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‘The Passion’ is topic of 2-day seminary workshop

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Never before have Christians experienced greater challenges and opposition simultaneously with unprecedented opportunities to reach the world for Christ. The Mel Gibson film, “The Passion of The Christ,” has generated much controversy, as a case in point, yet many Christians believe it has given them a window of opportunity they have never seen before and may never see again. To discuss the implication of the film as well as its effectiveness for evangelization, an April 2-3 workshop was held Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The workshop, which was open to the community, was led by seminary President R. Philip Roberts, who was joined by Bill Gordon of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board’s interfaith evangelism office, and four Midwestern professors: Alan Tomlinson, associate professor of New Testament and Greek; Mark DeVine, associate professor of theology; Stephen Andrews, professor of Old Testament, Hebrew and archaeology; and Thor Madsen, assistant professor of New Testament, ethics and philosophy.

Topics discussed during the workshop included “The Jewish Background (Old Testament Atonement Themes);” “The Passion Narrative in the Four Gospels;” “The Historical Background of Roman Crucifixion;” “Theology: The Atonement and Its Significance;” “Apologetics: Evidence for the Resurrection” and “The Passion as an Evangelistic Tool.” The various presentations provided insight into why Jesus came to earth from heaven, who He was, what He accomplished, how He accomplished it, and what it means for people in today’s world.

Addressing criticism about the violent nature of The Passion, Tomlinson pointed out “What we know about the crucifixion in the first century is that Mel Gibson’s movie was not even close to the violence and to the degradation of the body. The body was usually left to be torn to shreds by wild dogs, vultures, ravens.”

Tomlinson added that the extent of the chastisement was left to the whim of the one executing the punishment. He said the film accurately portrayed the sadistic nature of the punishers.

“Jesus would have been a bloody mess,” Tomlinson said. “You would not be able to recognize him. The severe beating he received would have left him half-dead even before he was nailed to the cross. He would have suffocated, and it would have happened very quickly, just as the Bible said.”

Tomlinson added that thousands of flies likely would have been swarming around the dying body in crucifixion and even before death birds that would be feeding off the flesh.

Tomlinson further explained that when the condemned were crucified, they were nailed to the cross stark naked. They did not wear loin cloths. Along with the cross’ condemnation, he said, came humiliation.

Gordon addressed the topic of “Roman Catholic Mysticism and the Passion.” He noted that the film contains many Catholic elements that would not be readily apparent to many non-Catholic viewers. He said there were several aspects of the film that were influenced by “The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ,” an account by Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, an Augustinian nun who lived from 1774–1824.

Regarding the film as a whole, Gordon said despite the theological questions it may raise, The Passion can be used as an evangelistic opportunity.

Devine described the film as “comparatively more helpful for us than other movies because it doesn’t run from the objective views of the atonement found in Scripture.”
Philip Redmond is a news writer with Midwestern Seminary. Audio of the The Passion conference presentations will be posted at the seminary’s website, www.mbts.edu, by April 14. Recorded copies of the sessions also are available by contacting Sherry Cooper via e-mail at [email protected].

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  • Philip Redmond