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"THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST"

ASSESSMENT BY CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANS

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Mel Gibson's movie: "The Passion of the Christ" has received mixed reviews from conservative Christian individuals and groups:

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Many Evangelical Christian leaders, including James Dobson and Billy Graham have endorsed the movie both for the education of fellow Evangelicals, and for use as a teaching and evangelism tool to "save" those who have not yet been "born again."

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Other Evangelicals have criticized the film because they disapprove with what they feel are its Roman Catholic themes, which either leave out or contradict conservative Protestant beliefs. Mel Gibson is a Catholic Traditionalist, and follows the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church before the reforms of the Vatican II Council.

Evangelicals generally appear to have a high regard for the movie. The largest Evangelical Christian magazine in the U.S., Christianity Today, conducted a poll of visitors to its web site. On 2004-APR-22, six weeks after the movie was first released in North America, their visitors reported:

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6% had seen the movie more than twice

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17% had seen it twice

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40% had seen it once

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9% have not seen it, but plan to

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28% have not seen it and don't plan to. 10

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Negative assessments:

bulletAndrew J. Webb, the pastor of the Providence PCA Mission Church in Fayettefille, NC, 1 recommends that "Evangelicals should not see or recommend" the movie. 2 "PCA" refers to the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination in the conservative wing of Presbyterianism.

He has five concerns:
bulletOrigins: Webb suggests that the Passion of the Christ is a Roman Catholic movie, not an Evangelical movie. Mel Gibson is a Traditionalist Catholic. In an interview with the EWTN Network, Mel Gibson said that the movie: "...reflects my beliefs -- Iíve never done that before....I donít know if I will ever work again. Iíve said that this is a career killer and it could well be, but that doesnít matter because I donít care." The film's theological advisors are Roman Catholic. Many in the film crew converted to Catholicism because of their experiences on the set. Mass was held daily before shooting.
bulletExtra-biblical sources: Webb believes that the screenplay "...is based in part on a mystical Roman Catholic devotional work by an 18th century German Nun (Sister Anne Emmerich) entitled 'The Dolorous Passion of Christ.' Gibson stated on EWTN that reading Emmerich's book was his primary inspiration for making the movie."  Webb quotes Gibson as linking the crucifixion directly with the Roman Catholic Mass. He writes: "The goal of the movie is to shake modern audiences by brashly juxtaposing the 'sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the altar - which is the same thing,' said Gibson....Protestant Evangelicals have historically rejected the idea that Christ can be sacrificed again and declared it 'abominable'."
bulletTheology:
bulletWebb states that Roman Catholicism emphasizes the physical suffering and physical sacrifice of Jesus. "This emphasis on Christ's physical agony is repeated in Roman Catholic devotional material, prayers, and of course 'the Passion of [the] Christ'." However, Evangelical Christians stress that the "grand importance of Christ's crucifixion lay...in his once for all propitiation of God's wrath." The major component of Jesus' suffering came from "having all the sins of all the elect imputed to Him and making full satisfaction for them."
bulletHe suggests that a key Protestant belief is does not appear in the movie. This is Jesus' passive obedience in dying on the cross and his "active obedience in keeping the law" which are imputed to all born-again believers.
bulletThe medium: Webb criticizes the use of all movies or other dramatic presentations to propagate the Gospel message: "...the ability to evoke an emotional response via imagery or drama is not the same as successfully transmitting the Gospel. The means that God has ordained for the transmission of the Gospel, was neither drama, imagery, nor even 'lectures' - it is preaching....God does not command us to produce dramatic presentations of Gospel themes, He commands us to preach"
bulletPortrayal of Jesus: Webb suggests that when movie goers think of Jesus in the future, they will recall the image of James Caviezel, who played Jesus in "The Passion." He suggests that this changes "the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man...." 6 Also, he feels that it violate the Second Commandment's prohibition of the use of images. The movie is liable to "...create an image of Jesus that says more about the Jesus we want than the Jesus whom God sent." Webb feels that God took special precautions to make certain that accurate knowledge of Jesus' physical appearance has been lost.
bulletRalph Ovadal, director of Wisconsin Christians United, a pro-life, fundamentalist Christian agency which is opposed to equal rights for gays and lesbians. 7 Members of his church displayed banners directly across the street from the exit of a movie theatre which was showing "The Passion." One banner was worded: "How shall ye escape the damnation of hell?" The other read, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel."  Other members distributed gospel tracts in front of the doors. Ovadal refers to the movie as a piece of religious propaganda; a "Romanist counterfeit filled with false doctrine meant to subtly turn their hearts toward Roman Catholicism." He predicts that Christians will take one of three positions on the movie:
bullet"It is an unbiblical assault upon God's Word on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church."
bullet"It has some "bad doctrine" or "unbiblical things" in it, but God will use it anyway."
bullet"It is a fantastic evangelistic tool, a real blessing from heaven."

