“ In an attempt to provide a positive message in contrast to the glorification of sin in Hollywood, "Christian Media" falls short in communicating the gospel message.”
I finally got a chance to sit down and watch Tyler Perry's The Passion the other night. I'd like to say that I watched it with an open mind, but to be honest, I knew exactly what to expect.
After years of Christians predicting persecution for the Church in the United States, it might come as a surprise that the story of the final days of Jesus would be aired on one of the major television networks with a star studded cast and amazing ratings. But Jesus has been rising in the ranks of popularity for a while now. People like Jesus. They like that He was an important historical figure, a radical revolutionary, and a promoter of love. But that is where the world’s impression of Jesus falls short, because Jesus is so much more than a positive figure. In fact, it could be argued that the easiest way to attack the deity of Christ is not to deny Him out-rightly, but to co-opt Him for one’s own agenda.
Perhaps the reason many Christians were excited about The Passion was because they didn't notice the subtle errors amidst the positive message. Apart from a few mistakes, the secular music, and the obvious attempts toward ecumenicism, the overall program used Scripture and biblical narrative to tell the story of Jesus' final days. But simply telling the story of Jesus is not the gospel. You don't get the gospel simply by looking at images of Jesus, by watching films about Jesus, or by carrying a cross down Bourbon Street. This is the problem with much of "Christian Media." In an attempt to provide a positive message in contrast to the glorification of sin in Hollywood, "Christian Media" falls short in communicating the gospel message.
When the Apostle John concludes his account of the passion narrative, he makes the gospel very clear, "...these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:31). That is the good news. The gospel is not simply that Jesus died or even that He rose from the grave. The gospel is that by believing on Him we can be saved.
The sad reality that broke my heart while watching The Passion is that many evangelical churches will do no better at proclaiming the gospel this coming Resurrection Sunday. It may come out of the fear of offending people with how the cross confronts our sin. It may come out of a desire to use the resurrection as a positive message, to moralize the story with a practical lesson on how to have a better life. But without a gospel that calls people to repentance they will do no more and no less than what Tyler Perry did in The Passion.
Jesus does not need a public relations team. Jesus never intended to be popular. In fact, the height of Jesus’ popularity happened the Sunday right before He died. We will not win the culture war by making Jesus popular and getting Him on movie screens and public television. We might feel more important, more connected, and we may even avoid persecution, but we won't lead people to a meaningful saving knowledge of Christ.
The problem with this film, and what any churches will do this Sunday is that they are only giving half the gospel. Now, there's nothing negative with getting people halfway through gospel. The problem comes when we leave them there. Only giving people half of the gospel is giving them a false gospel.
What then, should we do with Tyler Perry’s The Passion? Perhaps if the apostle Paul were alive today he would use these mediocre attempts to talk about Jesus as he did with the altar to the unknown God on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-34). There Paul used their pagan worship as a means to show them their need for a greater power, a power that could save them from their sins. So, this week, if you hear someone talking about The Passion, be sure to share with them the rest of the story--that Christ died for them to save them from their sins and give them eternal life, that He rose from the grave and conquered death to give them hope in this life. And if you happen to belong to a Church that fails to make a clear gospel proclamation, look for a new face or a visiting family and invite them over for dinner and make that glorious proclamation to them personally.
Above all, let us not rely on Hollywood, television networks, or megachurches to communicate the gospel message. Let us pray for opportunities to share our faith with the people in our own communities and then be bold about proclaiming the saving power of Jesus Christ.