I must confess that the cultural and commercial hype surrounding Mel Gibsons movie The Passion of the Christ was enough to keep me from wanting to see it. But several friends persuaded me to see and write about the film. They were convinced it could be a watershed in popular "Christology," a milestone in how people view Jesus. One pastor was particularly startled and offended by the claim of the Passion marketers who described the film as "the greatest outreach opportunity in 2,000 years."
What message is this "milestone" conveying to the world about Jesus, the gospel, and Christian faith? I decided to see the film.
At a weekday matinee, the theater was less than half full. I kept watching the reactions of the two women sitting in front of me. These were middle-aged African-American women and, I learned in talking with them afterwards, pentecostal Christians deeply committed to their faith. They were profoundly moved by the film. "I read my Bible every day," one told me, "but just to see it touched my heart." Her reaction is centuries old. The power of the famous medieval passion plays came from making Christian doctrine and history visual and visceral. Gibson has resurrected an old and very Catholic tradition and brought it to the silver screen. And he is touching many hearts.