Lonnie Frisbee may not be a household name, but his influence on the modern evangelical movement cannot be denied.
He is credited with putting the “freak” in “Jesus Freak,” and his life serves as an example of the best and worst of evangelicalism.
Frisbee was born in 1949 and came of age during the hippie movement of the 1960s.
He was a compelling figure, winning awards for his painting and becoming known in the “gay underground” for his dancing, bohemian attitudes, and profligate drug use.
His troubled childhood, which included being raped at age eight, may have contributed to his rootlessness.
Lonnie Frisbee conversion to Christ was also unconventional. He often read the Bible while tripping on LSD and claims to have become a Christian while reading the Gospel of John on an LSD-induced high while on a “vision quest” near Palm Springs, California.
He was baptized in Tahquitz Falls by the group he was with. Frisbee became an important figure in the early growth of Calvary Chapel, a ministry that ministered to hippies, addicts, and street people.
Lonnie Frisbee led a Wednesday night Bible study that quickly attracted thousands, despite his continued drug use and homosexual liaisons.
Frisbee’s powerful personality and speaking style had a remarkable impact, and he eventually became an early influence on later Calvary Chapel leaders Mike MacIntosh and Greg Laurie.
However, his demons hounded him, and he became involved with charismatic fringe teachers like Kathryn Kuhlman.
Lonnie Frisbee moral failings were more or less an “open secret” during his time preaching in some of evangelicalism’s most prominent venues.
Frisbee’s lifestyle eventually caught up with him, and he contracted AIDS, dying of complications from the disease in 1993.
Chuck Smith, to whom he had been reconciled, preached at Frisbee’s funeral, calling him a “Samson figure” who was powerfully anointed by God but was a victim of a desperately broken childhood and his own struggles and temptations.
Lonnie Frisbee’s life serves as a cautionary tale for the evangelical movement. While evangelicalism has produced many great and godly leaders, it has also produced men like Frisbee, who resisted transparency and accountability in their personal and public lives.
Remembering and learning from the lives of men like Frisbee is crucial if we want to have a witness to a skeptical, cynical, secular world that changes hearts and brings glory to God.