By Bob and Gretchen Passatino
Copyright 1989 by Bob and Gretchen Passantino
Note: This is the text of a book produced at the time of the release of Martin Scorsese film, “The Last Temptation Of Christ.” By the time the book was written, the controversy regarding the film had died down, so the publisher decided not to publish the book. The footnotes are missing from this online edition. I hope to restore them at some time in the future. I have, however, left in what would have been the index for your reading enjoyment.
Battle lines have been drawn between the fanatical fundamentalists and the blasphemous secular humanists. The Last Temptation of Christ is the gauntlet, thrown by the secular entertainment industry, and kicked back by the pious clerical community. Nobody is willing to give an inch now, and with charges of heresy and countercharges of censorship, both sides are characterized as bigoted troublemakers.
What happened? How could things get this bad? Who’s wrong? Is anybody right? And most importantly, what does The Last Temptation of Christ say about our Christianity and our society?
The Last Temptation of Christ is not an anomaly. It is a symptom of disease in both the Church and secular society. What is unusual is the amount of publicity generated around the fervency of Christian protest and the adamant refusal of Universal to respect religious belief.
In The Last Temptation of Christ Denied you will find out what spirits drove Nikos Kazantzakis to write The Last Temptation of Christ, what religious vision captured producer Martin Scorsese, and what compelled MCA/Universal to persist in releasing a movie which is offensive to the largest religious community in the United States. This book will get to the root of the division between how Christians understand the world and how Kazantzakis, Scorsese, and too many others understand the world. You will discover the roots of disease in the Church and society which, over the last twenty years, have nurtured the climate necessary for the stormy confrontation over this movie. This book isn’t just a collection of quick one-liners generated to confirm Christian prejudices and make a fast profit. This book will teach you how to understand someone who believes differently than you do, and how to communicate the gospel to them reasonably and truthfully.
The worst part of the movie (and also the novel) is not Jesus having sex with Mary Magdalene, which is presented as a satanic temptation in the form of a dream. The world would like Christians to admit that this is the worst scene as proof that Christians are afraid of sex and think the body is something dirty. This diverts attention away from the two basic assumptions of both movie and book, which together totally reject the Bible and Christianity.
The first assumption is that there is no final distinction between good and evil, between God and man, between matter and spirit. This panentheism (God is to the world what the soul is to the body) directly contradicts the biblical worldview and filters every scene, every line, every statement of The Last Temptation of Christ.
The second assumption is that there are no objective absolutes. Everything is relative. What’s true for you might not be true for me. Kazantzakis’ story about Jesus is just as valid as the apostles’. This assumption undermines the reliability and historicity of the New Testament. If believed, it also renders any complaint, protest, or argument against The Last Temptation powerless.
Some of the fault is ours as Christians. For too many years we have withdrawn from involvement as salt in the world, and for too long we have failed to plan ahead, confident that at any moment we would be able to escape this earthly purgatory with the momentarily expected Second Coming.
Blame lies with the secular world, too. The rise of secular humanism, the New Age Movement, and relativism have all contributed to a world hostile to the foundations of Christianity.
Challenges such as The Last Temptation of Christ indicate that we are headed more and more swiftly past open ridicule and discrimination toward oppression, persecution, and eventual ostracization from society.
But it’s not too late. We don’t have to give up. The Bible has given us a blueprint for meeting the challenges of the world with the sure Word of God. It is time for Christians to wake up; look at the inheritance we surrendered without a murmur over the last several decades; understand how we have been manipulated; and “put on the whole armor of God,” so that we can stand against “the wiles of the devil” and “withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:11, 13).
The Compromise of Christ
Jesus: “I’m a liar. A hypocrite. I’m afraid of everything. I don’t ever tell the truth–I don’t have the courage! When I see a woman, I blush, and look away. I want to, but I don’t dare!–for God….I don’t steal, I don’t fight, don’t kill–not because I don’t want to, but because I’m afraid. I want to rebel against you, against everything, against God! But, I’m afraid! You want to know who my mother and father are? Want to know who my God is? Fear. You look inside me and that’s all you find….Lucifer is inside of me…” (transcribed from the movie, The Last Temptation of Christ).
Jesus: “But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God….If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God;….But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?…I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me….I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me” (recorded by the Apostle John).
Millions of people see no contradiction between these two Jesuses. Nikos Kazantzakis, author of the book, said, reconciling his Jesus with the biblical one, “Everything you write is correct, but the opposite is also correct. For the creator, just and unjust–good and evil–god and devil–no longer exist.” Martin Scorsese, director of the movie, commented concerning the movie Jesus, “this Jesus, this God, our God…makes it [sic] more accessible to us.”
Cutting through the rhetoric, the public relations jargon, the camouflage vocabulary, isn’t hard once we understand that these people (including many religious leaders) believe in a different God, world, ethic, man, and Christ than what the Bible clearly reveals.
God is not separate from his creation, but, in some sense, is his creation. The world of matter is primitive, immature, and is constantly struggling toward spirit. There is no absolute right or wrong, but ethics are determined by one’s own inner inclination. Man is the pinnacle of evolution into spirit–man becoming God, and God always becoming more God. Jesus realized the spirit which is within all of us and which is leading the evolution of the universe into the realm of the spirit as God.
No wonder, then, that people who believe this don’t understand why Christians were upset originally with the novel and now protest the movie. What does it matter, they wonder, if the young Jesus sinned and made mistakes? Don’t we all? What matters is that he participated in the grand struggle, and emerged, victorious, spiritual, and “God” at the end.
Getting the Picture
This book is the result of hundreds of hours of research, interviewing, reading, and viewing. We read the novel of The Last Temptation of Christ months before the movie was released. We did careful research on the beliefs of both Kazantzakis and Scorsese. We viewed the movie twice and made a careful record of the dialogue.
We were involved behind the scenes in many of the steps taken in protest, especially involving the Southern California protests. We interviewed protesters, picketers, and movie goers. In the late 1970s we had led protests against the movie The Passover Plot, and we learned from that experience the importance of the media perception of this controversy, so we concentrated on that area in our own work concerning protesting The Last Temptation.
We watched the media. How did news broadcasts portray the protesters? How did talk show hosts treat the dissenting evangelical leaders? We viewed video tapes of almost every network, syndicated, and cable news treatment of the controversy; every national and Southern California talk show which featured it; and all of the clips, promotions, and Scorsese interviews supplied by Universal. We listened to hours worth of secular talk radio conversation on The Last Temptation of Christ, and also reviewed Christian media coverage. We talked with the media, and with the principal evangelical leaders involved in the Southern California protests.
We analyzed the protests and the critical statements. As an evangelical community, how effective was our protest? What could we have done differently to improve our image and gain better success? How can we plan better for the future and make a better impact next time? Our media research provided answers to all of these questions. Let’s review what happened.
In the late 1950s Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis wrote one of his most controversial novels, The Last Temptation of Christ. The author of Zorba the Greek and other works quickly found himself on trial for heresy before the Greek Orthodox Church (of which he was a nominal member), and his new novel was placed on the Roman Catholic list of forbidden books. But this didn’t discourage Kazantzakis. His struggle with the Church was symbolic of the grand Nietzschian struggle in which universe begets man, and man begets God. He responded to the Orthodox leaders, “May your conscience be as pure as mine, and may you be as moral and as religious as I.”
Little more was heard about this remarkable invention about Christ until 1983, when director Martin Scorsese announced that he was making the movie of The Last Temptation of Christ for Paramount Pictures. This had been one of Scorsese’s personal goals since he had read the novel several years before. Public pressure from Christians prompted Paramount Pictures to abort the project, and Scorsese looked elsewhere, and eventually made a production deal with Universal Pictures.
Early in the spring of this year (1988), Universal Pictures hired a film producer and film marketing expert, Tim Penland, who was also a Christian, to liaison between them and the Christian community concerning The Last Temptation of Christ. Penland understood that Universal wanted to accommodate the legitimate concerns of the evangelical community, and that they did not want to offend Christians. Penland asked evangelical leader Larry Poland to help him communicate with the evangelical community. Universal promised an early screening to evangelicals, encouraging Penland to solicit their criticisms to help them produce a final edit on the film. Martin Scorsese promised a “faith affirming” film, and Jesus “as sinless, as deity, and as the savior of the world.” Based on these promises, coupled with Penland’s reputation for trustworthiness, the evangelical community agreed to suspend judgment or criticism until they could view the rough cut film, make their suggestions, and see what changed.
However, over the next few months, communication between Universal and the Christians, and even between Universal and Penland, broke down. Universal adopted an “us vs. them” mentality and no one, even Penland, could find out what was going on. On the basis of scripts smuggled out of the studio to Penland, and Universal’s lack of cooperation, Penland resigned on June 12.
The tension escalated, especially when Universal turned evangelicals’ honest questions and fears into an ugly censorship issue. Motion picture companies typically covet advance opportunities to diffuse a hostile audience, but Universal seemed determined to disregard evangelical concerns.
The promised screening never materialized. First the evangelicals kept being put off about seeing the film. Then, as the protests grew, word leaked out that Universal had no intention of showing a rough cut film to religious leaders–they were only prepared to show the almost finished film in a quick screening with no intention of making substantive changes. After evangelical leaders time and again accepted screening dates, only to have them cancelled at the last minute, the evangelicals began to suspect that the invitations were insincere. In the meantime, they felt used by Universal since they had agreed to remain silent until they had previewed the movie. How could they get Universal to show the movie to someone so that the evangelicals could ascertain how closely the smuggled scripts resembled the almost completed film? They decided to call Universal’s bluff, as they felt it to be, and see if the next screening date would be honored if they refused to attend. Universal invited, they refused, Universal previewed the film for selected liberals in New York City, unaware that some of the attenders were going to quickly share what they had seen with the evangelicals. The evangelicals finally had direct information about the film.
Thousands of Christians called and wrote Universal in protest. Hundreds of religious leaders (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) supported the Christian effort to persuade Universal not to offend a religious group. Coverage of the protests peppered network, local, and cable television as well as radio and newspapers. Time featured a cover story on Jesus Christ.
Protest organizers scheduled a massive inter- religious protest at Universal Pictures in Los Angeles for August 11, and Universal countered by their surprise announcement that the film would be released one day later, on August 12. On August 11, 25,000 protesters jammed the streets into Universal headquarters in Southern California. The well-organized protest called on Universal to respect the rights and beliefs of the Christian community by withdrawing the film before release. The movie opened anyway in select theaters throughout the country and in Toronto (headquarters of parent company MCA). Despite pickets and pleas, thousands of people saw the movie during those first weeks.
