Mel Gibson is one of the most famous actors and directors in Hollywood these days. His latest movie, The Passion of the Christ, has sparked interest, enthusiasm, and even controversy in many circles. Gibson, a conservative Roman Catholic, has reportedly portrayed the trial and execution of Jesus in a surprisingly stark and violent manner, and he undoubtedly hopes to convey a sense of realism in his work.
Many Christians will almost certainly be eager to see this movie, which has already garnered an “R” rating for violent content. Some denominational leaders have hailed this movie as, “the greatest potential evangelistic tool in 2000 years.” Before we happily rush off to see this film, however, I believe it would be wise to consider precisely what we are going to see. Scriptures tell us to, “test all things, hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
The Good — As a Christian I believe that movies like this one may indeed hold some value to a dying and sin-sick world. This movie represents an attitude in culture that still takes the cross seriously. Just stop and notice how many critics are ridiculing the events and the historicity of the Biblical accounts. Further, it may be that some do not fully realize the depth of brutality the cross represents. Crosses were the most heinous instruments of torture that the depraved Romans could imagine. They were reserved for the vilest criminals accused of the very worst crimes.
The Bad — The biggest problem with movies (and other dramatic re-enactments) concerning the crucifixion of Jesus is that the medium limits the message. There simply is no adequate substitute for the printed or spoken word to describe what happened to Jesus Christ. Scripture clearly teaches that God wants the “message of the cross” to be “preached” (1 Cor. 1:23; 2 Tim. 4:2). Movies, television shows, and dramatic plays fail to convey the Gospel message in two important areas. First, they appeal primarily to the emotion, and only occasionally to our sense of reason. This is the exact opposite of God’s method for making disciples. Jesus Himself told His followers to first, “count the cost” before they made a decision to follow Him (Luke 14:28ff). Experience teaches that purely emotional responses usually prove to be superficial responses (cf. Lk. 8:13). A second area where dramatic media (movies, plays, etc.) fail the Gospel message is in their failure to convey the full significance of the events they portray. How, praytell, can a motion picture ever hope to capture all the Biblical details of Jesus’ trial and execution, to say nothing of what those details mean? The crucifixion itself lasted six hours, but The Passion of the Christ will attempt to compress several days, complete with context and background, into the span of two hours or so.How could such a medium ever hope to do full justice to God’s word? How can a movie hope to significantly change hearts and minds when it has done little more than play on our emotions? When the final credits roll, the best that any dramatic movie or play can ever hope for is to spark (emotionally) enough interest for further investigation of the facts. The audience will still leave this movie devoid of Biblical answers to the eternally significant question, “What does all this mean?”
Please understand I am arguing neither for nor against seeing this movie. What I am pointing out, however, is that no movie can ever hope to compete with the transforming power of the written message found in God’s word (Rom. 1:16). Dramatic media (movies, plays, etc.) by their very nature limit and hinder what God originally intended to say. Our generation desperately needs to dust off the Bible and restore a high (and Biblical) view of preaching and teaching (2 Tim. 4:1-8). Only then will lives be truly and deeply transformed (Rom. 12:1-2)! — JB