As is so often the case, truth is stranger—and much more interesting—than fiction. 

Take, for example, the box office hitJesus Revolution, which is currently playing in theatres. Rarely do you find a Christian movie which is a really well made movie while at the same time, reflecting modern-day evangelical Christian beliefs at the same time. But this is what makes this particular movie a rare exception.

Amongst thousands of others, I really enjoyed Jesus Revolution and at multiple points was even moved to tears. I especially appreciated the performance of Jonathan Roumie who plays the character of Lonnie Frisbee, and he steals the show every scene he’s in. Roumie is an excellent actor, and many people will recognise that he also plays the person of Jesus in the popular mini-series Chosen.

It’s the real-life story of Frisbee which is especially compelling. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t go into all that much detail regarding Frisbee’s life. Although, to be fair, it does acknowledge the developing break-down in his own marriage, as well the significant parting of the ways with his ministry colleague Chuck Smith. 

In the end credits, all that is mentioned is that the two men were later reconciled. However, it fails to clarify that Frisbee died at the tender age of 43 from AIDS.

Bethel McGraw has written an excellent article which explores the “walking contradiction” of Frisbee’s life. For as McGraw graciously explains, “The dynamic evangelist was directly responsible for a wave of conversions, but he was also a deeply troubled soul whose moral failings cost him his ministry platform and ultimately his life.” 

With the rise of “celebrity culture” we are sadly seeing this kind of inconsistency more and more. Of men and women who are greatly used by God, resulting in genuine spiritual fruit, and yet, there are glaring irregularities in their character and lives. 

While it is never excusable, maybe we shouldn’t be all that shocked or surprised, since even King David committed adultery with Bathsheba. What’s more, he even tried to cover up his sin by having her husband killed. And that resulted in the writing of Psalm 51. Clearly, God uses even our mistakes to bring glory to His Name and extend His saving purposes here on earth. Just think of the tragic and timeless example of Pharaoh!

While we are all “works in progress”, this can be a stumbling block not just to the unbelieving world, but to those within the church who have been let down by the behaviour of those whom they had placed upon a pedestal and maybe even trusted in a little too much. And lest we seek to try and justify our sinful actions under the guise of God’s sovereignty, it’s worth remembering how David’s child to Bathsheba died (see 2 Sam. 12:13-25). 

Could it be that the LORD responded in precisely the same way to Frisbee, and He did to David? As McGraw helpfully explains regarding Frisbee:

The truth, as usual, is messy. At the time, Frisbee was only college-aged himself (though he’s played by the much older Jonathan Roumie, who eerily evokes middle-aged Frisbee). As a teenage survivor of unspeakable child abuse, he had plunged into the Laguna Beach gay underground scene. The film obliquely refers to this phase in Frisbee’s tragic line, “We did everything and everyone.” After a particularly intense LSD trip, he became obsessed with Jesus and the Bible. Charismatic preachers took him under their wing and taught him the tricks of their trade. He began compulsively sharing the gospel with his unsaved family and whoever else would listen, including Connie Bremer, the girl he would marry. He told her he wasn’t gay, he’d come out of a homosexual lifestyle.

The marriage was a mismatch from the beginning, tragically destined to shatter on the rocks of Connie’s adultery and Frisbee’s punishing ministry schedule. He quickly became an “apostle” in his own eyes, testing his “gifts” as an Aimee Semple McPherson-style faith healer, with results some witnesses will maintain to this day were truly miraculous. Then, late nights, he would come home and tell Connie he’d been hanging out in gay bars. She tried to assume the best. He would go literally anywhere to tell literally anyone about Jesus, after all. 

There are many spiritual lessons to take away from this. Not the least of which is the Bible’s warning that we should never be hasty in the laying on of hands (1 Tim. 5:22). While we should always rejoice in people being converted, as well as their desire to be involved in ministry, it is foolish to promote people too quickly to positions of leadership. As the apostle Paul writes:

He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. (1 Tim. 3:6-7)

In one particular scene in Jesus Revolution, the central character of Greg Laurie looks out the window of the share house he is staying in and sees Frisbee—sitting outside in the rain—literally weeping for God to using him in significant ways. It’s both a touching and tragic scene. For we as the viewer begin to realise how selfish ambition—even in sincerely seeking to serving Christ—can demonically deceive anyone’s motivation (i.e. Jam. 3:16).

Jesus Revolution is an excellent faith-based film. And I’d recommend anyone to go and see it. But as evangelicals, we have to be wary of triumphalism and in particular, not despise “the day of small things” (Zech. 4:10). For while we should always rejoice in revival—those dramatic outpourings of God’s Spirit—we should also recognise that the kingdom of God advances through the faithful toil of everyday commitment. 

Indeed, that is often the harder, but ultimately, much more beneficial, path to tread.