Jesus Revolution director Jon Erwin: The true story behind the film

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The true story behind “Jesus Revolution”: Director Jon Erwin shares how the Holy Spirit moved on set

February 23, 2023 -

Jon Erwin, director of Jesus Revolution, joins Dr. Mark Turman and Mark Legg to talk about the inspiration for Jesus Revolution, the true story behind the movie, how the Holy Spirit moved on set, and his hope for a new Jesus movement among Gen Z.

Jon Erwin, director of Jesus Revolution, joins Dr. Mark Turman and Mark Legg to talk about the inspiration for Jesus Revolution, the true story behind the movie, how the Holy Spirit moved on set, and his hope for a new Jesus movement among Gen Z.

Jon Erwin, director of Jesus Revolution, joins Dr. Mark Turman and Mark Legg to talk about the inspiration for Jesus Revolution, the true story behind the movie, how the Holy Spirit moved on set, and his hope for a new Jesus movement among Gen Z.

Jon Erwin, director of Jesus Revolution, joins Dr. Mark Turman and Mark Legg to talk about the inspiration for Jesus Revolution, the true story behind the movie, how the Holy Spirit moved on set, and his hope for a new Jesus movement among Gen Z.

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Show notes:

Acclaimed director Jon Erwin shares his heart behind moviemaking, how he got started with humble beginnings in Alabama, and why he loves to tell true dramas (3:41). He shares the reason for making Jesus Revolution in particular and how Time magazine’s 1971 cover story inspired his interest in the shocking true story (11:52).

Erwin talks about how they were connected to Lionsgate and Kelsey Grammer and the resurgence in Christian media in Hollywood (18:31). He discusses the striking similarities between Gen Z and the generation that took part in the counterculture movement in the 60s and 70s portrayed in Jesus Revolution.

He expands on this theme by encouraging Christians to go on the spiritual offense by living on mission with optimism. (28:57) Erwin shares his favorite theme and scene in the movie, why “Pirate’s Cove” in California is so important to Jesus Revolution, and the way the Holy Spirit moved in miraculous ways while they filmed (40:53)

He closes by challenging the audience to trust Jesus, get out of their seats to reach Gen Z, and watch for God to work in this generation. (49:53)

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

Mark Legg is an Associate Editor for Denison Forum. He graduated from Dallas Baptist University in 2021 with a degree in Philosophy and Biblical Studies.

About the guest

In 2002, Jon Erwin founded a production company with his brother, Andrew Erwin. Their first ventures were commercials, documentaries, and music videos. The brothers soon directed videos and produced concerts and television programs for platinum recording artists such as Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, Switchfoot, Skillet, and others and received eleven GMA Dove Awards nominations and three wins for Music Video of the Year.

Alongside their award-winning music videos, Jon and Andrew have also produced and directed several documentaries. These include the multi-award-winning 9/11 story, The Cross and the Towers.

Their features have all opened in the top ten box office on opening weekend, and they have received the coveted A+ Cinema Score twice. Their features include October Baby, Mom’s Night Out, Woodlawn, and the 2018 surprise hit I Can Only Imagine, which became the #1 independent film of 2018, earning over $83 million at the box office.

In 2019, Jon and Andrew launched Kingdom Story Company, alongside their partners Kevin Downes and Tony Young, with a first-look deal with Lionsgate. Jon serves as Chief Executive Officer at Kingdom Story Company as well as writes and co-directs feature films with Andrew. He is also the author of the upcoming book For Love and Honor.


Transcribed by


Mark Turman  00:10

Welcome back to The Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director at Denison forum and host for today’s conversation. We’re gonna have a really good time. I’m joined today by our associate editor and Denison forum contributor Mark leg, Mark say hello.


Mark Legg  00:27

Hello. Good morning again.


Mark Turman  00:28

Yeah, glad to have you back with us. And we’re gonna just try to clarify for our audience as well as our guest today it’s Mark and Mark the younger, not Mark, the greater not mark the older just mark, that’s me and mark the younger. That’s you. All right. And we’re not going to tell anybody that I am actually old enough to be your dad. But that is the case we’ll move on. But today we’re talking about an exciting opportunity. The movie called Jesus revolution is releasing this week on February 23. And we are honored to have one of the key figures in making this project come alive. John Irwin, with Kingdom story company, the founder and director of Kingdom story. Let me just tell you a little bit about John and then we’ll get him to say hello. In 2002. John and his brother Andrew founded a production company. And the first things they got involved with were commercials, documentaries and music videos. For the likes of Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith Casting Crowns Switchfoot skillet, they have received 11 GMA Dove Award nominations and three wins for music video of the year. They also produced a an award winning documentary about 911 called the cross and the towers that hopefully people can find and connect to. In 2010, John and Andrew began exclusively developing dramatic feature film projects. In 2018. They partnered with Kevin Downes and Tony young to launch Kingdom story company in an exclusive partnership with Lions Gate anybody goes to the movie sees Lions Gate, often when they watch a movie, and they are creating life changing content through a variety of talented storytellers. Some of which you will recognize I’m sure their features have all opened in top 10 box office and they have received coveted A plus cinema score three times. Early hits include October Baby mom’s Night Out Woodlawn. And many will recognize the surprise hit I can only imagine which I have an affection for for a lot of reasons. So many of us love this. The love the song but the story is based not far from where we are located in Dallas. That movie earned $86 million at the box office. They’ve also included other projects such as I still believe the story of Jeremy camp, and the Jesus music as well as the Kurt Warner’s Warner story American underdog and the movie about Johnny Cash. John is also an author. He wrote the book Beyond valor, a world war two story of extraordinary heroism, sacrificial love and a race against time, which tells the amazing story of his grandfather read Erwin, maybe we’ll get into that a little bit if we have time. Who is a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. Today we want to talk about a lot of things, John, but we specifically want to spend most of our time talking about Jesus revolution. But first of all, just welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast and thank you for letting us be a part of telling your story.


