The Passion

Yesterday, Rudy at Urban Onramps wrote about his preview of “The Passion” by Mel Gibson. The same day, I also received a catalog from Outreach which featured a DVD and several campaigns for churches that tied to this movie. Of course, I’ve been receiving the non-stop e-mails from folks promoting the movie, and have also heard several NPR interviews and discussions on the controversy around the movie.

One of the questions I had for Rudy was if the movie dealt at all with the resurrection. He replied:

On to the spoiling: Well, Jesus is resurrected for a good seven seconds before the movie ends. Very Catholic, huh? It feels like a Good Friday movie with a very brief final sequence showing a resurrected Christ to let all the Protestants feel good. Naw, I don’t mean that. I would have put the resurrection in there, too. But I’ll tell you something rather silly. Remember the scene in the first Matrix where Neo stops the bullets, beats up Smith, then destroys him? He takes a deep breath, arms flexed, and the hallway bends? I wish Gibson would have had Jesus doing something like that – a deep breath, walls bending, and turning to the camera with a smile. Because – believe you me – Jesus barely smiles in The Passion.

I confess that I have been troubled by this movie. I don’t deny the accuracy of the story or the power of the filmmaking. From everything I’ve seen, the movie is powerful and brutally accurate. It shows the reality of the passion — all the gruesome details. And, in spite of some of the scholarly objections, I’m not troubled by the possibility of hindering Jewish/Christian relations. The crucifixion is a central part of the Christian story, and both Jews and Romans were involved in the actions that led to that event.

My fear is that it leaves out part of the story. There is a sense in which Rudy is correct — the movie is all about Good Friday without the redemption of Easter. The cross without the resurrection simply leaves us with a dead guy. The resurrection was the central event which led to the transformation of the early Christians. The passion and the cross are an important part of our theology, but are empty without the belief that Jesus as God incarnate overcame death.

This is where conservative evangelicals and conservative catholics like Gibson agree. Both groups maintain the cross as their central hermeneutical starting point, that is, all theology points to the cross, is informed by the passion, speaks to the death of Jesus. For them, the cross is what it’s all about, and showing that event in all its brutality is a primary revelation of God which then will lead to transformation.

For those of us whose starting point for theology is creation, the cross is an important reality which led to the possibility of resurrection. The story is not about Jesus having to die, it’s about Jesus being given the opportunity to restore the broken creation through the power of the resurrection. I don’t deny the power of the cross. But to talk about death without resurrection is to only tell half of the story.

Those of us engaged in ministry with postmoderns/post-Christians need to think carefully our approach to this movie. Lee Strobel and the Outreach folks think we should promote Gibson’s movie, fill the theatres with non-church folks, and expect then that they will be moved to salvation from their experience. I do think we have to address this film, but to provide folks a safe space to decompress after seeing it. We need to anticipate that some non-Christian folk will be taken aback by the brutality and will question a God who would use that means to redeem the world. How can senseless violence be seen as a redeeming act? I’ve sat through many a Young Life “Cross Talk” which describes the horror of the crucifixion and leads folks to salvation. But I also know that approach hasn’t worked very well in recent years.

What am I going to do regarding “The Passion?” Well of course I’ll have to see it, if for no other reason than to be able to talk intelligently with my church folks about it. I’m thinking about sponsoring and promoting a weekly discussion group (maybe purchasing ad space at the local movie theatre) to allow folks a space to share their response to the movie. These meetings will not be evangelistic, but will be places for folks of all stripes to speak their minds.

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