Monday, March 01, 2004

Passions About the Passion 

I've not yet seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ but I do plan to soon. Nevertheless, I have some reservations about the movie; it would appear that others do too. Here are some reviews that raise some interesting theological points:

The Passion of the Christ - Part 1
The Passion of the Christ - Part 2
"The Passion of Christ”: Mel Gibson’s Vivid Deception
Five Reasons Not to Go See The Passion of The Christ
Problems with 'The Passion of the Christ'
Mel Gibson's "Lethal Doctrine"
Which Passion? Which Christ?

Spencer Burke also makes some astute observations in his article, When Passion Is Reduced To A Door Hanger:

Speaking of agendas, it’s fascinating to me to see the groundswell of activity surrounding this film. Not only are we slapping up posters and buying tickets like crazy, we’re turning the film into the centerpiece of a whole evangelistic campaign. At thepassionoutreach.com, the main banner proclaims, “Perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2000 years.” Can’t think of your own way to respond to (or ride) the film’s popularity? No problem. The site gives you 13 pre-packaged ideas—everything from a suggested sermon series, to a saturation mailing. In Canada, you can even go to Passion training—sessions where you’ll learn to share your personal testimony in 3 minutes.

On the one hand, I applaud the church’s enthusiasm. After years of opposing popular culture and non-traditional art forms, I’m encouraged that we’re moving forward. I’m pleased to see that we’re attempting to address culture in the movie house, not just the “house of the Lord.” At the same time, however, I’m nervous that we’re attempting to shrink wrap the gospel and turn art—Mel Gibson’s personal vision of the crucifixion of Christ--into something it was never meant to be: propaganda.

The Passion booklets, The Passion-themed Bibles, The Passion jewelry…it just goes on and on. Churches have developed ads to air before the film. Little spots that say, “See the movie then come join us on Sunday.” No offense, but I don’t particularly like seeing commercials for Chrysler before a movie, let alone commercials for Christ. I don’t want to get a tract on my way out of the theater nor do I want some stranger to shake my hand and pretend to be my best friend. Thanks but no thanks, and I’m a Christian!

The church marketing machine is strong. (Been to a Christian bookstore lately?) We can do bracelets, mugs and T-shirts with the best of them. But is it right? Are we interested in engaging with culture, or simply trying to convert people? When we invite friends to see the movie, will we feel that our night was a waste if we don’t get a chance to share The Four Laws? Is our agenda to buy people tickets so that the whole night feels like an awkward first date—you know, the “Well, he bought me dinner so I guess I have to kiss him,” scenario? Are we interested in people’s honest questions about the film, or only their response to the film (i.e. did they pray the prayer)?

My sense is that all our enthusiasm could actually backfire and keep people away from what may or may not be a great film. At the same time, however, all our efforts will no doubt demand a payoff. You just know that elders somewhere are going to be counting how many people attend post-February 25 services and trying to calculate how many people came to Christ because of this film.

Along similiar lines, is Jeffrey Overstreet's commentary. Finally, Brian Mclaren weighs in with this article: Passionate, but Not for Mel's Movie

Finally, here is an interesting review of a Catholic guide to The Passion


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