Passionate about The Passion
Am I passionate about The Passion? You better believe it. In recent weeks many people have asked me what I think about the movie, obviously expecting me to be just as thrilled as they were. At first I was amused at the shock and horror caused when I shared my thoughts, thoughts based on fairly in-depth research into the content of the movie.
Then I became annoyed at the ignorance of the many naive Christians who wanted me to jump on the bandwagon with them and rave about how many people were going to be saved by watching the movie.
Ashamed at my, perhaps, arrogant attitude, for a while I just kept my mouth shut about what I really thought, mumbling lamely to anyone who asked that my Latin was so rusty I thought I wouldn’t get much out of it. I have to admit I enjoyed their shocked expressions, “Latin, what do you mean Latin?” But because the Lord clearly commands us to have an answer, and always be ready, I finally took the time to think through what I think about The Passion. Now when someone asks me about it, I can give an answer without being patronizing and without being afraid of hurting their feelings.
Most Christians say the obvious benefit of the movie is that many non-Christians will see it and be saved. “Thousands will be saved,” crowed a popular radio evangelist. At the very least, as I’ve heard over and over again, non-believers will be made to think. They’ll become more “spiritually sensitive.” They’ll start asking questions. My answer to these claims is, well, maybe. But my question to these hyped up Christians is, is this how the Lord commands evangelism to be done?
Look at any of the commissions given to believers in the Gospels and Acts. Matthew tells us that Jesus said to make disciples. It is certainly not God’s plan for large masses of people to become Christians in an environment in which there is absolutely no provision for discipling these “thousands” of new believers. Mark reports that we are to preach the Gospel. Can the Passion even be said to present the Gospel, as Mark’s Gospel commands us?
The crucifixion, important as it is, does not equal the Gospel. Luke tells us that we are to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins. Where in the movie is any call to repent for our sins? How does the crucifixion provide for forgiveness? In the Gospel of John, Jesus said “As the Father sent me so I send you.” God sends people to share the Gospel, not movies. And don’t tell me about the Jesus Film, etc. Typically churches or missionaries share these films with individuals or groups of people. Clearly the provision is there for personal witnessing and discipleship in those situations. The book of Acts tells us that we are to be witnesses of Jesus, of all that He said and did, not just one thing, i.e. the crucifixion, important as that one thing is.
In what way does The Passion qualify to be called biblical evangelism? Are we arrogantly assuming that we know better than God? What about Paul’s example? He was certainly cutting edge when it comes to evangelism. Did he jump up on the stage in that theater in Ephesus and re-enact the crucifixion in front of that rabble, hoping that people would be saved?
Why are people so interested in The Passion? Is it because they are seeking to know the Lord, or is it more likely that they are seeking to see some realistic blood and gore? A person who is sensitive to spiritual things and is seeking God does not go to a movie that is being advertised as the most bloody and realistic portrayal of the crucifixion ever. I hear it said that people will be so stunned and emotionally affected that then they will want to know the Lord. All I can say is, we’ll see. They won’t be going to see the movie in the first place because they want to draw near to God and, as His Word says, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” God’s word never says, “Gawk at the crucifixion and you will be saved.” Clearly, a person can see the crucifixion and not be saved, like the one thief on the cross.
Aha, you say, what about the other thief? He was saved just by seeing Christ crucified. My answer to that is he was saved because he repented and confessed that he was a sinner and that Jesus Christ was sinless. He understood not just that the crucifixion happened but what it meant. The unsaved thief obviously believed the crucifixion happened, but he had no concept of what it meant.
When Paul spoke about the cross, as of course he often did, did he ever stop at just the cross? No, Paul spent much more time talking about the meaning of the crucifixion and the resurrection, and relatively little time talking about the details. 1 Corinthians 15 is a good example. Paul mentions that Christ died and gives the reason for His death immediately (He died for our sins). This takes half a verse. He then spends the rest of the chapter, over 50 verses, talking about the resurrection and interpreting its importance for the believer.
Here is the key question: what does the cross mean to the person who does not know that he is a sinner? Paul gives the answer in 1 Corinthians1:18. The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing; it is a laughingstock; it means nothing.
And to be honest, I’m a little concerned about those poor people who actually do take the time to ask Christian questions about the movie. The modern evangelical church is not filled with theologically knowledgeable people, panting for the opportunity to share the Gospel. In fact, a huge percentage of people who attend evangelical churches on a regular basis and consider themselves Christians have no clue what the Gospel is, and couldn’t explain it coherently if their lives depended on it.
Well, lives do depend on it, so I have also considered the possible benefits of seeing The Passion for that other segment of the population that will be seeing the movie in vast numbers, that is, Christians. Might seeing the movie encourage the luke-warm Christian in his faith? God’s word tells us that a luke-warm Christian catches fire for God by repentance, not by dwelling on the gory details of the crucifixion. Maybe knowing that someone might ask questions could prod some lazy Christians to dig into God’s word and get ready to answer. As I overheard an older lady say, “I don’t know about all those questions. I’ll just give them a tract.” She had zero interest in expanding her understanding of the Gospel.
Some may ask, isn’t meditating on the crucifixion God’s will for the Christian. In fact it is His will for us, but knowing the sinful tendencies of the human heart, He did not leave it to us to come up with a way, rather He has expressly ordained a way for believers to focus their attention on the cross. It is called the Lord’s Supper, and we are supposed to do it every time we gather as the body of Christ. According to God’s Word, the way we meditate on the crucifixion is not by exalting the gory details, but by pondering the meaning behind the event, examining ourselves for sin.
I’ve heard many people expound the benefits that they foresee from The Passion, and I could probably make up a few more that I haven’t mentioned here. The problem is that all of these so-called benefits are directly contrary to how God commands us to do things, (i.e., personal witness, the Lord’s Supper) and they are also contrary to the example given in the New Testament by Paul, James and the apostles. Just because my fallen, sin-soaked mind can come up with a thousand reasons why this movie might be a good thing, does not give me leave to go directly against Gods commands regarding, for example, evangelism and keeping the Lord’s Supper.
And don’t even get me started about the much vaunted “accuracy” that Mel Gibson claims to have achieved. The fact is that Latin was not the lingua franca at the time of the crucifixion, Greek was. The entire New Testament was written in Greek. While Aramaic was the language of Palestine, Latin was not a common language that everyone in the entire Mediterranean region knew. If the highly publicized fact that the movie is in the “original languages” is a lie, what else in the movie is untrue? (Hey, I said don’t get me started.)
March 3, 2004
Lee Justice is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. She may be reached for comment here.