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In new wave of Christian films, ‘The Gospel of John’ hits theaters

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“The Gospel of John,” the first major theatrical film of an entire book of the Bible adapted on a word-for-word basis, is debuting in theaters this fall.

The three-hour epic on the story of Jesus’ life as recounted by His disciple John was produced by a publicly traded faith-based media company called Visual Bible International, Inc. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival Sept. 11 and is scheduled to open in Charlotte, N.C., Dallas, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Fayetteville, Ark., Sept. 26 before hitting a larger audience nationwide beginning Oct. 10.

James Merritt, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Pointe, the Church at Gwinnett Center in the Atlanta area, attended a preview of the movie.

“From a scholarly standpoint, I found the movie to be extremely true to the biblical text — even showing baptism by immersion, which is surely the way baptism was practiced by John the Baptist and the early church,” he said in a statement to Baptist Press.

“Furthermore, the entire dialogue of the movie comes from the Good News [for Modern Man, or Today’s English Version] translation of the Gospel, which only added to both the veracity (to me) and the effectiveness of the movie. The movie will prove to be a bit lengthy to the average moviegoer, and there are a few places where the movie slows somewhat perhaps because so much of John’s gospel contains dialogue which discusses deep theological truth.

“Yet overall I found the acting of high quality, the cinematography outstanding, and I believe the movie deserves the strong support of the church and is a must-see for Christians everywhere,” Merritt continued. “This is one movie that Christians could invite their lost neighbors to without fear of embarrassment over either quality or interesting subject — in fact the most interesting subject in history!”

The Gospel of John is narrated by Christopher Plummer, a Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor with roles in more than 80 motion pictures including “The Sound of Music.” Henry Ian Cusick, a classically trained stage actor with the Royal Shakespeare Co., plays the role of Jesus. The film also includes about 75 principal actors and nearly 2,500 extras.

The film has been awarded the National Evangelical Association’s Seal of Approval, meant to recognize and support “organizations and endeavors that combine superior quality with uncompromised Christian values.”

Ted Haggard, president of the NEA, said The Gospel of John is “exactly the kind of entertainment product that Christians have been clamoring for — a high-quality production with an untarnished depiction of spiritual subject matter.”

Ted Baehr of “Movieguide” gave the film his top rating of four stars.

“The Gospel of John brings John’s gospel alive in an incredible way,” he said. “For the first time in this reviewer’s memory, it becomes clear why Jesus and His Jewish followers were at odds with the Jewish establishment. Watching Jesus throw down the gauntlet of His Messianic claims in the face of the Pharisees and Sadducees will clearly call people into the Kingdom of God. There is no ambiguity here.”

The film differs from the 1978 “JESUS” film, which is widely used in evangelistic efforts worldwide, in that the earlier film, based on the Good News/TEV translation of the Gospel of Luke, did not include the entirety of the gospel.

Along with The Gospel of John, other Christian films set for release include Mel Gibson’s much-publicized film “The Passion” about the final hours of Jesus’ life and “Luther,” an epic about the father of the Reformation, Martin Luther, set to hit theaters Sept. 26.

“More religious films tend to pop up in times of fear and uncertainty,” Richard Lee, professor emeritus of humanities at Valparaiso University in Indiana, said in USA Today Aug. 18. “Such as a time of terrorism at home, militant Islam abroad, job losses, a swelling national debt.”

Steve Smith, media pastor at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., has screened both The Passion and The Gospel of John. He highly recommended both and suggested that his church members support them when they open in Orlando.

“Unlike Gibson’s The Passion, The Gospel of John takes no screenwriting liberties whatsoever as it is narrated and acted out word-for-word,” Smith wrote in a commentary for his church, which he shared with Baptist Press. “Further, this film eliminates the ‘cheese factor,’ a malady of numerous low-budget Christian films, by making the necessary investment in quality producers, director, actors, sets, costumes and technical artistry to rival any Hollywood produced movie.”

Smith said the majority of the discussion among 30 individuals from various churches and Christian media organizations at the screening he attended in Toronto focused on the producers’ intentions for The Gospel of John. He reported that an advisory board of theologians was assembled to follow the film from start to finish. Though some of the evangelicals at the screening suggested adding some sort of challenge to the audience at the end of the film, the producers opted to maintain the exclusive use of words from Scripture.

“While it was difficult to refrain from comparing [The Passion and The Gospel of John], it is safe to say that, while they both depict Christ’s life on earth, they are two completely different vehicles for telling their respective stories,” Smith wrote. “As a result, they must stand separately on their own merits. As far as I’m concerned, they both have tremendous value for telling very important parts of the greatest story ever written. Our prayer should be that the mainstream release of both of these films will result in attention and awareness of the reality of Christ that might otherwise be ignored by our secular society.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: THE LAST SUPPER, BEFORE PILATE and PORTRAYING JESUS.

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  • Erin Curry