During the sixties, I was part of the counterculture movement seeking spiritual truth. In the early seventies, I became part of the Jesus Movement.
This movement was neither organized nor guided by any church or religious organization. It was the work of God in people searching for spiritual truth and encountering Jesus in a personal relationship.
“It’s not about religion, but relationship,” was a common expression in those days. Young people popularized the Jesus Movement, including those known as hippies who joined the developing counterculture of the 1960s.
A spiritual vacuum
A spiritual vacuum existed in those days. For the most part, traditional churches did not reach the young people of that generation. Several elements in our current decade remind me of that era.
Today, traditional and established churches are not reaching the young people of this generation, including those raised in Christian homes. Many surveys show a strong trend toward young people leaving churches in droves.[i]
In my own search for truth as a youth, I sampled wisdom from various religions and philosophies that surrounded me in abundance and diversity.
Raised in a nominally Christian home, even confirmed in the faith of the Episcopal Church at the age of twelve, I found my Christian moorings too weak to keep me from drifting into varied experiences, philosophies, and religious encounters. These encounters brought plenty of confusion and uncertainty.
During the late 1960's, I had developed a ritual of reading the Bible every morning. Even so, I still used drugs and alcohol, practiced transcendental meditation, and played and wrote music, along with other experiences typical of that time.
Through it all, I was coming to believe Jesus was an important element of true spirituality. During this period, a friend invited me to a certain church in Southern California, which later became a mega church within the Jesus Movement.[ii]
I attended an evening service where a very young but quite charismatic evangelist was teaching the Bible. At the end of the study, he gave an invitation to “accept Christ,”[iii] but I wasn’t ready to do this.
After the service, I began to ask many questions my friends were unable to answer. So they brought me to a man considered a Bible answer man of sorts. I continued to ask my questions. He answered me by quoting verses of Scripture from the King James Version (KJV) but without explanation.
I had studied Shakespeare and Chaucer in high school, so it wasn’t the archaic language that troubled me—it was my lack of spiritual understanding.
Each time he quoted a Scripture in response to my many questions, I could hear a round of “amen’s” and some cheering, as he refuted my challenging questions.
Intent on my quest for spiritual truth, and exasperated with his pat answers, I finally asked him—“If I could destroy all the books in the world, how would you then tell me how you truly know God?”
He promptly called me the devil and threw me out of the church.
The wrong way
It was another two years of spiritual wandering before I came into a personal relationship with Jesus, my Lord. I continued reading the Bible and praying, but didn’t give up the other activities and experiences that were counterproductive to my spiritual growth.
My frustration deepened and became desperation.
One morning, leaving the small trailer I lived in with my girlfriend, I went on a search for God. I expected some sign in the sky or a burning bush experience, as Moses had before he led Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-6).
I saw no sign, no burning bush, and didn’t hear any voices.
Discouraged, I returned to the trailer and began reading my Bible. I came to some verses that challenged me—
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)
In my heart, I took up the challenge of going on the narrow and hard way. I had considered many different philosophies and religions in search of a harmonious belief everyone could hold.
This text showed me I was on the wrong path that led to destruction. I saw the last part of the verse as a challenge to pursue, so I committed my life to God.
A changed life
My life changed little by little as God showed me a new way of living.
I began to give up old habits of my previous lifestyle and developed new ones. On the day of my wedding, I experienced a rush of new life and freedom.
I had closed the door on my old life as a new door opened.
My wife and I attended the same church I’d been thrown out of but I had a much different attitude and view of God. I began serving the Lord[iv] in various ways and became part of the church staff. My wife and I became full-time volunteers who oversaw the childcare ministry at the time our first son was born.
A better way
Years later, I’ve often wondered if the time between my earnest questioning and eventual commitment of my life to Jesus could have been shorter—perhaps two years shorter!
What I needed that night and what millions—even billions—still need is a simple, clear, and complete explanation of the gospel.
For many people, Jesus is only a historical figure whose life is shrouded in mystery.
Every Christian believer should be able to share the truth of the gospel with or without a Bible in hand, and without using Christian terminology and jargon.
Is this possible?
[i] The Barna Group has done a lot of research, especially in the area of young people. Here are a couple reports that reveal this trend of church dropout among youth/young adults— Barna article. There was also a significant study done by sociologist Christian Smith, which he published in his book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers (published in 2005), coining the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Here is a link to an article about MTD
[ii] The Jesus Movement was a Christian counterculture movement starting in the late sixties and growing to prominence in the early seventies. Young people often termed Jesus freaks, and Christian rock music characterized this non-organized movement. [http://www.one-way.org/jesusmovement/| http://conservapedia.com/Jesus_Movement]
[iii] “Accepting Christ,” describes a person making a decision to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It is also called “making a decision for Christ.” An invitation (opportunity) is given to make this decision during an “altar call”—an invitation to come forward or signal an intention to “accept Christ” with a raised hand, then being led in a simple (often rote) prayer.
[iv] “Serving the Lord” became a popular phrase describing volunteerism in the church, but can also include paid staff positions. The idea being it’s more than a job, it’s an opportunity to “serve the Lord.”
This is another excerpt from my book— The Mystery of the Gospel