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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Passion of the Christ - film

This post is really from February 2004, but due to some recent comments, I thought it worth posting 5 years later. Please don't misunderstand -- I make no judgment on anyone who has chosen to see the movie. It is completely up to the conscience of the individual Christian. I only mention it because of the issues or potential issues that one should think about, particularly if you did choose to see it. Personally, I have chosen not to see it, primarily for reason #3 below.

(Feb 2004)
Much hype has been made in recent days about a new movie that is coming out in a few days called "The Passion of the Christ", by Mel Gibson. Due to the nature of this film and the extensive news coverage it has received, I thought it appropriate to comment on it.

Much of the evangelical Christian community has come out on the side of the movie, believing it to be a great tool of witness for Christ. And indeed, it very well may open some doors, but I am afraid there are some things we should be cautious about when deciding whether or not to see it.

First, we cannot assume that Mel Gibson is a Christian. He is an old-school Roman Catholic. He even rejects Vatican II. He might or might not believe that salvation can be found only within the Roman Catholic church. In one article I read, he was quoted as saying that he thinks his wife might be going to hell, because she is Episcopalian (Anglican), not Roman. But in an interview I heard, he said "It is possible for people who are not even Christians to get into the kingdom of heaven", but that "It's just an easier ride where I am" [being a Christian]. There is no evidence that he personally understands what the gospel really is. Mel is very religious, in a very anti-religious industry, but that does not make him a Christian.

Second, the movie is long on emotion and short on a gospel message. John MacArthur was invited by Mel to see the movie, which he did. He told the GCC staff about it, saying "that it was a very, very powerful depiction of the last hours of Christ's life and extremely graphic. He said, however, that the film doesn't contain the gospel nor does it answer the question of why men would perform such a hideous crime against such an innocent man (John told us that the actress Cher was there when he viewed the film and was weeping saying, "why...why?" over and over again)." Having emotion, even great emotion, over such an event isn't wrong. In fact, we would be hard-hearted if we didn't. However, a response to the gospel of Christ will go beyond emotion and must include volition, and if indeed there is no gospel message in this film, then a person could not become a Christian by a response to this movie alone.

Third, and to me most troubling, is the aspect of faith vs. sight. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17). Jesus told Thomas (referring to the resurrection) "blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed". Beloved, the gospel is to be preached, it is to be taught, it is to be spoken, it is to be responded to in faith. Dramatizing it turns it in to something it was never meant to be -- a drama, with actors, with fallen and unregenerate man's view of what it might have been like, complete with truth, error, and giving us a view that contains both true and misleading pictures of what really happened. Turning it into "sight" isn't necessarily a good thing; saving faith, brethren, will not come by sight.

Fourth, it is an "R" rated movie. It is so rated solely because of graphic violence. A few comments I've read about it seem to suggest that the movie over-estimates the amount of violence of the actual event. This is disconcerting, because the actual event was indeed violent, and to over-do it would mean the movie must be extremely graphic. There are a number of things in Scripture that are proper to read about, that were extremely violent (or profane, or lewd), but that would be completely inappropriate to put into a video format. This goes along, of course, with the emotionalism aspect of what Hollywood does so well. Very few (if any) "R" rated movies are appropriate for adults, and even more so, for our children. Perhaps some of the gory details of the cross are not included in Holy Writ because those details are not edifying; they are certainly not needed for salvation.

Fifth, and perhaps most important of all, is that the suffering of Jesus is treated incompletely in this film. The magnitude of His physical suffering is portrayed, and is something we can almost fathom. None of us have been tortured, though some other men have, a few even more excruciatingly than Jesus. But with all the physical pain, it was not the primary suffering of our Lord. What the movie leaves out is the spiritual suffering, the primary suffering, that Jesus experienced. This suffering, unlike the physical, is quite inconceivable to us. From timeless eternity, the three persons of the self-existent triune God had perfect and complete fellowship within the Trinity, needing nothing. According to God's perfect plan, in response to sin, the Son would atone for the sins of men. This atonement included not merely physical suffering for a short while, but a breaking of the eternal fellowship that the Son had with the Father. In Matthew 27:46, "Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" The Father could not look at sin, and the Son had become sin itself. The eternal, perfect fellowship of the Most High had been broken, as the Father turned His face away from the Son, leaving Jesus, for the first time, alone. Crucifixion makes exhaling very difficult; a man can inhale, but hanging on the cross would have made it hard to get the air out. Yet after great physical suffering, our Savior was able to cry out with a loud voice, for the inconceivable had happened -- the Father had turned from the Son. This, beloved, is what the movie does not, can not, portray. To make the cross a merely physical event does, in my view, a disservice to the sacrifice of the Son, and misses a large part of the message.

People should respond to the gospel by understanding their sin, God's holiness, and Christ's payment for their sins. They should respond because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the inner man. This movie will indeed get responses from non-Christians, but having a gut-wrenching emotional reaction (like Cher did) isn't going to bring about saving faith. In fact, I fear that many will have some sort of response, but something that is short of salvific, putting them in the place of thinking they are saved, when in fact that is not the case.

The cross is to be studied, understood, treasured. A better treatment of this subject would be MacArthur's book The Murder of Jesus, or Lloyd-Jones' The Cross, or Demarest's The Cross and Salvation, or The Cross of Christ by Stott, or several well-known smaller books by men named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.


P.S. I highly recommend Tim Challies' review of the movie, found at Amazon.

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