Monday, August 07, 2006

Mel Gibson and the Myth of Christian Heroism

Less than three years after producing a phennomenal depiction of Christ's death and resurrection, Oscar-winning actor and director Mel Gibson was arrested for drunken driving, and castigated by the media and general public for strong anti-Semitic remarks he made while being placed under arrest. Once again, Hollywood and the media are simmering over "Mad Mel's" racist tirade, and this latest debacle again brings to the surface two struggles that have seemed to perpetually plague the A-list actor, the other being alcohol abuse.

While the national media debate Mel Gibson's fate, the church has largely remained silent and somewhat paralyzed by an event that has obviously caught us off guard. After all, two and a half years ago, Gibson was touring evangelical churches all across the world peddling his new film The Passion of the Christ as a tool of evangelism. Once again, someone the church at large held up as an icon of strong faith has fallen. But this isn't the first time the church has been surprised by bad behavior from those celebrated as strong believers, nor will it likely be the last. And in the midst of the media frenzy, Christians must ask deeper questions about our propensity to look to men rather than to God.

From TV evangelist Jim Bakker's arrest to NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon's divorce to singer Michael English's extra-marital affair, the list of men vocal about their faith who have fallen is a long one. I remember hearing about Gordon's rumored extra-marital affair and subsequent divorce, and immediately recalling his strong testimony before thousands of people in Indianapolis at a Billy Graham crusade just four years earlier. Likewise, many who idolized Michael English during the early nineties were crushed when it was revealed that the singer had kept secret an ongoing affair with a fellow Christian artist. Given our experience with placing people on pedestals as role models, one might think evangelicals would learn from history. Such is, regretably, not the case.

Unfortunately, our penchant for the idolization of men (and women) can be credited in large part to our hermaneutic. From the cradle, evangelicals have taught their children that the stories in the Bible are about "good guys" vs. "bad guys." Abraham is the father of a nation who, with his strong faith, was willing to filet his only son. David is the strong King of Israel who slaughtered Goliath. Solomon was the wise King who arbitrated a scenario between two mothers that would have otherwise been impossible in a pre-DNA testing age. Elijah is the great man of God who called down fire from heaven and killed the prophets of Baal. John the Baptist was the great preacher who called all to repentance. Peter also was the great preacher at Pentecost.

We teach the Bible as if it were full of stories about heroes, when in reality it is simply a story of sin and grace. Perhaps this is why, when men like Mel Gibson demonstrate that they are, well, men, we are so shocked. We forget that Abraham was, at heart, a liar, David an adulterer, Solomon a pervert, Elijah a whiner, John a doubter, and Peter an indecisive hot-head. We forget that their moments of greatest strength were so because of God's empowerment which overcame their depravity.

From beginning to end, the Bible has one hero, and that hero is God! He is the grand protagonist throughout both testaments, and the human "heros" are essentially no more than His enemies whom He has brought near to Himself and made friends.

Paul echoes this when he tells Timothy in his first letter to preach that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." Paul understood that from the perspective of the cross, there are no heros, but only those who have been saved by grace. Therefore, as he ministers, he does so not as the great missionary-hero who sweeps in to save the heathen, but rather, as a trophy of the same grace he proclaims to those who will listen.

This perspective will put an end to the myth of Christian heroism. Even in his brightest moments, Mel Gibson is no hero. All good things that resulted from the Passion are so by God's design and power. Conversely, the recent Gibson episode doesn't make him any worse than he has always been. Anti-semitism and alcoholism are simply two expressions of a sinful nature that plagues each one of us. Such a realization will produce the right response from followers of Christ: forgiveness and restoration to one who claims to be our brother, and who has asked for help.

With that said, don't read between the lines that I think we should take Gibson's actions lightly. This is not my point at all. In fact, the restoration process is one that can only properly take place within the bounds of church discipline. The point however, is that what sets the Christian story apart from all others is that it isn't about heroism, but grace. We should expect that adherents to other religious faiths would be shocked by Gibson's actions. Their teachings all appeal to human goodness and human works as a means of acheiving salvation. But true Christianity realizes that apart from God's common and special grace, human goodness is a myth. Therefore, when professing Christians fall, we should condemn the behavior, but not the person. We should express dissapointment, but not shock. We should administer discipline, but not wrath.

"Mad Mel" messed up! Rest assured, he won't be the last! May the church use moments like these to remind ourselves that none of us wear a cape, and only One wears a crown!


Spencer Haygood said...

Well said, Joel, and needed saying! Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Seconding spencer haygood's comment.
Well written and important to remember. Thanks.

Katerina (

Kevin Bussey said...

Right on Joel! I think the answer is discipleship. We allow celebreties to be our spokespeople before they are ready. Bob Dylan, Michael Irvin and Jim Harbaugh have all fallen too.

Stephen Holland said...

Right on Joel!!

If any of us, especially me, were to lash out at Mr. Gibson due to some sinful perception of spiritual superiority, I can see the Lord looking sternly at me after writing words in the sand, "you who is without sin..."

No one is worthy, no, not one, and the only thing that makes any of us acceptable is the blood of the spotless, unblemished Lamb.

Alan Cross said...

Outstanding, Joel. I wrote a post along the same lines last week. Yours is much better. Keep it up.

Brother Bob said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brother Bob said...

"We forget that Abraham was, at heart, a liar, David an adulterer, Solomon a pervert, Elijah a whiner, John a doubter, and Peter an indecisive hot-head."
I wish I had said that! And I will!