Aug 17, 2013

'The people of God in a world called Egypt'

Larry Eskridge on how the Jesus People movement affected evangelical's relationship with popular culture:
Before the Jesus People evangelicalism had a very nervous, if not downright oppositional, relationship to 'worldly entertainments' and all the allures of popular and youth culture. The Jesus movement, however, was much more comfortable in baptizing popular/youth culture and making a Christianized version that could be put forward as a means to both evangelize unbelieving youth and build up the kids who came from evangelical homes and churches. There was, and still is, opposition to this way of handling these boundaries between 'the World' and 'The Church,' but to a large degree, the Jesus People marked a revolution in handling these relationships.

In terms of the particular historical moment, the Jesus movement’s biggest bottom line was in generational terms: it played a major role in keeping evangelicalism together by providing a much easier path for a lot of people -- particularly evangelical kids raised in the church -- to navigate the massive changes that buffeted American society and culture during that period. The Jesus People had a degree of 'with-it-ness' and a cultural cache that the larger movement certainly didn't possess going into the late '60s. I think it's fair to say that if the Jesus People hadn't come along when they did the evangelical church would have been nowhere near as formidable a force throughout American culture come the 1980s and beyond.
This aspect of the movement -- and of the way evangelicalism changed in the 1970s -- also seems critical to the reception of both Hal Lindsey and Francis Schaeffer. Eskridge is right, I think, that the Jesus People movement is critical to the history of evangelicals at the end of the 20th century. His book God's Forever Family is well worth checking out.

Below, Keith Green preaching about Exodus at one of the last Jesus People festivals, Jesus West Coast '80. As Green sums up the message, it's exactly what Eskridge is talking about: negotiating cultural engagements. Being separate, but relevant.

"This is about you and I," Green says. "The people of God in a world called Egypt. Or a spiritual sodom. Figure that one out."