I'm only here on Earth to serve God. I never had a career. I don't care about commercialism. I have a ministry and I'll fight for the ministry.
Arthur Blessit in Northern Ireland in 1971 and 1979 courtesy of blessit.com
I think it might be wise to start this review with an appeal. Dylan Morrison had been a charismatic for most of his Christian walk. A few of our readers might have difficulty with some of the doctrinal beliefs surrounding this viewpoint. Also, his faith journey finds its roots in the abusive Shepherding Movement and it is important to see this story through his perspective. While Dylan has found his way back to a faith in God, some of his current views of the Christian faith no longer fit within the pale of orthodoxy. However, as one understands his background, one might be able to find empathy and understanding while not agreeing, either partially or fully, with his current statements of belief.
This series will take us on a trip down memory lane. As we recount Dylan’s story, we will provide historical perspectives in order to give a breadth of understanding to the historical underpinnings of current day thinking on issues as diverse as eschatology and authoritarianism. Perhaps our readers will be as surprised, as we are, to learn about the roots of some of our current evangelical controversies.
Once again, the book we are reviewing, in its pre-published form, is The Prodigal Prophet by Dylan Morrison.
Dylan was born in Northern Ireland in 1950s. Because he was academically gifted, he was sent to selective schooling. It was in this venue that he was invited to attend Crusaders Union, which met in a Methodist church. At the time, he felt concerned that he wouldn’t fit in because he was from a working class background and the meeting was being led by a physician who lived an upper middle class lifestyle. Yet he was warmly received.
He asked Jesus into his heart but didn’t have any sort of “feeling” that he was saved and would repeat this scenario several times. Finally, he decided Jesus must be present even if he didn’t “feel” it. He began to memorize Scripture as part of the teaching of Crusaders Union program.
He was also aware of other groups that vied for the attention of the people in his town. He called them dueling groups and these included Baptists, a Francis Schaeffer follower, the Salvation Army and the Brethren. He tells a particularly humorous story of an area of town where various Christian groups would participate in open air evangelism. Each group would vie impatiently for their turn on the soapbox in order to proselytize for their particular sect. Cooperation was definitely lacking.
Around this time, he becomes aware of the Jesus movement in California which was prominent in late the 1960s and 1970s. It got its start in California before fizzling out by the early 1980s. A wee (getting into the Irish mood) bit of history might be helpful in understanding the effect this faith movement had on the Christian church, both in the United States and across the Pond.
Many of the early leaders of the Jesus Movement were ex-hippies who became disenchanted with the somewhat amoralistic, drifting hippie lifestyle. They sought a deeper meaning to life, which they found in Christianity. These Jesus freaks, as they came to be known, claimed the church had drifted from its Christian roots and had sold out to the American Way. They attempted to recreate the life of the early Christians in order to find a more authentic and simple faith
The Jesus people emphasized charismatic gifts such as miracles, signs and wonders, faith, healing, and speaking in tongues. There was a strong emphasis on the Second Coming of Jesus and many believed that the time was imminent. Hal Lindsey's book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was the “it” book of this time period. They also had a profound affect on Christian music, launching such venerable icons as Larry Norman, Marsha Stevens (Children of the Day), Nancy Honeytree, Chuck Girard and 2nd Chapter of Acts. This created a major upheaval in the music scene within local churches.
There was also an emphasis on communal living and the sharing of one’s possession in an egalitarian manner. The well-being of the group was stressed over the interests of the individual. With this, however, came increasing reports of heavy-handed, authoritarian leadership.
The pervasiveness of this movement attracted the attention of the media from around the world. Life Magazine, in 1971, wrote an article entitled “The Groovy Christians of Rye, New York” which focused on the conversion of most of that town’s teen population. It was this article, which I read during an episode of Star Trek, that was instrumental in leading your humble blog queen and former Jesus Freak, to a saving faith.
A recent article In Charisma Magazine entitled “We Need Another Jesus Movement,” author J. Lee Grady, waxes eloquently for the return of those golden days. Here is the link.
“The Jesus movement was like a spiritual tsunami that washed over hundreds of thousands of young people in the late 1960s and early ‘70s and brought them into a personal relationship with Christ. Some of these kids had been drug addicts and social misfits; most were just average Joes and Janes who discovered that Jesus is a lot more exciting than traditional churches had led them to believe.”
He later says, “Lately I find myself waxing nostalgic for those days—not because I want to return to the awkward fashions and hairstyles of 1972, but because I miss the spiritual simplicity of that era. The Jesus movement was primarily focused on—surprise!—Jesus. Theology was not complicated, pastors weren’t trying to be hip or sophisticated or tech-savvy; and we hadn’t yet created a Christian subculture with its own celebrities and political power bases.”
However, this paragraph hints at some concerns.
“Because the movement was pioneered by untrained leaders it sometimes resulted in abuse. But despite its flaws, it gave rise to a new musical genre (contemporary Christian) and new denominations (Calvary Chapel, Vineyard). It also fueled organizations such as Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ and made it a powerhouse of evangelism for the next decade and beyond.”
There seems to be widespread agreement that there were abuses in the Jesus Movement. Although this chapter in Christian history would soon die out, many of its beliefs and practices would continue to profoundly affect the expression of the faith in America and the British Isles. These beliefs would include the widespread acceptance charismatic gifts, a belief in the imminent return of Jesus and authoritarian leadership. These would have a lasting impact on the church as it entered the last 20 years of the century and millennium
For a trip down memory lane, go to this link, Remembering the Jesus Movement.
In those heady Jesus days, Arthur Blessit, was a well-known, almost cult-like figure, who hoofed his way around the world with his giant eight foot cross on wheels in tow. According to his website, link here, he visited ”every nation and is listed in the Guinness World Records for the world's longest walk over 39,060 miles, through 315 countries & major island groups and territories for 42 years.”
On several occasions Arthur Blessitt and his giant cross visited Belfast, Ireland. His witness was apparently fruitful. According to Boyd, many young people came to faith before he left. You can see two pictures of Blessit in Ireland in 1971 and 1979 at the start of this post. In order to provide fellowship and teaching to these new Christians, Dylan and his friends formed a cross-denominational group called the God Squad, which found a church home in an underutilized Methodist Church. (Anybody out there remember the Mod Squad)?
It is at one of these meetings that Dylan first encounters people speaking in tongues. However, this causes conflict, both for himself and others. He does not speak in tongues and the God Squad becomes split between those who do and those who do not. He consults with a Presbyterian minister who assures him that speaking tongues was a normal part of the Christian experience. A few weeks later, he personally experiences this phenomenon and claims that this gift gave him strength to avoid “carnal temptations” that are common to young men. During this time he narrowly survives an IRA bombing of a Protestant church.
We leave his story here because the next segment of his story begins introduces the American Shepherding movement and its effect on his Christian group.
We leave you with two videos both featuring the music of Larry Norman, who was the recognized musical king of the Jesus Movement. The first is a pictorial history of the Jesus Movement. The second video features Norman's famous song, which was the rallying cry of the movement, called “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” Groove on, brothers and sisters, and, oh yeah, like, "Smile, Jesus loves you."
Memories of the Jesus Movement
Larry Norman-I Wish We’d All Been Ready
Lydia's Corner: Leviticus 19:1-20:21 Mark 8:11-38 Psalm 42:1-11 Proverbs 10:17