Jon Erwin  03:41

Thank you so much for having me. I’m like that was the exhaustive bio man. Yeah, man that stuff. Yeah. Anyway, that’s, uh, I appreciate you. Having me and it’s a great privilege to be an entertainer. You know, it’s it’s wonderful to be able to tell stories. Hopefully that matter, you know, they say every filmmaker finds their story and tells it over and over again. You know, for us, starting with the movie Woodlawn. The common thread is just inspirational true story is the power of the truth the stories that you know, the Bible says that we they overcame him in Revelation by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony and order their story and there’s just there’s power in true stories. And so that has been the thread between documentaries on Johnny Cash and movies like I can only imagine or a book like Yan Bella, it’s just the power of true stories because you watch them you’re like, you know, if Kurt Warner could accomplish his dream and his calling, maybe I could if if Bart Miller could forgive his father and if you know if his dad could be transformed by the gospel, maybe that can happen to me and our family and and and so those are just those are the stories that we that we love. And it’s an honor to tell them and it’s unbelievable. To to it’s an unbelievable privilege to get to work in any medium where your dreams come to life right in front of you and Are these things that, that that we we sort of see in our minds and writing the script that all these hundreds of people come around us to make those things real. And then entertaining for an audience is just, it’s so cool. And so it’s not, it’s an honor to be here. And thanks for helping get the word out about Jesus revolution.


Mark Turman  05:18

But Jon, just thank you for what you do. My wife and I love going to the movies, and just one of the favorite things that we like to do really were bummed about it when you know, and in the COVID pandemic of 2020 just couldn’t go to the movie. Yeah, and grateful to be able to watch stuff at home, but just, you know, just nothing like going to the theater about it. Yeah, my wife loves the popcorn and man just do we just love the whole experience getting out of the house. And, and just some things can’t really be appreciated the way they should be, unless you see them on the big screen. And I just love the way that you and your brother are redeeming the theater with really, really quality content, that safe to take your family to. And that’s really, really well done. And that’s certainly true of the movie we’re going to talk about here in a moment. But just, I just want to thank you for what you’re doing, using one of the most powerful ways of storytelling that we know about in our world and, and just tell me a little bit of background about how did you get interested in movies in the first place? What What drew you into this part of the world?


Jon Erwin  06:28

Well, I just God’s providence and just a total accident, but I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, as far from LA as you can get. And, and I was just curious as I just I’m a huge believer in curiosity, sort of as a way to live life and, and, and so I was I was apprenticing under I was like an ADHD nightmare. I had to do kindergarten twice because I was an ADHD disturbance to the class. It wasn’t my grades. It was everyone else’s, you know, and, and so, I was apprenticing for a cameraman when I was when I was 15. And, and in Alabama, there’s lots of football, lots of televised football, obviously. And so a cameraman got sick about three hours before the kickoff of the University of Alabama game. So my mentor called me and said, Get over here right now. I told him I knew a guy. Don’t tell anyone how old you are. Don’t tell anyone you’ve never done this before. And so my dad dropped me off. Like because I didn’t have any I didn’t know my learner’s permanent time. He dropped me off like four blocks from the stadium. And I tried to talk him deep tones, you know, and, and I just went and ran this camera for you and for ESPN. And I had the time of my life. I mean, it was so cool to meet a vocational passion that early and there was sort of life before that moment in life after that moment, like a kid that wouldn’t join the circus. And I remember walking up to the oldest guy on that crew and saying, How did you get this job? You know, how did you get in this business just with wide eyed optimism and he just said bad luck kid get out now. And he walked away you know about it. And the next year, my dad bought me helped me by camera with money he didn’t have and it’s probably the best gift I ever got. And he helped me get a loan for $10,000 for an editing system. And he just that was the beginning and he just said dream bowl dream big dream, the impossible. And, and he’s always been our biggest fan. And he also said, you know, if you give 20 years of your life to something, you’ll be successful, and I don’t think many people think of it in those terms. And so basically my brother and I, for years just directed local, you know, industrial videos, weddings, I’ve recorded 150 orthopedic trauma surgeries, you know it just whatever. And then And then Michael Lovie Smith gave us a break to let us do a music video for him. Amy Grant quickly followed. And then we found sort of our rhythm and doing music videos, and did them over and over and over again. And and that was a gift because Malcolm Gladwell calls it his book, Outliers, the 10,000 hour rule. And I think people don’t really appreciate the time of preparation and sort of honing in a craft. And we were able to do that over the course of many years. And then and then it was in 2010. I went into where I’m at Kevin Downes, who’s our producing partner. I went indirect, his second unit on a movie called courageous it was being made by a church in Georgia, Sherwood Church, which is a Cinderella story. They were making films with Sony that were doing really, really well. And but they wanted to do car chases, you know, because this was a cop drama. And so you never want to combine that with church volunteers, you know, people get run over so so I came in to do those stuff. That’s not work. And those action sequences, and the first question, Alex Kendrick asked me, the director of the film, he just says, John, what what’s your purpose and the purpose of your work? And I couldn’t answer the question, couldn’t stop thinking about the question and that led to a career being fused with a with a with a calling, and there’s nothing better vocationally than when you really strive to hone in a craft. And then you use that for something beyond yourself and for God’s glory instead of your own. It’s amazing. It’s an amazing feeling. And so we we started making our own movies and join this little mini revolution. That is, that is Christian film and, and our faith based film or whatever you want to call it, you know, and it’s, it’s fun. I remember I remember Sean Astin already mentioned this, but I remember Sean Astin said, See, you guys is frontiers, men and pioneers, you know, you and the Kendricks and Vaughn, Franklin sat down. And I said, Thank you, Shawn, that’s such high praise. And then he said, you know, most frontiers would die out of the frontier. But we’re gonna blaze the trail. And so it’s so cool to work in anything that’s sort of emerging, you know, any industry that sort of emerging the thing that you can sort of have your fingerprints on what it will become. And that is a privilege. And it’s so cool to see each film get bigger, and studios take notice. And there’s quite the, there’s quite the uprising on behalf of Christianity in Hollywood right now. And at all levels. And I think, you know, the audience will feel it more and more, as we move forward.