Why did Universal refuse to back down? It wasn’t consideration for the religious beliefs of any group– that was evident by their callous disregard of the Christian community. It wasn’t because of the money they expected to make–an offer to buy them out was made and refused, and according to reviewers, this movie never had the potential to be a sellout without the artificial publicity from the protest. Little wonder that many religious, moral people understood Universal to be deliberately offending ethical and religious absolutes to promote Scorsese’s own subjectivism.
This philosophy so pervades our society today that many people who do not consciously hold these views still assume them in their reaction to the movie. Their accusations against the protesters are colored with it. Their defense of the movie reflects it.
Accusations Against Protesters
Five criticisms of the protesters are constantly raised. They are (1) “If you haven’t seen the movie, how do you know it’s bad?”; (2) “It’s fiction, just a story, so don’t get upset if it doesn’t stick with the Bible;” (3) “The Bible says Jesus was tempted, and that’s all this movie is trying to show;” (4) “Don’t get upset about the sex scene with Mary Magdalene. It’s only a dream temptation, and he doesn’t really do it;” and (5) “You Christians are so narrow-minded and bigoted you want to censor free speech.”
Is there Any Defense?
Throughout most of Christian history, worldviews like that of Kazantzakis and Scorsese were clearly understood as being nonbiblical. In the western world, a basic Christian worldview and ethic predominated, and literature like The Last Temptation would not have been produced, published, or accepted. Even during this century, when the impetus of the combined forces of secular humanism and eastern pantheism (New Ageism) encouraged many westerners to reject traditional Christianity, it was still regarded with respect. Christians were admired at least for their ethics and their spiritual heritage.
Today, in a western world almost crippled by relativism, respect is a foreign word. Nobody cares if anyone is offended by The Last Temptation.
Insider trading manipulates finances; secret arms deals determine foreign policy; public school administrators and teachers crib test answers so their students can get higher scores. The evidence of relativism’s power in our society is overwhelming.
And, unfortunately, relativism has trapped too many in our churches, too. Pastors preach donations and prosperity instead of the gospel. Preachers curse sin, and hide their own immorality behind payoffs. When we partake of the unholy communion between secularism and relativism, we don’t have any defense against The Last Temptation of Christ.
Stand for Truth
The only effective defense against secular relativism is a fervent, dynamic, confident return to the proclamation of absolute truth–embodied in the person of the biblical Jesus.
In the following chapters you will find out who the Jesus of Kazantzakis and Scorsese really is, the answers to the above objections, how we in the church are partly to blame for allowing this religious relativism to blanket western thought, and how we can take constructive, biblical steps to ensure that people will return once again to an objective, historically based, ethical worldview.
The Saviors of God
“God is everywhere, in man, in politics, in daily life, and he is imperiled. He is not Almighty, that he might cross his hands and thus await his certain victory. His salvation depends upon us. And only if he is saved may we be saved. Theory has worth as preparation only; the critical struggle lies in the Act.”
This is why evangelical Christians are concerned about the book and movie The Last Temptation of Christ. It’s not “just fiction, just a story.” It is propaganda for a particular religious worldview, articulated by Nikos Kazantzakis and echoed by Martin Scorsese. This worldview identifies God with the universe, and understands God as imperfect, limited, and evolving through universal struggle. You can’t skip this part of the puzzle. Understanding what Kazantzakis and Scorsese believe unlocks the mystery of The Last Temptation. Nothing in the story makes sense without this understanding.
Reconciling the Unreconcilable
It is possible for the young Jesus to be full of sin and Lucifer, and then to grow into Messiahship and godhood precisely because God is growing.
It’s possible for Scorsese to say the Jesus of his movie resists the temptation and is fully God because, if all is God, then of course Jesus is God and sin is God and sinlessness is God. It’s all the same.
It’s possible for Jesus not to know what God wants from him, and yet be God, because God himself doesn’t know everything.
It’s not only possible, but desirable, for the young Jesus to fight against God, to try to get God to hate him, and then to become God’s chosen one because the struggle is the process of salvation. And God needs to be saved in us just as much as we need to save ourselves.
Most reviewers and media commentators totally missed this underlying foundation to both novel and movie. No wonder the common query was, “It’s only fiction. Why not let Scorsese have his story?” What most people didn’t understand is that, to Kazantzakis and Scorsese, the gospels themselves, the New Testament record, are just another story, an alternate fiction. They have not just made up a fairy tale that doesn’t compete with the facts of the New Testament, they consider their story a rival to the fairy tale of the New Testament. To understand Nikos Kazantzakis, myth maker, is to understand his myth, The Last Temptation of Christ.
Nikos Kazantzakis was a mystic, an existentialist, a modified Marxist, and a panentheist. Simplistically, this means that (1) he believed spiritual truth or insight came from inner experience; (2) the purpose of existence is to become, not to be; (3) progress or evolution always occurs through violent struggle; and (4) God is the ever-progressing, never-arriving soul of the universe.
Kazantzakis (1883-1957) was born in Crete, an island off the coast of Greece. He grew up in the harsh world of Greek peasantry, in the midst of horrible repression and persecution by the Turkish rulers of Crete. Throughout his life, he looked to revolution as the salvation of his small island.
He was a complex man, acquiring, modifying, and discarding new ideas and philosophies throughout his life. One author described him as “Greek nationalist, religious ascetic, philosopher, left-wing sympathizer, literatist, and periodic politician, influenced by the more important issues and conflicts that composed the swirling panorama of the years of his life.”
The constancy in his life is summed up in one word: struggle. Whether he was in his Buddhist monastic phase, his Soviet Marxist phase, or his literary progenitor phase, he was always struggling. He struggled against himself, his world, and his God. He believed that the fulfilled life was a life of struggle, mirroring the cosmic struggle of matter becoming spirit. He said, “The essence of our God is STRUGGLE. Pain, joy, and hope unfold and labor within this struggle, world without end….The circle never closes. It is not a circle, but a spiral which ascends eternally, ever widening, enfolding, and unfolding the triune struggle.”ugle.”
Kazantzakis first embraced Buddhism, but then rejected Buddha as a Messiah for an earlier stage in God’s suffering struggle to evolve. He was then captured by Nietzsche and Karl Marx, although he rejected their strict, atheistic materialism in favor of Hegel’s concept of the material evolving into the spiritual. Finally, he reconciled his commitment to eternal struggle with his asceticism, and devoted the rest of his life to contributing to Man’s struggle to grow into God, not by physical conflict, but by his writing. He was the author of ten novels, ten dramas, five travel books, and assorted collections of letters, essays, and poems. He is best known for his novels Zorba the Greek, The Greek Passion (from which came the film He Who Must Die), The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, and The Last Temptation of Christ.
Nikos and Jesus
Kazantzakis wrote The Last Temptation of Christ as a picture of the struggle of God to evolve through Man in an ever-ascending spiral. “I am writing Spiritual Exercises…wherein I trace a method by which the spirit may rise from cycle to cycle until it reaches the supreme Contact. There are five cycles, Ego, Humanity, Earth, the Universe, God….God is the supreme expression of the unwearied and struggling man.”
He explained his purpose in writing The Last Temptation of Christ in a letter: “I wanted to renew and supplement the sacred Myth that underlies the great Christian civilization of the West. It isn’t a simple ‘Life of Christ.’ It’s a laborious, sacred, creative endeavor to reincarnate the essence of Christ, setting aside the dross–falsehoods and pettinesses which all the churches and all the cassocked representatives of Christianity have heaped upon His figure, thereby distorting it.”
Kazantzakis could embrace the Jesus Christ who was both man and God not because he understood and accepted the biblical doctrine, but because he believed God, in his progressing existence, was Man, and so Jesus Christ was man–and God growing through Man toward spirit. The destiny of Jesus Christ was the same as each man’s destiny. As Kazantzakis put it, “All of us, voluntarily or involuntarily, consciously or unconsciously–plants, animals, human beings and ideas–are struggling for the salvation of God.”
Here is the crux of Christ’s mission, according to Kazantzakis, Christ died to save God, not us. By overcoming the struggle between matter (ordinary human life) and spirit (God’s higher stage), God grows and ascends the never-ending spiral.
The Last Temptation of Christ was not just a novel to Kazantzakis. It was more true than the gospels. It was a mirror of the cosmic struggle of God in process, the theme of all of Kazantzakis’ writing. Kazantzakis was, himself, on a mission. His part in Man’s struggle was to struggle with words through his writing (he called the Greek alphabet his “24 soldiers”). His struggle was to tell his myth so that the whole world would turn to myth, and join the struggle of the emerging God. Each human being was an integral part of this struggle, and Kazantzakis used all of his writing, including The Last Temptation of Christ, to urge his reader to accept responsibility for his part in the salvation of God: “You have a great responsibility. You do not govern now only your own small, insignificant existence. You are a throw of the dice on which, for a moment, the entire fate of your race is gambled.”
From the simple outlines of the gospel stories concerning Christ, Kazantzakis lifted those portions he liked, and then created what he felt was missing. He enjoyed changing the Christian story to suit his philosophy because he believed that his myth got to the heart of God’s struggle for salvation through the dualities of good and evil. “For anyone who creates, all these saintly or diabolical Gestalten [forms] are but pawns for the supreme game.”
We will summarize both the novel and the film so that you can understand exactly what each one is promoting, and exactly which portions are objectionable to Christians. By reviewing these summaries, you can know what the book and the movie contain without having to read or see them yourselves. The basic plot of the novel is the same as that of the movie. Jesus, son of Mary, the carpenter, spends his early life struggling against God. He doesn’t want to accept his mission, his “throw of the dice” in the process of God’s growth. His story is the story of struggle.
Jesus is a Jewish carpenter who constructs crosses and sells them to the Romans for their crucifixions. His own people curse him for collaborating with the oppressors in killing their prophets, but this is Jesus’ act of defiance against his calling. Speaking to God he says, “Yes, yes,…you understand perfectly. Yes, on purpose; I do it on purpose. I want you to detest me, to go and find someone else; I want to be rid of you! Yes, yes, on purpose,…and I shall make crosses all my life, so that the Messiah you choose can be crucified!” At the same time, he punishes himself for rejecting God’s call. He practices self-flagellation, physically abusing himself with whips and a wide leather belt lined with spikes. He does penance for his crosses: he wears the belt, punishing himself with bloody wounds, every time he carries a finished cross to the Romans.
But Jesus can’t find peace. God continues to bother him, sending him into uncontrollable fits, piercing his brain with spiritual talons sharper than any hawk’s. He often wanders from home, delirious from voices and visions. He determines to save himself by retreating to a desert monastery, where he can satisfy God through prayers and fasting rather than through the terrible struggle which beckons.
On the way he sees Mary Magdalene, a prostitute driven to prostitution because, as children, she and Jesus had aroused each other but Jesus had turned away from her “to serve God.” He urges her to come with him, saying, “Mary, listen to me, let me speak, don’t fall into despair….I have committed many sins–I’m on my way to the desert now to expiate them–many sins, Mary, but your calamity weighs on me the most….Forgive me, my sister. It’s my fault, but I shall pay off my debt.” Magdalene rejects him, and he goes alone to the monastery.
