January 22, 2021

The Second Commandment, The Passion,

The Second Commandment, The Passion, and Evangelical Endorsements

I Think I Need A Stiff Drink” links to this PCA Pastor’s vigorous defense of a strict view of the second commandment. If you want to read a detailed legalistic defense of no images of Jesus in art of any kind, this is your ticket.

Part of what is irritating this guy are a couple of not-real-bright comments by some leading evangelicals. Here are some samples:

Apart from the Jewish and Roman Catholic communities, Evangelicals have weighed in on The Passion as well. Greg Laurie of Harvest Crusades said regarding the movie, “I believe The Passion of the Christ may well be one of the most powerful evangelistic tools of the last 100 years, because you have never seen the story of Jesus portrayed this vividly before.” Coming from a man of Laurie’s stature, that is quite an endorsement. But he isn’t the only Evangelical “heavyweight” to comment on Gibson’s movie. James Dobson calls it “a film that must be seen.”

Former atheist–weren’t we all at one time?–and author, Lee Strobel says, “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…” (Unlike Lee Strobel, I don’t know any true “seekers” since Romans 3:10-11 is clear that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God.” It’s texts like this that keep me from adopting Lee Strobel’s language.)

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church, states that the film is “brilliant, biblical, a masterpiece.” No one less than Billy Graham is on record for saying, “Every time I preach or speak about the Cross, the things I saw on the screen will be on my heart and mind.”

I’ll leave it to someone else to refute this fellow on the second commandment. I think he’s OK when it comes to public or private worship, but he’s Calvin-happy on making this apply to all artistic endeavors. Certainly, imagery expresses our human sinfulness, but it also expresses our God-createdness. There is nothing said in this line of reasoning that couldn’t be applied to words as well. So we really shouldn’t write anything about God or Jesus. What we have in scripture is sufficient. Where do we stop this line of reasoning? Are my own thoughts about God sinful? Can I even pray without “imagining” God sinfully?

Of course, there is no commandment to forbid literature or thoughts, but the logic is the same. So much is built on generalizing out from the second commandment to all art, that it becomes bizarre if you attempt to be as strict as this pastor intends. It would be the death of all religious art, literature, music with non-Biblical words, etc. His view is that scripture’s sufficiency is applied in the second commandment by forbidding all visual art. That’s unnecessary and inconsistent, even with scripture itself.

But that’s just me. I respect the Puritan roots of this approach, but I believe it errs on the side of sinful human nature rather than on the side of God’s created purpose and our image-of-God generated desire to create art that glorifies God. Does our pastor friend believe that Aslan can be shown on the big screen, or is that breaking the Second Commandment? Be careful!

On the subject of these endorsements, however, I agree with him considerably. I’m concerned that the endorsements seem unaware of the film’s flaws. I can already see, just through research, that the film follows tradition and artistic license rather than scripture at a number of places. When I talk to my people about this, I will tell them that scripture is more accurate, and more substantial than any movie.

The endorsements given to the film seem to me to be part of the usual and predictable evangelical marketing game. Get the “brand names” to endorse it. Claim a divine anointing. Market it, sell related products, etc. It’s time evangelical leaders asked where the money is going to go? Gibson will get his money back and then some. Where will the money from the millions of DVD’s go? When someone buys a “Passion” backpack or candy bar, where is the money going to go? I don’t have a problem with Gibson getting rich, but I have some problems if, let’s say, extremist RCs get rich off of it. How does evangelical support of this movie translate into the influence of those dollars?

And I do agree that the notion a movie will present the Gospel in a way CERTAIN to be more Holy Spirit honored than the scripture preached is very shaky ground. We are talking about a visual generation. A special effect oriented audience, and the Passion is going to play to them. I think it will be great art and good film making, but it won’t have any more power to save than the Gospel as printed in a Gideon New Testament.

We have a lot of preachers at my chapel who want to use film clips. I’ve said, up to this point, no film clips unless the clip is from the Bible or presents the Bible. Do I want to keep that policy in place for the 50 preachers next year who will want to show parts of The Passion in their sermons? The visuals in this movie will be gripping. Can we just show it and have an invitation? What will he have if we do?

I am concerned that The Passion, while honoring scripture, may also signal a use of the film medium in a way that may have lasting corrosive effects on evangelicals. The normal Christian life isn’t fueled by film clips. It’s fueled by the passion created by the Holy Spirit, and that passion is fed by Holy Scripture.

I do disagree, however, with the author’s snide attitude towards seekers. I think the film will create a lot of interest, and I hope and pray we can answer that interest with good communication of the Gospel message- and not just the story of Jesus’ sufferings. It may create more discussion possibilities, and more openness to talking about Jesus, than anything in recent popular culture. The article’s arrogant announcement that there are no real seekers underestimates what a sovereign God can and will do with the film. (Jesus Christ Superstar created real curiosity! Surely this will create much more curiosity than that mess of a script!) I hope our churches are full. Because we should be in the position to actually talk about something the world cares about for a change! And only the Holy Spirit can make that window of opportunity count.

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