Less than a week before "The Passion of the Christ" opens nationwide, concerns are being raised over some comments made by director Mel Gibson regarding who qualifies for heaven.

The movie, which focuses on the final 12 hours of Jesus' life, opens Wednesday, April 25. To promote the film, Gibson appeared on ABC's "Primetime Live" and was interviewed by Diane Sawyer. She asked the filmmaker whether eternal life is available to non-Christians.

Sawyer questioned the Catholic actor about whether his traditionalist belief system barred the door to heaven to Jews, Muslims, and Protestants, to which Gibson replied, "That's not the case at all – absolutely not. It is possible for people who are not even Christian to get into the kingdom of heaven."

Although most Christians cite John 14:6 – "I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the father except through me" – as evidence to the contrary, Gibson says he believes that it is not impossible for non-Christians to enter heaven, but that it is "an easier ride" for those of his faith.

"The Passion of the Christ," like some of its director's views, has been the subject of controversy for some time. The movie has received an R rating for the graphic nature of the scourging and crucifixion scenes, and Gibson has been criticized by some for the violence. But the director says he wants viewers to be shocked by the film.

"I also wanted it to be extreme. I wanted it to push the viewer over the edge," Gibson says, "and it does that. I think it pushes one over the edge so that they see the enormity of that sacrifice – to see that someone could endure that and still come back with love and forgiveness."

Gibson says he hopes the film will help give viewers a deeper understanding of what Christ had to endure to pay the price for mankind's sins. A number of Christian leaders that have previewed the film have remarked that they were greatly affected by it, and that the movie has a powerful spiritual impact.

One Southern Baptist leader who watched the film during a screening at the recent National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, says he was deeply moved. According to Associated Press, Baptist pastor and religious broadcaster Rev. Adrian Rogers says he wanted to stand up and shout, "That is enough!" during scenes depicting Jesus being beaten, whipped, and crucified.

Rogers believes the primary import of the film will not be evangelistic at first, although he does see it having a salvific "delayed detonation." But the movie's greatest initial effect, Rogers contends, will be on Christians, for whom it may serve to redirect the focus of their faith onto the hugeness of Christ's act of redemption.

The Baptist minister told the NRB convention audience that watching "The Passion of the Christ" moved him to ask himself, "Adrian, are the things you are living for worth Jesus dying for?" He suspects many Christians will have similar reactions. "I believe the film is going to bring the Church away from me-ology back to theology," Rogers said.


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