Friday, May 5, 2023

Big George Foreman Delivers a Knock-Out Punch 

At its heart, Big George Foreman is a hard-hitting film about miracles and the proper response to them. That God worked directly in the life of heavyweight champion George Foreman, his family, his career, and his subsequent ministry in response, is the theme that becomes central in this account. Why did God do this so dramatically? The film suggests that God honored the prayers that flowed from the steadfast faithfulness of George Foreman’s sacrificing, hard-working, completely devout Christian mother. That fervent prayers of thoroughly faithful parents are honored by God is a constant biblical theme. Consider the faithfulness of Hannah and its result. Hannah, a barren woman, struggling with her opponent, a second wife, promised God that, if God would give her a child, she would dedicate this child to God’s service. When God granted her request, she fulfilled her promise. God was so pleased with this faithful parent that she was then granted three more sons and two daughters and the son she gave back to God became the great Judge Samuel (1 Sam. 2:21), who is honored for his faithfulness to God in the book of Hebrews 11:32-33.

Similarly, George Foreman’s mother dedicated her firstborn son to God. Rebellious George fought her constant reminders he was dedicated to God until he was unable to deny that God was alive and at work in his family because of his mother’s steadfast faith. This is the pulsing heart of the movie.

The story of his life unfolds in the boxing ring. George Foreman accomplished a feat that no one else before him ever succeeded in doing. His response to God’s undeniable miracle in his family led him to leave boxing and become a pastor. When the money he earned disappears through the misdealing of a trusted friend and he and his ministry are left facing bankruptcy, he feels forced to turn back to the career he promised all he had left behind. Way bigger now than he should be and in his late 30s – which sounds suicidal for a boxer to stage a comeback – he feels compelled to return to the ring to reopen his youth center and preserve his church. In short, his is a remarkable tale based on a true story of a warrior who would not give up.

A Sony film from its subsidiary the Culver, California-based Affirm Films, thanks to whom we have been blessed with such wonderful movies as Paul: Apostle of Christ, Risen, Mom’s Night Out and so many others, Big George Foreman is again an excellent production. Astute direction by George Tillman Jr., who co-wrote the screenplay with Frank Baldwin in an adaptation of George Foreman’s remarkable life done with Dan Gordon, deft production by David Zelon, with executive production by George Foreman himself in collaboration with Peter Guber, Wendy Williams, Henry Holmes, and superb acting by Khris Davis, in the lead role, Sonja Sohn, as his faithful mother, veteran Oscar winner Forest Whitaker as his mentor, and a team of actors, everyone of whom delivers a stellar performance, makes this a finely crafted film that is not to be missed.

On opening night at our AMC, all but a handful of wise viewers were missing this movie,[1] although, I am told, the church groups did pack the theaters on Saturday night in some towns. Some may have hesitated because this is, after all, a film about boxing and, yes, it contains “some sports violence” as its PG13 rating tag admits. Consciousness-raised Christians do deplore the gratuitous depiction of cinematic violence (we ourselves have come to avoid R-rated movies), and I honor this reservation. As a rule, I tend to honor positions held by people I know who have integrity and, as Aída and I have been long-term friends of Ron and Arbutus Sider, I honor pacifism. But I myself have always preferred a Just War position in this fallen world. I see the pacifism of Jesus and, of course, I think that Christians should emulate that when we are challenged on our faith. But I also see that Cornelius was never chastised for being a soldier (Acts 10), nor was the officer whose servant was healed by Jesus (Matt. 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-19). And Israel went regularly to war in the Old Testament, with some of these wars being honored and aided by God. The clearest evidence of that truth, of course, can be seen during the time when Israel was a theocracy. Few Christians, if any, live in one today that is ruled directly by the God of the Bible. Further, nowhere in the Bible are we ordered not to enlist in the military in order to defend our nation and our homes. Jesus appears to tell his disciples to buy swords in Luke 22:36, but later stops Peter from using his sword to defend him (John 18:10-11; see also Matt. 26:50-54; Mark 14:46-49; Luke 22:49-53).

