Fifty years ago, Christian revival sparked the Jesus People Movement. Aiming to fuel the flame of the same type of revival, Biola University hosted a new biennial conference — the Ablaze Conference — on October 7-9, 2021. More than 600 guests gathered to hear featured plenary speakers, workshops, worship and a special reunion concert with musical artists from the Jesus People Movement at the conference hosted by Biola’s Center for the Study of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today in partnership with the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center.

During the Jesus People Movement of the 1960s, the Holy Spirit provoked a spiritual awakening all across Southern California. Arising from the counterculture of the late 1960s, a resurgence of evangelical Christianity became known as the Jesus People Movement, or just the Jesus Movement, which heavily influenced churches and the Christian music industry.

Over the past several years, the Biola Holy Spirit Center has partnered with the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center on a research project called the Jesus People Movement Oral History Project. The undertaking has involved interviewing over 60 people who were affected by the Jesus People Movement first-hand. At the Ablaze Conference, four of the project’s initiatives aligning with the Jesus People Movement were discussed: social justice, evangelism, music and revival. Oscar Merlo, Director of Biola’s Center for the Study of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today, commented on the importance of reflecting on and researching the Jesus People Movement in a Talbot Magazine article.

“As we look back through history, we can see how the Holy Spirit moved amidst chaotic social times. These historical takeaways affirm that secular media and society sees the good of the gospel being lived out through a community of love. A love in action that characterizes the church must be shown as we face complex times in American contemporary history,” said Merlo.

Well-known pastor, church-planter and President of Acts 29, a world-wide church planting organization, Matt Chandler spoke at the conference, as well as Greg Laurie, author, pastor and evangelist. Evan Craft, Voz Church and Myesha Chaney led worship at the conference.

“2021 is not all that different than 1968,” said Chandler at the first plenary session of the Ablaze conference, comparing today to the height of the Jesus People Movement in the 1960s. “What came out of that train wreck? Revival. An outpouring of the Spirit that brought hundreds of thousands, if not ultimately millions of people to worship and lift high the name of Jesus Christ.”

A Jesus People Concert was featured during the conference with musical artists ​​Love Song, The Salt Company, Matthew Ward and Nelly Greisen of the 2nd Chapter of Acts, Nancy Honeytree and Dennis Agajanian. The concert filled the air on Biola’s Metzger Lawn with the sounds of the same Christian music that sparked a revival 50 years ago — a once-in-a-lifetime experience. More than 500 attendees enjoyed the songs that started it all for the Christian music scene. 

Image shows The Salt Company performing at the Jesus People Concert
The Salt Company performing at the Jesus People Concert

“The worship music we take for granted today was born from this period where musicians felt an abiding sense of calling to use music to reach the lost,” said Merlo. “As we reflect on this legacy, it is critical to recognize the power of institutional and structural influence for culture change. As writers such as Andy Crouch have argued, we must continue to send people into public and private spheres as agents of gospel transformation.”

In 2023, the Holy Spirit Center will host the second biennial Ablaze Conference. The Center for the Study of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today is a resource for students and scholars seeking a greater understanding and experience of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Housed at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology, the center aims to produce biblically faithful resources that equip Christians to be transformed and empowered by the Spirit for the sake of the gospel.

Learn more about Biola’s Center for the Study of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today.

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