By: Oscar Merlo
Director of the Center for Holy Spirit Today. Biola University.

Six decades ago, America experienced a period of moral, political, and even spiritual turmoil very similar what many are experiencing today. Years of political polarization were capped by an outpouring of protest and violence at the DNC Convention in 1968. The Vietnam War was increasingly seen as an intractable quagmire even as the casualty count grew. Political and cultural leaders were being assassinated at an unprecedented rate. Any as the decade neared its end, the counterculture solutions of free love and drugs were revealed as counterfeit solutions even as ruined countless lives.

At this most unlikely point, the Holy Spirit provoked one of the most unlikely revivals amongst some of the most unlikely people in American history. Originating in various points across the country but most strongly in Southern California, networks of hippies, musicians, pastors, and evangelists. It was amazing how hippies, houseless people and the marginalized of society were being transformed by the Word of God into preachers, worship leaders, and agents of redemption.

Remembering the Jesus People

For those hoping and praying for revival, it is important to reflect on the history of God’s faithfulness to his people. Just as God called Israel to remember his past works so that they would not depart from the truth (Deut. 8:2), the Church must listen to and learn from the past so we might engage our world today. With this in mind, Let me offer two initial takeaways in surveying the Jesus People Movement that current students, pastors, church leaders, and everyday Christians praying for revival may learn.

First, amidst US and global turmoil, the revival was led largely led by and aimed at young people.  Over the course of a decade, thousands of young lives were being delivered by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Rejecting the methods and music of their parents, young people were looking for an expression of faith that not only spoke to the issues they cared about but in a cultural language they understood and spoke. Faced with this need, countless young people struck out to innovate a religious expression that did not set barriers at the doors to church for those who did not conform to the cultural or political expectations. Driven by this mission, these leaders instilled within an resurging evangelicalism a willingness to adapt to fresh cultural expressions in service to the broader aim of proclaiming the gospel to the world. Reflecting back, if we are fulfilling our missional mandate in the 21st century, the Holy Spirit will continue to use young people to fulfilled God’s plans in our world.

Second, while the Jesus People Movement was largely aimed at those on the periphery of society and the organized Church, its impact reshaped much of the American Church. It is difficult to estimate how many people were reached through the movement, a significant component of its enduring legacy centers on the ways it reformed multiple elements of church life and thought. Worship, evangelism, youth ministry, bible study, and discipleship are only a few of the areas of church life revolutionized by the Jesus People Movement. In particular, the worship music we take for granted today was birthed from this period where musicians felt an abiding sense of calling to use music to reach the lost. As we reflect on this legacy, it is critical to recognize the power of institutional and structural influence for culture change. As writers such as Andy Crouch have argued, we must continue to send people into public and private spheres as agents of gospel transformation.

Ablaze 2021

To this end, Biola University’s Center for the Study of the Work of the Ministry of the Holy Spirit celebrated the ABLAZE 2021 conference, an event dedicated to the legacy of the Jesus Movement. Fifty years after Time Magazine heralded the “The Jesus Revolution,” we gathered to reflect on and learn from the movement. What are the central lessons the Jesus People Movement can teach the church today? What were its strengths and weakeness? Its victories and failure? Its lasting innovations and its passing fads? Together, 50+ years later we reflected on the legacy and implications of this movement, which was truly one of the most important revivals of modern American Christianity and seek to learn relevant lessons for today.

The four major themes of Ablaze 21 were:

Jesus People and the Holy Spirt.

Jesus People and Worship.

Jesus People and Evangelism.

Jesus People and Social Reform.

The conference was hosted at BIOLA University campus on October 7-9, 2021, and was jointly sponsored by the Billy Graham Center of Wheaton College and the Center for The Study of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today. The center is a resource for students and scholars seeking a greater understanding and experience of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Housed at Talbot School of Theology, the center aims to produce biblically faithful resources that equip Christians to be transformed and empowered by the Spirit for the sake of the gospel.

Consisting of 3 days of plenary sessions, workshops, and worship, The Ablaze conference explore the themes of the Jesus Movement as well as hearing from those who experiend it first-hand. Ablaze also feature a Jesus People Concert on the night of October 8th. Featuring signature Jesus People bands and artists such as Love Song, Nancy Honeytree, The Salt Company, and Matthew Ward and Nelly Greisen of The 2nd Chapter of Acts, we are praying this night inspires by testifying to God’s faithfulness in using this season for revival.

As we look into the future, the JPM also helps us to refocus by emphasizing three key Missional Theology’s: celebration of the Kingdom of God & the Glorified Christ, intergenerational evangelism & the proclamation of the Word to all spheres, and on opening our hearts to the surprising work of the Holy Spirit. These missional emphases are not new to the life of the church, they were demonstrated in the ministry of Jesús Christ, and his disciples. Also, are found during the establishment of the primitive church. We see them during the reformation, and resurging in the JPM.


Article first appeared in Talbot Magazine

Crouch, Andy. 2008. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. Intervarsity Press.

Eskridge, Larry. 2013. God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America. Oxford University Press.

Kuyper, Abraham. 1943. Lectures on Calvinism. Eerdmans Publishing.

Mouw, Richard J. 2001. He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace. Eerdmans Publishing.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 2001. Christ and Culture. Harper Collins.aa

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