I have a confession to make…
Although I am a bible believing, openly professing Christian, I have not watched Mel Gibson’s, “The Passion of the Christ” (2004).
There, I said it! Right now I can see Christian mothers covering their baby’s ears, Amish communities turning their backs, and stalwart fundamentalists writing my excommunication letter. Of course I write all this in jest. But I do remember at the time of Gibson’s movie rendition of Christ’s life, death and resurrection being released how driven Christians were to see it. I have a vivid memory of one pastor presenting communion after he had seen the movie. He openly stated that people who had witnessed Gibson’s rendering of Christ’s crucifixion would now have a deeper understanding of how Jesus suffered for us. Apparently, the rest of us simply had to work with a watered down comprehension of the atonement. Perhaps it was this experience that caused me to ‘dig my heels in’ and choose not to watch the film. Please hear me correctly…I don’t think the film is bad or unwarranted (I can’t pass judgement on something I haven’t seen)…I just think the manner in which the Christian community consumes pop culture has much to be desired. Which brings me to my most recent observation of Christians meeting Hollywood Jesus…
In Australia we have a new miniseries showing on TV. “The Bible” is a ten part presentation of select bible stories and while it’s directors and writers openly state that it is not a complete transcription of the bible text (how could it be in ten shows) they readily state that they are doing their best to present the ‘spirit’ of the text. I have no problem with this. Indeed, I welcome it (and not only because some of the cool special CGI effects are really well done). My problem lies with our response to such programs. Simply, how is it that we can find ourselves, as a Christian community, consuming these programs in a non-reflective manner? Just because something is titled ‘The Bible’ or has the name of Christ as its moniker does not automatically quarantine it from assessment or debate. We must grow as a Christian community beyond our modernist ideals which are founded on ‘black and white’ judgements (i.e. “If you’re not for us, you’re against us!”) and engage in the postmodern world which exists in the variability of grey-scale. The Christian faith should not shy away from discussion and debate! Might I be so bold as to suggest that it’s only Christ that can add colour, shade and texture to an otherwise two-dimensional grey-scale world?
Furthermore, Jesus challenged his disciples (specifically Peter) to personally comprehend who he was; aside from that which others presented him as. In Matthew 16: 13b–17 Jesus asks,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
Again, I’m keen to ensure you understand I am not decrying Hollywood depictions of Christ outright – though there have been some truly appalling attempts! Moreover, I am seeking to remind us that any representation of Jesus will always fall short of a personal encounter with the living Christ. It is only when we allow the real Jesus to directly ask us, “but who do you say I that I am?” that we can truly make a declaration of faith. Meeting Hollywood Jesus simply doesn’t (and never will) cut it!
So does Hollywood (by this I mean pop culture at large) have a place in presenting Christ. Yes! But let’s be mature in how we consume and disseminate our rough and crude likeness of his image and nature. Let’s remember that now, in the 21st century, as it has been for two millennia that our best presentation of the gospel is in how we live our lives surrounded by a culture that does not know Him. “The Bible” (the miniseries) has a place…and who knows…I might even watch Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” one day. Regardless, I hope that the manner in which I live my life does not introduce friends and family to the Hollywood Jesus; but the Christ, the Son of the living God.