Christian Cultural Engagement

For today’s NT Theology class, we went to my prof’s house and watched The Last Temptation of Christ. Released in 1988, this movie took a lot of flak from Christians over its exploration of a fictional version of Jesus’ life and death. But I honestly think that most people just didn’t watch it and jumped on the critical bandwagon.

Maybe I’ve just become a flaming liberal, but I didn’t find it threatening. But apparently the Christian Reformed Church in Canada did find it threatening, because they bought up the distribution rights so that it is not possible to sell or rent the movie in Canada. I haven’t been able to confirm this information independently apart from my prof’s word, but I believe it. And I’m perplexed and saddened by this. Is this how Christians should engage culture? Is this “bunker mentality” actually the good news that the world so desperately needs?

EDIT: Well, the above paragraph has turned out to be either erroneous or misheard by me. In either case, this movie is available in Canada. My apologies for false representation of the Christian Reformed Church. My thanks to a blog reader who quickly emailed me and pointed out my error. Maybe I should look for a little more evidence before posting in the future! While this does change my post somewhat, I’ll still point out that Christians vehemently opposed this movie when it was released with intense vitriolic attacks on the filmmaker.

Maybe they’d be justified in this action if the movie was grossly blasphemous. I didn’t find it to be so, firstly because the movie starts with a disclaimer that says, “This fictional account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is not based upon the Gospels.” There you have it: this is an artistic re-imagining of what could have happened, but it is not trying to make any kind of claims to be true – unlike the more recent Da Vinci Code.

Stop reading here if you care about spoiling the plot of the movie. The overall plot line consists of a somewhat unorthodox but generally faithful rendering of Jesus’ life, leading to his crucifixion. But then a little girl-angel appears, tells him that his father is pleased, and he’s being spared like Isaac when Abraham was on the brink of killing him. Jesus marries Mary Magdalene, but she dies and he later marries Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus) and his children. He finishes out his life and is dying while Jerusalem is being burned by the Romans. Then his disciples appear, expose the girl-angel as the devil, and Jesus realizes that he’s been tricked. He cries out to God, saying that he wants to be a sacrifice for mankind. And then we flash back to Jesus on the cross, realizing that this whole sequence has been: the last temptation of Christ. He stays true to his mission, whispers “it is accomplished,” and dies. The end.

Now, there were some strange things even amongst Jesus’ life, but most of it is plausible, even if some of it is highly unlikely. Jesus is portrayed as very human and very confused and unsure of his calling. He figures things out along the way. There’s other strange things too (my favorite: John the Baptist as a crazy prophet-dude whose followers are mostly naked ecstatic worshipers reminiscent of some proto-rave) but it calls itself fiction anyways.

Are we this insecure about our story? I do not agree in many areas with the portrayal of Jesus in this film, but I’m not threatened by it. If somebody told me that they’d seen the movie, I’d first ask “what did you think of it?” rather than jumping straight into what I don’t like. Maybe we could actually converse then. Call me crazy, but we need to stop trying to act as though God needs our protection. Let’s get over our insecurities and get on with the business of living our part of the story that we believe.

6 responses to “Christian Cultural Engagement”

  1. willy and i saw it many years ago, probably when it first came out, and thought it was great. it really is unfortunate that church people get so bent out of shape about so many things like this and appear apathetic about the bigger things like caring for the poor. i guess it does show our insecurities and need for a black and white world. erika (maria’s mom)

  2. Just because some peopl don’t care for the poor doesn’t take away that Christians should be bent out of shape on this movie. I think we should be concerned about what is promoted in this movie AND care for the poor. Therefore ones adhearance to taking care of the poor is a redherring with regard to ones views against the movie. dh

  3. It’s not my insecurities that make me voice my concern but care for people so as they not get deceived. “How can they hear in whom they haven’t heard and how can they hear without a preacher?” dh

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