There for the first time he openly expresses his struggle with God, confessing to Rabbi Simeon, “Even when I was tiny…I shouted to myself–oh, what impudence! what impudence!–‘God, make me God! God, make me God! God, make me God!’…ever since then…I haven’t been in my right mind….until now I hadn’t confessed it to a soul: ever since that day I haven’t been in my right mind….I am Lucifer!…No, I won’t be still….Now I’ve started, and it’s too late. I won’t be still! I’m a liar, a hypocrite, I’m afraid of my own shadow, I never tell the truth–I don’t have the courage….I never lift my hand to plunder or to thrash or kill–not because I don’t want to but because I’m afraid. I want to rebel against my mother, the centurion, God–but I’m afraid. Afraid! Afraid! If you look inside me, you’ll see Fear, a trembling rabbit, sitting in my bowels–Fear, nothing else. That is my father, my mother and my God.”
That night Jesus is finally cleansed of his fear. He submits to God’s will, and his fears slither out of him as snakes, mate in a dance of eternal death and life, and disappear into an abandoned well.
Judas, commissioned by the Zealots, comes to kill Jesus for his collaboration with the Romans. The newly cleansed Jesus is ready. “I’m delighted to see you, Judas, my brother. I’m ready. It wasn’t you who hissed; it was God–and I came. His abounding grace arranged everything perfectly. You came at just the right moment, Judas, my brother. Tonight my heart was unburdened, purified: I can present myself now before God. I have grown tired of wrestling with him, grown tired of living. I offer you my neck, Judas–I’m ready.” Judas is so startled that he doesn’t know what to do, and he questions Jesus, who says he pities all–not just the Jews, not just Man, but animals, birds, plants. Judas asks him why. Jesus replies, “‘When I bend over the ant, inside his black, shiny eye I see the face of God.’ ‘And if you bend over my [Judas’] face, son of the Carpenter?’ ‘There too, very deep down, I see the face of God.'” Judas decides to become Jesus’ first disciple rather than kill him–at least for now.
The section of the novel dealing with Jesus’ growing ministry comprises the bulk of the novel. Kazantzakis re-crafts the beatitudes, Christ’s parables, some of the miracles recorded in the Bible, and Jesus’ private talks with the disciples to illustrate the unfolding divine awareness within Jesus. For example, Kazantzakis changes the biblical story of Lazarus and the rich man to reflect his belief that everything is progressively reconciled in the maturation of God, who is the soul of everything. Kazantzakis has Jesus recount the standard story, but then has the apostle John object: “The parable is a great blasphemy and cannot stand as it is. It must have a different ending.” Kazantzakis puts these words in Jesus’ mouth, “It does have a different ending, John beloved….God…said, ‘Lazarus, beloved…go down; take the thirster by the hand. My fountains are inexhaustible. Bring him here so that he may drink and refresh himself, and you refresh yourself with him.'” Kazantzakis affirms his mythological view of scripture when he has Jesus and Matthew argue about what Matthew has written (he has been writing what we presume will become the Gospel of Matthew familiar to us in our Bibles). Jesus reads what Matthew has written for the first time and screams, “Lies! Lies! Lies! The Messiah doesn’t need miracles. He is the miracle–no other is necessary! I was born in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem; I’ve never even set foot in Bethlehem, and I don’t remember any Magi. I never in my life went to Egypt….” Matthew explains that he is only writing what the angel reveals to him, word for word. Jesus muses, not understanding what is true and what is false, “If this was the highest level of truth, inhabited by God…If what we called truth, God called lies…” He concludes that Matthew should keep on writing what the angel tells him, and says to Matthew, “Write whatever the angel dictates.”
During this time Jesus comes to a gradual awareness that he is the Messiah, that God is speaking and working miracles through him, and that he has a special role in God’s salvation through Man. His disciples (including a reformed Mary Magdalene) follow him without being fully convinced that he is the Messiah.
This is how Kazantzakis related Jesus’ uncertainty: “He wanted to open his mouth and ask the Invisible: Lord, are you pleased with me? but did not dare….Surely the Lord must be displeased with me, he suddenly thought, shuddering. But why am I to blame, Lord? I’ve told you, how many times have I told you: I cannot speak! But you have pushed me more and more….”
In this section of the book, Jesus has one main struggle: in fulfilling God’s will, should he preach war or should he preach love? Over and over Kazantzakis shows this struggle. Inside Jesus feels like killing those who attempt to stone Mary Magdalene: when he opens his mouth he tells everyone to love each other. Inside he cries out against the Roman injustice to the Jews: when he speaks, it is to preach patience and longsuffering.
Finally, Jesus goes to the desert to wait for God’s clear voice. He wants to know, once and for all, what God demands of him. Temptations come to him various forms, including a snake, a lion, and a flaming light. After he has resisted each one, God speaks to him clearly for the first time: “Stand up, the day of the Lord is here. Run and carry the message to men: I am coming!” Jesus has the answer. His struggle is against war, against the body, and against violence. He will be the sacrifice, not only for his own sins, but for the sins of the world.
Savior of God and Man
Jesus’ coming sacrifice will provide the marriage of love and hate, suffering and violence to push God and Man further up the eternal spiral of divinity. Jesus reflects, “‘Great things happen when God mixes with man. Without man, God would have no mind on this Earth to reflect upon his creatures intelligibly and to examine, fearfully yet impudently, his wise omnipotence….But man, without God, born as he is unarmed, would have been obliterated by hunger, fear and cold…..’Jesus felt more deeply than he had ever felt before that God and man could become one.”
The Unholy Alliance
In harmony with Kazantzakis’ belief that everything is part of God, both good and evil, Judas is partnered with Jesus to accomplish God’s will. Judas has no free will: God has predestined him to betray Jesus to the authorities. Jesus encourages Judas to betray him, saying, “There is no other way. Do not quiver, Judas, my brother. In three days I shall rise again.” Judas responds, “You say I have the endurance–you say it in order to give me strength. No, the closer we come to the terrible moment…no, Rabbi, I won’t be able to endure.” Jesus includes Judas in his saving work, “You will, Judas, my brother. God will give you the strength, as much as you lack, because it is necessary–it is necessary for me to be killed and for you to betray me. We two must save the world. Help me.” The transformation of Judas from traitor to savior is completed: “Judas bowed his head. After a moment he asked, ‘If you had to betray your master, would you do it?’ Jesus reflected for a long time. Finally he said, ‘No, I do not think I would be able to. That is why God pitied me and gave me the easier task: to be crucified….Do not abandon me; help me.”
Events move quickly now. The Last Supper is celebrated, Jesus prays in the garden, Judas betrays him, he is tried and sentenced. He is brutally beaten, scourged, and nailed to the cross.
Suddenly, just as he thinks he can’t endure any more, he “awakes” in a springtime world with a young black male guardian angel announcing that his suffering and struggling was just a dream. God wants him to find personal salvation within his flesh, within the world, in the arms of Mary Magdalene. They have sex in the grass, and Jesus exclaims, “[This is] the road by which the mortal becomes immortal, the road by which God descends to earth in human shape. I went astray because I sought a route outside the flesh….I bow and worship you, Mother of God.” Soon Mary Magdalene dies, but the angel comforts Jesus, urging him to seek out Mary and Martha of Bethany, “Only one woman exists in the world, one woman with countless faces. This one falls; the next rises.”
Jesus moves in with Mary and Martha and resumes the life of a simple carpenter. “I’ve finished wrestling with God….We have become friends. I won’t build crosses any more.” He settles into a comfortable life, having children with both Mary and Martha. “Jesus sat in the yard, braided together truths and lies, and laughed.”
The Apostle Paul appears in Bethany, preaching the Good News that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again the third day to bring salvation to everyone. Jesus explodes, calling him a liar and threatening to expose him for a fraud. Paul exclaims, “Shut your shameless mouth!…In the rottenness, the injustice and poverty of this world, the Crucified and Resurrected Jesus has been the one precious consolation for the honest man, the wronged man. True or false–what do I care! It’s enough if the world is saved!…What is ‘truth’? What is ‘falsehood’? Whatever gives wings to men, whatever produces great works and great souls and lifts us a man’s height above the earth–that is true. Whatever clips off man’s wings–that is false….I don’t give a hoot about what’s true and what’s false, or whether I saw him or didn’t see him, or whether he was crucified or wasn’t crucified. I create the truth, create it out of obstinacy and longing and faith. I don’t struggle to find it–I build it.”
Many years later the aged Jesus is near death, his wives and children surround him, and his old disciples appear one last time. Judas finally forces him to see that, in accepting his crucifixion as a dream, he has abandoned the salvation struggle. “Traitor! Deserter!…Your place was on the cross. That’s where the God of Israel put you to fight. But you got cold feet, and the moment death lifted its head, you couldn’t get away fast enough! You ran and hid yourself in the skirts of Martha and Mary. Coward! And you changed your face and your name…to save yourself!”
Finally Jesus resists the last temptation. Finally he pushes away the guardian angel/demon and the seductive dream of earthbound humanity. He is on the cross, where he belongs. “Temptation had captured him for a split second and led him astray….All–all were illusions sent by the Devil….He uttered a triumphant cry: IT IS ACCOMPLISHED! And it was as though he had said: Everything has begun.”
The story of The Last Temptation is over.
We have carefully explained the philosophy and story of the novel so that you can see clearly the inseparable union between novelist Kazantzakis and film maker Scorsese. The vision of Kazantzakis is the vision of Scorsese. The struggle of Kazantzakis is the struggle of Scorsese. The mission of Kazantzakis is the mission of Scorsese.
Martin Scorsese opens his movie with a printed disclaimer: “This film is not based on the Gospels, but is a fictional exploration of the eternal spiritual conflict.” This disclaimer has been resurrected over and over by the movie’s supporters to disarm attacks from protesters. But as we showed in chapter two, for Kazantzakis fiction can be more true than truth! Scorsese’s disclaimer fits perfectly with the panentheistic worldview he echoes from Kazantzakis. We could “translate” the disclaimer this way: “This film is not based on the older, more primitive, matter-bound Gospels, but is an evolved, mature dramatic setting for spiritual awareness to encourage Man’s transcendence beyond the material to the divine spirit.” Once we understand what this worldview encompasses, it is clear that this disclaimer does not protect the Gospels, but heralds a new and better Gospel, The Last Temptation of Christ.
In fact, the movie of The Last Temptation so closely parallels the novel that one could almost use the novel as a script. Scorsese has remained faithful to every single philosophical position articulated in the novel. Through the movie he teaches the two basic assumptions we referred to in our Introduction. First, there is ultimately no distinction between good and evil, God and man, matter and spirit–all is God becoming God. Second, there are no objective absolutes. Everything is relative.
