S a book reviewer, James Thurber said that his practice was simple: I review a book and then, if its a nice review, I read it
Sydney Smith also said he never read a book before he reviewed it, as it might prejudice him.
This is by no means a laudable practice, but I feel a bit the same way in reviewing Mel Gibsons movie, The Passion of the Christ.
I have not seen it, and have no intention of seeing it.
Indeed, W.H.Auden adds to my woes: Writing reviews can be fun, but I dont think the practice is very good for the character.
Writing reviews of something one has not seen is probably even more detrimental.
I will appeal to Ronald Knox who said that if on his deathbed he found that he had no enemies left, he would forgive his reviewers.
Hopefully, Mel Gibson might feel the same way. In the meantime, let us consider some issues raised by the film.
Portraying Christ is unwise
The Bible forbids portrayals of God (Ex.20:4-6). God is Spirit (John 4:24), and therefore invisible (1 Tim. 1:17) so any image of Him has to be inaccurate.
Since God is triune, this necessarily raises the issue of portraying the Father, the Son, or the Spirit. Most of the Christians in the New Testament period had not seen Christ (1 Peter 1:8), and the Bible contains no description of the Messiah, apart from the unflattering prophecy that He had no form, comeliness or beauty that we should desire Him (Isa.53:2).
To portray Christ in pictures is presumably meant to make Him appear more real to us.
In my view, it has the opposite effect.
It detracts from all that He is.
Amy Carmichael contended that the Church resorts to pictures of Jesus only when her power is gone.
I could not imagine William Carey, George Whitefield or John Wesley wandering about the countryside carrying a picture of Christ in order to enhance their gospel presentations.
It is with good reason that the Larger Catechism in Question 109 forbids any representation of any of the three Persons in the Trinity.
If God had wanted us to portray Christ, surely He would have left us with the materials with which to do so.
How does one portray the deity of Christ?
And how does one portray on film the fact that on the cross, the Father forsook the Son? (Matt.27:46)
I am ready to accept that Gibsons The Passion of the Christ may well contain fewer errors than most of the earlier movies produced on Christ.
But the fact remains that Gibson relied not only on the Bible but also on the mystical work, The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ
, put together by Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), a Westphalian nun who was subject to religious visions.
Hence, for example, in the film Claudia (the wife of Pilate) gives Mary (the mother of Jesus) and Mary Magdalene folded linen cloths to mop up Jesus blood on the ground.
This episode is not recorded in the New Testament but in Emmerichs Dolorous Passion.
Other examples abound.
- The Virgin Mary wakes up as she senses the arrest of Jesus;
- soldiers throw Jesus off a bridge;
- a penitent Peter calls Mary mother;
- Jesus is depicted as being good looking (contrary to Isaiah 53:2) and as having long hair (contrary to 1 Cor.11:2-16);
- Mary expresses her wish to die with Jesus; and a raven plucks out the eyes of the unrepentant thief. None of these may derail the New Testament account in itself, but there are enough errors to raise concerns.
The cursory treatment of the resurrection is also a reason to be hesitant about the movie.
Aiming at the emotions
All reviews of the film mention its violence.
In an age that is saturated with violent movies, this one still manages to shock people. Indeed, audiences are subjected to something like eighty minutes of graphic depictions of horrible and gratuitous brutality.
In short, to make his message known, Gibson has emphasised the physical suffering of Christ.
The book of Acts, however, aims to make Christ known by telling of His resurrection, and then explaining the meaning of His death (e.g. Acts 2:22-41; 17:22-31).
In the Gospels, the treatment of the Passion is surprisingly subdued and restrained.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us what happened, and the physical details are terrible enough, but they do not wallow in the blood and gore.
The appeal is not to the emotions, but to the conscience, informed by the Holy Spirit.
Gibsons The Passion may do some good.
Back in the 18th century, Count von Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravians, was deeply challenged by a painting of the crucifixion and the caption that challenged him:
This have I done for thee, What hast thou done for Me?
Thankfully, God can speak through imperfect means, but that does not mean that we should be content with such means.
The God-ordained way is that converts are won through the foolishness of preaching (1 Cor.1:21).
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Appeared in Issue CETF NR 29 2004
"...contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" -- Jude v3
-Last revised-Monday, October 09, 2006