The Passion of Jesus Christ by John Piper

Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” has raised many controversies. The media has focused its attention on who was responsible for Jesus’ death, but Piper tackles the meatier question – “Why did Jesus suffer and die?” This little book gives 50 answers to that question in 50 two-page chapters. While abbreviated, Piper’s answers are not lightweight. There is substance here, solid Scripture support and much to prime the pump for further study. I would be in total agreement with almost all that is found in this volume, with few exceptions. Those exceptions include:

• A questionable interpretation of Colossians 2:13 (pp 32-33).

• The title of chapter 13; “To Abolish Circumcision and All Rituals as the Basis of Salvation,” is problematic, since rituals have never been the basis for salvation.

• A strange view of ancestral bondage (chapter 20).

• Somehow twisting the meaning of Hebrews 11:25 into Psalm 16:11. Piper is so intent on finding joy everywhere that he is willing to actually replace the latter words of the Hebrew passage to fit his view (p. 67).

• That Christ died to destroy the hostility between races (chapter 44) misses the point of Ephesians 2:14-16 concerning the formation of the church.

• And this most misleading statement, “Becoming a Christian means death to sin. The old self that loved sin died with Jesus. Sin is like a prostitute that no longer looks beautiful. She is the murderer of my King and myself….Sin, the prostitute who killed my friend, has no appeal, she has become an enemy” (p. 70). Positionally this is true. Sin is our enemy and as a Christian it is no longer our master. But to say that sin is no longer beautiful and has lost its appeal is not biblically sound nor true to our experience.

Overall this is a fine resource but it does not seem to be the right resource for its intended purpose. The book was rushed to market to provide “seekers”, who were moved by the movie, an answer to the questions that the movie aroused. About two million copies have now been distributed for that purpose. But it does not seem to me that those who have had an emotional experience through a Hollywood movie are going to be the types to sit down and read 50 relatively heavy arguments about the “why” of Christ’s death. A book clearly explaining the gospel would have been more in order. It is not that The Passion of Jesus Christ is not a good book and won’t be helpful to Christians who read it. It is just that I doubt seriously that many unbelievers will actually bother to go past chapter three. Of course that reveals yet another problem with Gibson’s film. When we try to use an entertainment medium to proclaim profound truth we quickly find that these forms are highly inadequate. Many emotions will be stirred by this film, but that is very different from true repentance and faith as taught in the Scriptures. Piper has been faithful to the Word, but I don’t think many unbelievers will care. They are waiting for Mel’s sequel.

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