, the moral drift among young evangelicals is alarming, but do not show clear gender differences. The vast majority of professed evangelical older teens and younger adults no longer believe that consensual heterosexual sex outside of marriage is always morally wrong.6
The NSFG provides a detailed look at the degree to which evangelical teens and young adults believe that same-sex sexual relations are morally wrong.7 55 percent of females either thought that “sexual relations between two adults of the same sex” were “alright,” or took a middle or agnostic position on the issue. This compares to 46 percent of males holding similar positions on this issue. Moreover, while both genders have become much more liberal on gay sex since the NSFG first started tracking this in their 2006 through 2010 cycle8 (among evangelicals, 22 percent of males and 28 percent of females approved of same-sex relations in that period), females have consistently been more likely to be so. The gap between the sexes on this for the five NSFG surveys conducted between 2006-10 and 2017-19 had been as high as 14, and never lower than 6, percentage points.
But this is nothing compared to what we see among the youngest groups of evangelicals on this issue. In the latest NSFG, 70 percent of females ages 15 to 17, and 63 percent of those 18 to 22, refused to say that gay sex was immoral. This compares to 45 and 50 percent among males, respectively. In every age group I examined between 15 and 49 years of age except those 23 to 27 and 43 to 49, females were more likely to hold the liberal view. And it was only among the last group of evangelical women that a majority of females held a conservative position (62 percent rejecting the idea that gay sex is alright, versus 57 percent for males).
A decisive majority of young evangelical females reject the biblical teaching that same-sex relations are sinful. Yet I see few evangelical leaders speaking about this, and little being done directly to fix it.
Overall, as both my aforementioned book and article underscore, sexual orthodoxy in belief and practice is much higher among those evangelicals who show higher levels of commitment to their faith. For example, those who attend church more regularly, and rate their faith of greater importance in guiding their daily lives, do markedly better.
However, this makes the gender breakdowns we are seeing—both where the views of the sexes are about the same and especially where the females are more liberal—more puzzling. After all, women are generally more religiously active and committed than men. For example, in the last NSFG, among evangelicals 15 to 49 overall, females were significantly more likely than males to attend church at least weekly. Although it is not as different or statistically significant, this pattern continued to be true among younger believers 15 to 22. And for both those 15 to 49 overall, and for those 15 to 22, evangelical females are much more likely than males to consider their faith to be very important to their daily lives, and much less likely to consider it unimportant.
We can confidently say that on any sexual area where evangelical females are more liberal or sexually active than males, gender differences are not due to women being less religiously committed. Quite the contrary.
Moreover, even when we look only at those who claim to be more religiously committed, evangelical females are not doing that well. For example, in the most recent NSFG, among those who claim to attend church once a week or more, an incredible 14 percent of those 15 to 17 have already had sex with another female, then 11 percent at ages 18 to 22, 8 percent for those 23 to 27, then up to 12 percent at ages 28 to 32 and an astounding 16 percent for those 33 to 37. As for sexual intercourse among the unmarried, among evangelical females who attend church at least weekly, 37 percent have done so by ages 15 to 17, and well over half of those 18 to 22 and 23 to 27, respectively. Among those who are still unmarried by ages 28 to 32, and 33 to 37, the percentages are 88 and 97, respectively. How well are evangelical pastors grasping, much less responding to, these kinds of statistics among their regular church-going young people and singles?
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Homosexual Acceptance Among Evangelicals

There is much we can do to see that believers are grounded in biblical teaching on sex as they face contrary messages and confusion, not just out there “in the world,” but in too many churches and other ostensibly evangelical Christian settings. Overall, our sexual teaching and practice must be embedded within a rich tapestry of sound theology, not treated as a separate area. However, there is a desperate need to equip believers, young and old, with sound, focused biblical teaching on homosexuality, directed at the various lies and justifications that too many are currently assaulting God’s people with.