His own beliefs parallel #1. He writes: "The Lord will not bless a movie that so assaults His Word. May God help us in this hour of apostasy." 8

bulletJack Chick heads Chick Publications Inc. of Ontario, California. His group mass produces small gospel tracts, movies, and books written from a Fundamentalist Christian perspective. Many attack non-Christian religions and liberal Christian beliefs. In his news release "New from JTC - Apes, Lies and Ms. Henn," he writes: "The Passion's" message of a sad, brutalized Christ.  We serve a RISEN Christ who sits in power at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  Not a weak Christ who runs to His mother for comfort, but the Creator and Lord of the universe.  We can KNOW Him and have eternal life! That's missing from Gibson's film." 9

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Positive assessments:

bulletThe National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) issued a statement on 2003-JUL-22 in support of The Passion, which they describe as an "authentic retelling of the New Testament accounts" of Jesus' last hours on Earth. Ted Haggard, President of the NAE, described the film as "A beautiful, wonderful account of the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus Christ. It is consistent with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John." Haggard also stated: "The movie portrays historical accounts realistically, but the Body of Christ worldwide does not blame Jewish people for the crucifixion. Evangelicals believe that our sins are responsible for creating the situation that required the crucifixion of Christ. Christ did not die because of the political and religious powers of the day, but for a far greater purpose. We are all responsible. This is why evangelicals view The Passion as a love story. It demonstrates the profound love Christ has for all people." A NAE news release states that: "At a special showing in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Haggard, along with 30 other prominent evangelical leaders, reviewed the film and encouraged Gibson to release it with minor stylistic adjustments. All acknowledged the biblical accuracy of Gibson's creative dramatization of the historical account." Their news release concludes: "The NAE believes Gibson's film is an accurate depiction of the final hours of the life of Jesus Christ and true to the teaching of the New Testament. The NAE affirms the accurate representation of the historical and Biblical account of the life of Christ and applauds the efforts of Mel Gibson and others to produce this work." 11
bulletThe North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has collected a number of positive comments on the movie. They were all based on the showing of an early version of the movie:
bulletDarrell Bock, Research Professor of New Testament, Dallas Theological Seminary: "Three words summarize for me: Sobering, Stunning, Haunting. The film speaks for itself. I hope you keep the graphic nature of it complete in the film, because it will cause everyone to reflect on what His death was. The world tends to wash over this directness. The details are very accurate -- this is the kind of death our Lord died for me."
bulletPat Boone, Singer/Actor: " It's a monumental accomplishment. It continues to impact me in ways I couldn't have imagined."
bulletChuck Colson, Break Point: "The Passion tells the story of the twelve hours surrounding the Crucifixion. While The Passion is only the latest in a series of films about Jesus, it stands out for two reasons: First, it is unsparing and unsentimental. In Gibson's opinion, previous cinematic efforts had failed to capture the enormity of Jesus' suffering on our behalf."
bulletRoger Cross, President, Youth For Christ/USA: "From a ministry perspective I tried to imagine what young people would think and how they would respond. My hope is that they will also be captured by the presentation. I believe they will because it is simply the telling of God's story. I am most encouraged by the fact that they will see a true representation of Jesus: fully God and fully man."
bulletJames Dobson, Chairman, Focus on the Family: "It is deeply moving, powerful, and disturbing. A film that must be seen - although the graphic scenes of the scourging of Jesus are emotionally wrenching."