My experience as a small child no doubt affected my persuasion of position. Born in the wake of WWII and reared during the Korean War, I was taught that struggle and conflict are to be assumed in a fallen world. These were introduced to me, among other ways, by sporting events. I watched baseball with my mom, wrestling with my grandmom, and boxing with my dad. My family, still reeling from my sister’s untimely death, followed closely by my dad’s serious accident, interlaced with a series of miscarriages and, I believe, a stillborn (whom my mom once referred to as “Bob”), kept its lone surviving child, me, close at hand. My mom would iron on her days off from work (clothes, sheets, socks, everything) and in baseball season she’d look over the ironing board and comment on the games. My grandmom kept a score sheet of every bout, especially the matches between Killer Kowalski, the quintessential villain, and Bruno Sammartino, everybody’s favorite hero (she often muttering, “Ol’ Bruno’s gonna fix ‘im!”). My dad was the strong, silent type and I’d sit on his lap and watch these athletes skillfully pound away at each other. I had understood from my father that this was an ancient sport, but I had no idea just how far back in time it went.

The Encyclopedia Britannica notes boxing became an Olympic sport in 688BC, with its depictions appearing in Sumerian artifacts from 3000BC, Minoan Crete (c. 1500BC), Thebes in Egypt (c.1350BC), and elsewhere, revealing “contestants represented all social classes.” Boxing was also given rules by the ancient Greeks (like no clinching, or hitting opponents after they held up a finger that they’d had enough). [2] Even the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 compares himself to a boxer (puktuō) not just beating (derō) air (our word is a cognate, adapted from the Greek aēr), so he’s picturing a pugilist hitting something or someone, in his case his own body to toughen it up for the sport, which he uses as his analogy for spiritual training and discipline.[3]

As for our contemporary sports’ heroes, they don’t always last long, often being shooting stars, flashing across the diamond or the ring, or finally fading in their forties if they made it that long. For someone to go out of the ring in their mid-twenties and then ten years later stage a successful comeback to become, at this writing, the oldest heavyweight boxer to win the title at age 45 and hold it until age 48 is a remarkable accomplishment.[4]

As Aida and I reflected on all of this, I realized once again that motion pictures are driven by conflict. A film where everyone gets along and there is no conflict from the weather, the boss, the family, a disease or accident, a treacherous mountain, an invading force, a strong opponent, discrimination and prejudice, or whatever disturbs one’s progress forward, is usually ruled out as a boring movie.

This film is not boring. The story moves along a trajectory that allows viewers to inhabit sets of scenes that depict each phase of the protagonist’s life in which he grows until seething anger is replaced by heartfelt mission and forgiveness replaces vengeance as his modus operandi.

We are often told that sports are character-building. Winning is a reward for industry and does not need to be achieved at the expense of fair play or a reliance on cruelty. This film convincingly portrays that ideal as workable.

The explanation that George Foreman gives to all about the changes he experiences is that Jesus has come and has entered him. Jesus does that by responding to an invitation first given by his mother and then by himself to take up residence in his life. Affirm Films has invited Jesus to take up residence in this film and, rather than muting this great sports story, Jesus’s presence hyper-spaces it.

My simple definition for art that I have shared with students when I’ve taught the course “Theology and the Arts” here at Gordon-Conwell is that art is fine craft that points to something significant beyond itself. This film, in my definition, is art.



[1] Ted Bahr has told me the difference between a film and a movie is that a movie is made primarily to make money. This film is so much more than that, but I hope this one makes much money for Sony and Affirm so that they will make more Christian films of its caliber.


[3] The NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 1873, note to 9:24-27explains that Paul is alluding to the Isthmian games, in which boxing was included, and wherein “the prizes in these games were perishable wreaths.”

[4] For an impressive list of the “Oldest Professional Boxers in the World,” see at

Friday, April 28, 2023

Inheriting a Treasure: A Trustworthy Bible

  When I was young, we visited Volendam in the Netherlands. In the above picture, here I am with my family, my father from the Netherlands, my mother from Puerto Rico. I am the very little girl who looked so authentically Dutch that a tourist asked my mother whether she could borrow the Dutch girl for her pictures, to which my mother, outraged, replied, “That is my daughter!”

