Mel Gibson's "Lethal Doctrine"

February 2004

The media are buzzing with news about Mel Gibson's new movie, "The Passion of the Christ," which opened today, Ash Wednesday in the Roman Church-State calendar. Showing in 2800 theaters nationwide, the movie is expected to recoup its production costs in 5 days, due to the enormous numbers of "evangelicals" who are buying tickets.

The important questions are not, as most commentators seem to think, Is the movie historically accurate, or Biblically accurate, or anti-Semitic.

Of course it is neither historically nor Biblically accurate, despite what leading "evangelicals" have said.

The movie is informed by Gibson's traditional Romanism, which is radically un-Biblical and historically inaccurate. Rome also has a long and undeniable tradition of anti-Semitism, which makes many suspicious about Gibson's movie.

The important question is, rather, Why are millions of "evangelicals" flocking to see a Romanist movie?

The answer is one that no one wants to hear: So-called evangelicals are Romanists at heart.

In the crucial debates over salvation five centuries ago,the difference between Rome and the Reformers was not merely grace versus works, but, at a more profound level, imputed righteousness versus infused grace. The Reformers (and the Bible) said that sinners are saved only by the imputation of Christ's perfect righteousness to their legal accounts. Sinners had broken the law of God, and their just punishment could be averted only by someone taking the punishment they deserved and fulfilling all God's Law perfectly as their Substitute and Representative – their Mediator. So Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and died an innocent death for his people. His righteousness is imputed to believers, and they are saved.

The Romanists said that sinners are saved by grace infused into their hearts through the sacraments. This doctrine of infused grace, with its focus on the interior life and experience of the sinner (who actually ate the physical body and drank the physical blood of Christ in the Mass), gave birth to all sorts of bizarre "spirituality" during the Middle Ages: mysticism, monasticism, asceticism, masochism, and sacramentalism.

The Reformation recovered and preached the Biblical doctrine of salvation by the extrinsic righteousness of Christ imputed to believers through belief alone. But even during the Reformation, many who were outside the Roman Church adopted its subjectivist view of salvation by religious experience. Luther himself never repudiated the Romanist superstition of eating the physical body and drinking the physical blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper. The German Enthusiasts and Pietists, the Dutch Arminians, and even some of the English Puritans became quasi-Romanist in their focus on "experimental religion" and religious experience. The Wesleyans in England and America made religious experience central to their new doctrine, and John Wesley vehemently attacked the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.

All of these groups ignored or repudiated "extrinsic justification," that is, justification by a righteousness wholly outside the sinner and imputed to him by an act of God.

The whole theology of religious revivalism in "evangelical" circles is Romanist at its heart. They now see this Romanist movie as a tool and opportunity for revival – the greatest, one of them has said, in 2000 years.

Louis Bouyer, a convert to Romanism who became a Roman priest, pointed out the rediscovery of Romanism in "Protestant" Revivalism nearly 50 years ago. In his 1955 book, "The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism," Bouyer wrote:

"The Protestant Revival...recalls the best and most authentic elements of the Catholic tradition.... For we see in every Protestant country Christians who owed their religion to the movement we have called, in general, Revivalism, attain a more or less complete rediscovery of Catholicism."

In the 19th and 20th centuries, "evangelicals" used new terms to describe the plan of salvation – terms not found in Scripture: "personal encounter with Christ," "personal relationship with Christ," "let Jesus into your heart," "put Christ on the throne of your heart."

Both "evangelicals" and the Neo-orthodox adopted and taught the Medieval religion of religious experience. All of them rejected the Biblical doctrine of justification by an extrinsic righteousness imputed only through belief of the Gospel. And that is why we now see millions of "evangelicals" flocking to theatres to watch an R-rated Romanist film: They seek a religious experience, and this movie – a high-tech version of a Medieval Passion Play – will give them an overwhelming religious experience, and they think that is Christianity.

John Robbins
The Trinity Foundation
February 25, 2004

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