Mark Turman  11:20

We’re just, we’re just kind of wondering at you know, Denison Forum has a big desire to see God bring the next spiritual awakening into this part of the world. And we’re just wondering if that is going to happen in some ways through technology and through mediums like film. So we’re hoping so let’s talk a little bit specifically about this project. Jesus revolution comes out here in a couple of days in theaters. Tell us the backstory of how you got onto this story. And what made you want to make this film was the


Jon Erwin  11:52

longest I’ve ever worked on a movie, it’s the movie we’ve been trying to get made in between all the other movies. About seven years ago, before the movie, I can only imagine the first true story we made was Woodlawn. And it was set in the early 70s. And it was like a, a revival, save this high school. And I was like, How is this true, this really happened and almost seemed too good to be true. So I began researching the time. And, and I stumbled upon this, I’ve got this, this this magazine, IT’S TIME magazine. 1971. And it’s this psychedelic Jesus on the cover of Time, and time called the Jesus revolution. And it was an article you couldn’t read online. And so it was this 10 page spread. That was beautiful. It it. It. It was the most positive account of Christianity I’ve ever read in a publication lifetime. And it was this tidal wave of spiritual awakening that started in Southern California, and then really swept the country and the crescendo back into Dallas, Texas, actually, at this event called Expo 72. And, and I just immediately had the fear of missing out I immediately was like, I felt gypped I’m like, why is my generation not experienced anything like this? And, and I just became a student of the Jesus movement and of revivals in general. And honestly, you can’t separate the story of America without the story of the revivals that have been in America all the way back to the Great Awakening, which preceded the American Revolution. And, and so I just got to know that I just got to study it. I wanted to meet someone that lived it. So I started, I’m compulsively curious. And so I that’s how I met Greg and Kathy Laurie. And we, we started talking about it. And I started doing interviews. And the more interviews I did, the more this word desperate came up. It was just a desperate time. It was a time so similar to the time that we’re in right now. It’s very divisive time in American history. So we’ve been where we are before. And that’s where that’s when God broke through. What do they say when you’re paying outweighs your fear change can be in you know, and that was a time where where people just got desperate enough for God and and so I just felt like I really want to make a movie on this. And so what’s funny is we’ve tried several times, every movie we’ve been trying to like so I can only imagine I still believe American underdog. I’ve been trying to get basically enough credibility to get a studio to let us make a movie like Jesus revolution. So the fact that Lionsgate it’s such a miracle in such a statement of trust that Lionsgate would let us make this movie with this title. And, and I’m very grateful. And I love the movie that we made and God’s timing is just perfect. We were about to roll cameras on this movie, right when COVID shut everything down. But God just had a time and a plan for this movie. So to see the month that we’re in right now, I was talking to Dallas Jenkins. Little little side story. There was an event that Coleman At the culminating event of the Jesus movement was an event called Expo 72, in Dallas, Texas, and you guys are in Texas. And as is Dallas, and it was like, somewhere between 100,000 and a quarter million young people converged on Dallas, Billy Graham was here and it was in the Cotton Bowl. And it was like the seminal event of the Jesus movement. And, and my parents were there. Dallas Jenkins parents were there. They were so moved. That’s why his name is Dallas, his wife, Amanda’s parents were there. So it was this generational event, you know, and so I was talking to him. And of course, we’ve become good friends. And Jonathan Rumi is in both his show the chosen and in the movie, Jesus revolution. And we’re like, we didn’t plan it this way. But February has really become the month of Jesus, you know, in entertainment between the chosen Superbowl commercials, and now, you know, Jesus revolution. And it’s so cool to lock arms and work together to just get Jesus back into the conversation in a really meaningful way. And, and to see that begin to happen, and work. And then what we’ve all been praying for, you know, a couple weeks ago, you know, whenever it started, I was in, I was in Kentucky, wrapping another movie. And it was like day two of this revival at Asbury. And through my study of the Jesus movement, I knew that Asbury, that very auditory of us out of Turin was a big part of the Jesus movement in 1970, of what became the Jesus movement in the south. And so I was like, my wife was with me, and I’m like, let’s just go over and see what it is and see what’s going on. And it was like, you know, day two or day three, you just walk right in, and, and we sat there and listened. And then Greg, to just the students talking about what God was doing in their lives. And the way they were owning their time and their faith, it was so inspiring. And then Greg Laurie called me and said, what it feels like it, you know, and I said, it felt just like scenes, we dramatize the movement, like it felt so similar. So to see little, little shards of hope that that this cannon is happening, again, is the very reason why we made the movie. So all the times that we’ve tried to make this movie, I think God just had the perfect moment for this movie to come out. And so I love the fact that it’s coming out. And I love the movie that we made. And we were entertainers first. And so we want to make you laugh and cry. And I’ve never made a movie where people cheered during the film before and multiple times. But there really is a heartbeat and a movement behind this movie. If God can do this once, maybe you can do it again. And and maybe this can happen again in our time. And that’s why we made it.


