"The Gospel of John," the first major theatrical film of an entire book of the Bible adapted on a word-for-word basis, is debuting in theaters this fall.

The three-hour epic on the story of Jesus' life as recounted by His disciple John was produced by a publicly traded faith-based media company called Visual Bible International, Inc. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival Sept. 11 and is scheduled to open in Charlotte, N.C., Dallas, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Fayetteville, Ark., Sept. 26 before hitting a larger audience nationwide beginning Oct. 10.

James Merritt, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Pointe, the Church at Gwinnett Center in the Atlanta area, attended a preview of the movie.

"From a scholarly standpoint, I found the movie to be extremely true to the biblical text -- even showing baptism by immersion, which is surely the way baptism was practiced by John the Baptist and the early church," he said in a statement to Baptist Press.

"Furthermore, the entire dialogue of the movie comes from the Good News [for Modern Man, or Today's English Version] translation of the Gospel, which only added to both the veracity (to me) and the effectiveness of the movie. The movie will prove to be a bit lengthy to the average moviegoer, and there are a few places where the movie slows somewhat perhaps because so much of John's gospel contains dialogue which discusses deep theological truth.

"Yet overall I found the acting of high quality, the cinematography outstanding, and I believe the movie deserves the strong support of the church and is a must-see for Christians everywhere," Merritt continued. "This is one movie that Christians could invite their lost neighbors to without fear of embarrassment over either quality or interesting subject -- in fact the most interesting subject in history!"

"The Gospel of John" is narrated by Christopher Plummer, a Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor with roles in more than 80 motion pictures including "The Sound of Music." Henry Ian Cusick, a classically trained stage actor with the Royal Shakespeare Co., plays the role of Jesus. The film also includes about 75 principal actors and nearly 2,500 extras.

The film has been awarded the National Evangelical Association's Seal of Approval, meant to recognize and support "organizations and endeavors that combine superior quality with uncompromised Christian values."

Ted Haggard, president of the NEA, said The Gospel of John is "exactly the kind of entertainment product that Christians have been clamoring for -- a high-quality production with an untarnished depiction of spiritual subject matter."

Ted Baehr of "Movieguide" gave the film his top rating of four stars.

"'The Gospel of John' brings John's gospel alive in an incredible way," he said. "For the first time in this reviewer's memory, it becomes clear why Jesus and His Jewish followers were at odds with the Jewish establishment. Watching Jesus throw down the gauntlet of His Messianic claims in the face of the Pharisees and Sadducees will clearly call people into the Kingdom of God. There is no ambiguity here."

The film differs from the 1978 "JESUS" film, which is widely used in evangelistic efforts worldwide, in that the earlier film, based on the Good News/TEV translation of the Gospel of Luke, did not include the entirety of the gospel.

Along with "The Gospel of John," other Christian films set for release include Mel Gibson's much-publicized film "The Passion" about the final hours of Jesus' life and "Luther," an epic about the father of the Reformation, Martin Luther, set to hit theaters Sept. 26.