Volendam in the north of Netherlands was known for its traditional Dutch outfits. I had not realized until recently that Erasmus came from the Netherlands, as well. He came from Rotterdam, which lies south of Volendam, near a river that leads to the coast. Desiderius Erasmus, who published the first Greek New Testament in 1516, has an inspiring story.  He was trained by a lay religious movement, the Brethren of the Common Life, that emphasized the need to read Scripture in the native language of the people.[1] Erasmus was dedicated to publishing an accurate Bible as the base for these translations, because he believed: “If you dedicate yourself entirely to the study of the Scriptures, if you meditate day and night on the law of the Lord, you will have no fear, day or night, but you will be protected and trained against any attack of the enemy.”[2] He was asked by a famous book publisher, Johann Froben, to work on the New Testament with him so that Christians around the world would have the original words as written by the New Testament writers. But Froben pushed Erasmus to hurry so that they could beat the publication of the Spanish Complutensian Polyglot Bible (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin) by Francisco Ximenes. Erasmus felt that his volume was “precipitated rather than edited” because of the rush.[3] Because of the hurry, Erasmus did not find as many early Greek manuscripts as he wished he could have. For the Book of Revelation, he found only one Greek manuscript dating from the twelfth century! To his chagrin, the last six verses of Revelation were missing. So Erasmus translated the Latin Vulgate into Greek, instead of delaying the publication. This inadequate reading is still perpetuated in printings of the Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament, from which the King James Version was made in 1611 and Luther’s German translation. Erasmus’s New Testament edition rests upon six Greek manuscripts, the oldest from the tenth century. Both the current Greek New Testaments (the 28th and 5th editions) are based on more than 5735 (in 2003) manuscripts[4] and Revelation is based on 29 Greek manuscripts with 14 of them earlier than the tenth century (dating from the second [p88], third [p10, p115], fourth [p24, Codex Sinaiticus, 0169, 1217], fifth [codices A, C, 0163], sixth [p43], and eighth [0229] centuries. The important Codex Sinaiticus was in Mount Sinai during Erasmus’ time, but was not discovered by Europeans until 1844 by Friedrich Constantin von Tischendorf.[5]   

Erasmus did not allow his Greek New Testament to include the Trinitarian statement in 1 John 5:7-8 concerning “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth.” These words may still be found in our King James Version. They are wonderful words. However, they were not written by the Apostle John. Erasmus is reported to have promised his contemporaries that he would include these verses if ever found in Greek. In response, the very first Greek version of these words appears to have been manufactured in 1520 by a Franciscan friar who translated these words from a late Latin Vulgate. Erasmus did add the verses to a later third edition, but he remained suspicious of their origin. Probably they entered a later Latin translation as a marginal commentary, since they had not appeared in the Latin Vulgate before AD 800, way after Jerome’s own Latin translation (c. 382).

While Erasmus’ Greek text came to be called “the text now received by all” in 1633 or the “Textus Receptus”[6] and while the Latin translation was a good text, God has enabled Christians to find even better Greek manuscripts through the years. The further away we are from the New Testament events, the more Greek manuscripts we are discovering!

What did I learn from my compatriot Erasmus’ own example? How devout and earnest he was to find and edit and publish the genuine New Testament, and to stand for what he thought was right, nevertheless, even he could be pushed too much, to accept what he knew was not right. God’s original revelation has no errors because God is true (John 3:33b) and God’s words are “trustworthy and true” (Rev 21:5; 22:6). We humans also need to stand for the truth as best we can and resist pressure that leads to untruth, while appreciating men and women like Erasmus who have fought to promote a reliable Bible for us to use, study, and apply to our lives.

I am so grateful to God for scholars like Erasmus, who himself learned Greek in order to bring together a Greek New Testament so people could read God’s word in the original language. And I am so blessed to have grown up with my Dutch Huguenot heritage. The Huguenots like Erasmus disseminated and studied the Bible. And, following in their heritage, I am delighted to invest my life in studying and teaching the word of God. I realize this is the great treasure I have inherited.


Erasmus drawn by Albert Dűrer in 1526. The letters read “a better portrait his writings show” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (

[1] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, vol. 2 (Peabody: Prince, 2004), 95.

