Revolution And The Eschaton: Images Of Jesus In The Jesus Movement -- By: James Alan Patterson

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 26:2 (Fall 2005)
Article: Revolution And The Eschaton: Images Of Jesus In The Jesus Movement
Author: James Alan Patterson


Revolution And The Eschaton:
Images Of Jesus In The Jesus Movement

James Alan Patterson

James Alan Patterson is Professor and Associate Dean at the School of Christian Studies, Union University, in Jackson, Tennessee.

As a budding theologue and youth pastor in New England during the early 1970s, I found myself at the margins of a startlingly innovative phenomenon in American religious life known as the Jesus Movement.1 Previously as an undergraduate in the latter part of the chaotic 1960s, I had heard media reports of coffee houses, storefront ministries, and other forms of outreach to the youth counterculture on the West Coast. Early in the next decade, as the revival currents moved eastward, my brother began editing a Jesus paper in southern New Jersey and asked me to write a few articles—without bylines—to support the cause. I even took my youth group to some “Jesus events” in Reading, Massachusetts, where we quickly learned the extent to which charismatic influences had helped to shape the Movement. As a result of these experiences, I alternately admired the dynamism and spiritual vigor of this burgeoning youth revival, and recoiled at its sometimes anti-intellectual and escapist character.

As I started down a career path to become a church historian, I enrolled in the fall of 1972 in Richard Lovelace’s “Evangelical Awakenings in America” course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. This class assisted me in placing the Jesus Movement, despite its manifestly inimitable features, within the broader context of American revivalism. In the venerable tradition of Jonathan Edwards, Professor Lovelace emerged as an astute evaluator of revival, offering a simultaneously sympathetic and critical assessment of the Jesus People.2 At a time when the media hype

was beginning to wane, my own ambivalent attitude toward the Movement was merely reinforced.

Later research on the history of missions suggested other interpretive angles for understanding the baffling variety of Jesus Freaks. Insightful commentators, in contrast to some clueless journalists, depicted the Movement as anything but monolithic. For instance, sociologist Ronald Enroth fittingly noted that the Jesus People “were characterized by a kind of grass-roots diversity manifested in widely scattered subgroups which lacked a single leadership structure and clear-cut goals and objectives.”3 The fragmented nature of the Movement can be explained, in part, by its multiple mission settings. Some who were identi...

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