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Larry Eskridge is associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals and recently completed his dissertation on the Jesus People.

What is the interest in intentional community in American history?

There is a thread of utopian Christian communities of one stripe or another throughout American history. You don't hear a whole lot about it in terms of evangelical Christians after the Civil War until you get to the '60s. Then you have the utopian, back to nature, back to the garden vision of the hippies.

How did Christians in the counter-culture respond to that vision?

The Jesus People brought the added impetus of the second chapter of the Book of Acts. It was natural for them to combine this hippy urge to live together and the Bible. Also, so many of these people were runaway young people. They were dirt poor, and it was a fairly efficient way to find shelter and to scrounge together a meal on a fairly regular basis. Some of these people were coming from pretty hard places in the counter-culture, and communities played an important discipleship function.

Timothy Miller, a historian who has studied '60s communes, guesses that there were several thousand Christian communes in total from the late '60s to the late '70s. It probably blows away anything that's going on today. A lot only lasted six months or a year, but the fact that they existed at all in the context of American middle-class society and typical evangelical ways of constituting churches and households makes it stand out.

There was an end-times vision in both secular and Christian counter-cultures.

That was what the whole thing about the counter-culture. You were going to drop out and have some sort of spiritual enlightenment with the use of drugs, ...

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September 2005

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