[2] The Handbook of the Christian Soldier: Enchiridion militis christiani, trans. by Charles Fantazzi (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), 33,, downloaded 17 April 2023.

[3] My appreciation for the account of Erasmus from Bruce Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 138-48.

[4] Metzger and Ehrman, Text, 50.

[5] Metzger and Ehrman, Text, 62-65, 172.

[6] Metzger and Ehrman, Text, 152.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

When “Who’s in Charge Here” Is a Lethal Question


Musicians in Costa Maya, Mexico (, picture is by Aída Besançon Spencer 2/27/2023.

We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with a cruise from Miami to several Central American countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize. While on the cruise, we learned of the Mayan civilizations that lived in Mesoamerica before the Spaniards arrived. One Mayan leader, Rigoberta Menchú, helped, with others,[1] to end a 36-year war (ending in 1996) between the Guatemalan government and the Mayan guerrilla opposition. She won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her peacemaking efforts.[2] She helped negotiate the return of Mayan land and Mayan rights and respect. Now Guatemala has at least 30% pure Mayans (41% indigenous people).[3] The resultant sharing of power and benefits between the Spanish descendants and Mayan descendants are a model to all of us, including us Christians, in our churches and institutions. How is that?

We learn from the New Testament that all we believers are living stones being built into a spiritual house in order to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, our spiritual living cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-6). In a priesthood of all believers, everyone deserves respect, power, recognition, and space to exercise each one’s spiritual gifts (1 Peter 4:8-11).

We do not always appreciate the practical importance and application of the concept of the priesthood belonging to all. Sadly, the ancient Mayan culture did not have the concept of a priesthood belonging to all. As priests we Christians serve as intermediaries between people on this earth and the living God through Jesus, who is God, our one and only high priest, taking our concerns to God.[4]

As we visited the ancient sites of Quirigua, Guatemala and Chacchoben, Mexico, we learned that at these sites and elsewhere in A.D. 250-900 (and earlier) a religious and educational elite of around 1% of the population chose the occupations for all. The elite themselves inherited their roles and status. The elite were engineers, astronomers, as well as priests who lived together but separate from the poor in special elevated housing. The elite promised favor to the peasants from the 68 deities, if the elite’s control and rulership of society were accepted. They were intermediaries between the underworld and the higher spiritual world. At Quirigua, the ruling king was pictured on stelae (limestone structures) as intermediaries. At Chacchoben, we can still see Mayan trees where the roots symbolize the underworld and the branches symbolize the spiritual higher world.  But around A.D. 950, a great drought came upon Mesoamerica and the peasants became disgruntled with the structure where the majority served like slaves for the minority. It is hypothesized by archaeologists that the peasants felt driven to revolt and to destroy the elite royals, who had not succeeded in providing them fertile grounds with abundant food.  When the elite died, who could then read their marvelous calendars[5] and books? The unempowered peasants were not literate. That is the lethal underside of a stratified culture where an elite provide certain benefits to an oppressed majority. When the benefits do not come through, the elite are blamed; there is no community responsibility. But, no human or humans can fully guarantee happiness or accuracy in prognosis for their underlings.

When James and John tried to set up special future benefits for themselves from Jesus, the remaining ten apostles were angry. As a consequence, Jesus explained that they were all acting like the “Gentiles” or nonbelievers who have rulers who “lord it over them” and these “great ones tyrannize them.” Instead, great Christian leaders should serve as slaves of all, as Jesus did (Mark 10:41-45). Possibly the Mayan elite thought they were serving all, therefore they deserved special benefits, but, as soon as others saw them as tyrants and failures, their hierarchical and stratified society collapsed and the privileged lost their privileges and their lives. Within 500 years their civilization collapsed.

Now, over 30-40% of Guatemalans are evangelical Christians. Lonely Planet notes (in 2016), “The number of new evangelical churches in some towns and villages, especially indigenous Mayo villages, is astonishing.”[6] And, what the elite could not accomplish, the Holy Spirit accomplished many years later (1974-75), creating from the ground enormous vegetables in Almolonga, Guatemala that did bless many and astonish the world.[7]

Who recognizes God’s spiritual gifts? All followers of Christ must be involved so that all take responsibility for successes and failures. We know that no spiritual gift is greater than any other (1 Corinthians 13:4-30). It is the triune God who appoints, gives, arranges, and activates (1 Corinthians 12:4-30) and no elite group in the church should control the recognition and acceptance of spiritual gifts.

