LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–With Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of The Christ” set to open in theaters nationwide Feb. 25, Christians must be prepared to explain that the cross of Christ is God’s means of saving sinful human beings, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told students Feb. 19 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Though the movie has met with a firestorm of criticism, Southern Seminary’s president said Gibson’s portrayal of the passion of Christ gives believers an open door to proclaim the Gospel to the lost.
“It is an incredible opportunity to talk to people who are, of all things, already talking about the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mohler said.
“So I am praying that we as believing Christians will get ourselves ready, prayerfully and strategically, to be deployed as truth-tellers to speak to the reality of the cross which is so central to our faith, the cross on which the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world accomplished our salvation.
“The cross that is not only a symbol, whether of jewelry or of decoration nor [is it] merely a context for a film, but rather the cross which is the ground of our salvation, the center of the Gospel itself.”
Some critics have accused Gibson of anti-Semitism, arguing that the movie portrays Jews as being mainly responsible for the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus, Mohler recounted. Many of these critics also have attacked the passion narratives of the four New Testament Gospels, branding them with an anti-Semitic bias, and they have lampooned Gibson for basing the movie on too literal an interpretation of the Gospels.
Mohler pointed out that these criticisms are not an attack on the movie, but an attack on the Gospels themselves. Believers must also be ready to defend the Gospels against such false charges, he said.
“The accusation gets back to the fact that the ones who hurl that charge at the movie are the same who charge the New Testament itself with being anti-Semitic,” he said. “Thus … when it is the Gospels — the four canonical Gospels — that are under attack, then each of us must be ready to give a word of defense.
“I think it is not insignificant that the main critique of the movie from the secular world is that, in their view, it too faithfully and too literally and too powerfully demonstrates and portrays what is recorded in the New Testament concerning the death and the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Some Christians, however, also have voiced reservations about the film. Mohler continued. One concern is that the movie itself, by visually portraying the Lord, violates the Second Commandment, which forbids the making and worshiping of images of God.
Mohler said he hopes the movie will spawn in-depth discussion among believers resulting in a more biblical understanding of such issues.
“We should be extremely circumspect,” he said. “I would not have made this movie. Should we commend Christians to go to the movie? I’m not sure. I’m really not.
“I think that’s an issue in which there will be Christians who will come to very different convictions about this and I think it is a good opportunity for mature Christian conversation inside Christian circles about these matters related to the Second Commandment, the incarnation, the Christian cultural mandate, what it means to be a Christian artist [and] how one should approach these issues. That is a good conversation and should be an elongated and elaborated discussion among Christians for some time.”
While such questions are vital, believers must limit the debate to Christian circles, he said. When discussing the movie with lost people, believers must not argue but must give a clear presentation of the Good News of salvation for sinners, which is the true significance of Christ’s passion.
“Let us pray to have our hearts ready to tell people the real story about the cross,” Mohler said. “Let us have our debate about the movie among Christians and not with lost people, in terms of whether it should have ever been made or how we should evaluate this over against the Second Commandment or other legitimate and vital biblical concerns.
“Let us be ready to understand when a charge against the movie insofar as it tells the story of the Gospels is actually an attack upon the Gospels. Let us be ready to defend the New Testament as the inerrant and infallible revealed Word of God.
“Let us understand that we are called as always to bear the offense of the cross and that means to stand without compromise upon the truth of God’s Word. Let us also be ready to give a word of the Gospel and to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us.”
For information on using “The Passion of The Christ” in outreach, resources are available on the Web from LifeWay Christian Resources at www.lifeway.com/passion.
EDITORS’ NOTE: “The Passion of the Christ” is rated R for violence and is scheduled to open in theaters Feb. 25.