“I Remember Max Gordon Phillips”
by Greg Prout, January 8, 2015: I was one of those ex-hippies at Pacific Union College interviewed by Max Gordon Phillips in the magazine Signs of the Times, October, 1969. I was “Dave” in his article, “Hope for Hippies.” I was young, very naive, and basically clueless about church and religion, but I had found Jesus. I recall getting word that a reporter from Signs of the Times wanted to talk with several of us who had found Christ and had providentially emerged from the hippie-drug culture of the 60’s.
At the time of the interview, we were busily involved in witnessing activities on campus and beyond. We who found Christ too wonderful to ignore were starting prayer groups in men’s dorms, delivering speeches to the Women’s Temperance Society, and giving talks in a home for runaway girls in San Francisco. We traveled to Bay area churches, giving sermons and presenting Sabbath school programs. We shared our testimony as far away as southern California. We arranged for a Big Brother program on campus in connection with the Big Brothers of Napa. We sent carloads of food to San Francisco’s drug-infested Haight-Ashbury, and provided volunteers to help with a fledgling vegetarian restaurant in the deteriorating Haight district. We organized caravans of cars loaded with eager students and trunkloads of food to Morning Star Ranch, a commune in Sebastopol, CA, which had been created by Lou Gottleib, the bass player for the 60’s folk-singing trio, the Limelighters. Singing groups were generated to bring a message of hope to Napa State (mental) Hospital. We had discovered “God” and the unbelievable treasure of being saved; we had to tell the world. We were on fire and Max wanted to record the flames.
Into a side room attached to the brand new Church on campus, we filed to meet our Interviewer. Mr. Phillips was unassuming and polite as he strategically positioned his small tape recorder to enhance our voices. He mentioned that he had heard unprecedented things were happening at PUC, and he wanted to know more. By then, it was nothing short of a campus-wide spiritual revolution. The church called it revival. Students were hungry for the God who could genuinely change lives previously ignored by a sleeping church. Redeemed lives, exciting times, radical times – we thought we were on the cusp of an “in the clouds of glory” event. The Israelis had just fought the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War and we concluded that was a “sign.” In those days we were “sign-freaks.” Everything was a sign of the end. Intoxicated by signs, we knew that Jesus’ coming was about to happen, and our spiritual revival was exploding to counter the groundbreaking changes sweeping the country. Of course ours was ordained of heaven and called to address the cultural demise we perceived happening in our nation in the late 60’s. Little did we think we could have been a small forerunner of the larger Jesus Movement soon to sweep across America. We were giddy with the idea that Jesus was “even at the doors,” and with little time left, colossal efforts had to be made. Souls had to be saved, and we were positioned and blessed to spread the “gospel of love” everywhere we could. Max wanted to capture that spirit on the pages of a popular Adventist periodical.
He asked about our personal histories. Naturally our stories were unique and different from each other, but we shared a common thread of drug abuse. Max inquired what caused us to escape the clutches of such a self-destructive culture. We told our personal narratives of redemption that collectively landed us at PUC. There was something magical and intriguing about how we all got there, which for us underscored our conviction we were called by the Lord to usher in the End.
We “born-again” students were products of a calamitous surreal disruption of what we had been accustomed to; life had become dynamic, careening down paths unimagined. “Somebody” was stirring the pot of American culture, and at PUC a small, insignificant campus, God was stirring us, just like the small band of disciples He selected to evangelize the entire world. We were to do the same. In that spirit, Max Phillips wrote his piece “Hope for the Hippies.” He seemed a thinking sensitive person who knew something certainly unusual was occurring and the church had better pay attention.
And the church did. It counseled us to watch our attire, make sure we did not reflect the dress of the rebellious mobs’ evidence on American streets. Keep our hair cut, our shirts tucked in, and refine our coarse speech. Our spirits were immature and needed to be toned down and seasoned with the wisdom of doctrine. The church assured us our experience needed their counsel, and our emphasis on Love was too emotional. Without doctrinal savoring, our message of love was only sentiment, unreliable, and too much like the world.
By the spring of that year the fiery passions had dimmed. Too many students struggled with unanswered prayer, lives that didn’t change, and a religion that was just another course to pass. They failed to discover the joy of serving, and slid back into nondescript programmed lives. The church was certain our revival had been less than “the real thing,” because we failed at “reformation.” The Jesus Movement was beginning to rear its head in cities across the country, and since it too lacked the proper Adventist doctrines and guidance, it was spurious, doomed to failure, and not to be embraced. (See Signs of the Times, October, 1971). Many of us who tenaciously believed, went off to seminary and sadly, in time, became just like the church, arguing for doctrinal purity, the essence of Truth.
Fast forward several decades. My early years of uber-excitement over Jesus’ imminent return have long faded, and disappointment has had its effect. I now question if we have outlived “soon,” “near,” and “I come quickly.” No longer can we say, with an honest mind, that Jesus’ coming is “even at the doors.” We can say it, but we know it is not believable. Our signs-of-the-times theology has turned on us, leaving our message of urgency dubious. Perchance, as a recent author suggested, we should change the message of “Jesus is coming soon” to just “Jesus is coming,” and forget the descriptive modifiers of “soon” “any moment,” “near,” and “even at the doors.” After all, it has been over 2,000 years since He promised to return quickly, challenging any sense of an impending event.
From reading the NT, I would reason the disciples would be shocked so much time has transpired and still no second advent. Some today might retort, “a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day” to God (2 Pet. 3:8). So, are we saying it could be thousands of years in human reckoning before He comes? It already has been thousands of years. Though it might appear a short time to God, it certainly doesn’t to me. It’s been a very long time. We need to be honest about this issue. And thousands of years with no appearing is looming. From the human experience, “thousands of years” are “thousands of years.”
Jesus said in Revelation 22:20, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” How does that statement measure up? We need to re-think our message of deliverance. What rational person could argue that not much time has gone by since the resurrection-ascension? Jesus’ disciples believed His return very near, even in their lifetime. The early church of the first few centuries thought so as well. Almost every generation since has thought so; meanwhile, millennia upon millennia go by. No, Jesus – God in human flesh – spoke in human language to human beings in their time and context.
Perhaps we should abandon the “signs of the times” approach? Perhaps the Kingdom is here, and Love is the answer, and we had better focus on compassion and service now and cling to the belief that Jesus will come someday. Only the Father knows when.
I wonder how Max Gordon Phillips would write about current church issues if he were still alive. We read his article about our conversions, and aside from one minor misquote, he wrote accurately. We appreciated his interest in our experience for he came across as kind and genuine. After the interview, I never saw him again. I would occasionally see his name attached to a church periodical, but nothing more, until today (January 2, 2015), when I read he passed away. Life evolves, theologies morph, and we all eventually end in the grave of history, as we wait for our deliverance.