Who’s in charge here? Who can be our intermediary to God? The answer for Christians is all of us by means of the triune God.


[1] In 1996, Álvaro Enrique Arzú Irigoyen of the Pártido de Avanzada Nacional (PAN) and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Party (URNG=4 guerilla organizations) signed a peace accord (Steve Fallon, Bridget Gleeson, Paul Harding, and John Hecht, Central America on a Shoestring, 9th ed. [China: Lonely Planet Publications, Oct. 2016], 215).

[2] “Santo Tomas,” Currents (Feb. 24, 2023): 1. Rigoberta was a Quiché Maya and an advocate for indigenous people throughout Latin America. Thanks also to the helpful informative tour guides, Fernando and Alvaro.

[3] Fallon, et al., Central America on a Shoestring, 217, 718.

[4] Jesus died on human behalf to save us, while each of us humans pray for ourself and others to the triune God. Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14; 5:5-10; 6:20; 7:25-8:2; 9:11-15; 10:19-21.

[5] These Mayans had 3 calendars: the solar calendar with 19 months (365 days), a lunar calendar with 13 months (260 days), and a cycle of life calendar of 52 years.

[6] Fallon, et al., Central America on a Shoestring, 218.

[7] Mell Winger discusses the radical transformation of the city now “marked by family harmony, prosperity, and peace in the Holy Spirit,” compared to its earlier poverty, alcoholism, and devotion to the demonic idol Maxirnon. Mell Winger, “Almolonga, the Miracle City,” Renewal Journal (11 May 2012), Stephen R. Sywulka, “The Selling of ‘Miracle City’” (April 5, 1999) observes that residents of Almolonga should avoid the prosperity gospel and maintain humility (

Sunday, March 5, 2023

The Jesus Revolution Film “Tells It Like It – Was…”

 image from Lionsgate:

Youth, adults, and families may find themselves unsettled but encouraged by the Jesus Revolution’s positive retelling of Jesus pouring out the Holy Spirit during the time of the Jesus movement as he did at Pentecost (Acts 2:2, 33). “A true story of revival JESUS REVOLUTION was based on the real-life revival of the 1960s and ‘70s, featuring Pastor Chuck Smith (Kelsey Grammer), Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney), Cathe Laurie (Anna Grace Barlow), and others. It was a time of great social upheaval; a time in which many American—especially young people—were no longer willing to swallow conventional ‘churchianity.’ They longed for what was true, real, and transformational, but had been searching in all the wrong places—much like this generation” (” [1]With these modest urgings, Harvest Christian Fellowship, a church in Riverside, California, introduces what has become an important, and in some quarters controversial, chronicle of its long-time pastor Greg Laurie’s experience in the Jesus Movement.

For ourselves, we liked this film. We were both deeply involved in the east-coast Jesus Movement. From 1966 on, we were active in various ministries: street ministry, coffeehouse ministry, and even a Jesus band, writing our own songs, because, being east-coast, we didn’t hear any others playing Jesus music except what we were all writing ourselves. The first generally released Jesus songs to which we were exposed would not be for several years after we had already had a burgeoning set of our own originals filling our play list.[2] We may have known about Chuck Girard as part of the Castells of “Sacred” and “This is Love” or heard about his brief stay in the Hondells, but we’d never heard of Love Song, featured in the movie, and wouldn’t until songs from the eponymous 1972 Love Song album began to filter into our youth groups. In short, in 1966, we didn’t know anything was happening in California – and wouldn’t –until copies of The Hollywood Free Paper and Christian World Liberation Front’s Right On began to be hand out among us from travelers from the far west. All we knew was the Holy Spirit was moving in our hearts.