bulletCory Engel, pastor of Harvest Springs Community Church in Great Falls, MT: "This is a window of opportunity we have. Here's a guy who's putting his money into a movie that has everything to do with what we do...Churches used to communicate by having a little lecture time on Sunday morning. People don't interact that way anymore. Here's a chance for us to use a modern-day technique to communicate the truth of the Bible." 5
bulletDr. Jerry Falwell, The Liberty Channel: "Mr. Gibson has attempted to painstakingly recreate the crucifixion of Christ, not to assail Jews, but to arouse in people a desire to understand the price paid for their salvation. I am praying that Mel Gibson's movie will have a powerful impact on our culture and that it will appeal to millions of movie lovers who are starving for a glimmer of honesty regarding the miraculous and life-changing story of the One who died for everyone, no matter their religious heritage, station in life, sexual preference or skin color."
bulletArchbishop John Foley, President, Pontifical Council for Social Communications, The Vatican: "...if they're critical of the film, they would be critical of the Gospel."
bulletCardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago: "I've read the Passion narratives of the Lord and contemplated them and prayed over them many, many times, and I've never thought of the crucifixion with the images that I received while watching this. I'll never read the words the same way again."
bulletBilly Graham, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: "Every time I preach or speak about the Cross, the things I saw on the screen will be on my heart and mind."
bulletJack Graham, President, Southern Baptist Convention: "The thing that I'm most excited about is the opportunity it's going to give those of us who preach the cross."
bulletTim LaHaye, Tim LaHaye Ministries: "Everyone should see this movie. It could be Hollywood's finest achievement to date."
bulletDr. Robert Schuller, Crystal Cathedral / Hour of Power: " 'The Passion' is an awe-inspiring portrayal of the last hours of Jesus' life. It is an accurate account of Jesus' real sufferings for the sins of the whole world. This is not a film anyone should miss."
bulletLee Strobel, famous Evangelical Christian author: "The Passion will stun audiences and create an incredible appetite for people to know more about Jesus. I urge Christians to invite their spiritually seeking friends to see this movie with them."
bulletDel Tackett, Executive Vice President, Focus On The Family: "It has been nearly three weeks since I saw the rough cut of The Passion. It is still impacting my life. I can't stop thinking about it nor can I stop talking about it. I have never seen a film that has so affected my life."
bulletJack Valenti, CEO, Motion Picture Association, in a letter to Mel Gibson: "I thought Passion was a superior recounting of the 'greatest story ever told,' the last days of Jesus. There is in the film the gravity and seriousness it deserves. There are moments so heart-rending, the tears come easily. I cannot but believe that people of all religions will find this truly an impressive (and respectful) piece of art and realism, emerging from the New Testament. As a cinema artist, you have just reason to be proud of what you have done."
bulletRick Warren, Pastor, Saddleback Church and author of "The Purpose Driven Life:" "Brilliant, biblical - a masterpiece."
bulletEd Young Jr., Pastor, Dallas-Area Fellowship Church: "I have no doubt that the movie will be one of the greatest evangelistic tools in modern day history. I think people will go to it and then flood into the churches seeking to know the deeper implications of this movie."

This essay continues below.

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Whether to take children to see the movie:

ChristianityToday.com, the most popular magazine for fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians in the U.S. asked visitors to their web site whether they planned to take their children to see The Passion. Results of the poll were:

bullet20%: I don't have kids.
bullet19%: No, it's too violent for children.
bullet16%: Yes, this is an important movie to see.
bullet14%: I'll decide after watching it without them.
bullet7%: Yes, the message outweighs the violence.
bullet4%: Yes, the violence is important to the story.
bullet4%: Yes, the violence is historically accurate.
bullet4%: No, my children won't see an R-rated movie
bullet3%: No, because of its portrayal of Jews.
bullet3%: No, violence distorts the spiritual meaning.
bullet2%: I don't know.

