Greg's Blog

Jesus Revolution: Fact or Fiction?

by Greg Laurie on Mar 7, 2023

Many people have wondered how much of Jesus Revolution actually happened in real life. The truth may surprise you! While some of the events of the film were condensed, altered, or rearranged for the sake of storytelling, most of what you see on screen is based in true-to-life happenings.

The Characters in the Story

Let’s start with the characters in the story. In my opinion, each of the actors was very well cast. Of course, Joel Courtney, who plays me in the film, is more handsome than I ever was, but I’m not complaining. Here are some side-by-side photos of the characters with their real-life counterparts:

Was the Jesus Revolution a Real Christian Revival? Or Was it Hyped Up for the Big Screen?

In the film, Greg asks whether the spiritual things he was seeing and experiencing were real, afraid that they were going to dry up and leave him unsatisfied like so many other things that had let him down in life.

In both the film and in real life, the Jesus Revolution proved to be a true and lasting revival—a movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of thousands. At the epicenter of the movement was Chuck Smith’s church, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, because Chuck was bold enough to welcome in hippies like Lonnie Frisbee and feed them God’s Word. His church, which had been dwindling in attendance, exploded with new members of all ages to the point where Chuck had to rent a giant tent to contain all of the people who were coming to hear God’s words of life. The ripple effect of lives changed traveled throughout Southern California and far beyond. Many of the young men and women who came to know Christ in those days later began their own churches and ministries, perpetuating the effects of the Jesus Movement for decades.

Did Lonnie Frisbee Really Lead Me to Faith?

Yes, he did. I was going to school at Harbor High, and one day at lunchtime, I found myself on the outskirts of an outdoor meeting of the Jesus Freaks, as people called them. The Christians at the school had gathered together to sing and talk about God. I sat and I watched them, and I had to admit they appeared pretty happy. They looked to me like they had something that was real. I knew they weren’t doing drugs because I knew a couple of them. While I was watching from a safe distance, I tried a new thought on for size. “What if these Christians are right? What if this is all true?”

Then Lonnie Frisbee stood up. He wasn’t a student. He was from off campus. And he was a hippie from head to toe. As he stood up to speak, my first impression was, “Well, this dude looks just like Jesus.” He started speaking and there was a winsomeness, a down-to-earth quality about Lonnie, and a humor that really drew me in. I was riveted by what he had to say.

One statement that he made really hit home for me. He said, “Jesus said, ‘You’re either for Me or against Me.” Then Lonnie invited kids to walk forward and pray and accept Christ. This was on the front lawn of a high school campus at lunchtime. And sure enough, a few kids got up and walked forward. I thought, “Wow, I could never do that.” But the next thing I knew, I was there. I had walked forward, and was praying a prayer with Lonnie.

That was the day that Christ came into my life. That was the day that I passed from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God.

The Jesus Revolution film sort of portrays the day of my baptism as the time when I made my decision, and that was certainly an important event for me spiritually, but that day on my high school campus was the day that Christ came to take residence in my heart and life. And it was through a preacher named Lonnie Frisbee.

Was Chuck Smith Really Against Hippies at One Time?

Yes. Chuck really didn’t want anything to do with them because he thought, “These kids need to get a job. They need to get a haircut.” Or as Kelsey Grammer says in the film, “What they need is a bath.” But Chuck’s wife, Kay, had a heart for these kids and wanted to see them reached with the gospel.

In fact, I didn’t realize this until much later, but Kay used to pray for a group of kids that would walk in front of her house every day. As it turns out, I was one of those kids. We used to go over to my friend’s house, who lived right around the corner from where Chuck and Kay lived. I was not aware of the Smiths at the time, but it turns out Kay was praying for me before we ever even met.

Just like in the film, Chuck and Kay’s daughter brought home a hippie. It wasn’t Lonnie Frisbee, like in the movie. It was a man named John Higgins. But John introduced the Smiths to Lonnie, and Chuck’s perspective about hippies quickly changed as a result.

Did Cathe and I Have a Big Argument, Like in the Movie?

Absolutely. In fact, we had several major disagreements. We broke up and got back together three different times in our dating days, saying things like, “I never want to talk to you again.” I’ve written all the details of our relationship in this post: Greg & Cathe: A Hippie Love Story.

Did Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee Really Part Ways?

Yes, just as depicted in the film, Lonnie went to Florida after his time at Calvary Chapel, while Chuck stayed and continued his study and proclamation of the Bible. I’ve written all about Lonnie’s life here: The Long Strange Trip of Lonnie Frisbee.

Do You Really Think That a Similar Jesus Revolution Could Happen Again?

I really do think it’s time for another Jesus Revolution. Not long before Chuck Smith passed away in 2013, I was able to sit down with him and talk about some things. One of the questions I asked him was whether he thought we would ever see another Jesus Movement.

“I don’t know, Greg,” he said. “I don’t know if we are desperate enough.”

Like the Prodigal Son who had to hit rock bottom before realizing his sin and turning back to his father, a sense of desperation is often the catalyst that is needed for repentance. When we’ve tried everything else and nothing satisfies, we finally become open to listening to what God has to say. And that’s when He can really get to work.

In the almost 10 years that have elapsed since I asked Chuck that question, I would say that the desperation level of our nation—and the world—has increased dramatically. The similarities between the hippie generation of yesterday and lost generations of today are many.  I am praying that we will experience at least one more great awakening before the return of Christ.

What Else You Should Know

The Jon Erwin/Brent McCorkle directed film was created to encourage a lost world to turn to Christ, using the story of a true movement.

It tells of a young Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) being raised by his struggling mother, Charlene (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) in the 1970s. Laurie and a sea of young people descend on sunny Southern California to redefine truth through all means of liberation. Inadvertently, Laurie meets Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), a charismatic hippie-street-preacher, and Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), who have thrown open the doors of Smith’s languishing church to a stream of wandering youth.

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