Grooving on Jesus.

Author:Thomas, Sally

The Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s was less a coherent movement than a generalized wave of religious reformation--influenced, as the wider culture was influenced, by aspects of the hippie counterculture. In the late 1960s, its psychedelic brand of Christianity erupted out of spaced-out Southern California. Its early evangelists were ex-drug addicts. Their followers congregated in coffeehouses with names like The Fire Escape. They spoke and wrote in a now self-parodying dialect--Groovy, Let's rap, Don't lay that trip on me--and they listened to music that made their parents break out in hives.

Along the way, they formed communes on the early Christian model suggested in Acts 2:44: "And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and gave to all, as any had need." They were sola scriptura on acid--and the fact that the acid wasn't actually acid but Jesus sometimes seemed incidental.

Their conversions to Bible-believing Christianity were not the sort to rejoice the hearts of suburban, middle-class parents. The intelligence that one's runaway daughter had given her life to Christ, been baptized in a bathtub, and taken up residence with a bunch of barefoot, long-haired, guitar-strumming, tongues-speaking twenty-year-olds in a place called Maranatha House was only marginally less disturbing to the average Methodist mother than the news that the same daughter had moved in with a professional tabla drummer and changed her name to Windflower.

Or so, at least, argues Preston Shires in his recent book Hippies of the Religious Right. Hippies, he maintains, did not leave off being hippies simply because they had traded their drug high for Jesus. As a first-century Gentile converting to Christianity did not have to undergo circumcision, so the typical late-1960s truth-seeking, grass-smoking beach dweller was not required, on conversion, to cut his hair, don a white short-sleeved shirt with a black necktie, and sing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." The churches, instead, would have to change their dowdy old playlist; they had to understand that the convert was bringing them the gift of his authentic young self and his hippie code of virtues: Love thy neighbor and be an individual.

Moreover, the churches had to understand that the unconverted hippie was not so much an unbeliever as a pre-believer. He was already living the essence of Christianity, man: It's all about, like, compassion and justice and stuff. All he needs is Jesus. As Shires puts it, hippie converts sought a "primitive Christianity ... as lived out in the pages of Scripture ... bare-boned, authentic, sharing." The meaning of these words is, of course, highly subjective. While some counterculture converts interpreted "authentic" and "primitive" Christian community to mean house churches, a...

To continue reading