The last several decades have brought profound shifts in beliefs and practices about sexuality among Evangelical Protestants. These changes are abundantly evident in major national surveys. I have also experienced them on the “front lines” as an evangelical college professor teaching relevant topics in marriage and family classes since about 1987. When I began my academic career, traditional Christian teachings on sexuality were embraced by the majority of my evangelical students even if they often struggled, as I did, to live up to them. That no longer appears to be the case. In fact, these days, defending biblical sexual ethics in my Family class sometimes get me “pinged” as a “bigot” even by avowedly evangelical students.
This is surprising among people supposedly committed to the most conservative forms of Protestantism, who claim to base their doctrines and lifestyles upon the clear teachings of the Bible, and to live under the Lordship of Christ. After all, the simple biblical teaching that all sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman is sinful is hardly secret or subtle. Orthodox Christianity in all major branches has never seriously questioned this. And yet, among younger people especially, it has been quite a few years since biblical beliefs and practices have been the norm among evangelicals.
With regard to beliefs and practices pertaining to heterosexual sexual activity outside of marriage among religious youth, Mark Regnerus’s Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion In the Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: 2007), though a bit dated now, is a fine introduction to this admittedly distressing topic. Within the last few years, I have documented these grim realities among professing evangelicals across a broad range of ages. I have done this in material presented through the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), large portions of my book Christian Marriage: A Comprehensive Introduction (Lexham Press: 2019), research on epidemic levels of cohabitation outside of wedlock among evangelicals published in the April 2021 issue of Christianity Today and in the IFS. And my soon-to-be released After the Revolution: Sex and the Single Evangelical (Lexham Press: 2022), delves into this topic in great detail. In it, I deal with a range of sexual practices and beliefs among evangelicals, comparing them to other religious groups and to those of no religious affiliation, using hard facts, comprehensive explanations, and church-based solutions grounded in Scripture and social science.
However, other than some statistical material in an article mainly focused on Roman Catholics I did for Crisis Magazine in May 2021, I have not tackled the issue of homosexual beliefs and practices among evangelicals in any depth. My reasoning for focusing far more on heterosexual sins among evangelicals is simple: it is a much bigger problem in the church. Moreover, churches, parents and young people that think that heterosexual sex outside of marriage is acceptable, or at least turn a blind eye to it, are not in any position to uphold biblical teachings on homosexuality. To accept the one while rejecting the other is hypocrisy that should and will be tossed back into our faces. When we cave on the one, we quickly retreat from orthodoxy on the other. We must deal with first things first. But now, here, I would like to look at beliefs about same-sex sexual relations, as well as practice and sexual orientation, among professing evangelicals.1
Here, I have categorized religious groups using a standard approach called RELTRAD. This uses denominational affiliation, separating those in evangelical Protestant denominations from those who are “Mainline” or in historically Black, Protestant churches. No approach is perfect, including RELTRAD. There are certainly unsaved, uncommitted people tied to evangelical denominations, and there are some fine Bible-believing, born-again Christians affiliated with mainline churches. But it is an adequate description for those people being served by evangelical pastors and leaders, magazines, universities, charitable institutions, and so on. 2
My modest goal in this article is to provide an adequate description. An article that details the plethora of causal forces, explores the thinking of those who claim to be both faithful followers of Christ and morally accepting of homosexuality, and sets forth some possible solutions, is beyond what I can do here. However, let me note that I do tackle those issues in After the Revolution: Sex and the Single Evangelical, and in the main, most of the forces, thought patterns, and solutions I address there seem to hold in confronting error in belief, confusion, and sinful practices in the area of homosexuality as well.
Let’s see what we can learn from these highly respected national surveys.
Beliefs About Same-Sex Sexual Relationships
That homosexual sexual activity could be viewed as morally acceptable by a significant portion of evangelicals, much less an emerging majority of them, is nothing short of astounding. Personal justifications for this position are thin if not ludicrous, but I do not have space to address them here.3 Suffice it to say that I am not surprised to find people in denominations that have long ago jettisoned a high view of Scripture finding ways to approve of homosexual practice. However, part of the very definition of “Evangelical Protestant” is the belief in the Bible’s ultimate authority in matters of doctrine and action—Sola Scriptura.
Nevertheless, the GSS documents a startling movement towards increasing moral acceptance of homosexual sex among evangelicals. Figures 1a and 1b below show the percentages agreeing that “sexual relations between two adults of the same sex” are “always wrong,” versus “not wrong at all,” among respondents from different religious groups.4
Figure 1a: Percentages Indicating That “Sexual Relations Between Two Adults of the Same Sex” Are “Always Wrong.” GSS, 1977–2018, by Religious Group
Figure 1b: Percentages Indicating That “Sexual Relations Between Two Adults of the Same Sex” Are “Not Wrong at All.” GSS, 1977–2018, by Religious Group

Although evangelicals are generally less accepting of homosexuality than other groups (with the exception of Black Protestants), the percentages affirming that homosexuality is “always wrong” have clearly declined, while those saying it is “not wrong at all” have increased dramatically. Moreover, this includes all ages from 18 through the very old. The picture changes a lot when we compare age groups. As Figure 2 shows, younger evangelicals are much more liberal. In fact, recently most of those 18 to 29 did not think homosexual relations were “always wrong,” and 4 in 10 said they were “not wrong at all.”
Figure 2: Percentages of Evangelicals Indicating That “Sexual Relations Between Two Adults of the Same Sex” Are “Always Wrong” versus “Not Wrong at All.” GSS, 1977–2018, by Age Group

On the other hand, we must consider degrees of religious commitment. One major element of this is attendance at weekly worship. As Figure 3 shows, in the GSS, differences in moral beliefs about homosexual activity among evangelicals differs dramatically by church attendance. Even so, among those who attend weekly or more, over 10 percent said this activity was “not wrong at all.” Among even those who do so one to three times per month, only about half said it was “always wrong.” It is distressing how bad things are even among those who are pretty regular in their attendance habits.
Figure 3: Percentages of Evangelicals Indicating That “Sexual Relations Between Two Adults of the Same Sex” Are “Always Wrong” versus “Not Wrong at All.” GSS, 2016 + 2018 Only, by Church Attendance

The NSFG enables us to focus on younger evangelicals in more detail. It also lets us explore not only the role of church attendance, but another key measure of religious commitment—how important religion is in their daily lives.
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