January 23, 2021

My Questions About “The Passion.”

My Questions About “The Passion.”

I want to be really clear that I have not seen this movie. I will say I’ve devoted more than a year to learning about it, having written one of the first blog pieces on the film almost two years ago. I will be going to see the movie, and I am hoping to take my high school Bible students to it. I told my congregation that I hope they will go see it as well. So the questions I raise are distilled through a long process of considering the issues raised by this movie. (I should also say I have been using “Jesus of Nazareth” with students for a decade, and I also extensively use “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I predict I will be using “The Gospel of John” in the future with classes.)

I am primarily dialoging here with the current evangelical embracing of the film. To me, the film is art, and nothing more. Cinematic art. But to evangelicals, it is much more. It is taking on the contours of a sacrament. An encounter with Christ. A- yes, you guessed it- an anointed work of the Holy Spirit.

My Questions for evangelicals:

1. Can a film that does not establish “Who is Jesus?” properly communicate the significance of his sufferings? This is the entire method of the first Gospel, Mark, and it makes much sense to consider it in refernce to this film’s method.
2. Can the same film devote less than a minute to the resurrection and properly communicate the Gospel? The Gospels, and especially New Testament preaching, major on the resurrection appearances in order to complete the sufferings of Jesus and show us the truth about who Jesus is now, and what God has done through his suffering.
3. Are 15 minutes of flogging paired with less than a minute of resurrection appearances communicating what we believe the Bible communicates? Faithfulness to the scripture is what evangelicals claim commends this movie.
4. Are evangelicals prepared to consider that their own dearth of artistic competence is driving them to endorse this film?
5. In fact, are we as evangelicals ready to consider why it is that no evangelical is making this movie, and in my opinion, could ever make this movie except as a straight to video project financed by TBN and starring Kurt Cameron?
6. Are evangelicals prepared to consider that The Passion is boldly providing a contrast to the Health, Wealth and Prosperity Jesus? The Jesus of good-times and good-feelings promoted everywhere today? The Life Management Jesus of the megas and the seekers?
7. Are we prepared to see that The Passion is showing that Roman Catholicism has not produced a Joel Osteen, but has held on to the stations of the cross, and the sorrowful mysteries?
8. The critics say the sufferings of Christ have been lost to the culture. Isn’t the real question, where are the cross and the sufferings of Jesus in the church? Where is it in American Christianity? As American evangelicals leave the theaters in their BMWs and drive back to the suburbs for pizza and Sex in the City reruns on HBO, will they get the irony?
9. Why are the sufferings of the persecuted church so rarely heard from in evangelicalism? Is anyone preaching that Jesus is suffering now, as his body suffers around the world? Or are American Christians afraid of the suffering church and the judgement it renders on the rest of us?
10. Do we understand the Gospel enough to even explain this movie to our friends? Are saved by Jesus being flogged and crucifed as a man, or are we saved by the sins of the world being laid on the Son of God and expiated by the wrathful judgement of the Father? Do we understand what the book of Hebrews is talking about when it describes the sacrifice of Jesus in the heavenlies? Will The Passion make us feel sorry for Jesus? Or will it make us worship and love God?
11. Are we prepared to challenge the emotional commitments that evangelicals will harvest from this film? Do Southern Baptists and other invitational transactionalists have the spine to not manipulate this movie into a chance to get everyone feeling bad enough to sign up for heaven?
12. Is evangelical preaching about to become the casualty of this film? Will preachers now become commentors upon the 67th book of the Bible, the film clip Gospel?

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