Mark Legg  17:42

That’s good. And that’s exciting, too. And I’m curious as to what you attribute to, obviously God’s hand, God’s providence, bringing all these things together at the same time. But I’m curious about how you got connected to Lionsgate and how that happened. And even seeing the chosen kind of break all any record by a mile for crowdfunded film, like crowd funded TV shows, and those kinds of things. Do you think that Hollywood is paying more attention to it just because there have been more successful films recently this kind of Christian Yeah, cohort? And what do you attribute to that success? And how did you convince Lionsgate? Or how did that connection happen? You know, to do this film? Well,


Jon Erwin  18:31

I still don’t quite know. I mean, we did some things, right. And I’m so grateful for the support of the audience. I think it was the overwhelming success of I can only imagine, they got us in business with Lionsgate and led to a partnership and a deal. And I love that studio. There’s many believers at that studio, and they’re innovative and entrepreneurial. And again, the fact that they would make us let a movie make a movie called Jesus revolution is just a total miracle is and the fact that in this environment, they would put it wide in theaters nationwide. That’s a total miracle. And it’s such a statement of trust. There’s so many wonderful people there. But it really is the support of the audience. Like when we unify our voice, we’re in a moment and entertainment, this will end up being the most disruptive moment in the history of movies and television, what has been COVID? And what it did, is it just accelerated change, you know, so 10 years of change happened in a year and and so what happens is, studios get really desperate, you know, when that happens for anything that works, any sure bad because there’s so many unknowns. So when we show up as an audience, and champion a product together, they will make more of that, like there’s no more, you know, sort of like, well, we’re gonna we’re gonna sit on our ideological high horse and not make this stuff if it works, they’ll make it whether that’s horror films or superhero films or or faith based films. And so I think that we just have a unique opportunity in an industry I also think there’s so many changes in the content. In in Hollywood, that there’s a lot of people under the hood that had been silently people of faith, saying, I just can’t, I have to reconcile my values to my career. And so there’s this uprising on behalf of faith and values, again, in Hollywood, which is really cool to see to be a part of. And so I just think the timing is right. And I think timing is everything. But there’s a lot going on. There’s more going on in the industry, than anytime in my career on behalf of Christianity. And I think over the over the next few years, you’re gonna feel it more and more, at the highest levels of the industry, the most well known actors to the business analytics people and the financial engineers. And, you know, there’s just, you know, that there’s in studio executives, there’s just a, there’s quite the, there’s quite the return to form. And so it’s cool to see us get back to something I think, as I mentioned, you know, we had to premiere this movie of the Chinese Theater and first movie premiere, there was was Demelza, King of Kings, you know, it’s cool to try to get back to, to, to something, you know, that was substantive in Hollywood a long time ago, and try to try to retake that mountain or be a small part of doing that. So there’s, there’s great things going on. But even then, the fact that they let us make a movie called Jesus revolution, about the last great revival in America, and the fact that it’s coming out right now, that’s something only God could have done. And the fact that we, you know, Dallas, and I didn’t sit down and like your things going to, like, your your product is going to end three weeks before our product comes out. And we’re going to make sure we have Superbowl commercials that have the name of Jesus in the middle, and like, we’re going to plan all that, like we didn’t do any of that. We just, it just sort of happened all in the month of February. And it’s really cool to see, you know, that there’s, you know, that there’s, you know, three chord strands not easily broken, these things are happening all at the same time. And I of course, love the chosen I love Jonathan in the chosen. That’s why I cast him in this movie. And, and I think season three is the best season, I think the end of season three is so incredible, with what they dramatized. And so it’s just really cool to to use technology, you know, Paul said of David and axe that he served the purposes of God in his generation, the technology that we have, and things like mass entertainment, which is America’s second largest export, they, they present us with more opportunities to sort of get the message out to share the gospel than every generation before us combined, of Christians. So let’s use this let’s use and let’s change our attitude a little bit. You know, Jesus said to Peter, on this rock, I build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it, alright, you know, you know, a Gates, not a weapon, nobody’s gonna throw a gate, you know, these gates are meant to be stormed. And that should be our attitude. And I think we’ve taken a much more defensive, fearful posture. Instead of saying, let’s get back in the game, let’s let’s, and I’ve just found in LA, a horrific lack of representation for Christianity. And I actually think that’s our fault. That’s not LA’s fault. You know, and, and I think it’s time we take a different attitude. And we, and we, and we own our time, and we own the tools of our time, in a powerful way. For us, we couldn’t do it without trying to make the best movies that we can make. But when the audience supports them, that’s what allows us to be more.


