Aside from generating controversy over its alleged anti-semitism, Mel Gibson’s new film, The Passion of The Christ, has become a new ecumenical icon among American evangelicals.
Gibson, an aderent to a traditionalist Catholicism that still views Protestants as heretics, is hailed in Christianity Today (March) as creating a vision of Christ that resonates with “all classical believers…In the history of modern evangelical enthusiasms [the movie] seems to be joining WWJD bracelets and Promise Keepers conferences as cultural markers.”
Promoters of the film have produced a “Passion lapel pin and witnessing card . . . Moving responses from oridinary believers and Christian celebrities havecirculated widely on the Internet, urging believers to see the movie. And Tyndale House has reinforced the movie’s influence by publishing The Passion, a coffee table book that integrates still photos from the filming with a harmony of the Passion accounts drawn from the New Living Translation.”
In the National Review (March 5), Ramesh Ponnuru writes that “In recent years there has been much discussion of `evangelicals and Catholics together.’ There has been joint political action and joint theological reflection. In the popular culture, this movie appears to be the most significant moment of such togetherness yet.” Writing in the New York Times Magazine (February 29), Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero agrees that “the culture wars no doubt have something to do with the evangelicals’ decision to close ranks with Gibson, who must be commended for so adroitly spinning the debate over his depiction of Jews into a battle between secular humanists and true believers.”
But the evangelical reception to the movie may mean that the portrayal of a “friendly Jesus” so popular in evangelical megachurches is “on the way out” and that the “self-esteem” gospel is being replaced by the “tough truths of the creed,” Prothero writes.
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