church as junket

Fascinating to me how the distributor of the Mel Gibson funded (produced, is the more proper word) movie about Jesus Christ has tapped into a zealous market, the evangelicals, and I’m anticipating they will easily recoup the costs and make some good money on it.. got this junket write-up about the forthcoming movie from some connections at CTi via Helen Lee (who gave me permission) and Mark Moring (who did the write up).. [you know how celebrities hit the talk show circuit to promote a movie or book, well, how about hitting up megachurches, the new frontier for media blitz, which they did indeedy, at the 2 crown jewels of the megachurch, Willow and Saddleback]


Well, I was one of the fortunate select few invited to a private
screening of “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson’s new film, at
Willow Creek Church today. (OK, so it wasn’t a select few. It was 5,000
pastors and a handful of journalists.)

It’s been four hours since the film ended, and I’m still trembling. We’ve
all seen film depictions of the scourging and crucifixion, but you ain’t
seen nothin’ yet. “The Passion” definitely earns its R rating due to the
violence of these scenes. But as the Pope observed at his own screening a
few weeks ago, “It is as it was.”

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that this is probably the
most gut-wrenching, soul-stirring, life-changing film any of us will ever
see in our lifetime. I had heard as much from others who had seen it, and
went to it fully prepared to break down and cry. And I did — in several
places — but, interestingly, NOT in the places I expected to weep. The
excruciating scenes of the scourging the the crucifixion are
heart-rending indeed, but I didn’t cry during those scenes. They were so
disturbing that I think I just watched with my mouth agape, trying to
take in what I was seeing — and imagining that our Lord indeed endured
such pain and brutalization . . . and partly for me.

No, where I wept were the tender moments — the flashbacks of Jesus with
his mother, Jesus at the Last Supper, Jesus with his disciples. I think
we all knew that Mel Gibson was perfectly capable of making this a
violent movie (witness “Braveheart,” “The Patriot,” and the “Lethal
Weapon” films), but what I didn’t fully realize was how capable he was of
making a tender, loving, beautiful film that indeed catches the heart of
Christ and God’s amazing love and grace for each of us. No one can walk
away from this film unmoved — whether you’ve been a faithful Christian
for decades, or whether you’re the most hard-hearted agnostic. This film
will move people.

The organization that sponsored today’s event — Outreach — is billing
the film as the greatest evangelism opportunity in the last 2000 years.
That might not be hyperbolic — and I’m the ultimate cynic. This film is
a TREMENDOUS opportunity to bring many — perhaps millions — to Christ.
That’s why they invited 5,000 pastors to today’s screening — to equip
them and their churches for what will most certainly be a new wave of
seekers and questioners in the wake of this powerful movie. To learn more
about Outreach’s strategy for this, go to

Another cool thing about today’s screening was the 30-minute interview
with Mel Gibson afterward. Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels conducted the
interview, and it was touching to see Mel’s heart for Christ. It’s so
cool to realize that he’s “one of us,” our brother in the Lord. He has
been working on this film for 12 years, and he is so excited that the
passion of his heart will now, at last, make its way to the silver
screen. He has invested some $25 million of his own money into making it
(no studio would touch it), and has worked endlessly and tirelessly to
bring it to life. He was in the postproduction room at 3 a.m. this
morning in California, doing some final edits, and then took a red-eye to
Chicago to make it to this screening.

Some of the highlights of the interview with Gibson (I took notes, of

Gibson grew up in the Catholic church, but said that between the ages of
17 and 35 he stopped practicing his faith. “It’s not that I didn’t
believe,” he said. “I always prayed. But if you neglect something like
that, your life quickly falls into chaos, and that’s what happened to
me.” Asked what was the turning point to bring him back to faith, Mel
said, “Pain, of course. You have to have pain, or you don’t make the
effort.” Asked how a famous movie star with tons of money, a happy
marriage and wonderful kids could experience pain, Gibson replied, “You
can be spiritually bankrupt when you appear to have so much. Sooner or
later, you start hitting yourself on the head, and you move on. I started
praying a lot. I’m still not good at it. I’m not a Holy Joe. I just work
at it and keep moving on.”

On the violence of the film: “It deserves the R rating. I wouldn’t
recommend anyone under 13 see it. I intended to push it over the edge.
There is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood. Lots of
blood was required for this [by “this” he didn’t specify whether he meant
Christ’s sacrifice or the film, though both certainly apply]. I wanted to
show the blood sacrifice, every single drop of it. Jesus didn’t just
choose to prick a finger for the blood sacrifice, though I’m sure he
could have. He went all the way.” (That quote, by the way, brought a big
round of applause from the audience.)

Hybels asked Gibson what this film could cost him — not financially, but
with his reputation and standing in Hollywood: “Everything,” Mel said,
without hesitating. “But you know, I’ve had my career as a ‘movie star,’
and I’m bored with it. I thought, ‘Hey, there’s other things.’ I enjoyed
doing the other stuff in my career, but it doesn’t have the same
importance it once did for me. [In those days], I was very interested in
creating a secular utopia for myself, but it’s almost like worship of
self, and that’s not a good road to be on.”

Asked if he was nervous about the film’s release, Gibson said,
“Absolutely. It’s like putting your child out there, sending him off to
the first day of kindergarten and worrying that he’ll get hit by a bus.
Will it be savaged by critics? Yes it will. But I had to do this.”

There’s a flashback in the film where Jesus says the line, “I am the Way,
the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me.”
Hybels asked Gibson about using that line, here in an age of relativism:
“Won’t people say you’re being intolerant by including that line?” “No,
it’s not intolerant,” Gibson said, noting that Christ’s sacrifice is for
everyone, and that’s the epitome of tolerance — everyone is invited.
“Besides,” Mel cracked, “I don’t think Jesus was in the habit of telling
fibs.” He said that if Jesus were lying, the disciples would’ve known it:
“And if they knew it was a falsehood, they wouldn’t have been willing to
die for it.”

On his family: “I’m a lucky fellow. I have a great wife and kids, and I
don’t deserve it. I’ve been married 24 years. It’s been a real
interesting ride, but it just keeps getting better.”

Hybels asked what’s next: “How can you go from a film about the passion
of Christ to, say, making Lethal Weapon 6?” Everyone laughed, including
Mel. Then he said, “That’s not on the calendar. There’s other stuff I can
do. There’s plenty of good stories in the Bible.” He then went on a
little tangent criticizing “Christian” films for their lack of quality
and being too “preachy,” and said that with The Passion, “I didn’t try to
make a religious film. I just tried to make something that was real to
me,” pointing to his heart.

All to say, it was quite a day for me. Mark your calendars for February
25. This should be mandatory viewing for any believer. You will
appreciate Christ’s blood sacrifice more than you ever have before. I
know I do.

grace and peace to you all,


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  1. scott hodge says:

    great, great review. i also was at the premiere and walked away with the same impressions.

    thanks for sharing…