Some 20 years before Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was released, there was the Jesus Film Project, created by British filmmaker John Heyman and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade. Though differences between the two vary from “The Passion” making $300 million to “Jesus” being viewed by 3 billion people, religious leaders and experts are saying the both films have their strengths as evangelism or outreach tools.
Robert Johnston, professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., names the pros of the two films.
"One is more a docudrama," he says of Campus Crusade's Jesus. "The other is a theological interpretation. One portrays Jesus' life, teachings, death and Resurrection. The other focuses solely on the crux of the matter -- the cross of Jesus Christ."
Although the portrayal of the Crucifixion in “The Passion” definitely impacted use as a springboard for preaching and teaching immediately following a screening.”
Adele Reinhartz, professor of religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, thinks “Jesus” gives apeople, some say the focus on the last 12 hours before Jesus’ death may detract from its potential as an evangelism tool.
“It will invite questions, it will solicit dialogue, and in that way it might well prove an important indirect source of evangelism," says Johnston. However, he says since the movie leaves most of the viewers in stunned silence or in tears, “The Passion” is “not a movie to more “coherent story” while “people who don't have a Christian background will have a hard time appreciating [‘The Passion’].”
Others say the graphic depiction and theme of the movie is what gives “The Passion” itsedge in evangelism.
Greg Laurie of Harvest Crusades says, “I believe The Passion of The Christ may well be one of the most powerful evangelistic tools of the last 100 years, because you have never seen the story of Jesus portrayed this vividly before.”
Chuck Colson of Break Point also praises the depiction of the suffering of Jesus in “The Passion.”
“The Passion tells the story of the twelve hours surrounding the Crucifixion. While The Passion is only the latest in a series of films about Jesus, it stands out for two reasons: First, it is unsparing and unsentimental. In Gibson's opinion, previous cinematic efforts had failed to capture the enormity of Jesus' suffering on our behalf.”
Paul Eshleman, head of Campus Crusade's Jesus Film Project, says, "The films are wonderfully complementary.” He adds, "There will always be ways that cinematographers can improve the vision part of the film, but they can never improve on the words."