But we did experience the exuberance we see in this film. The mass feeling of community and bonhomie looks real to us, because it was real. In New Jersey, we may not have seen the mass fervor that the movie depicts was seen in California, but, Bill remembers, at the end of a concert we played, youth massing the front of the stage to catch Bibles we had been given by well-wishers as Bill tossed them into the crowd. The Holy Spirit, like the wind, blew everywhere. Dan Malachuk in 1967 set up Logos, the charismatic publisher (now Bridge Publishing, Inc.) in the back of his Plainfield, New Jersey, jewelry store, where Bill’s dad used to bring the family watches to be restored. Dan would give us copies of Nicky Cruz’s Run Baby Run and Merlin Carother’s Prison to Praise, which we distributed to our zealous college students when we were college chaplains, still playing in the next version of our band. Therefore, if we’re asked, was the acting too idealized and the crowds too big? No. We saw our east-coast version of that, and, though our weather in the winter limited the kind of outdoor baptisms, et al., California’s coast allowed, we still found our two coffee houses flooded with youth, one at First Presbyterian Church of Dunellen and the other in St. John’s Lutheran Church in Newark, both in New Jersey. And most exciting was not just the eager youth who came in to see what the excitement was all about, but at the center of our Dunellen coffee-house was prayer and Bible study during these summer months that its Agape coffee house was open, because our staff was our high school kids. They prayed and studied and sat at each table in our large converted church basement, amidst the posters and flashing lights, sharing the good news of Jesus as well as serving up the iced tea (nobody wanted coffee in this “coffee house” in the hot New Jersey summer). So, yes, the movie fervor resonated with our experience; it appeared real as portrayed. 

Also real was the movie’s showing that even the most well-intended leaders could have their heads turned by the attention they received and could veer off the united mission. But refreshing was that this film did not center on the cultic fringe of the Jesus Movement where young and nubile innocents could be sexually exploited by cults like David “Moses” Berg’s Children of God (Berg supposedly received guidance from a spirit guide named Abrahim), or Dr. Victor Paul Wierwille, whose anti-trinitarian The Way International, allegedly sexually exploited its members, as reported by one member, Kristen Skedgell’s autobiographical account of her sexual abuse by Wierville: Losing the Way; A Memoir of Spiritual Longing, Manipulation, Abuse and Escape.[3]

Here we also underscore something else not emphasized in the film: a solid program of discipleship. In one sequence Pastor Chuck wonders if new high school graduate Greg is ready to take over an empty church pulpit, if he feels called. While no film is able to reveal everything that happens, we are not shown what kind of training the youth is receiving. The Old Testament is written in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. Norman Geisler would work with the leaders of Jesus People USA to veer them from heterodox ideas at their outset. As a result, Cornerstone Magazine featured exposé of a variety of divergent theologies to protect its members. Likewise, David Gill and his team set up New College, Berkeley, offering classes in Church History, Biblical Studies, Old Testament, Romans, Christianity and Marriage, and others. Under Brooks Alexander and his team Christian World Liberation Front’s Spiritual Counterfeits centered on protecting members from heterodoxy and Right On featured articles with sophisticated topics like the complete text of apologist Clark Pinnock’s debate with atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair (April 1975). In the film we do see a difference of opinion between Chuck and Lonnie on the use of healing gifts, but a glimpse of deeper training for new pastors for churches would have been helpful.[4]

Instead, Jesus Revolution, based on the actual reflections of a long-term, faithful pastor, deals with a sound Bible-believing church, and records how God can use authentic, flawed, but well-meaning people to do God’s will and bless many. Pastor Chuck Smith’s wife captures it well when Chuck is so distraught by his separation from team-member Lonnie, that his wife gently takes him in hand and asks him if he has become so arrogant that he thinks God can’t work through his failures. It’s a wonderful moment in the film and an encouragement to us all who want to please God and edify others but we can get derailed, filled with regrets at our missteps, and God can still use us. Why? She points out that the revival they are witnessing doesn’t belong to her husband, or his colleague, but it belongs to God. And, when God is at work, God can multiply our little efforts into a multitude of loaves and fishes.  

Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 60% rating and the reviews, as usual, are mixed. Interesting to note is that the majority of the more scathing criticisms appear to come from female critics rather than from the men (though there are some men who are put off by it). For the women, perhaps, part of the core of their negative reaction may be due understandably to the lack of leadership by women displayed in the film – a lack the film makers appear to attempt to ameliorate by including a guest sequence with famed charismatic evangelist/healer Kathryn Kuhlman (who died in 1976 before the Jesus Movement was considered over by some and she is well portrayed as looking fragile in the movie). Evangelist Kuhlman has a chance to say a few words and is treated as an honored guest.

However, for many facets of the movement, the top-heavy male leadership model was accurately portrayed. After all, viewers should bear in mind that the story is basically from the viewpoint of Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest. Even today the Harvest Community Fellowship church’s eighteen member pastoral staff is all male ( For Pastor Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel, according to reports: In accordance with Calvary's interpretation and understanding of the Bible (see 1 Timothy 3:2 and 1 Timothy 3:12), Calvary Chapel does not ordain women.”[5] As for Lonnie Frisbee, who died at the young age of 43,[6] he was active in the early years of the Association of Vineyard Churches, which “celebrate the call of women leaders in the body of Christ.” “Since the beginning of the Vineyard, women who aspired to church leadership were welcomed as prayer leaders, group leaders, and worship leaders.”[7] Since the film focused on Pastors Smith and Laurie’s on-going ministries, it reflected accurately the more male hierarchical complementarian position of their segment of the Jesus Movement.

Had the film been about Berkeley’s Christian World Liberation Front with women in leadership like Sharon Gallagher, editor of its printed voice, the newspaper Right On (which became Radix, or if the movie featured the Post American team out of Chicago, which formed the basis of Sojourners (now based in Washington, D.C.), we would have seen a more balanced view between the use of spiritual gifts by women as well as men. Noteworthy is CWLF’s Editor Gallagher writing an article for the Post-American, “The Second-Rate Rib” (August-Sept. issue, 1974), in which she deplores, “Women are kept out of status jobs by white male hierarchies, regardless of their training. Non-white men are kept out because they don’t have the opportunity to become as well qualified, in terms of education. Thus the importance of the repeated biblical injunctions to defend the stranger and the widow. The stranger today would be the non-white. The widow in the Bible was the only woman alone in a society where virtually every woman married at an early age. Thus the radicality of Paul in asserting that the highest aim in life for a woman was to serve the Lord (1 Cor 7:34)."[8] This use of her spiritual gifts she exemplified, as did the other women leaders in this part of the Jesus Movement.

Readers who want to supplement this other expression of the Jesus Revolution should read the brand-new chronicle of the Christian World Liberation Front, named aptly The Christian World Liberation Front: The Jesus Movement’s Model of Revival and Social Reform for the Postmodern Church. This book is built on primary source interviews with both female and male participants of CWLF put together by noted author Jeanne DeFazio, who previously chronicled CWLF’s guerilla theater in Berkeley Street Theatre: How Improvisation and Street Theater Emerged as a Christian Outreach to the Culture of the Time[9] a ministry in which she herself acted.

The women portrayed in Jesus Revolution were content to see their role as solely supportive of men and this is still viable in some of the complementarian churches today. In others, women have fuller ministries, some serving in a variety of ministries to women, some teaching children, some serving as deacons, or even assistant clergy in higher tradition churches. In egalitarian circles, women have complete access to all leadership positions.

This brings us to the early scene where some of Chuck Smith’s male parishioners walk out, and others don’t. Did that happen in the Jesus Movement? Yes. For instance, Bill’s folk rock band of Jesus music (e.g., “Our Rebel Lord”) was not allowed to repeat its performance at his fundamentalist home church although a band member’s nonChristian father had come to hear them. The youth pastor declared: “I never heard anything like this in Bible college!” The diaconal leaders agreed.[10]

Sometimes, too, it was even harder for women elevated to leadership. In our own experience, Aída and Bill were ordained together in 1973 by Elizabeth Presbytery of the PC(USA) at First Presbyterian Church of Dunellen, N.J. Shortly afterwards, we were invited to speak at a nearby independent church. The pastor was very supportive and we shared the pulpit one Sunday morning, each taking half of the sermon. After, as we greeted at the door, one elderly man stormed up and asked Bill why he would allow his wife, who the man identified as “under” Bill’s “covering,” to preach. The answer was: She had already earned a 3 year Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary (with a year in Philadelphia at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s campus there), was conversant with the Bible’s Greek and Hebrew text,[11] trained, and now ordained to preach by unanimous vote of Elizabeth Presbytery (ordination being the church’s official recognition of God’s calling), and was now working on her Masters of Theology degree. Unimpressed, this gentleman stalked out in a huff.

