The Jesus People movement (1967–1979)

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The Jesus People movement of the late 1960s and 1970s was a turbulent and creative time for the U.S. church. In those days, whether you were with the Jesus people or against them, you couldn’t stop hearing about them.

Time magazine and major city newspapers regularly ran feature stories about what Jesus people were doing in California and across the country.

Maybe you’ve heard of the term Jesus freaks? That term was coined in the 1960s and widely used by newspapers in the Berkeley area to describe the burgeoning masses of street Christians and hippie Christians who were evangelizing all over Bay Area sidewalks. Berkeley was no stranger to political demonstrations and antiwar protests, but these Jesus freaks took freakery to a whole new level.

Or how about someone shouting “One way!” and pointing one finger up toward the sky? That’s a holdover from the Jesus people days too.

Maybe you’ve heard the term afterglow? That’s a low-key prayer meeting after a big worship service or evangelism event. It can also mean a testimony-sharing time around a campfire at Bible camp.

These and other catchphrases and slogans have survived in Christianese to this day. So I’ve been reading a variety of books about this time period in order to study what other words and phrases the Jesus people used and what those sayings meant. Here are the books I’ve read so far this year. Most of these books were written by Christians who were also sociologists or journalists and who lived with and interviewed Jesus people in order to get the full story of what they were doing and why.

  • Pederson Duane. Jesus People. 1971.
  • Palms, Roger. The Jesus Kids. 1971.
  • Streiker, Lowell. The Jesus Trip: Advent of the Jesus Freaks. 1971.
  • Blessitt, Arthur. Turned on to Jesus. 1971.
  • Enroth, Ronald and Edward Ericson and C. Breckinridge Peters. The Jesus People: Old-Time Religion in the Age of Aquarius. 1972.
  • Jacob, Micheal. Pop Goes Jesus. 1972
  • Ellwood, Robert. One Way: The Jesus Movement and Its Meaning. 1973.
  • Baker, Paul. Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? 1979.

I recommend picking up one or more of these books if you’d like to gain a historical perspective on what the Jesus people believed and how they articulated their beliefs.

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