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As the student activities coordinator on a college campus, I spend a lot of time researching what a friend of mine refers to as "cultural spasms." I'm particularly interested in how evangelicals interact with and respond to popular culture, so I've had a field day with the spasm du jour—the release of Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ.

Weeks before the film opened in theaters, the media buzzed with speculation about anti-Semitism, gratuitous violence, and an almost hypnotic religious zeal. The hype was inescapable, particularly in Christian media outlets, some of which touted The Passion as "the greatest outreach opportunity in 2000 years" and ardently defended Gibson's vision, giving tearful accounts of the VIP screenings they'd attended.

At first, I was encouraged by the excitement over the film. After all, evangelical Christians are usually in the habit of either condemning pop culture outright or dismissing it as irrelevant to lives of faith. But after taking in story after story, I began to notice a disturbing pattern.

Very few Christians were actually evaluating The Passion as a film, as a work of art. We've heaped rapturous praise on its portrayal of Christ's sacrifice, its evangelistic qualities, its faithfulness to the Gospels. But by and large, evangelicals have not truly engaged with the movie. On The Passion's faithfulness to its medium, we have been strangely silent.

Or maybe not so strangely. Though it's disappointing that the film's cinematic merit seemed unimportant to Christians, it's not surprising. On the surface, it seemed unusually broad-minded that pastors were teaching their congregations that a film was about more than its R rating, that evangelicals were flocking to theaters en masse to experience, ...

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March 2004

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