Theologian Millard Erickson once said, “I love Carl Henry’s work. It’s extremely important. I hope someday that it is translated into English!”
Briefly summarized, this essay gives a taxonomy of the Jesus Movement as it appeared. First, he ties the Jesus Movement to the general countercultural movement
Many in the Jesus movement (the name originated with the February 1971 issue of Look magazine) boldy identified themselves with much of the general countercultural protest against contemporary social trends. They deplored racial discrimination and wanton pollution of the environment. They lamented a pursuit of problems and of solutions to those problems indifferent to personal values. They disowned technological totalitarianism which assumes that human needs are primarily technical in character and which by social engineering manipulates and depersonalizes human beings.
However, the Jesus movement differed fundamentally from the general countercultural critique:
But the Jesus movement declared that sin, and not technocracy, is the root of all evil, and disputed the countercultural assumption that man is basically sound and needs only to be liberated. It proclaimed unapologetically that “Christ is the answer.” It boldly emphasized that the Christian gospel carries in it a divine revelation and redemption absent from the counterculture no less than from the technocratic society it assailed. It was aware that historic Christianity is by nature both counterculture and counter-counterculture, indeed has less the character of a protest movement than of a witness movement that affirms Jesus Christ and his kingdom.
Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 123–124.
This relationship to the broader culture gave the Jesus movement peculiar display of Christianity:
The Jesus movement was in some respects as much a product of the times as a manifestation of the Spirit of God. The depersonalizing aspects of rationalistic and technocratic cultural excesses triggered a reaction from which not even the Jesus movement escaped. On the whole the movement was experience-centered and antihistorical in respect to Christian tradition. Theological orientation was minimal, but that was not unlike the plight of many congregations whose pastors were more socially oriented than biblically illuminated. Some Jesus followers no doubt came to know more about the nature ofGod than their former Sunday school teachers.
Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 126. I would like to note here, that this Jesus Movement, which swelled the ranks of the church for the most part never outgrew its lack of depth in the Christian tradition. The “traditions” which developed from the Jesus movement have seemingly remained largely experiential. And while I have never studied the matter, I would not be surprised to find that the “Seeker Sensitive” its cousins have their roots in this soil. This is of course ironic, because the Seeker churches are marked by their consumerism
The apologetic of the movement took a true strand of Christianity, the doctrine of love, but put it a slogan which left susceptible to manipulation and decay as we have learned. Henry explains:
Most Jesus people—although not all—deplore the fundamentalist reduction of the spiritual life to a list of “don’ts.” Churches prone to such negation displayed the weakness of their own traditions when they refused to welcome young believers simply because, after accepting Christ, they retained long hair and mod dress characteristic of the counterculture. The Jesus movement wanted above all else to be known by its love for God and man. Its greeting to others became “God loves you.” Whereas deference to evangelical traditions ran the risk of straight-jacketing the Spirit, the experiential approach of the Jesus movement ran the risk of spiritual aberration and left many young believers vulnerable to cultic excesses. The ecumenical movement with its focus on “what the Spirit is saying to the churches” rather than on what the inspired Scripture ongoingly says, has meanwhile been more open to an emphasis on charismatic renewal than on a recovery of the Reformation.
Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 131.
There was an earnestness and a desire; however, that earnestness (from this perspective) never seemed to rightly mature in many (most?) instances. The Charismatic tendency of much of the Jesus Movement reduced to emotionalism. It’s lack of doctrinal depth, left it without resources to develop:
The Jesus movement’s revolt against institutional religion has issued in no clear alternative in the way of a united Christian front. It is vulnerable therefore to personality cults and to fads that lack the stability of a viable permanent movement. Its stance is basically isolationistic and escapist with regard to society, and its life style is countercultural. Some biblical wrestling with the nature of community in the light of the doctrine of the church was ventured by those devoted to pacifism or to a communal life style, but on the whole the Jesus movement was not inclined to serious academic investigation, particularly by those who recognize that communes have not demonstrated themselves to be the family of the future in view of the evident breakdown of open marriage.
Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 133–134. As we know, a great deal of that counterculture devolved into nothing more hedonistic excess or went indoors and became consumeristic (if there was evolution, it was in the nature of different pursuits around the self). The Jesus movement came before a generation of Christians who were barely distinguishable from the broader culture. There was a great emphasis on getting people through the door — a great emphasis on the porch: but once inside, there was little Christian to offer, and so consumerism filled the bill.