Christian aspirations for the movie “Son of God” differ strikingly from the Christian expectations for “The Passion of the Christ” 10 years ago. Hopes for the movie today are far more realistic – levelheaded, down-to-earth.
Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” opened on 2,000 movie theater screens on Feb. 25, 2004 – Ash Wednesday – to super charged, almost manic expectations.

The movie’s marketing website said the film was “perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2,000 years.”

Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren endorsed the movie as “brilliant, biblical – a masterpiece” while Young Life President Denny Rydberg said, “I think the film will have mass appeal.”

The liberal National Council of Churches produced a reflection guide to help its ecumenical member bodies have useful conversations about the film.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas made a $50,000 ad buy in theaters encouraging viewers to visit a Baptist church near their home.

Catholics, Lutherans and Southern Baptists weighed in on the movie. Southern Baptist Convention leaders urged everyone to see the film.

“In my opinion, God may well transform this film into a mighty witnessing tool for reaching people in America who may never have been reached in any other way,” said Morris Chapman, CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.

Hundreds of churches bought out movie theaters. Pastors predicted a spiritual great awakening.

However, evangelical pollster George Barna found that the movie had little impact.

Less than 1 percent said “The Passion of the Christ” moved them to share actively their faith. Only 8 percent of moviegoers said the film increased their church attendance.

“‘The Passion’ failed to stir the great spiritual awakening that so many Southern Baptists and other evangelicals predicted,” we observed, noting that the movie did make Mel Gibson fabulously wealthy.

The “Son of God” opened over the weekend, a few days before Ash Wednesday 2014.

Christian aspirations for the “Son of God” are far more down to earth than 10 years ago when Gibson’s movie was released. Christian leaders have clearly learned from the hype and controversy surrounding “The Passion.”

Yes, some churches have rented out movie theaters. Some pastors are piggybacking on the movie to promote their congregations.

One Christian publishing house seeks to profit from the movie with a six-session study guide. Premiere weekend ticket sales are reportedly significant.

But these responses are much more muted than a decade ago.

One would hope that Christians see the movie, evaluating it against the biblical narrative.

It’s always a good thing for churchgoers to read their Bibles more carefully in conversation with cultural events, discussions.

If the movie contributes to more spiritual self-reflection, then the viewing has transcended the value of only entertainment.

If it helps focus the walk through Lent to Easter, then it’s a value-added resource.

One would pray that the movie might motivate believers to behave like “children of light” rather than “children of darkness” while being wise as serpents.

As such, the movie might add to the “culture of engagement” with non-Christians.

As one who goes to the movie theater once or twice a year, I plan to see the movie. I saw “The Passion of the Christ.” Next up is the “Son of God.”

Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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