Ken Hemphill, national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis, whose job includes frequent traveling, finds it easy to strike up conversations about the movie with strangers.

He talked with a young man on a recent flight who had only seen advertisements and some film clips, but immediately wanted to know, “Do you think it’s anti-Semitic?”

“If you think about it, you can bear witness,” Hemphill said. “I told him, ‘I didn’t see that. The impact it had on me was knowing it was my sin [that crucified Christ]. Jesus made that clear.’

“So I just talked through the Gospel at that point. He was very receptive. I think it could be a real trigger for an awakening in our own hearts and lives and a great evangelistic harvest.”

Still, Avant has encountered negative comments that, for him, show that God’s people often may be the greatest opponents of revival. “I just did a radio show about The Passion and pointed out every time in history God begins to move the biggest block is God’s people,” he said. “The problem is in the church.”

Among the skepticism Avant has heard expressed is that the film may violate the Second Commandment against worshiping idols. Too often, Avant said Christians try to put clamps on revival, isolate it or isolate themselves from it, as shown by this kind of reaction.

“Every one of them ought to be jumping to the forefront to say, ‘How does the church join in what God is doing in bringing the cross of Christ to the center of attention in the world?’” the pastor said.

“If instead, we begin debating on whether a picture on a movie screen is a graven image, I think God’s going to move on and find somebody who will join Him in what He’s doing.”

Avant sees the “buzz” that has greeted "The Passion" as a historic opportunity.

Twenty years from now, he doesn’t want to look back and wish he had spoken up about opportunities the movie presented the church instead of remaining silent as critics nitpicked.

And Avant noted that he sees cause for optimism: “It seems to me there’s a far greater percentage of our churches who are in tune with the possibilities that are in front of us now,” he said. “So I’m hopeful.”

© 2004 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.