November 21, 2004


The Lord of the Rings, The Passion of the Christ, and the Highway of Holiness: Has God been "re-routing" us through popular movies, books, and cultural events? (Chris Armstrong, 5/07/04, Christian History)

I don't remember a time when the realm of popular culture has seemed more alive with divine purpose.

During the past year or two, how often have we been publicly reminded—through movies, books, and events—of vital truths about who we are and who God is? Through Peter Jackson's third Lord of the Rings movie, Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and other prominent cultural events, we have been pushed off of the path of complacency and back towards the "highway" depicted by Isaiah:

"And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away" (Isa. 35:8-10; NIV). [...]

One recent cultural event has come not so much as a push, but as a dynamite blast, helping to clear from the highway's on-ramps a huge, craggy stone of falsehood. This "blast" is Mel Gibson's portrayal of the Passion of Jesus. Not without flaw, this movie nonetheless serves the church in the best possible way: it reminds us that the common portrayal of Jesus as a Nice Man with a moralistic message is a hollow fiction. The Nice-Man Jesus crumbles before the truth of who he actually was and what he did for us. Gibson has dealt a strong blow to the complacency of quasi-Christian moralism, clearing the way to the atonement Christ provided through his sacrifice.

Another public push back towards the highway has begun as the result of an actor's private pain and his discovery of an unlikely friend from the distant past. A few years ago, the actor Gerard Depardieu (Green Card, Cyrano de Bergerac, and other noted movies), worn down by emotional troubles and hedonistic lifestyle choices, returned to the Christian faith of his youth. He also discovered a spiritual kinship with the 4th-century bishop and theologian Augustine of Hippo—who was similarly saved out of the dregs of fame-seeking and sensuality. Last year, so taken and transformed was Depardieu by Augustine's brutally honest and soaringly devotional Confessions, he pledged to do a series of dramatic public readings of passages of the Confessions. "I went to a psychoanalyst for 20 years," said the actor, "and I can say that Books X and XI of the 'Confessions' offer answers to our most intimate questions and calm our most painful queries." What a welcome blow to the modern West's most characteristic "besetting sins": the complacencies of self-centeredness and sensualism.

Though they are mixed products of sinful people (aren't all our best efforts?), these cultural products and events remind us of something we too easily forget: though these past couple of years may seem in many ways "the worst of times," they are also—because God loves us too much to leave us as we are—the best of times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 21, 2004 7:54 AM

I love Gerard Depardieu's work !

I wish that he'd been more prolific in making English language movies.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at November 21, 2004 9:35 PM