Hugh Hewitt - Principal Contributor
Hewitt is senior member of the CaliforniaRepublic.org editorial
board. [go to Hewitt index]
Passion of the Christ'
An inspired work of art for the generations...
[Hugh Hewitt] 1/29/04
Last Thursday night, I spoke to a conference of Christian college
students and young professionals organized by the North American
Missions Board and conducted at Prestonwood Baptist Church
in Dallas. There were approximately 2,000 in attendance, and
after I talked for about a half hour, I stayed and took a seat
in the audience because the organizers had arranged for a screening
of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
Though Prestonwood is a state-of-the-art facility, the conditions
for viewing the film were not ideal because of the size of the
screen and my distance from it, but the reactions of some of
my friends who had seen it, including the very serious theologian
Mark D. Roberts and my Salem Radio colleague Michael Medved,
as well as the controversy that has surrounded it for months,
prompted me to stay put.
of the Christ is a phenomenal work of art – a moving and inspiring film that will certainly be
shown again and again for generations to come. Though I am a
follower of Jesus Christ, I do not believe that one needs to
be a believer in the divinity of Christ to appreciate the majesty
of the movie and its extraordinary commitment to authenticity
and an objective recounting of the story of the passion and death
of Christ as relayed through the Gospels.
If you do believe
that Christ is the Son of God and that His death and resurrection
are historical facts, the film will impact
you because it assists faulty human understanding to grasp the
immensity of the suffering and death of Christ that was required
for our salvation. Scores of the young people in attendance at
Prestonwood – young, media-savvy, almost impossible to
impress, X-Cube playing and MTV-watching 20- to 30-year olds – wept
after the film.
I was reminded
of the only other time I had seen reactions of that sort occur
in a theater: among veterans of World War II
when Saving Private Ryan concluded. Those veterans
wept because they had lived the drama they had just seen, and
they were recalling the intensity of the conflict and the sorrow
it entailed. Many Christians will weep in response to The
Passion of the Christ for similar reasons, and millions
more will more deeply understand the sacrifice their God made
No doubt non-believers will not understand why the film will
be celebrated and why attendance will be strong and the appeal
of the film enduring. Mel Gibson has provided a tool to help
the faithful understand what they already know, and those who
do not already know will be puzzled.
It will surprise many – it certainly surprised me – that
Satan is a co-star of The Passion of the Christ, and
his evil presence provides the movie's theological weight. This
crucifixion is no mere crucifixion. There were hundreds of thousands
of such executions in the Roman world. A hundred years before
Pilate ordered Jesus crucified, Crassus lined the Appian Way
with 6,000 followers of Spartacus, crucifying every one of them.
Jesus' death was horrible, but the means of his execution wasn't
In the film, Satan
speaks the words in the Garden of Gethsemane that may help
a non-Christian understand the unique aspect of
the passion of Christ: "No one can bear such a burden." The
burden Satan refers to is the total guilt for all sin of all
humankind from the first man to the last. I had wondered how
Gibson could convey the theological significance of Christ's
suffering and death to a viewer unfamiliar with the Gospels,
and his art in this instance is complete.
I doubt if the film itself will inspire much conversion among
non-believers as some of its more enthusiastic viewers have been
predicting. Certainly it will present many opportunities to explain
the claims that Christ made for Himself, but the work of conversion,
as C.S. Lewis so richly described in his memoir, can sometimes
take years and years. Movies cannot overcome doubt and ridicule,
only the Holy Spirit can do that. But we will have to wait and
What is not in doubt
is the talent of Mel Gibson, and of the entire team and cast.
I have read a great deal of Roman history
and seen most of the films that purport to convey what it was
to be a Roman and to govern with Roman authority. The depiction
of Pilate, his problems, his legions, his wife and his limits
are simply the most realistic rendition of a slice of the Roman
world ever recorded on film. I believe his depictions of first-century
Jerusalem and its citizens – overwhelmingly but not exclusively
Jewish – generally must be as faithful as his treatment
of Pilate and the Romans.
I do not understand
the accusations of anti-Semitism – for
except for Pilate and his soldiers, all of the players are Jewish,
the most noble, the flawed and the corrupt. I do understand the
long history of Christian anti-Semitism, and how it perverted
the Gospels to its cause, but this film is not part of that shameful
legacy. Should anyone try and pervert the movie to that end,
there will be millions of Christians condemning such a kidnapping.
The actor who portrayed Christ, James Caviezel, made a brief
appearance after the film concluded, and spoke quietly about
his Catholic faith preparing him to make this film, and about
the rigors of its production. I have interviewed a lot of actors
over the years, and watched hundreds of interviews more of the
men and women who play other people, and I have never heard such
quiet and sincere intensity come from any of them as came from
Caviezel. It will be interesting to watch his career from this
film forward, as it deserves to flourish given this performance.
"If the world hates you, you know it hated Me before it
hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its
own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out
of the world, therefore the world hates you." John 15:18-19.
These words of Jesus are a guarantee that the maker of The
Passion of the Christ is in for a rough go of it, as well
as its cast and crew. If anyone knows Mel Gibson, please pass
along my thanks.
Principal Contributor Hugh Hewitt is an author, television
and syndicated talk-show host of the Salem Radio Network's Hugh
Hewitt Show, heard in over 40 markets around the country.
He blogs regularly at HughHewitt.com and he frequently contributes opinion pieces to the Weekly
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