Mark Turman  23:36

Yeah. And so great to watch how that happens. You know, and, and, you know, maybe we’re seeing some signs of that with just some fresh movements of God, like you said, with Asbury, Ashbury seminary or college, and Yale, and just some things going on to like retake some of the entertainment industry. As you said, I have a friend here in Dallas, who has a daughter in LA trying to make it in the entertainment industry. And, you know, she just decided to invite some friends over just to have a spiritual conversation, ask her dad to come out and kind of help her with it. It’s turned into a regular group that meets, you know, a couple of times a month, probably between 40 and 60. People in the entertainment industry who bring a lot of baggage and a lot of brokenness. So he, he gets to go out and just spend time with them. They’ve seen people come to faith and come back to Faith and that type of thing. One of the things John I just really curious about is, I just I’ve followed the entertainment career of Kelsey Grammer for decades now. I’m old enough to go all the way back to the cheers days that yeah, probably didn’t know anything of what I’m talking about. And, and thank you for plugging the chosen. I got to have some time with Dallas Jenkins got to meet him a few months ago. And I would just tell our audience, look, the only way you can really appreciate the The end of season three of the chosen is to see it in a theater to see how that season ends on a big screen was just fabulous. But how did it come about? You know, like said there’s not a not a Christian conspiracy here to take over the month of February but God orchestrated some of these pieces to come together with the chosen season three and he gets us and now with Jesus revolution, but how do you get somebody like Kelsey Grammer involved in a project like this?


Jon Erwin  25:32

You know, that’s a great question. And and first of all, at the end of season three spectacular I was watching I guess I’m allowed to say it now because it’s out the walking on a walking on water is the end of season three and and they kept it a big secret. And I was watching every iteration on like Dallas, his iPhone. And like he says that cinematographer who also is the cinematographer from Jesus revolution on his iPhone, and, and seeing the visual effects come in, and it is awe inspiring and staggering. It’s so good. And emotional. And you’re right, we did not plan this conspiracy. It was literally God said this is when I want these projects to come out. And, and, and again, I just think God had a plan. And it’s so cool. It’s like we make our plans, God directs our steps. And it’s so cool to just feel like people did feel in the Jesus movement and the Jesus revolution, just a part of something like like, it’s not about one thing. It’s about the combination of things. It’s so cool. Kelsey Grammer is he’s Kelsey Grammer I mean, he’s, he’s a national treasure is what he is, but But you know, when you can be Fraser and Macbeth that is range as an actor. But he’s also, you know, as he said, on both Fallon and, and especially when he really broke down, started crying with Ryan Seacrest, and Kelly doing press for the movie. He just had this crisis of meaning in his life, and he really wanted to do something meaningful. And he said, the script came the next day, and he felt it was a sign. And he is so curious, and so spiritually hungry, and has just gave himself to the role loves the movie. And God’s just working in his life. And I love him. He’s one of the most kind of generous people I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. But he’s also one of the most incredibly talented actors I’ve ever gotten the chance to work with. And he gives such an unbelievable performance in the film. You know, portraying this pastor that on a dare from his daughter throws his doors open to the church and of His church to the hippies. And which at the time, you know, a hippie coming to church was like, here’s your path, like go home, run away, take a bath your hair, get a job rejoin society now, maybe we’ll let you back in the church. And he just said no, come as you are telling right now. And there was so much power in that. And I remember Greg saying that when he met Lonnie Frisbees, like nitro meeting glycerin, and they were quiet the team for a very short time, but that that spark is what lit the flame of the Jesus movement. And, and so Kelsey just really dedicated himself to the role. And, and I remember he came to Greg’s SoCal harvest event, and I was with him up in the press box, and dragged preached and gave the invitation and then we couldn’t find Kelsey, I thought he went to the bathroom. And he and his daughter, they were down on the field, you know, and, and just responding and just smiling and crying. And it was just this wonderfully beautiful moment. And, and it really is a project that has been very meaningful to him. And I love working with him and would do it again in a heartbeat. And he was he’s just, you know, he just he had insight into the part that I didn’t even see. And he crushes it in his movie, and I’m so grateful to, to have had the privilege to work with him.


Mark Legg  28:57

Yeah. Yeah. Makes me really excited to see it. And as someone who, as a young person in our culture, right now, I’ve done, Mark, and I’ve done a lot of work into looking to Generation Z, and kind of that cohort of people who are coming up going to be many of us are already adults, and then will continue to become adults. I wonder, as we think back about the 60s and 70s. There was such an uncertain time. It was so, so turbulent in the culture. I mean, I think when we look at what we’re in today, it feels like this is the most turbulent culture could ever be. But arguably, it’s been even more turbulent in the past, like you’ve like you talked about. Yeah. And so I think when we talk about these issues at Denison forum, I think it’s always important to get that perspective. The perspective that in the first century, the culture that Jesus was working In was this kind of Hellenistic Roman culture, a very pagan culture was where Christianity was born. And even when you talked about just now, talking about how the gates of hell won’t stand against Christ and his followers. You know, he’s in sensory of Philippi, I believe. And he’s looking into what they believe was a literal gates of hell into this spring that they could not measure the depths of. And so at that time, they believed maybe that was the literal gates to Hades, and the culture. And that’s where he made that proclamation. And I wonder if you could speak into for Christians who are feeling a bit hopeless and such a turbulent time in our culture, both that perspective and then also, why this time would be so ripe for a revival, again, like the one that happened to Jesus revolution?