The movie very clearly promotes struggle as the dynamic by which the world, Man, and God grow. Even the disclaimer says it, “the eternal spiritual conflict.”
There is no need to be as detailed in our summary of the movie as we were in summarizing the novel. In most parts they are almost identical. We note significant differences below.
The Film Version
The story opens with the carpenter struggling with a cross he has carved. As in the novel, he is building crosses for the Romans’ crucifixions, and his own people, the Jews, despise him for this collusion. Judas, the strongest character in the movie, accuses Jesus, “You’re a Jew killing Jews! You’re a coward!” Jesus’ only reply is an anguished, “I’m struggling…” Jesus is seen strapping on his leather belt studded inside with nails. He sobs, “God loves me. I know he loves me. I want him to stop. I can’t take the pain–the voices and the pain- -I want him to hate me. I fight him! I make crosses so he’ll hate me. I want him to find somebody else. I want to crucify every one of his Messiahs!” (Kazantzakis had Jesus say, “I shall make crosses all my life, so that the Messiah you choose can be crucified!”)
As in the book, the movies Mary, Jesus’ mother, is convinced that her son is crazy. She vacillates between pity and revulsion toward her only son. She questions him about his fits, saying, “You’re sure it’s God? You’re sure it’s not the devil?” The movie’s Jesus is just as unsure, answering, “I’m not sure, I’m not sure of anything.”
After Jesus determines to go to the desert religious retreat, he tries in vain to find Mary Magdalene’s house, to beg her to find personal salvation with him in the desert among the monks. As in the movie, one of Mary’s rich foreign customer’s shows him the way, and Jesus believes him to be a messenger from God, “Thank you, Lord, for bringing me where I do not want to go. He must be one of God’s angels, come down to show me the way.”
Jesus the Sinner approaches Mary Magdalene. Their conversation is tense, Jesus is apologetic and full of shame.
Jesus: I want you to forgive me. I've done too many bad things. I'm going to the desert and I need you to forgive me.
Mary M: Why do you care what I say….and you come in here with your head down saying forgive me! Forgive me!! It’s not that easy. Just because you want forgiveness, don’t ask me to do it. So get out! Go away!
Jesus: Look, Mary, look at this. God can change this. God can save your soul.
Mary M: He broke my heart. He took you away from me. And I hate both of you!
Jesus: Hate me, blame me. It’s all my fault, but not God’s….
At the desert monastery, the Master has already died. The panentheistic belief that God is matter evolving into spirit is expressed by the monks at the funeral: “Master’s soul has gone to heaven. His body’s work is completed. It walked under the sun and moon, over sand and stone. Scenes of pain yearn for heaven. We commend his remains to our God. Flesh, the Master no longer needs you. Melt away.”
The movie deliberately emphasizes that Jesus is a sinner, growing into a Messiah. Before he is cleansed in the monastery, he talks with a monk, repeating almost exactly the lines from the novel.
Monk: We all sin!
Jesus: Not my sins. I’m a liar. A hypocrite. I’m afraid of everything. I don’t ever tell the truth–I don’t have the courage! When I see a woman, I blush, and look away. I want to, but I don’t dare!–for God. And that makes me proud….I don’t steal, I don’t fight, don’t kill–not because I don’t want to, but because I’m afraid. I want to rebel against you, against everything, against God! But, I’m afraid! You want to know who my mother and father are? Want to know who my God is? Fear. You look inside me and that’s all you find.
Monk: I’ve heard the more devils that we have inside the more of a chance we have to repent.
Jesus: Lucifer is inside of me. He says to me, “You’re not the son of king David. You’re not a man. You’re the son of man–and more. The son of God. And more than that–God.
In the midnight conversation between Judas and Jesus, when Judas decides not to kill Jesus just yet, Jesus repeats the novel’s line about seeing the face of God in the eyes of an ant. Judas asks Jesus what he’ll do if Judas doesn’t kill him: “I’ll speak….I’ll just open my mouth and God will do the talking. Maybe God sent you here, too. Maybe he sent you to follow me.”
His uncertainty at the beginning of his ministry is clear in the movie. After he intervenes to save Mary Magdalene from stoning he muses, “…so many miracles! What if I say the wrong thing? What if I say the right thing?” He recounts his spiritual growth to preface a parable by saying, “I used to think God was angry, too. But not any more. He used to jump on me like a wild bird and dig his claws into my head. But then one morning he came to me. He blew over me like a cool breeze and said, ‘Stand up!’ And here I am!”
Jesus is clearly not fully cognizant of his Messianic role. He laments to Judas, “How can I be the Messiah? When those people were torturing Magdalene, I wanted to kill them. And then I opened my mouth, and out comes the word ‘love.’ I don’t understand.”
In the novel Jesus confidently tells John the Baptist that he is the Messiah promised by the prophets, but he doesn’t clearly understand yet whether his struggle will be one of violence or sacrifice. In the movie, he still doesn’t know who he is. John the Baptist, referring to a prophecy about the Messiah, asks, “Are you telling me that’s you?” Jesus replies, “I don’t know. You tell me.” In fact, Jesus spends a lot of time saying he doesn’t know. In the desert with John the Baptist, John tries to convince Jesus that violent overthrow of the Romans is the only way “save” his people, the Jews. Jesus responds, “That’s not the answer.” John challenges him, “Then what is the answer?” Jesus replies, “I don’t know.”
In the movie Jesus flirts with violent revolution. He tells his disciples, “God is inside of us. The devil is outside us and in the world all around us. We’ll pick up the axe and cut his throat. We’ll fight him wherever he is.”
One of the clearest affirmations that all people participate in Man becoming God occurs in the movie’s account of the wedding feast at Cana. The host stops Jesus and his party, which includes ex-prostitute Mary Magdalene, at the door, saying people like her should not be admitted to a wedding, which celebrates virginity and the sanctity of marriage. Jesus replies, “Let me explain something to you. What do you think heaven is like? It’s like a wedding. God’s the bridegroom, and man’s spirit is the bride. The wedding takes place in heaven, and everyone is invited. God’s world is big enough for everyone.” The host retorts, “Nazarene, that’s against the Law.” Jesus dismisses the Law, saying, “Then the Law’s against my heart!”
When Jesus first explains how Judas must betray him, and how Jesus must die to liberate Man, he repeats that it took him a long time to understand.
Jesus: Listen, at first I didn't understand myself.
Judas: No, you listen. Every day you have a different plan. First it’s love, then it’s the axe, and now you have to die. What good could that do?
Jesus: I can’t help it. God only talks to me a little at a time. He only tells me as much as I need to know….
Judas: We need you alive!
Jesus: Now I finally understand. All my life, all my life I’ve been followed by voices, by footsteps, and by shadows. And you know what the shadow is? The cross. I have to die on that cross and I have to die willingly….
The movie even repeats the book’s union of Judas and Jesus as co-saviors of Man/God. We hear echoes of Kazantzakis’ boast that “I’ve raised and sanctified Judas Iscariot right alongside Jesus.”
Jesus: ...Judas, stay with me. Don't leave me!
Judas: I won’t let you die.
Jesus: You have no choice. Remember, we’re bringing God and man together, and they’ll never be together unless I die. I’m the sacrifice. Without you there can be no redemption. Forget everything else. Understand that.
Judas: No, I can’t. Get somebody stronger.
Jesus: You promised me. Remember once you told me that if I moved one step from revolution, you’d kill me. Remember? I’ve strayed, then. You must keep your promise….
Judas: If that’s what God wants, then let God do it. I won’t.
Jesus: He will do it–through you!…You can’t leave me. You have to give me strength.
Judas: If you were me could you betray your master?
Jesus: No. That’s why God gave me the easier job, to be crucified.
And then the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, the last temptation. And Scorsese’s Jesus rejects the path of the material for the spiritual, the human for the divine, the peace for the struggle. The triumphant sound of “It is accomplished!” lingers as the scene fades to black and the credits roll.
What is accomplished? “Bringing God and man together,” in Scorsese’s words, “as we struggle is how he struggles, as we doubt so he has doubts, as we are tempted, so he is tempted.”
God in process, Man in God, Jesus in the Father, for all of us, the hope of joining Jesus in the ascent of God is the unified message of Kazantzakis and Scorsese. “The message that Kazantzakis and Scorsese want to convey in this idea couldn’t be simpler….By experiencing Jesus’ divinity as a process we can come to learn how the divine might enter our own lives.”
The Last Temptation Denied
Anybody who believes the Bible is God’s infallible Word won’t fall for the many discrepancies, heresies, blasphemies, and vain philosophies of The Last Temptation of Christ. On the other hand, anybody who doesn’t accept the Bible as God’s Word won’t be convinced by simple pious quotation of “proof text” Bible verses.
Now that we understand the philosophy behind The Last Temptation, and we have reviewed the contents of both novel and film, we can develop a strong, rational, and biblical denial of its worldview. Remember, this kind of worldview is not unique to Kazantzakis and Scorsese. Many people today assume most of the beliefs we covered in chapters one through four, even though few have considered them carefully or could articulate their views.
In this chapter and the next we will review reasonable and biblically sound refutations of The Last Temptation assertions in four domains: (1) historical documents (including the Bible); (2) philosophical worldview; and (3) the identity of Jesus Christ.
The New Testament and Truth
First, let’s counter the damaging blow made by both Kazantzakis and Scorsese against the integrity of the New Testament as an historical record.
Scorsese promised to make a “faith affirming” film, and prefaced his film with the disclaimer that his was not based on the gospels, but on a work of fiction. However, what he meant by that was that any story about Jesus Christ, including the gospels, was a fiction. It approached truth the more it explicated the eternal struggle of Man becoming God, which The Last Temptation did well, and the gospels, in fact, denied. Kazantzakis boasted of his improvement to the gospels, saying, “Parables which Christ could not possibly have left as the Gospels relate them I have supplemented, and I have given them the noble and compassionate ending befitting Christ’s heart. Words which we do not know that He said I have put into His mouth, because He would have said them if His Disciples had had His spiritual force and purity.” However, there are two fatal flaws to Kazantzakis and Scorsese’s assumption.
First, there is objective, historical truth. Whatever happened in the past has now been fixed in the concrete of history. Truthful historical records correspond consistently to what actually happened. Historical records which are not truthful do not correspond to what actually happened. The question concerning the history of the person and events of Jesus Christ is not, then, “which story touches my inner inclinations?” but “which story corresponds to the one who actually lived and to what actually happened?” We are not in the realm of subjective experience, but in the realm of objective reality.
Removing Christ from bondage within subjectivity, and acknowledging his objective reality, we can see how ludicrous it is for Kazantzakis’ Jesus to “reconcile” what actually happened to him with Matthew’s angel messages by wondering, “If this was the highest level of truth, inhabited only by God…If what we call truth, God called lies.” It is just as meaningless for Scorcese’s Apostle Paul to say, “I created truth out of what people needed and what they believed.”
