(thank you Brian for these words. my thoughts exactly. the movie was great art, not the best outreach opp. in 2000 years)
Passionate, but Not for Mel's Movie
Why The Passion 'outreach' was all hype, and I didn't fall for it.
By Brian McLaren, Leadership columnist
The music was appropriately dramatic: bass strings, heavy and resonant, with a mezzo-forte attack and building to fortissimo from there. Then, against a stark black background, a promotional slogan appeared in bold white capitals. It grew, filling the screen's full width: PERHAPS THE BEST OUTREACH OPPORTUNITY IN 2,000 YEARS.
I was watching a video to promote the release of Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of The Christ. One expects hype at such moments, but this slogan made me wince. It defines, I think, a frontier between two worlds.
In one world, modern American Christians can be trusted to bounce and bound like golden retrievers from one silver-bullet "outreach opportunity" to the next—seeking single source shortcuts to complete our mission, which we hope to finish as soon as possible, I guess so we can all get to heaven so the world and its troubles are left behind™. Maybe it's a boxed set of books and videos, mass rallies, radio/TV/satellites, the Internet, PowerPoint, or seeker services. Or else it's adult contemporary praise music, electing Republicans, or a new booklet or tract. Maybe it's candles! Or a new model (take your pick from traditional-modern, contemporary-modern, or postmodern-modern) for "doing church." Or a new film.
In the other world—which many of us are calling the emerging culture (post-Enlightenment, post-Christendom, post-colonial, etc.)—we are watched with amusement, pity, cynicism. There they go again, emerging culture people say about us, unimpressed.
After enough hype-induced disappointments to abash even ever-optimistic American evangelicals—after being drained and perhaps even disillusioned by enough campaigns and programs that didn't deliver what they promised—will we be ready to do what we find it oh so painful and hard to do? To slow down and think deep?
For example, we might wonder why slogans like The Passion's appeal to us.
Emerging culture people are, no doubt, as sensitive as anyone else to dramatic, multisensory, rational-plus-emotional presentations. Special effects can impress them. But they're also suspicious of the whole business. They're looking for something that can't be "produced" but which can only be created: Authenticity. Reality. Honesty. Fruit.
That last word, of course, has special resonances to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Think of the difference between produce (like fruit) and products (like films, radio broadcasts, boxed programs, etc.). Think of something that must be the organic outgrowth of genuine health and vitality versus something that can be produced with money and technical savvy.
Jesus didn't say it was by our clever outlines, memorable mnemonics, snazzy programs, and special effects that we would be known as his disciples, or that he would be known as sent from God. Rather, he said, it was by our love that we and he would be known, and by our fruit: our good works that shine in darkness and inspire all to glorify God.
No doubt, Mel G's film will be powerful and will help many—millions, I hope—for it is a sincere labor of love about the ultimate labor of love. But it's not the greatest outreach opportunity in 2,000 years, at least, not for the emerging culture. I'll tell you what is.
Actually, I won't, because there isn't one thing. Rather, there are uncountable great outreach opportunities. For example, there are millions of people, precious to God, dying of AIDs. And their orphans too. Do you want the emerging culture to sit up and take notice? Don't show them another movie, however great it is. Show them Christians around the world (starting with those who have been given the most: us) who care and give and love and move to serve.
There are millions of poor Muslims who see the West as decadent, strident, arrogant, selfish, careless, and pugilistic, and of course, they are right. Can you see how offering them a fine movie could just make things worse? Instead, why don't we show them some Christians (in the West but not of it) who are honest, upright, peacemakers, compassionate, humble, and generous?
Our world is torn by ethnic, class, and religious hatred. Don't show the emerging culture a movie about Jesus: show them a movement of people living like Jesus—people who like him love the different, even the enemy, whose doors are open and tables are set with welcome.
Brian McLaren is pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in metro Washington, D.C.
Next week, Rick Warren tells why his church is riding successfully the culture wave generated by The Passion.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
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March 9, 2004