Jon Erwin  30:55

Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great question. And just to give a little perspective, because it can feel a little bleak these days, certainly, there’s never, there’s, I’ve never been in a moment in my lifetime, where, you know, there’s been this kind of hatred and division. But it has happened before, you know, and, and we have been here before. And, you know, my daughter’s 14, God helped me as a dad. And so speaking on behalf of Jin, of what I’ve observed about Gen Z, and saying it as a thing, I’m called a geriatric millennial, I was year one. So we’ve got an old anyway. You know, I just believe in this generation, I believe in what God’s gonna do in this generation. And I noticed something when I began studying the Jesus movement is it was not a generation of these, like bad kids that were doing their bad drugs that suddenly came to God. It was actually an incredibly astute, incredibly aware generation, that we’re aware of their own needs. Now that drove them to the wrong places first, and as portrayed in the film. And so I love watching this film with college students and teenagers, they love it, it’s really a film designed to bring generations together. A lot of times, screens rip, rip our families apart now. And I want to make content that brings our families together. So it’s a great film to watch with teenagers, teenagers actually love it. You know, I watched the premiere with my wife, my daughter, and my parents, and we were all enjoying it for different reasons, because everybody’s coming in through a different character. But the love story with these teenagers is really front and center. And for that reason, high school and college students really love the film, a uniquely of any film we’ve made. And, and so do their parents. And we designed it that way. Because we want this film to be a conversation. And, and so I think a big part, you know, of that time was I learned through study the difference between these two words spiritual awakening and revival. I thought when I started this journey, that those were the same thing we’ll come to find out, they’re not revival, something that happens in in the church. Spiritual Awakening is something that happens in culture. And if you pray for spiritual awakening, get ready to be disrupted, get ready for your life to be disrupted, because back then, there was suddenly a generation that for whatever reason, was aware of their own need their own spiritual vacuum. And the fact that this sort of materialistic quest of their parents was not enough. And they were a generation searching. It’s what we say in the film, searching for all the right things in all the wrong places. So sort of the quest of free love drugs, rock and roll. And what we talked about in the film of the quest of LSD was sort of this way to find God. And they had to get to the end of that, and they had to realize that that didn’t work. To then, you know, that’s why they said Jesus is the real drug back then it’s basically they’re like, We finally found what works and I think a generation today, that is what has returned, you have a general that it was, it was which wasn’t pew it was. Anyway, one of the one of the research groups did this study that there is a sudden rise in spiritual hunger and curiosity in America. So even though church attendance is declining, people are spiritually hungry, and they’re aware of their own vacuum, and they’re like, What is the answer? We thought social media would connect us in many ways, social media, sort of like what LSD was back then, like this thing that was supposed to connect us and make us feel a certain way, and it doesn’t, and it just leaves us empty. And, and so now they’re saying, you know, sort of what’s the answer? And so I think this I just really believe in this generation being very similar to that generation, of just being very spiritually aware, and very spiritually attuned, and being very attuned to what’s authentic and what’s not. And, and I think that that’s a huge opportunity. And I do think one of the one of the verses that I put In the movie, we first meet Kelsey and he’s in his church at 30. People. He, he says this, he holds up this magazine has gotten dead, which was Time magazine 1967. He’s like, and he basically is just like this, it’s over. This is the, which is in many ways, the attitude we have. And there’s this verse in Matthew, or he says, he wonders to be in shall be saved, you know, which I think growing up Baptist can be sort of like the attitude. But if you keep reading your Bible, it says, this gospel of the kingdom will go to all nations, you know, to all people as a testimony, and then the end will come and and it was in context of Jesus disciples saying, what’s the sign of the times, whatever. And I think if you’ve just, I would encourage everyone to just zoom out a little bit. And Jesus tells His disciples to get this, this message is the whole first to do list to Christianity, the Great Commission to the whole world. Well, the continent we’re on wouldn’t be discovered for, like, 1400 plus years, you know, and so in this distance medley relay of Christianity, and yeah, it’s bad, but we’re not getting like we’re not the pre show, in the gladiator events getting eaten by lions. So certainly worse than you know, and, and every generation has led to a moment in time, where our generation is the first generation that can reasonably say, this thing the Great Commission, could happen in our lifetime, we could get the gospel to the entire world, to the fact that we’re not jumping up and down over that. And the fact that we’re not getting after it, each in our own lanes, and our own craft is frustrating to me. Because we are in such a unique time to to get this message around the world by harnessing mediums like radio, television, mass entertainment, whenever there’s been a sweeping move of God, there’s always been some sort of technological innovation that’s made communication easier, whether that was the printing press, or radio, or television or railroads even. And so we’re just in a time of accelerated innovation technology that enables us to get this message out. And I just think we need to change our attitude and the way we think about ourselves. I think in many ways, Christianity is like, you know, that elephant in the circus, when it’s a baby, they tie its foot to a pole with a rope. And then when that elephants grown, they’ll tie that elephant with a string to a pole. And it’ll stay right there, because it’s trapped in its own mind and its own paradigms were far more powerful than we think. And when we unify our voice, amazing things happen. And I would just, I would encourage us to change our perspective at a very unique moment in history. And it’s bad, certainly, America is struggling. And look, I say this, my grandfather is a Medal of Honor recipient. I love this country. But it’s the greatest idea in the history of nations, but and we’re stewards of it, it’s amazing, but it’s not the kingdom of God, you know, and, and, and, and I just think that, that, you know, if we just set our minds on, okay, let’s get this message of hope to the entire world in our time, let’s embrace that we have more tools than ever to do that. And let’s embrace that God can work in a generation, just like he has at similar moments. The beautiful thing about the problems in our country, and things that we cover in the film is weed as I did the research on Jesus revolution, the word that came up the most was the word desperate. It was just a desperate time. And we had to, we had to be driven to our knees as a nation, for God to show up. And, and so I think a lot of what’s going on now is a good thing, you know, and we should embrace it. But I just I feel much more optimistic about the times in which we live. I think God’s going to work in my daughter’s generation. I think God’s going to use us to get the gospel to the world. And I think it’s time that we that we take a mindset of offense, and we replace pessimism with optimism and hope and, and we get after it, you know, in our time, it’s not as bad as we think.