Does someone stalking out in a huff in Pastor Chuck Smith’s church because hippies are there seem real? Of course. At least our malcontent stayed to hear the whole sermon. A few years ago, we spoke in a seminary in Colombia. Several of the students were still today forbidden to be in a hall where a woman was teaching, despite the fact that Aída now has her PhD in New Testament studies from a Southern Baptist school and world-wide recognition for her high view of Scripture and the expertise the Holy Spirit has given her to interpret it. What did the students do, caught between pastor and professor? They exited the hall as the pastor told them to do (after opening the windows, so they could stand outside and lean in and thus not miss any of Aida’s lecture).[12]

What to center on in this film is the sweet fellowship that comes when the Holy Spirit is at work among the family of Christ, when brothers and sisters can dwell together in unity (Psalm 133:1) . We encourage everyone young and mature to see the Jesus Revolution, especially as we approach the celebration of Easter and Pentecost, April 9 and May 28. The drug scene, for example, was well done and harrowing enough that no thinking youth would want to waste their health on something that might end their life while nearly everyone sits giggling foolishly beside them. For the whole family, this is like seeing the book of Acts come alive. Was this film[13] fiction or is this fact? It happened and it can happen again, as we read in Acts 2, for as James the brother of Jesus tells us in James 4:8, if we draw near to God, God draws near to us. And, as this movie reveals, that’s when the miracles happen.

Bill and Aída

[1] A similar revival is now occurring at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky:

[2]The earliest we heard were by singers and groups like, Jonathan [Guest] and Charles’ Another Week to God [1968], Sons of Thunder’s Till the Whole World Knows [1968], Linda Rich’s There’s More to Living than I Know So Far [1969], Larry Norman’s Upon This Rock (1969). The pop hit, “Put Your Hand in the Hand” by Gene McLellan and performed by the Canadian group Ocean, would not appear until 1971. Campus Crusade for Christ’s Explo ’72 with its Jesus Sound Explosion album was still 3 years away from letting those of us who had to work and couldn’t attend learn about Love Song (whose album came out the same year), Randy Matthews, and some of the other Christian singers and bands. The Doobie Brothers’ (“doobie” being slang for a marijuana cigarette) “Jesus is Just Alright,” which was featured in the movie, was not released until 1972).

[3]Bay Tree Publishing, 2008. See also the website:

[4] Sometimes these unprepared pastors come later to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to receive the knowledge and skills they missed because they have been burned out in ministry.

[6] See Greg Laurie’s blog, “The Long Strange Life of Lonnie Frisbee” (Oct 21, 2022) at


[8] Sharon Gallagher, “Second-Rate Rib,” cited in William David Spencer, “Afterword,” in Jeanne DeFazio, The Christian World Liberation Front: The Jesus Movement’s Model of Revival and Social Reform for the Postmodern Church, House of Prisca and Aquila Series (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2022), 115-16.

[9] House of Prisca and Aquila Series (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2017).

[10] Listen to his recent CD entitled “Songs from the Cave, Ballads from the Papers.”;

[11] For Aida’s biblical defense of women called to ministry see Beyond the Curse (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985) and Christian Egalitarian Leadership: Empowering the Whole Church according to the Scriptures [co-editor W.D. Spencer] (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2020).

[12] The split between complementarian and egalitarian persuasions still exists, but we are not at war with each other. Christians for Biblical Equality, the egalitarian organization which we support and for which Bill served for a decade as editor of its journal, welcomes soft complementarians into its membership. A soft complementarian, Rev. Bill Iverson of Crosscounter Ministries married us, though we were already convinced egalitarians.

[13] For purists who separate movies (made to make money) and films (made for many purpose besides money), this picture appears primarily to be made to start another Jesus Revolution.  Maranatha, come Lord Jesus…