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Worshiping The Celebrity Jesus – (Tyler Perry’s “The Passion”)

News Division

My wife told me about it last week. I knew nothing about it, honestly (and pretty much, still don’t).  I just don’t watch television very much at all. I always fall back to my standby argument against television that I heard years and years ago. I adopted it and made it my own.

Television, you see, is an invention that was originally based on the scientific concept of the vacuum tube. We all know this. Well, do you know what happens if you stick your head in a vacuum? Right. Your brains get sucked out of your skull.

So I missed the epic Palm Sunday Passion extravaganza by Tyler Perry.   While I’m not even sure what time it came on, I was likely either at church (our church still actually has Sunday evening services!) or I was sitting reclined with my head stuck in Jonathan Edwards’ A History Of The Work Of Redemption (Great read!).

This morning I see the Facebook posts and the Twitter alerts all touting, talking about, and, in some cases, bemoaning this New Orleans broadcast last night.   Hmmm. Okay.

Finally arriving at work, at my desk (where I am now, in fact) I did what I usually do.   Load up the various websites that I will peruse throughout the day interrupted frequently by the pesky duties of work.

I noticed this headline from The Christian Post: Tyler Perry Shares Deep Love for Jesus and His Hope ‘The Passion’ Will Spark Revival in America (Interview)

What’s this have to say? Well, here are a few excerpts that caught my attention.

The Passion” is a musical event that tells the 2,000-year-old story of Jesus Christ’s life on Earth. The production, set in the present day, will follow the account of Jesus as He presides over the Last Supper, and then is betrayed by Judas, put on trial by Pontius Pilate, convicted, crucified and resurrected.”

Not being a fan of television, I must confess that I’m even less a fan of musicals. I was horribly, horribly victimized as a seventh-grader forced to watch, and write a report, on The Sound Of Music. Perhaps this is a rite of educational passage you too endured. It swore me off musicals forever.

That being said, I’m glad I missed the musically-modernized edition of the Passion on television. When I read the actual Bible with the actual, historical, first-century account of my Lord’s Passion, it doesn’t resound in my head with synthesized, harmonized acoustics. It resounds in my heart prompted by the Holy Spirit who makes me read in awe the astounding love and grace poured out by Christ so that I may be reconciled to God. It was a divine production made for my soul, not “made for television.”

I don’t mind the presentation of the Gospel over the broadcast airways, mind you. I support ministries that produce podcasts, radio shows, and even some television for the purpose of obedience to the Great Commission and the sound, exegetical teaching of God’s Word.

But, is that what this Perry TV event did?   Consider this quote.

“So just to remind us all in this country that there is a Christ, there is a God. There was a death, there was a resurrection for all, and the compassion and the love that He had was for everyone, not just some, but for everyone! That’s what the resurrection and the crucifixion was all about — the love for everyone. So I think that’s just as important today as it’s been forever, and it needed to be said and shared in a special way,” he told CP.”

Sorta brushes up against the Gospel, methinks. There is a Christ. Check. There is a God. Check. There was a death, there was a resurrection … check and check.   This is foundational to the Gospel, to be sure.

Then there’s that little add on to Perry’s quote, “for all.” Umm, no.   No sir. It is not merely “for all”. It’s for all who “repent and believe”.

Perry goes on to say “the love that He had was for everyone, not just some, but for everyone!” There you go, I’d say. What we have here is a universalist, “it’s all about you”, casual gospel proclamation. Come join our club!

I seem to recall the Lord’s Prayer (no, not the “Our Father” one; that was not a prayer our Lord made, but rather a model prayer for his disciples, then and now. Our Lord’s Prayer is in John 17).   Jesus, in His prayer to the Father, known as the High Priestly Prayer, included these words, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

Unlike Perry, Jesus was not a universalist, apparently. Perry goes on to hype the “jump on the bandwagon” thrust of his pixellated Passion event that needed to “be shared in a special way.”  (Umm, it doesn’t get any more special, or dramatic, than the Golgotha event recorded in Scripture)

“All of us honoring the greatest celebrity of all,” Perry said in an emotional voice.”

The greatest celebrity of all?”   Well, maybe that’s not altogether out of line. But “celebrity” isn’t a word we find in Scripture to describe our Lord. Instead, I’m rather fond of the “Lord of Lord, King of Kings” titles belonging to Jesus. He really didn’t need a television broadcast for the sake of boosting his status among paparazzi, get more interviews on the wake-up network shows, or to, as with Perry, give interviews where he wouldn’t, actually, share the authentic Gospel.

“The reason I wanted to do ‘The Passion’ was ’cause it had the right substance for my soul. I got to go off, I felt the chills, I got to feel the movement of the Holy Spirit, and that just keeps me firm,” he shared.”

Oh, okay, I get it now. It’s about the “right substance”, “the chills”, getting to “feel the movement of the Holy Spirit.”

I’m not sure where Perry goes to church, what particular theological understanding he has (or doesn’t) or if he can even engage in a valid hermeneutic of Scripture. But if this is the foundation of his faith, rather than the firm truths reasonably expounded in God’s Word, he’s not proclaiming the true Gospel. He’s touting “another gospel.”

Our faith is not founded on feelings. That sort of gospel claim isn’t a bonafide gospel claim. It’s a “false gospel” claim.   There was some very worthy advice, by a former Southern Baptist Convention president, no less, that addresses this very prevalent “experiential” element in the church today.   Jerry Vines said it’s very important to keep three things in the proper order when it comes to our walk: facts, faith, and feelings.

In that order, the facts of Scripture are fundamental. The faith given to us in those facts illuminates the Word (there’s the Holy Spirit, Mr. Perry), points us to Christ (never to Himself), and, coupled with the Word (always, always with the Word), guides our walk of obedience. THEN, and only then, God will give you whatever feelings He wants you to have as a result of the FACTS and the FAITH.

I cite two quotes about this worrisome, yet growing focus on the Holy Spirit in the modern church:

“God wants to give you His Spirit only through His external Word”  Martin Luther

“Show me a person obsessed with the Holy Spirit and I’ll show you a person not filled with the Holy Spirit”  John MacArthur

Based on Perry’s comment about the experiences he had, that he attributes to the Holy Spirit, I’m rather glad I missed the glitz and glamor of this particular version of the Passion. I don’t need a hyped up musical Jesus. I don’t need to join a superstar celebrity fan club of faith.  And my emotions are the LAST thing upon which  I’m going to base my beliefs.

The Jesus of Scripture? He rode a colt into Jerusalem, not a Mardi Gras float. Now, He’s sitting at the right hand of the Father.

But He’s coming back. When He does, we won’t need the flash and sizzle of a television broadcast.

“Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” – (Revelation 1:7)

Perhaps we should be warning folks about that, cuz wailing “on account of him” is a “feeling” no one will want to have.

Preach the Gospel, folks, the real one. Skip the flash and sizzle of gaudy emotional appeals for a rock star Jesus that will cure the ills of your life. Embrace the Jesus who is Lord and Savior. He’s much, much more than a celebrity. You’ll find Him in Scripture.  Maybe Perry will too.

[Guest Post by Bud Ahlheim]