Second, Kazantzakis and Scorsese, locked within their own subjectivity, have failed to consider or account for the abundant wealth of historical and rational confirmation we possess of the truthfulness of the New Testament.
New Testament Reliability
This book is not the place for a lengthy discussion of biblical reliability, but we will highlight the main areas of study which establish the historical veracity, the truthfulness, and the inspiration of the New Testament.
There are tested, commonly accepted principles for determining whether any particular document can be classified as an historical text. When these principles are applied to the New Testament, we find that it not only qualifies as historical record, but that it has internal claims of its historical reliability. We already quoted 2 Peter 1:16, and other passages make similar claims. The Apostle Luke begins his gospel saying, “it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account,…that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.” When Paul’s recitation of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ caused him to be accused of being insane, he replied, “I am not mad,…but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows of these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.”
The New Testament and History
Once we have shown that the New Testament meets the criteria for an historical record, then we can ask how accurate it is as an historical record. Does it tell the truth about people, places, and events in the past?
Beginning before this century was a biblical criticism trend in Germany which assumed that the history of Jesus Christ was forever unknowable. The New Testament could not be trusted historically, and Jesus Christ probably never even existed. This school of thought reached its popular epitome with Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest for the Historical Jesus. However, the claims of the higher critics have been refuted overwhelmingly by the abundance of literary, textual, historical, and archaeological evidence accumulated over this century and the last. Many good refutations were readily available in Kazantzakis’ Europe. For example, Sir William Ramsey’s St. Paul: The Traveller and the Roman Citizen was first published in 1897.
The New Testament record of Jesus Christ is not just another story, not one fiction option among many. It is the accurate historical record of the most remarkable life ever lived.
The Worldview Denied
The rest of this chapter is devoted to the inadequacies of the worldview or philosophy promoted in The Last Temptation. We will deal with beliefs about God, truth, and salvation.
The Limited God
The God of The Last Temptation is a panentheistic God. That is, the material universe as God’s body is continually changing and maturing toward spirit. Philosopher Norman Geisler describes panentheism this way:
The panentheistic God/universe setup is like a mutual admiration society: God needs you, and you need God….God depends on the world, and the world depends on God….Since God is always growing, or “in process,” he never perfectly achieves his aims. In metaphorical terms, God is always on the path but he never reaches his destination. The actual is what he is; the potential is what he is eternally becoming.
At first blush, this way of understanding God and the world may seem appealing. It is flattering–Man today is more divine than anything that has come before. It has an explanation for evil–evil is the dross in the smelting process of God.
But panentheism has its problems, too. Let’s look at the little problems first. What assurance can we have the God will keep maturing? What if he regresses? How do we know he hasn’t already, and is devolving rather than evolving? If everything is in some way God, including evil and the material world, then what standard do we have by which we can judge what is the pure metal and what is the dross?
Each of these questions skirts the central and fatal flaw of panentheism: Because of its complete self- dependence, it is completely irrational. Think about this very carefully. If matter depends on spirit, it is not independent. If spirit depends on matter, it is not independent. But if matter and spirit are both dependent, then neither one can cause or sustain the other. So where did they come from and how are they sustained? Norman Geisler notes,
In panentheism God has been “demoted” from world Creator to cosmic Controller, from a being transcendent over the world to one dependent on it. But how can both the world and God be depending on each other for their existence? Is this not as incoherent as suggesting that the bottom brick is holding up the top brick at the same time the top brick is holding up the bottom brick?
In other words, the God of The Last Temptation is a nice fairy tale, but it’s irrational and doesn’t do anything to explain existence. It’s not too hard to describe existence, and it certainly isn’t hard to make dogmatic pronouncements about existence. But for an explanation of existence to be rationally believable, it must be consistent, reasonable, and sufficient to account for what we know. Geisler notes, “it is quite another thing to say that God is and infinite finite….How can God be at once both eternal and temporal? At this point incoherence…seems to destroy the panentheistic view of God.” Panentheism simply doesn’t make any sense.
When Truth Isn’t Truth
As soon as Kazantzakis, Scorsese, or any character in The Last Temptation assumes this contradictory idea of God, then he slips into a swamp of relativism from which there is no escape. Truth is no longer true, it’s just the flip side of lie. In fact, as God grows, truth grows. Will the day come when what is a lie today grows into truth tomorrow? (Kazantzakis hints at this when his Jesus wonders if in the high place of God’s existence, truth is lies and lies are truth.)
But wait! This doesn’t make any sense! If there is no real distinction between truth and falsehood, then how can we tell if Kazantzakis and Scorsese are telling us the truth? What if The Last Temptation is a lie trying to become truth? What if Scorsese promised Christians he would make a “faith affirming” film with a Jesus as “sinless, as deity, and as the savior of the world” as a lie that was becoming truth? Can we trust anything from either of them? And, more importantly, can we trust anything from their God? Kazantzakis’ God “is not All- knowing. His brain is a tangled skein of light and darkness which he strives to unravel in the labyrinth of the flesh. He stumbles and fumbles. He gropes to the right and turns back; swings to the left and sniffs the air. He struggles above chaos in anguish.”
Contrast this with the clarity, dependability, and absolute truthfulness of the biblical God and Christ. James 1:17 describes God as “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” Psalm 117:2 reminds us, “the truth of the Lord endures forever.” Jesus Christ called himself the Truth (John 14:6), and he didn’t mean that he was Man-growing into- God-becoming more true, since he “is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Salvation that Doesn’t Work
Little wonder that The Last Temptation God needs saving! He is irrational, inconsistent, and unintelligent! It is impossible to believe that this God could save anyone–he certainly can’t save himself! But is man any more able to save himself, much less God? Ultimately, the panentheistic God is a God of pessimism. The panentheist is caught in the tension between the struggle to cast off sin and the irrational idea that sin is somehow part of God.
Panentheism leads to ultimate pessimism regarding salvation. Kazantzakis questions,
Does salvation exist, does a purpose exist which we serve….Or is there no salvation, is there no purpose, are all things in vain and our contribution of no value at all? Neither one nor the other. Our God is not almighty, his is not all-holy, he is not certain that he will conquer, he is not certain that he will be conquered.
God is not the savior. Jesus Christ is not the savior. There has been no act of will in rebellion to an infinite God of absolute truth which has plunged humanity into sin. There can be no act of reconciliation by the sinless Son of God. When The Last Temptation talks about Jesus as savior, it only means that he has fulfilled his own small part in the grand struggle of God to survive and grow. This is what Martin Scorsese meant when he said, “as we struggle is how he struggles, as we doubt so he has doubts, as we are tempted, so he is tempted.”
On the contrary, if God is reasonable and consistent, there cannot be sin within him. Sin in the world cannot be attributed to the perfect Being. It is, as the Bible describes it, the exercise of free moral agency against the will of God. Reconciliation can never come from the one who sinned, but can only be initiated by the one who was sinned against. This is exactly what the Bible describes:
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
A man-saving-God-saving-man cycle ends up drowning everyone.
Reason vs. Insanity
We don’t accept contradictions anywhere else in life, why should we in the important areas of God, truth, and salvation? When we take a test, we don’t want the grader to mark right answers wrong. When we drive we don’t want traffic citations for obeying traffic laws. When we work we want our employer to be truthful and pay us for our work. More importantly, if we communicate with anyone, we must already assume enough consistency and truthfulness in the world to assume that communication is possible. A world of co-dependency, irrationality, and contradiction is a world of chaos.
The Sinful Christ Denied
“Lucifer is inside of me. He says to me, ‘You’re not the son of king David. You’re not a man. You’re the son of man–and more. The son of God. And more than that–God.”
The Jesus of The Last Temptation of Christ is almost exactly like any one of us. He’s a sinner, liar, hypocrite, afraid, rebellious, lustful, insane, and struggling with God. The only difference, according to The Last Temptation, is that he maintained the struggle to save God (and himself in the process) all the way to his death. He fulfilled his destiny as just one “throw of the dice on which, for a moment, the entire fate of your race is gambled.” He is also, irrationally, God.
However, since we know that the worldview of The Last Temptation is hopelessly inconsistent and irrational, it shouldn’t surprise us that this Jesus is also inconsistent and irrational. There is no more reason to believe in the Jesus of The Last Temptation than there is to believe in its God, truth, or salvation. In this chapter we will contrast this Jesus with the Jesus of the historical record, the New Testament.
The Character of Christ
The Last Temptation Jesus is a self-portrait of Kazantzakis. His prologue to The Last Temptation explained how he crafted Christ from his own struggles:
Within me are the dark immemorial forces of the Evil One, human and pre-human; within me too are the luminous forces, human and pre- human, of God–and my soul is the arena where these two armies have clashed and met….
Every man partakes of the divine nature in both his spirit and his flesh. That is why the mystery of Christ is not simply a mystery for a particular creed: it is universal. The struggle between God and man breaks out in everyone….
This is the Supreme Duty of the man who struggles–to set out for the lofty peak with Christ, the first-born son of salvation, attained.
But the Bible says that Jesus was essentially different than any human being who has ever lived. Based on the truth that God is eternal, perfect, and distinct from his creation, the incarnation of Christ is described as God becoming man, not man ascending to God. In fact, Christ, the eternal, second person of the Trinity, never ceased being God, but took on an additional nature, that of humanity. The Apostle John refers to this at the beginning of his gospel, saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory….” In the original language, the word translated “dwelt” comes from the word used to describe a traveller pitching a tent in the desert. If God is eternal, and Jesus Christ is God, then he could not cease being God when he also became man. This is precisely what the Apostle Paul said in Colossians 2:9: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”
No one has ever been or will ever be like Jesus in essence. That is why the Bible calls him “the only begotten of the Father,” and as the one the Father “has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who [is] the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.”
Jesus Never Sinned
We have shown before that a God who can sin is a finite God who is impotent, inconsistent, and unable to save himself, much less anyone else. Since Jesus is God, he never sinned–in his thoughts, his ideas, his beliefs, or his actions. He could not “grow out of” sinning to become God. Remember, Man did not become God through Jesus’ struggle; God became Man in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ never sinned. Hebrews 4:15 describes the difference between Jesus being tempted and Jesus sinning: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
What does it mean to be tempted “yet without sin”? Even as God can be tempted, but never successfully, so Jesus was “put to the test” but never wavered in his perfect holiness.
