Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

March 20, 2005

Lonnie Frisbee: Jesus Freak

I’'ve always been very interested in the spiritual revival among young people that swept the country in the late ‘60s. Although the revival is mostly associated with Southern California, its stirrings were felt in every corner of the nation. If you ask the right people, those who are old enough to remember and who were around the church in those days, they’'re likely to tell you a few stories. Within a couple of years the “Jesus People” would make the cover of Time, Newsweek, and Life. They were often maligned, scoffed at, and found theologically wanting (to say the least). My sense of the movement is that it had the characteristics of an un-shepherded flock. Established churches tended to shun them, and in time wolves came in and picked off some of the the best and brightest. But nevertheless it included much that was genuine, and I believe that God used it in many ways and many places to break off the yoke of religious contrivance and bland middle-class pieties that afflicted the church then (and still does).

By the way, it was a Jesus Freak in 1971 that was the first person that ever spoke the Gospel to me and prayed for my salvation. I think he might have been a member of the Way International, a briefly successful cult of that period, but nevertheless he gave me the Gospel straight and I repeated after him the words of the prayer of salvation. We were standing on the Market Street Bridge in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, looking down at the dark swirling water of the Susquehanna, and after I'd prayed he said, “"Do you feel any different?”" But I had only been humoring him. I shrugged and said no. He said confidently, “"Oh, You will. It may be an hour from now, it may be tomorrow, or it may be in twenty years, but you will."” I wonder where he is today. He might like to know that it was twenty years later that I did get saved.

Anyway, back to the Jesus Freaks. If you study the movement, you’'ll undoubtedly come across the name of Lonnie Frisbee. He was a charismatic hippie believer, associated first with Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement, then with John Wimber and the Vineyard movement. His story seems at first like that of some strange medieval wonder-worker, showing up on the village green one fine morning, shouting the Gospel and healing people right and left. The stories about Lonnie Frisbee are simply too numerous to take lightly, although of course people like Hank Hannegraff dismiss them out-of-hand.

Nevertheless, Frisbee was an intriguing character (at the very least) whose latter life was marked, it seems, by tragedy. Now David Di Sabatino has produced a documentary about Frisbee, called Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher. Di Sabatino is an historian who has compiled the comprehensive "Jesus Freak" bibliography, called The Jesus People Movement. The film hasn't yet been released for widespread distribution, but I’'m keeping an eye on that. You can watch some clips an the website, and get a sense of the kinds of controversy that swirled around this man’'s life.

For more about the Jesus movement, try By the way, I hesitate to ascribe to Di Sabatino's thesis that Frisbee's part in the history of the Vineyard movement has been overlooked or somehow intentionally "erased," since I've heard numerous stories about Frisbee from Derek Morphew at a Vineyard conference, and nobody seemed to think it disturbing or controversial to speak of him. Still, I'm eager to see the film. If you're in the Newport Beach area on April 24, you can see its debut at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Check the website for more details.


Anonymous GregB said...

Good entry! There's also a good bit on Lonnie in Bill Jackson's outstanding book (not an overstatement... its a seminary in a book, extremely valuable as well as readable) called "The Quest for the Radical Middle - A History of the Vineyard Movement". publi...publishing.aspx

10:22 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Thanks, Greg. Funny, I was looking at that book in our church bookstore on Sunday. I was hoping to look up Frisbee in the index, but unfortunately the book doesn't have one. Anyway, that just confirms for me that Frisbee has not in the least been "erased" from the Vineyard's institutional memory. I'm definitely going to read that book!

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Brad said...

If you speak to most early Vineyard folks and I saw Lonnie at Set Free too in the later days of his life, he was certainly a mixed bag. E-mail me if you want more info on my opinion of Lonnie and his problems.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous david di sabatino said...

Bill Jackson's book on the Vineyard does include an essay on Lonnie. I wrote it. But Bill's book is not an official Vineyard document. Even though Todd Hunter and Kenn Gulliksen (and others) wrote endorsements, this was not an official thing that was spawned by the church. Bill's passion for history was the urge behind it. There is a difference.

Too, I understand that there is a lot of oral history about Lonnie. But the documentary is careful to say that Lonnie is not properly contextualized in their histories. Both Calvary Chapel and Vineyard folks will come to me and say, "But I have this pamphlet and it mentions Lonnie's name." There is a difference, however, between a casual mention and putting him in proper perspective.

Furthermore, and more importantly than quibbling over what one or two lines in a book mean, there is concrete evidence to suggest that John Wimber not only excommunicated Lonnie but also made sure that he never spoke at any Vineyard function for almost a decade up to Lonnie's death. That is what I mean about exclusion. Even at Lonnie's funeral, John was there but he would not speak. The reason? Because of Lonnie's particular sin.

Anyway... I think I am going to spend today putting up a F.A.Q. so that people can hear why I believe what I believe.


david di sabatino

10:24 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Hey David, thanks so much for taking the time to write. Bill Jackson's book is, I believe, published by Vineyard International, and in my experience it is often touted around the Vineyard as a must read.

I respect your opinion and found your book on the Jesus movement extremely valuable. But I would definitely like to hear, say, Carol Wimber's take on her husband's attitude toward Frisbee. If it is the case that Frisbee was a practicing homosexual at the time, then surely Wimber would have understandable qualms about letting him "represent" the Vineyard at conferences. This is hardly "erasing" him from institutional memory. Oral transmission of stories about Frisbee, even tinged with some degree of awe and crediting him with having been a truly Spirit-anointed figure, are commonplace. Sure, oral history lacks "context," but again, that hardly constitutes a wilfull attempt to rewrite the movement's history sans Frisbee, which is it seems to me the strong implication of the OC Weekly article and also parts of your website.

However, having said that, I readily admit that I may not be as informed as you on the subject, which is why I'm interested in seeing your film and learning more. I believe in any case that your film, whether or not I have quibbles with certain aspects, will perform a valuable service, and I thank you for it.

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