Coming Home : the Jesus People movement in the midwest and their attempts to escape fundamentalism

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Religious Studies


Department of Religious Studies


William Trollinger


This dissertation is an historical study of the Jesus People Movement (JPM) in central Ohio. At present, two of these groups exist as megachurches in Columbus, OH. Each would consider themselves as something other than fundamentalist. Their story owes its importance, in part, to their strong connection to evangelical leaders previously associated with Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC). This connection extends the narrative outside of Ohio to the West Coast. These mentors had set up a network of JPM experiments including alternative seminary, experimental forms of local church polity and community, other JPM groups (including the Christian World Liberation Front in Berkeley, CA), and experiments in communal living. In other words, this dissertation provides a helpful case study for answering an historically contested question surrounding the JPM: Was it anything new, or were the changes cosmetic? To be sure, these groups believed they were leaving fundamentalism behind, but it proved more difficult to escape than imagined. Three streams that run through evangelicalism are considered. The first stream is the belief in the authority, inerrancy, and the perspicuity of the Bible. It is accompanied by confidence in one’s ability to come to a functionally objective, correct interpretation and application of the Bible, both for use in formulating propositional truth and making an application to individuals’ lives. This flows into a second stream: restorationism. In this context, it attempts to restore what is assumed to be an errant Christian Church to Jesus’ original intent. The groups in this dissertation began with a specific brand of restorationism found in Watchman Nee’s writings. Third, the “subjective-experiential” stream flows through the Protestant principle of the “priesthood of all believers,” or the idea that Christians can have a personal and direct encounter with God in which they receive guidance. These events happen in the context of the Charismatic Renewal, and each of these groups utilizes and emphasizes this stream in different ways. Each JPM group is examined in the context of the three streams. Each group arrived at different destinations and conclusions depending on which streams they emphasized and how they were applied. In the end, I will argue that none of these groups escaped fundamentalism as long as they embraced the first stream. However, the authoritarian tendencies within evangelicalism were minimized when the third stream was implemented in a manner that respected individual experience. Further, when the expectations for certainty of interpretation and application in the first stream were tempered, the danger of unhealthy authoritarianism was also diminished. However, none of the groups in this dissertation ultimately left fundamentalism. In the end, these groups are examples of the JPM operating within doctrinal fences grounded within fundamentalism. Some of these groups travel to the edge, but none ultimately escape.


Theology, Religious History, Religion, History, Jesus Movement, JPM, Jesus People Movement, Counterculture, Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, Hippies, Sixties, Seventies, Vineyard, Xenos, New Covenant Apostolic Order, NCAO, Campus Crusade, Authoritative Bible, Restorationism, JM

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Copyright © 2021, author.