The Last Temptation (and many critics of the protesters) think that “without sin” only means that he didn’t perform sinful acts, but that true temptation would allow him to have sinful feelings and inclinations. What hypocrisy! Here is a philosophy that says matter is more Man and spirit is more God, matter is less important and spirit is more important, and yet the sins of the spirit are not sins, but the sins of the flesh are! Jesus pierced the sham of hidden sins when he said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man.” When The Last Temptation Jesus looked at a woman and wanted to have sex with her, but was afraid to, he fulfilled Jesus’ definition of a sinner. Sin is rebellion against God’s righteous holiness, and for The Last Temptation Jesus to build crosses to defy God is sin. The Jesus of the historical record is the one who “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
The Struggle Between Flesh and Spirit
A word needs to be said about The Last Temptation’s obsessive struggle between flesh and spirit. Because of the panentheistic view that the material universe is growing into God, attention is often focused on matter or flesh as bad, immature, or evil; and on spirit as good, evolving, and holy. Many people, without even thinking about it, assume this kind of matter/spirit dualism. That’s one of the reasons critics of the protesters misunderstand Christians’ objections to the movie. They wrongly assume that Christians share this panentheistic idea that matter is bad and spirit is better.
They think we don’t like Jesus as man because we think God would never cheapen himself enough to take on flesh. They think we don’t like Jesus having sex with Mary Magdalene (and Mary and Martha of Bethany) because sex is an icky fleshly kind of thing, and to have sex is spiritual prostitution.
Surprise! This is really the attitude of Kazantzakis, not of Christians or the Bible! Listen to him:
It is not God who will save us–it is we who will save God, by battling, by creating, and by transmuting matter into spirit.
The Last Temptation Jesus whips himself and does penance with a spike studded belt. During the last temptation Kazantzakis’ Jesus thinks the physical world is good, and in doing so turns his back on God:
The road by which the mortal becomes immortal, the road by which God descends to earth in human shape. I went astray because I sought a route outside the flesh; I wanted to go by way of the clouds, great thoughts and death.
Christians and the Bible are not against the material world or flesh. The Bible clearly says that God created the material world out of nothing and that it was good. God created man and woman to “become one flesh.” Even though the material world is marred by sin, and mankind is marred by sin, God, the Bible, and Christians do not reject the material world in favor of the spirit. Jesus Christ died on the cross, not to “liberate” the spirit from the flesh, but to redeem the spirit and the flesh. He was resurrected bodily from the grave, declaring, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” Man will never be complete without having his body redeemed as well as his spirit. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
The redemption of the world does not occur when the material world is eradicated, but when the material world is transformed. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” It is The Last Temptation Jesus that struggles to escape humanity, not the biblical Jesus, of whom the Bible says, “as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive.”
The worldview promoted through The Last Temptation of Christ has insinuated itself into the fabric of American society. We love to tell ourselves that we are the best people who have ever lived. We have the best bodies, the best careers, the best ideas. We worship ourselves–Man is becoming God!
In the entertainment world, struggle justifies any story, not ethics, values, characters, or plots. An anti-hero is just as good as a good hero–as long as he struggles as hard (it doesn’t really matter whether he’s struggling against evil or good) and as violently. Who is the hero? The one who wins.
In movies, relativism is the gospel. Nothing is good or bad, things are just “different.” Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Kruger is the film’s hero, even though he horribly mutilates and murders innocent teenagers because he epitomizes the fears within each of us. The Young Guns’ Billy the Kid is the hero, even though he used the law for his own vendetta, broke the law, and murdered because, as the underdog, he struggled and won–violently.
It is out of this cultural climate of Man-becoming- God, the struggle as justification, and relativism as morality that the iconoclast of The Last Temptation of Christ arose. At the beginning of this book we stated that The Last Temptation is not an anomaly, but a symptom of disease in our society and our Christianity. With the perspective provided by the last six chapters, you can see the truth of that statement. No one should have been surprised by The Last Temptation or the false promises and untrustworthiness of Martin Scorsese and Universal Pictures.
A related question is whether anyone could have predicted the intensity and scope of the conservative Christian protest. Corollary to this is the much more difficult question of whether this protest is itself an anomaly or is it reflective of a Christian culture which is changing from retreatism to activism, from escapism to confrontation?
We think that the fact of protest is easily predictable, given that conservative Christians don’t believe Jesus sinned or had sex, and they believe Judas was bad. However, we can’t answer whether the protest is a prophecy of a dynamic new Christian agenda. That question can only be answered as Christians evaluate their options (assuming they choose to think seriously) and then match actions to conclusions.
If they decide that their commitment to the biblical God, salvation through Jesus Christ, and ethical absolutes should enter the public arena and compete against other worldviews instead of being privatized in their own inner inclinations, then we may see radical changes in our society.
Constructive Christian apologetics will clash more and more frequently with rival systems in education, politics, social programs, government, entertainment, the arts, philosophy, history, and science.
If Christianity really has answers, if the biblical worldview really does correspond to reality, and if Christians don’t surrender or retreat, then the world’s systems will pale by comparison. God promises,
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
If Christians don’t even bother to carefully consider their options, then this protest will just be a blip on an otherwise empty screen. The liberals, secularists, and panentheists will be right: Christians are nothing more than fanatical fundamentalists. The world won’t have to worry about the Christians–they’re the ones that keep to themselves, keep their eyes on the sky for Prince Charming, and occasionally throw a fit, but they never manage to accomplish anything.
They sound more like followers of The Last Temptation Jesus, with his uncertainties, doubts, fits, and mediocrity than of the Jesus of the Bible!
Our prayer is that today’s Church is beginning to change, to proclaim the gospel openly in the marketplace of public opinion, and not just safely in our Sunday morning sanctuaries. By looking at the phenomenon of this protest against The Last Temptation, both the good and the bad, we should be able to learn from it and use this experience to help us conform our future apologetics better to biblical standards.
In our research, we carefully evaluated the actions and statements of Christians involved in the protest against The Last Temptation. We compared them to scripture, surveyed other Christians’ reactions to them, and surveyed non-Christians’ (both secular and religious) reactions. Then we evaluated the results of each action or statement. While we agree wholeheartedly that the protest was right, necessary, and should be supported and maintained, we also saw some serious flaws in how we Christians handled our opportunity to impact the entertainment world for the gospel. By understanding our shortcomings, we can learn from our mistakes and prepare for the future.
What Shouldn’t Have Happened
First, we responded much too late, which seems to be fairly typical of us as contemporary Christians. We got so busy with our own internal affairs that we often forgot about what was happening in the world around us. And we retreated so much from society that we didn’t have strong, moral, talented Christians in enough positions of respect and power to be able to influence decision making from within the various social structures. By the time we protested, Scorsese had finished location shooting, Universal had committed time, money, and resources to the film, and egos and balance sheets provided strong impetus for Universal and Scorsese to stand by their commitment to produce The Last Temptation.
Second, we were ignorant of the worldview woven into the fabric of Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation. Had we known his worldview, we would have known that there was no way Scorsese could use that book and produce a film in harmony with the biblical account. We would not have agreed to withhold judgment until we could be shown a rough cut of the film. We would have protested earlier, and it would have taken less effort to accomplish more.
Third, we failed to engage in long range planning. We knew we didn’t like the film, we yelled and screamed, and then we wondered what to do next. Anyone who has children knows that a child’s tantrum may be unpleasant and noisy, but it takes too much energy with too few results to be maintained over a long period of time. We should have carefully evaluated the situation, figured out what steps would impact Universal the most with the least effort, and which of those steps we as a Christian community were capable of sustaining. Rashly saying, “I’m never going to buy anything from MCA/Universal again for the rest of my life” has as much credibility as a child threatening “I’m never coming out of my room for the rest of my life” if we don’t have enough commitment to follow through. For example, when a congressman was asked why he voted against the pressure of the Christians in his district and gave in to the pressure from the non- Christians, he responded that the non-Christians had long memories and offending them could hurt him at election time. The Christians, on the other hand, wouldn’t remember long enough to cost him votes.
Fourth, we saw this only as a Christian issue, not as a general moral issue. Universal assumed that only fundamentalist Christians would be offended by the movie, and we affirmed that by characterizing most of our campaign as a Christian protest. However, many people of many religious persuasions respect Jesus as a strong, good, moral teacher even if they don’t consider him to be the Son of God. And many more people, even non-religious people, believe that all sincere religious beliefs should be respected, including the Christian belief concerning Jesus. We should have done a much better job of calling on all moral people to support us against this movie, not just Christians.
Fifth, we abdicated our authority in the news media during this century, surrendering journalism to liberal relativists whose biases against Christianity and absolute ethics now characterize our newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.
Sixth, we failed for so long to maintain a consistent, moral, and biblical stand before the world that we were unable to separate ourselves from the fringe elements whose actions were unbiblical and hurt our cause. The veiled anti-semitic grandstanding by Rev. H. L. Hymers gave media the excuse to label all Christians anti-semitic. The vandalism by unknown graffiti painters and slashers in a few locations excused theater managers and the news media to prepare for violence. When it didn’t materialize, they didn’t think the vandalism was by fringe elements, they were just happy that the threat of strong arm security was enough to subdue all those Christian fanatics.
Seventh, because we had few committed Christians working within the entertainment industry, we were unable to offer quality alternate films that would appeal to the general public and do well at the box office, and yet did not controvert the essentials of a Christian worldview. How many times have you heard people respond, when asked why they’re watching drivel on television, “There’s nothing else on”?
Eighth, we had spent so much time among ourselves, speaking our own Christian dialect, that we didn’t know how to talk convincingly with the world. We got caught saying inflammatory statements that fueled secular opposition to us. For example, Paul Crouch, owner of the Christian television network TBN at a press conference during the August 11 rally, “Let’s buy the film and burn it at the stake!” That one careless, misunderstood line got more air coverage locally and across the nation that day than any of the substantive, quality statements by any of the other protest leaders. Christians understood him to mean that the movie was as bad as the witchcraft condemned by the Old Testament. But the world heard him say that Christians wanted to burn this innocent movie just like they had burned innocent women in Salem 250 years ago.
Ninth, we were not careful to give consistent, articulate answers to the most common objections to our protest. While each of the answers below was given by some people some of the time, too often we stammered and stuttered and didn’t know what to say when we were confronted with the five questions we first mention in chapter one:
- How do you know it’s bad when you haven’t seen it?
- It’s only fiction, a story.
- Jesus was just tempted. He didn’t give in.
- Jesus and Mary having sex was just a temptation. He didn’t really do it.
- You’re trying to censor this film. The Constitution guarantees Scorsese free speech.
We already carefully answered in this book the first objection with two basic arguments: there are ways to know something is bad without experiencing it (suicide, for example); and knowing Kazantzakis and Scorsese’s worldviews told us what the movie was like.
We answered in this book the second objection by proving that Kazantzakis and Scorsese believe their fiction is more “true” than the New Testament. They do not view it as fiction instead of the New Testament’s history, they view it as a rival to the New Testament.
