Okay, I winced when the screen promised the greatest outreach opportunity in 2,000 years. As a pastor, I'd like to believe it; as a journalist, I'm skeptical. Two hours later, I was wondering if it might be true. Certainly, The Passion of the Christ is our greatest opportunity this year to share our faith, if we can get past the hype.

Mel Gibson's movie is already generating lots of buzz—some good, some bad—and you have no doubt seen the reports. Did the Pope endorse the film? Does the movie blame the Jews for killing Jesus? Beyond that, there's the issue of violence. The beating, the nailing, the bloodletting usually completed in about 10 minutes in most tellings of the Crucifixion is stretched to two hours. And though the depiction is truly masterful, it is painful. It is relentless. I should have known that when I saw the stacks of tissue boxes at the auditorium entrance at Willow Creek Community Church a couple of weeks ago. Gibson brought the film to the heartland—as he has to churches in Florida and California and Kansas and other non-traditional venues—hoping to generate a church leader-led groundswell. The Hollywood-NewYork establishment wouldn't get it, Gibson's church-promotion liasons said.

But the pastors did. More than 4,000 invited guests survived the security checks designed to keep traditional media out of the screening. They wept at the appropriate places and, if they were like me, looked away when the flogging was too real. Whatever the theologians may think of Gibson's interpretation, he got this right: Jesus suffered, and for once, unlike in our sanitized, Easter-cantata, ketchup-for-blood crucifixions, we suffered with him.

At the Chicago screening, Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels, ...

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