By Randall Murphree | AFA Journal Editor

Mel Gibson is making big waves with his Biblically-based film, The Passion of the Christ, scheduled for release February 25. I understand that most evangelical leaders who previewed the film came away at first speechless, then generous with their praise for the power and impact of the film.

Controversy has swirled around the project for months. Critics claim it is anti- Semitic. Some say its depiction of the beating of Christ is too violent. Others seem only to take offense that Gibson would invest $25 million of his own fortune to produce a film based on his Christian faith.

The Gospel of John, another major Christian film, was released last fall by Visual Bible International (VBI). Falling in the shadow of the spotlight on the Gibson film, it has suffered a lack of media attention. That is unfortunate. I would not for a moment detract from The Passion, but I do want to champion The Gospel of John. It is a moving drama that uses a unique approach to telling the story of John – a word-for-word adaptation of the Scriptures.

Historically, overtly Christian films have not been big box office hits. Of course, there are the occasional perennial classics such as The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur or Chariots of Fire; but most such hits were produced decades ago.

Over the past 25 years, video has provided a new avenue for movie sales. World Wide Pictures, a subsidiary of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and a number of other production companies have released many quality movies. The startling success of Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind novel series provided impetus for two movies that made at least minor waves in the secular film world.

However, most of the “Christian” movies have reached primarily the Christian community. One exception is the recent mega-hit Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It is the third in the fantasy trilogy from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books and based on Judeo-Christian morality. It won all four of its nominations at the Golden Globe Awards, and leads the Academy Awards race with 11 nominations.

John – an exciting production
Cynic that I am, I approached The Gospel of John with expectations in check. A word-for-word transfer of the Gospel to film? Why not just read it aloud to myself? My skeptical nature sometimes protects me from being disappointed when things don’t turn out well. But often, I’m wrong and – in cases such as this – I can be pleasantly and totally overwhelmed.

The Gospel of John is superb and moving, surprising in its simplicity and strength. With renowned actor Christopher Plummer narrating and a cast of seasoned stage actors doing the dialogue, I began to feel as if John somehow wrote – in the first century – for the big screen in the 21st. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, and made its U.S. debut September 26. It is available now on video.

At an August screening at Deluxe Film Lab in downtown Toronto, I was among some 25 journalists, most from secular newspapers. We were hosted by VBI. In a Q&A session following the screening, one reviewer asked if the film was intended to have a “religious outreach.”

“The project is not, per se, a religious outreach,” Producer Garth Drabinsky told us, “but to engage in word-for-word adaptation. We did approach the work with reverence and diligence.” The script is a recitation-dramatization of the Gospel of John. Producers and scholars chose the Good News Bible (American Bible Association) because its informal language seemed like dialogue.

Drabinsky is winner of two Canadian Film Awards for Best Picture, 19 Tony awards and an Academy Award nomination. He said his main goal was to achieve a high degree of artistic excellence. Mission accomplished.

Jesus – an engaging portrayal
While the producer is pleased with the artistic level of the film, many Christian leaders see it as an excellent evangelistic tool. The National Association of Evangelicals has awarded it their seal of approval.

Movieguide’s Ted Baehr said the film brings the Gospel alive. “[I]t becomes clear why Jesus and His Jewish followers were at odds with the Jewish establishment,” wrote Baehr. “Watching Jesus throw down the gauntlet of His messianic claims in the face of the Pharisees and Saducees will clearly call people into the Kingdom of God. There is no ambiguity here. This is Jesus, the Son of God....”

Jesus is portrayed by British actor Henry Ian Cusick in his first starring role. Cusick’s background is primarily on the Shakes-pearean stage. The supporting ensemble cast is made up of British and Canadian actors, also with strong stage experience. Stage actors, especially when performing the classics, are more strictly disciplined to deliver a perfect word-for-word line. In The Gospel of John, producers ordered re-takes of scenes if an actor made as simple an error as saying “a” instead of “the.”

Cusick exudes an engaging energy that, indeed, seems supernatural. With a broad range of facial expressions, he conveys empathy when he weeps with Mary and Martha over Lazarus’ death; humor when he baits hypocritical religious leaders with probing questions; compassion for the Samaritan woman at the well; humility when washing the disciples’ feet. More than once I was moved to tears by Cusick’s Jesus.

In scenes of Jesus cleansing the Temple and angry mobs screaming for His crucifixion, I became so much a part of the crowds that a cold chill ran down my spine. Altogether, the movie was both a humbling and a rewarding experience.

VBI, a publicly traded, faith-based media company, has exclusive rights for select translations of both Old and New Testaments on a word-for-word basis. Under consideration for future projects are the Gospel of Mark, and 1 and 2 Samuel.

Because of our flight schedules, some of us were whisked away before the Q&A session ended. Sandwiched in a cab with three secular reviewers – from South Florida, St. Louis and Little Rock – I was interested in their take. Their first reactions were to mumble about the film’s length (almost three hours) and their skepticism regarding its potential at the box office.

I just kept thinking over and over of God’s promise through the prophet Isaiah – “That’s how it is with my words. They don’t return to me without doing everything I send them to do.” So be it.

Onemillion Networks still attacking family
The major television networks continue to be a wasteland of wanton disregard for morality and family values. Still Standing and Two-and-a-Half Men, two CBS sitcoms, may be the worst of prime-time’s assault on the family.

The family on Still Standing features a mother and father who exemplify the worst in prime-time’s parental role models. When teenager Brian models his new cheerleader sweater, Dad remarks, “All the times I prayed he’d get into a cheerleader’s sweater, I probably should have been more specific” (1/12). When teenager Lauren confesses that she shoplifted a bracelet, Mom glares at Dad (who believed Lauren’s earlier denial) and shouts victoriously, “I was right!!” (1/19). When Brian is embarrassed to shower after gym class, Dad brags to everyone that his son has the largest genitalia in his class (1/26). Every episode focuses on the parents’ adolescent behavior and attitudes.

In Two-and-a-Half Men, Alan and his son Jake (about 10) go to live with Alan’s brother Charlie, a promiscuous bachelor. Sex talk infiltrates every scene and Charlie takes every opportunity to teach Jake that sex is a casual thing that every man takes from every woman at every opportunity. Charlie refers to his sexual exploits as his hobby (1/12). A soccer mom offers Charlie casual sex, then two women openly vie for the honor of bedding Alan (1/19). In another episode, Charlie is joined by his mother, both of whom commend lying in front of Jake (1/26)

Families who still care about how the major networks treat family values can express their concerns to the advertisers below. Both appeared on some of the episodes cited above. Learn more about how to voice concerns via the Internet at

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Use this information to write or call advertisers cited in this issue’s TV reviews.

Circuit City Store, Inc.
Chrm. W. Alan McCullough
9950 Mayland Drive
Richmond, VA 23233-1463
Electronics stores

Mars, Inc.
Chrm. John F. Mars
6885 Elm Street
McLean, VA 22101
Mars candies, Kal Kan and Pedigree dog foods



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