This book has shown clearly that the third and fourth arguments deny the repeated statements in The Last Temptation (both novel and film) that Jesus was a sinner, who learned to sin less as he learned to struggle more in his reach for divinity.
The only objection we seemed to consistently respond well to is the last, that of censorship. Although the media and public didn’t hear or kept forgetting, Christians clearly articulated that we were not advocating government bans, but were exercising our own right to free speech and free commerce by urging Universal to withdraw the film and by choosing not to patronize MCA/Universal products and services.
The tenth and final area in which we fell short concerning this protest concerns divisions within the Church, the Body of Christ. A Church united in faith and action can stand successfully against anything the world has to offer. A Church divided, squabbling among ourselves, vying for the spotlight, disorganized, making our own competing plans, is impotent.
More than ten years ago we led a number of Christian organizations and hundreds of Christians in protesting the release of the movie The Passover Plot. We tried to be organized, united, and present a solid, reasonable opposition to a movie which, billed as non-fiction, promoted the belief that Jesus didn’t die on the cross and didn’t resurrect, but just fainted on the cross and revived in the cool of the tomb. We prepared our statements, we geared our remarks to the short sound bites and catchy phrases of broadcast journalism, and we backed ourselves up with sound, scholarly documentation.
But what did all of the media interviewers ask us about outside the movie premier in the midst of our protest? “Was the fanatic who stood up during the premier and started yelling, ‘It’s a lie! He is risen!’ part of your group?”
Well, we prayed faster after that question than we ever had before. How to answer? If he was with us, we would be dismissed as being as fanatical and irrational as he was. If he wasn’t, then we could be perceived as disagreeing with his message, which we didn’t. (More importantly, Christians don’t really have the option to disown a brother just because he embarrasses us.)
How did we respond? We said simply and quietly that, while we agreed with the content of his statement, we didn’t believe his actions were appropriate and we wanted to focus on the issue of the movie, not on rules of etiquette. How much easier it would have been if we had all been unified, working together, in one spirit and one accord!
If we fail to increase and maintain our unity as Christians, we will fail to have any permanent effect concerning The Last Temptation, and we our efforts in the world will continue to be diffused and insignificant.
Now that we have reviewed some of our shortcomings, we can turn to a positive agenda for the future. What can we Christians do that will make a significant difference in our society away from The Last Temptation Jesus and toward the biblical Jesus?
Only the Beginning
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.
Each of us as Christians needs to take a very careful look at our own lives, priorities, commitments, and worldviews. Is my life characterized by my Christianity? Do my non-Christian friends know that I am a Christian? Are they convinced of my Christian commitment, even though they don’t share it? What is first in my everyday life–my self-interests, my church interests, or serving the Lord? Do I make a conscious effort to develop relationships with non-Christians so that they can see a good example of Christianity? Do I think a lot about supporting Christian causes and promoting Christian issues, but rarely take any action? If a stranger were to observe my life and from that describe my worldview, would it be a Christian worldview? If I am actively involved, does my involvement promote the kingdom of God, neutralize others’ effort on behalf of the gospel, or hinder the kingdom of God? Have I thought through what it means to be a full-time Christian, salt of the earth and a light on a hill?
No one can answer these questions for us. We have to answer them ourselves, honestly before the Lord. Together, in the unity of the Spirit, we all need to follow Paul’s advice and cause our careful meditation to produce lives that make a difference for the cause of Christ in today’s world.
Look at Paul’s list: true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good report, virtuous, praiseworthy. When we defend the truth of God’s Word against the fiction of The Last Temptation of Christ, we promote what is true. We promote what is noble, or worthy of respect, we promote the Jesus Christ of history and Christian faith, not the compromising Jesus of The Last Temptation. Christians do not promote censorship when we speak out against what is false and wrong, we promote justice. We have a responsibility to promote the Jesus of scripture, who is pure and without sin. We cannot compromise with the Jesus of The Last Temptation, who calls himself a sinner and full of Lucifer. As we promote excellence in every area of endeavor, including quality entertainment, we promote that which is lovely, that which reflects the creative perfection of God. We Christians cannot afford to compromise our integrity. When we lose our integrity, when we are no longer “of good report,” then our message loses its credibility and the world turns elsewhere for truth. If we do not practice and promote an absolute ethic, a morality derived from the goodness and virtue of God, then we cannot complain if the world embraces relativism and preaches, like The Last Temptation, that good and bad, god and evil, right and wrong, are the same. Finally, as Christians we must promote Jesus Christ, not ourselves, our programs, our churches, our own issues, and our own agendas. It doesn’t matter who gets credit for what, because in the final analysis, Jesus Christ alone is praiseworthy:
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and
Vision for the Future
Americans are fickle. American Christians are fickle. What’s popular today isn’t popular tomorrow. The Last Temptation of Christ will come and go very quickly as a visible influencer in our society. But our understanding of and response to The Last Temptation can have far-reaching effects. We can use it to equip ourselves for “standing against the wiles of the devil.” We can learn, grow, and turn the negative of this movie into a positive proclamation of the true gospel to a dying world. Here are some of the ways we can build a confident apologetic on the carcass of The Last Temptation.
First, we can learn to be prepared, to act rather than react, to respond to a book in 1960 so we don’t have to respond to a movie in 1988. We can look outside our own churches and Christian community to see what’s happening in the world around us.
We should support and encourage strong, moral, talented Christians in positions of respect and power who can influence the decisions of worldly institutions toward ethical choices and activities compatible with a Christian worldview.
Second, we can learn to understand what other people believe. We should learn about (but not fall prey to) other worldviews, thinking and praying about how to respond clearly to their claims and how to present the biblical worldview in terms others can understand.
Third, we need to think ahead. What’s happened to generational thinking? The bumper sticker “We’re spending our children’s inheritance” may sound funny, but it’s tragic. If we use up, blow up, and borrow against the future, what will our children and grandchildren have left? If we mount last minute protests in isolation from long range plans, what kind of a moral morass will our children inherit? It will only be our fault if the world ceases listening to us altogether because we never plan ahead.
Fourth, we need to realize that there are millions of people who sympathize with or even share many of the values and principles we do as Christians. This does not mean that what you believe doesn’t matter, or that anyone who acts like a Christian is a Christian. But it means that we can work with limited cooperation to further Christian values and principles with those who share some of our concerns. This not only increases our influence, it also provides us with open opportunity, within the context of a shared value, to explain the unique salvation claims of Jesus Christ.
Fifth, we should remember that no one is valueless. We do not live in a moral vacuum, and journalism can never really report comprehensively without promoting values. By supporting strong, moral, talented Christian journalists in the general world of print and broadcast journalism, the subjective, secular humanist values which now permeate journalism will be squeezed out and replaced by morality based on God’s unchanging holiness.
Sixth, by taking seriously God’s injunctions to Christians to live lives reflective of his justice and righteousness, we will be able to show the power of Christ’s gospel through our lives. By maintaining a consistent, moral, biblical testimony, the world will learn to recognize that immorality, injustice, violence, bigotry, and ethical compromise don’t come from Christianity, Jesus Christ, or the Bible.
Seventh, when we support quality art and literature from Christian craftsmen who consecrate their artistic and literary talents to the service of God, we will be able to use their creations as vehicles for the truth of biblical revelation.
Eighth, we should spend enough time in (but not of) the world that we can communicate effectively with non- believers. This will clarify our presentation of the gospel. For those who refuse its message, our clear communication will make it obvious to them and others that they are refusing the gospel, not some disguised imitation.
Ninth, when we learn to think before we speak, to pray before we act, to ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern truth from error and to enable us to speak the truth with authority, we will diffuse the power of many objections to Christianity.
Finally, by promoting unity among Christians, based on scriptural grounds, and not on the false unity of compromising essential doctrines, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to show his power in the midst of a bunch of stubborn and independent sinners, saved by grace. The unity of Christ will transform our witness and our power in the world. Then we will fulfill Paul’s promise:
…till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ….
The Last Temptation Denied
The Last Temptation of Christ is a fraud. It is not, as Martin Scorsese called it, “faith-affirming,” and “a very religious film.” It is not, as Nikos Kazantzakis maintained, “a supreme model to the man who struggles.” The Last Temptation is a lie. But it is a very powerful indication of the spiritual and moral decay of our society. Jesus Christ is the only one who has the resurrection power. He uses his Church to proclaim the gospel. Are we going to submit to his leadership and will, or is today’s Christian Church going to continue in disobedience to struggle in macabre imitation of The Last Temptation’s Jesus resisting God’s calling?
FOR FURTHER READING
We have not included books by or about Nikos Kazantzakis, since they are already fully documented in the footnotes.
Books About the New Testament
Barnett, Paul. Is the New Testament History? Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1986.
Harrison, R. K., B. K. Waltke, D. Guthrie, and G. D. Fee. Biblical Criticism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978.
Machen, J. Gresham. The Origin of Paul’s Religion. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eermans Publishing Company, 1925.
Nash, Ronald H. Christian Faith and Historical Understanding. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
______________. Christianity and the Hellenistic World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984. Thomas, Robert L., ed. The NIV Harmony of the Gospels. San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1988.
Books About the Secularization of Society and Church
Blamires, Harry. The Secularist Heresy. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1956.
Doner, Colonel V. The Samaritan Strategy. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1988.
Olasky, Marvin. The Prodigal Press. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988.
Perrotta, Kevin and John C. Blattner. Christian Allies in a Secular Age. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1987.
Schlossberg, Herbert. Idols for Destruction. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983.
Schlossberg, Herbert and Marvin Olasky. The Turning Point. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1987.
Thomas, Cal. Book Burning. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1983.
___________. Occupied Territory. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1987.
Webber, Robert E. The Church in the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1986.
Books About Jesus Christ
Bruce, F. F. Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eermans Publishing Company, 1974.
Chemnitz, Martin. The Two Natures in Christ. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1971.
Craig, William L. Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1988.
Habermas, Gary R. Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984.
McDonald, H. D. Jesus–Human and Divine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1968.
Ramsay, William M. St. Paul: The Traveller and the Roman Citizen. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1962.
Rowdon, Harold H., ed. Christ the Lord. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982.
Books About Philosophy
Erickson, Millard. Relativism in Contemporary Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1974.
Geisler, Norman L. Options in Contemporary Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981.
Moreland, J. P. Scaling the Secular City. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987.
Purtill, Richard L. Thinking about Ethics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1976.
Books About God
Geisler, Norman. False Gods of Our Time. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1985.
Nash, Ronald, ed. Process Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987.
Books About Secular Humanism
Geisler, Norman L. Is Man the Measure? Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983.
McDowell, Josh and Don Stewart. Understanding Secular Religions. San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1982.
Webber, Robert E. Secular Humanism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982.
Books About New Age
Groothuis, Douglas R. Confronting the New Age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
____________________. Unmasking the New Age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
Guinness, Os. The Dust of Death. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973.
