In reading Jim Wallis' review of The Passion of the Christ ("The Passion and the Message," May 2004), it becomes apparent that his conception of Christian social action and social justice relies heavily on the historical question of why Jesus died. This is problematic. On the one hand the question is certainly an interesting one, historically speaking. But it is also a problematic question since historical scholars have by no means come to any agreement on its answer.
However, there is another reason why Wallis' reliance on this question is problematic. To base one's understanding of the kingdom on the historical question of why he died is to rest one's understanding, rather perilously, on the convictions of those who killed Jesus. It is problematic to follow this course because we might fairly ask whether these individuals actually understood Jesus. Perhaps they were confused about what he was saying. Perhaps it is not, as Wallis suggests, that Jesus is "dangerous to the powers that be" (as a general, dominant theme of the kingdom) but that he was perceived as dangerous by these particular leaders, who may or may not have understood what he was doing and saying. It wouldn't be the first time that political leaders identified someone as a threat who may not have been, in fact, a threat.
Roland De Vries
Montreal, Quebec, Canada