Mark Turman  39:03

So well, so well said, Yeah. And just, and that’s, you know, one of the things I found in the movie, you know, and you have heard about a number of these figures for a long time, you know, Chuck Smith and Greg Laurie obviously and learned a lot about Lonnie frisbee that I didn’t know. And it’s just, you know, great job of paralleling the desperation that came from what you might call the Woodstock side of things where so many people went down that road and got stuck and and never came out of that drug culture and that type of thing. And then this other movement, you know, it’s almost like there was a an imposter movement going on at the same time that the Jesus movement was emerging or the imposter movement gave rise to the authentic movement of the Jesus revolution. But in the in the midst of this mark, or John in the few minutes that we have left are there is there a scene wonder? two scenes that are just your favorite, I would have my favorite in picking this. And, you know, I related to this in so many ways I was 19 years old when all of this was unhappy was unfolding in the early 70s. I had older siblings that were kind of caught up in different pieces of this, I recognize the things that they wore the car that they drove, and even last year here in Dallas, there was a commemorative event at the Cotton Bowl for Expo 72. That yeah, yeah. And so connecting to it in that way. But is there a couple of parts of the film couple of scenes that are just absolutely your your favorite because even though it tells the story of, of Chuck Smith, Lonnie, Greg, Laurie, it’s really much bigger than that the story is much bigger than just those characters. Yeah. But what’s, what’s your favorite part? Yeah, and