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A criticism of negative movie reviews by a Roman Catholic:

Martin Rhonheimer wrote an article for Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture in which he criticizes the many negative reviews that this movie has received. When he finally had the opportunity to view the movie in the unidentified foreign country where he lives, he was confronted by a warning sign placed there by the government's film commission. It said that the film was sadistic and brutal, historically unreliable, and contained religious propaganda that could encourage anti-semitism.

He criticizes the critics for describing the movie as a 126-minute martyrdon -- nothing but violence and brutality. He writes: "This is quite simply false. The film is almost half over before we see the first violence, the scourging of Christ." One wonders how Rhonheimer could have overlooked the frequent scenes of violence in locales ranging from Gethsemane to the temple when Jesus -- in the movie -- was repeatedly attacked. He criticizes critics for concentrating on the brutality of scourging and crucifixion and ignoring "the transformation of these horrible sufferings into an offering of love to Jesus' heavenly Father....Evil is shown for what it truly is, and we see clearly the only power that can overcome evil: the love and mercy of God, who has become man in Jesus Christ."

He accuses the critics as being "motivated, it seems, by prejudice..." They '...claim that the film has no transcendental dimension, it ignores the biblical message of the passion as one of hope and love, it shows instead only suffering and hatred, it contains no theological interpretation of the passion and no spirituality. Instead (so critics charge) we are shown simply a man being tortured to death. This whole indictment is quite simply false. He suggests that the critics have completely missed the central tenet of Christianity: the atonement. They also have not realized that the Gospels describe Jesus as both human and God.

Rhonheimer rejects the critics' charge "...that Gibsonís interpretation of the passion is theologically shallow, naive, outdated, and that he gives priority to faith over theology." Rhonheimer suggest that it is modern theology -- particularly in its Protestant form -- which has taken leave of Scripture. He writes: "Modern theology dismisses the gospel accounts as 'historically unreliable.' It discards the Pauline theology of the cross and treats the suffering servant passages in Isaiah as irrelevant."

Rhonheimer does admit that Gibson incorporated some of the visions of Anna Katharina Emmerick into the movie. But he indicates that "they are few." In reality, those visions permeate the movie to the point where it seems a great injustice that Emmerick was not acknowledged as the major author of the screen play.

He dismisses comments of the movie's anti-semitism by writing: "Crying 'anti-Semitism' becomes a way of avoiding confrontation with oneís own guilt. Not everyone is able to recognize that we are all guilty and that we cannot be freed from guilt by our own merit but only by the love of another who has taken our guilt on himself." 12

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References:

  1. "Providence PCA Mission Church's" home page is at: http://www.providencepca.com/.
  2. Andrew Webb, "Five Reasons Not to Go See The Passion of Christ," 2004-FEB-21, at: http://www.providencepca.com/
  3. "EWTN to air 2nd exclusive interview with Mel Gibson on 'The Passion of Christ'," EWTN. com, 2004-JAN-13, at: http://www.ewtn.com/
  4. "The Passion of the Christ: What others are saying," North American Mission board, Southern Baptist Convention, at: http://www.passionchrist.org/
  5. "Churches Make 'Stunning' Show of Support for Gibson's 'Passion'," Newsmax, 2004-FEB-5.
  6. Romans 1:23, King James Version of the Bible.
  7. Wisconsin Christians United's web site is at: http://www.wcuweb.com/
  8. Ralph Ovadal, "Witness at The Passion," The Covenant News, 2004-FEB-27, at: http://www.covenantnews.com/
  9. "New from JTC - Apes, Lies and Ms. Henn," Chick Publications Inc., news release, 2004-MAR-31.
  10. The movie section of Christianity Today's web site is at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/
  11. "NAE Defends Gibson's New Film, The Passion," National Association of Evangelicals, 2003-JUL-22, at: http://www.nae.net/
  12. Martin Rhonheimer, "Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ': A plea for fairness," Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, Volume 8:1, Winter 2005. Temporarily online at http://www.stthomas.edu/cathstudies/logos/current/rhonheimer.pdf

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 Home > World religions > Judaism > "The Passion" > here

or Home > Christianity > Personalities > Jesus > "The Passion" > here

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Copyright © 2004 & 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-FEB-24
Latest update: 2005-MAR-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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