Book Review: God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America – Larry Eskridge

When I was in college, a “revival” broke out on our campus, at least that is what the papers told us. The word spread among fellow Christians, and people started traveling from all over the state to be a part of our movement. A handful of our students were being asked to come to other college campuses and churches to testify to the movement of God among our young people. We heard reports of lives being changed at these spots where the testimonies were given. Still, I saw very little change in my own observations of campus life and those I associated with.

What exactly was I looking for that I wasn’t seeing in my experience? Frankly, what I wanted to see was something that looked similar to what is described in Larry Eskridge’s book God’s Forever Family. This book is one of kind, a thorough and historical look at the Jesus People Movement of the late 1960’s and early 70’s. If you are not familiar with this movement, think Hippies who are Born Again but refuse to shed some their Hippie characteristics.

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The most moving and inspiring parts of Eskridge’s book are the stories of transformation in individual lives that then caused a ripple effect of drawing others to the same kind of life. There is Lonnie Frisbee, a drugged out and freaked out Hippie on the streets of San Francisco who gets taken in by a small group of Hippie Christians. Later, Frisbee just happens to land in Southern California and meets Chuck Smith and together they help spark a growth in young people coming to the Lord that is still felt today. There is the story of a Baptist logger, John Breithaupt, and his family moving from rural Washington to Seattle to serve the Lord. Eventually, this “straight” befriends Hippie young people and starts a “House of Zaccheus” where 20 or so Hippies could live, grow in their faith, and minister to other young people. This humble effort led to one of the strongest segments of the Jesus People movement in the Northwest.

There seemed to be very little that could stop young people from coming to the Lord. Eskridge provides little explanation for young hippies suddenly showing up at the local Baptist church. In the early stages of the Jesus movement, the only explanation was the movement of the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t programs. In fact, in some cases, the resistance from church goers to the benefits of reaching out to young people was very strong. Yet, these spiritually hungry kids were not to be deterred and they always seemed to bring others with them.

 

The Jesus Movement seemed to be marked by four characteristics – complete infatuation with Jesus , a hunger for God’s word, a desire to live out the faith in community, and a desire to evangelize. Eskridge doesn’t flesh these out as he sees his role as a recorder of what happened. He also wants to emphasize the impact and influence the movement had on the church as it progressed towards the end of the 20th century.

I am so grateful for this book for it reminds me that great movements of God are not limited to the distant past or only a limited type of person. I also appreciate Eskridge’s balancing act between the historical and sociological need to cover this moment in time with obvious joy in telling one of the most colorful, whimsical, and inspiring stories of Western Christianity. The chapter on the Children of God and its conflict with other Jesus People groups, though dark and disconcerting, reads like a psychological suspense thriller. Eskridge obviously had fun with that one.

What happened at my college in the 1990s should not be overlooked or ridiculed, though I have done both. God did work during that time but it was not a revival or a movement; God’s Forever Family showed me that. The Jesus People Movement was messy, unorganized, and suffered from naivety and lack of sophistication but it was rich with Jesus and his love, mercy, and transformation. The movement was grassroots and unexpected, much like Jesus himself.

Oh, come Jesus,

take your place with the young

and searching today.

Work in your unexpected ways

among unexpected people.

This is where you seem to work best.

 

photo: avivamentoja.com