Jon Erwin  40:53

yeah, so I do have a favorite scene and a favorite moment. And it’s, I think it’s a career favorite. That I can explain a minute, but one of the themes that I do love that you touched on, it’s not a story of, it’s not the Lonnie frisbee movie. It’s not the Chuck Smith movie. It’s not the Greg Laurie movie. It’s the Jesus movement, Jesus revolution movie. So I love the story of these characters, none of which are perfect, being caught up in a perfect moment in time. And God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. And, and, and just to just to touch on it, you know, Lonnie, post this story in the Jesus movement, went to winter Florida, had he and he just wrestled with things that he said he was, he was wounded as a child stayed wounded his whole life. And he got bitter, felt like he was used, we covered the film a little bit, it felt like he was sort of used as a spark. And then people would cast him aside and had real problems with father figures. And so after he helped launch the vineyard, vineyard movement, the 80s, you know, he sort of fell away in Rio for a time, and then came back and repentance, and ended up dying of AIDS, you know, and, and, and so for a long time, he was sort of written out of the Jesus movement, because of struggles that he had later on. And first of all, that that’s a revision that’s revisionist history. That’s not accurate. He there there, he was substantively a part of it. I think so many of us sit back and think, God can’t use me because I’ve done this or that I struggle with this or that. I’m not talented enough, whatever it is. And I really wanted to challenge that notion. You know, the next story that I’m launching into is is David from the Bible. And so I think that talk about a complex, flawed character that God used greatly. And, and I just thinks, we need to understand that yes, there’s consequences to things that we do. And sometimes those consequences can be hurtful, sometimes they can cut a life short. But that does not mean that God can’t use us. And so I think a lot of people feel a certain sense of either disqualified or unqualified, so they stay on the sidelines and Christianity. I just one of the reasons I made this movie is to really challenge that notion, like we all have a role to play, we all have a gift, we all have a story. And God is a is the master worker of taking things and redeeming them, you know, and taking some some things that we do and actually turning them into into our testimony and into our story. And there’s very, very few that God can redeem any story. And so that’s a huge part of the film. And a huge part that I’m passionate about. My favorite scene in the movie, and probably in in my career is this baptism scene in it right in the center of the movie in the middle of the movie. And we filmed the movie four weeks in El in the coast of Alabama. And then we went to California for six days to film in the actual locations. In this magazine, that’s Jesus revolution magazine. There’s a ton of photography as there was in Life Magazine Look magazine of Pirates Cove, it really was this sacred place where there was these mass baptisms. There was so many people that wanted to get baptized, they had to go to the ocean. Pirates Cove is a very difficult location to film in, because it’s like this crescent moon, it’s jagged rocks, you have to go up and over. So for a film crew, it’s terrible. So, you know, there was one thought that we could we could film it on any beach anywhere, you know, but I really felt we should go back to the actual location where all this happened, and we should match it. And that’s exactly what we did. And I’ve never felt such spiritual power on the set of a movie. It takes miracles to make any movie but we had like 500 extras there. Three to 500 depending on the day and and Greg Laurie put Kelsey Grammer and Jonathan Rumi through sort of baptism school, there’s all these things that you don’t know like, you can throw your back out if you’re not deep enough. And, you know, and and he actually Greg actually wrote and taught Jonathan the salvation prayer that’s in the movie. It wasn’t in the script. It was just they just said they prayed in the script. And, and we filmed that. Jonathan Rumi prayed for a heatwave because it was in March in LA in the Pacific Ocean and there was a heatwave, I’m like, should have prayed that hard, which was a miracle. And, and Jonathan is quite the method actor came up out of the water, and just said, Man, I’m doing it just like Greg taught me. I’m doing exactly what he taught me. But this is not acting like, I’ve had like five people that are saying, I want to be baptized for real right now. Well, you really baptized me. And people were making real decisions for Christ. And we had another Calvary Chapel, pastor in the water. And he came up, and he’s like, I’m telling you, God’s Spirit is here. And if we just stop this and have a service, there will be a huge response. I mean, we can’t do that this unsetting we’re making a movie man. But, but it was like it was it was just in the air. It was unbelievable. And then Greg Laurie, while we’re dramatizing his baptism, talking about life imitating art and vice versa. You know, with Jonathan and Joel, the real Greg Laurie, there was a cast member who hadn’t acted for 14 years. And a real bad drug problem was trying to get a SAG card again, he’s in the Mighty Ducks, and great guy. And he had a drug problem, it almost killed him a few times. And Greg was having a conversation with him. And without any of us even knowing it was happening, baptizing him like 300 feet away, from where we were dramatizing the scene. So it was you feel it in the movie, I think you feel that power in that scene in the movie. That’s exactly what we felt on the day. And I felt like we, we, we touched the Jesus movement a little bit like we felt that a little bit and, and oddly enough, it was the same feeling in the air. I can’t explain it. It was it that I felt when my wife and I drove over to Asbury University. On day three, that revival and just sat and use Auditorium is the exact same feeling. And it’s really, really cool. So it just gave me great hopes, that if it happened once it can happen again. So you know, we all have our gifts, and we all use our gifts. I’m an entertainer, I’m a storyteller. And so the best we can do is just to tell, I’ve heard it said that the theme of revival spreads the flame of revival. So we can just tell the story as and make it as entertaining and as fun and as funny and as meaningful as we can. But with the hopes that people will watch the movie and say, let’s let this happen again, if I had one request, if there was ever a movie, that I would ask you, to take people to, it’s this movie, it’s designed for you to take people to it. I especially think about what I wrestle with the most. As a dad, I feel like Jerry Maguire with that line of Jerry Maguire, when he said, you see this jacket, you want it, I don’t need it. Because I’m cloaked in failure. Like, I just feel like all these influences were the first parents that are dealing with platforms at scale in our homes. And so it’s just this flood of influence in our homes, and you just feel completely disconnected from your kids. And so I would just say to those parents, with teenage kids, take them to this movie and talk to them after I guarantee it will work. Because it worked for me with my daughter. And so they’ll see the movie. It’s in theaters right now, substantively this weekend or early screening screenings right now. And let’s all pray together that God can do this again.


Mark Turman  48:27

Absolutely, yeah, just and who knows? Right? You know, sometimes we talk about the whole world is in God’s hands, but his his fingerprints are at certain places. Maybe Asbury is one of those places, maybe Pirates Cove is one of those places is just sacred ground, even though it’s got a name like pirates code. Yeah, it’s just sacred ground where God does some of his most special work. But you know, John, one of our goals at Denison Forum and the Dennis Forum Podcast is to just shine a light on where God is at work. And we we really trust and believe that God is at work in this environment and in the environment of film, and storytelling that you’re you and your brother are in and just, again, thank you for what you’ve done and what you are doing. And thank you for letting us be a part of telling the story and a little bit and so important that our audience go and see this movie, and like you said, take people with them. And that will serve a lot of purposes, not the least of which being hopefully being a catalyst to the next awakening the next Jesus revolution and revival within the church. We’d want to see both Yeah, not either or, but see both. And we’re just grateful for your time and grateful for the attention of people that are listening to this podcast. And if this has been helpful to you today, please rate review us on your podcast platform, share it with others, please share it with others, and go see the movie and enjoy the popcorn. It’s going to be a great great my wife loves it. So


Jon Erwin  49:53

does mine. Yeah, it’s That’s right. Yeah, God God bless you guys. I hope you enjoy the film. It’s my favorite film. Ever to watch with an audience, it’s just a wonderful it’s an experience full of joy when you watch it with people and, and I hope you enjoy it and it is in theaters and thank you for helping get the word out. And I just think, be encouraged. Most of all, God is on the move. He’s on the move. Absolutely. In our country. He’s on the move in the entertainment industry. He’s only moving the world. He’s working in a generation. And I think if we, I dare you to be optimistic is my is my sort of word to Christians everywhere. Like it’s not it’s not as bad as we think. And God’s gonna show up I think in a really big way. And we’re gonna all get to be hard, though. God bless you guys enjoy the movie.


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