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 One-Way.org. 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.