Hoyt, Karen and the Spiritual Counterfeits Project. The New Age Rage. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1987.
abortion 16 Abraham 34 absolutes 5, 17, 44, 82 activism 81 Adam 79 agenda 82, 94 American 80, 88, 98 angel 35, 36, 40, 42, 57 apologetics 82, 84 arts 82 ascetic 24 Baehr 13 beatitudes 34 Bethany 40, 41, 77 Bethlehem 35 Bible 5, 6, 9, 17, 34, 55, 56, 67, 72, 73, 77-79,
84, 101 bigotry 101 blasphemy 16, 34 Buddhism 25 censorship 3, 14, 91, 92, 96 Christ 2, 3, 5-13, 16, 19, 21, 23, 26-29, 34, 44,
55, 56, 57, 59, 60, 65, 67, 68, 70-74,
78, 79-82, 92, 96-98, 100-103, 105, 106 Christian 3, 4, 11, 12, 15-18, 26, 29, 81, 82, 86,
87, 88, 89, 92, 95, 96, 98-101, 103-106 Christianity 3, 5, 6, 18, 26, 81, 82, 88, 95, 101,
104 Church 3, 4, 11, 12, 19, 76, 84, 92, 95, 103, 105 co-dependency 69 cocaine 30 compromise 7, 97, 101 conservative 81 contradictions 68 corruption 79 creation 9, 72, 79 creator 8, 63 Crete 23, 24 cross 21, 27, 31, 39, 42, 45, 52, 75, 76, 78, 92 crucifixion 42, 53 crux 27 culture 81 David 48, 54, 70 demon 7, 8, 42 disciples 34, 36, 42, 50, 57 disclaimer 43, 44, 56 divine 34, 44, 53, 54, 62, 71, 77, 106 documentation 93 dualism 76 education 82 ego 26 Egypt 35 entertainment 3, 18, 80, 82, 85, 89, 97 escapism 81 eschatology 83 eternal 8, 25, 29, 33, 38, 43, 44, 56, 64, 72, 73 ethic 9, 18, 97 evangelical 10, 11, 13-15, 21 evil 5, 6, 8, 29, 34, 38, 44, 62, 71, 75, 76, 80,
97 evolution 9, 23, 25 existence 23, 27, 28, 63, 64 fairy tale 23, 63 faith 2, 13, 41, 56, 65, 89, 92, 96, 102, 104 fiction 17, 21-23, 43, 56, 60, 90-92, 96 finite 64, 73 forgiveness 8, 47 fraud 41, 102 free speech 18, 91, 92 Geisler 61-64, 106, 107 Gentile 84 Gestalten 29 God 5-10, 12, 21-40, 42, 44-56, 58, 61-68, 70-83,
87, 96, 97, 100-103, 107 Godhead 73 gospel 4, 19, 29, 30, 35, 44, 59, 72, 80, 84, 85,
96, 98, 100, 101, 103 government 82, 91 Greece 24 Greek Orthodox 11 Greek Passion 26 He Who Must Die 26 Hegel 25 heresy 3, 11, 18, 105 hero 80 history 18, 57, 59, 60, 82, 91, 96, 104 holiness 74-76, 100 holy 8, 66, 76, 101, 102 Holy Spirit 8, 76, 101, 102 humanity 26, 42, 67, 72, 77, 79 iconoclast 81 immorality 19, 101 immortal 40, 77 incarnation 72, 74, 75 injustice 37, 41, 101 Israel 42 Jesus 4, 5, 7-9, 13, 16, 17, 19, 22, 23, 26, 27,
30, 31-42, 45-54, 56, 57, 60, 64, 65, 67,
68, 70-79, 81-84, 87, 90-92, 94, 96, 97,
100, 101, 103, 105, 106 Jew 45 John 8, 34, 35, 49, 50, 65, 67, 72-74, 93, 105 John the Baptist 50 journalism 88, 92, 100 Judas 33, 34, 38, 39, 42, 45, 48, 49, 51-53, 82 justice 96, 100 justification 81 Kazantzakis, Nikos 3-5, 8, 10-13, 17-19, 21-29,
34, 35-38, 43-45, 52-58, 60, 64-67, 71,
77, 81, 85, 86, 91, 102, 104 kingdom 96 Last Supper 39 Last Temptation of Christ 2, 3, 5-8, 10-13, 19,
21, 23, 26-29, 44, 55, 70, 72, 80, 81,
96, 98, 102 Law 51, 80 Lazarus 34, 35 liberal 88 Lucifer 7, 22, 32, 48, 70, 97 Luke 34, 59, 75, 78 magazines 88 Magi 35 Man 5, 7, 9, 12, 21, 24-28, 33, 34, 36-38, 41, 43,
44, 48, 50-54, 56, 62, 65, 66, 68, 70-76,
78, 80, 81, 102, 103, 107 Martha 40, 42, 77 Mary 2, 4, 17, 30, 31, 36, 37, 40, 42, 45-47, 49,
51, 77, 90 Mary Magdalene 4, 17, 31, 36, 37, 40, 46, 49, 51,
77 Mastermedia 13 matter 5, 9, 24, 27, 43, 44, 47, 62, 74-77, 80,
97, 100 Matthew 35, 36, 57, 74, 75, 83, 103 MCA 4, 8, 16, 86, 92 media 10, 11, 22, 88, 91, 93 Messiah 25, 30, 35, 36, 45, 47, 49, 50 miracle 35 moral 12, 17, 67, 85, 87, 88, 99-101, 103 morality 77, 81, 97, 100 mortal 40, 77, 78 movie 4, 5, 7-10, 12, 14-17, 21, 22, 29, 30, 43,
44, 45-47, 49, 50, 52, 76, 87, 90-93, 98 Muslim 15 mystic 23 myth 23, 26, 28, 29 mythos 23 Nazareth 35, 41 New Age 6, 107, 108 New Testament 5, 22, 23, 29, 56, 58-60, 71, 73,
91, 104, 105 newspapers 15, 88 Nietzsche 25 Nightmare on Elm Street 80 novel 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, 12, 22, 27, 29, 30, 34, 43,
44, 45, 47, 49, 55, 91 Old Testament 90 omnipotence 38 options 82, 83, 106 panentheism 5, 61-64, 66 pantheism 18 parables 34, 56 Paramount 12 Passover Plot 10, 92 Paul 2, 41, 58-60, 63, 73, 84, 89, 96, 102, 104,
106 penance 31, 77 Penland 12-14 pessimism 66 Peter 2, 23, 59 philosophy 17, 29, 43, 45, 55, 61, 63, 74, 82, 106 Poland 13 politics 21, 24, 82 pornography 30 prayer 84 principles 58, 100 process 22, 28, 30, 54, 61, 62, 70, 107 Prodigal Press 88, 105 propaganda 21 prostitute 31, 50 protest 3, 5, 9-11, 15-17, 81-85, 87, 90, 92, 93 protesters 10, 16, 17, 43, 74, 76 publicity 3, 16, 17 purgatory 5 Ramsey 60 rational 55, 58, 63 reconciliation 67, 68 redemption 52, 79 reincarnate 26 relativism 6, 18, 19, 64, 80, 81, 97, 106 righteousness 100 Roman 12, 37, 60, 106 Roman Catholic 12 sacrifice 37, 50, 52 Salem 90 salvation 21, 22, 24, 27-29, 36, 40-42, 46, 61,
66, 68, 71, 72, 82, 100 savior 13, 37, 39, 65, 67 Saviors of God 12, 21, 26, 28, 65, 66, 70, 77 Schweitzer 60 science 82 Scorsese, Martin 4, 8, 10-13, 17-19, 21, 22, 43,
44, 53-58, 64, 65, 67, 81, 85, 86, 91,
102 scripture 35, 55, 84, 97 Second Coming 6, 83 secular 3, 6, 11, 18, 19, 84, 89, 100, 105-107 secular humanism 6, 18, 107 self-flagellation 30 sex 4, 17, 40, 75-77, 81, 90 Simeon 32 sin 7, 19, 22, 48, 66, 67, 73-78, 91, 97 society 3, 4, 6, 17, 19, 61, 80-82, 85, 94, 98,
103, 104 soul 5, 23, 32, 34, 47, 71 speculation 18 spirit 5, 8, 9, 24, 26, 27, 44, 47, 51, 61, 62,
71, 75-78, 93, 96, 101, 102 Spiritual Exercises 12, 26 standards 84 statesmen 18 struggle 10, 12, 21-32, 36, 37, 41-44, 50, 53, 56,
66, 67, 70, 71, 74, 76, 80, 81, 91, 103 subjectivity 57, 58 Suffering God 28 synagogue 84 television 1, 15, 88, 89 temptation 2-8, 10-13, 18, 19, 21-23, 26-30, 35,
42, 44, 45, 53-56, 58, 61, 63-67, 70-72,
74-81, 84, 86, 90, 91, 94, 96-98, 102,
103 theology 107 transcendence 44 trinity 72 truth 2, 7, 8, 19, 23, 32, 35, 41, 43, 48, 56-61,
64, 65, 67, 68, 71, 72, 81, 96, 97, 101,
102, 106 unity 93, 96, 101, 102 Universal 3, 4, 8, 11-17, 21, 71, 81, 85-87, 92 universe 9, 12, 21, 23, 26, 61, 76 values 80, 100 vandalism 88 violence 37, 38, 50, 88, 101 wedding 50, 51 witchcraft 90 worldview 5, 9, 18, 20, 21, 43, 44, 55, 56, 61,
70, 80, 82, 86, 89, 96, 99 Young Guns 80 Zorba the Greek 11, 25
We never could have produced a book of this scope and detail without massive research and review help from many people.
First we would like to thank Bill Watkins, managing editor at Thomas Nelson, for giving us the opportunity to share our research and analysis with thousands of readers through this book.
We also would like to thank Mark Moen, Dan Moen, and Tracy Schreiber of our Answers In Action staff for the many hours they devoted to helping us research and review this complicated controversy, and for helping us work through the manuscript revisions. They also ensured that our speaking engagements and (along with Clark Hyman) our radio program went smoothly so that we could concentrate on writing. Tracy Schreiber’s computer trouble shooting enabled us to prepare the entire manuscript on our new computer even though we hadn’t mastered the new system yet.
Steve Wergeland video taped almost every second of local, national, and cable television coverage of The Last Temptation of Christ. Elias Hernandez made sure we had every available news clipping. Miriam Llewellyn of the Rutherford Institute of California challenged and encouraged us, and gave us valuable insights into the original novel.
We would also like to thank our Answers In Action radio listeners, whose enthusiastic response, thoughtful questions, and dedication to knowing the truth give us confirmation of the need to “defend the faith” (1 Peter 3:15) in the midst of secularism.
Finally, we thank our children, Mary, Karen, and Paul, who didn’t disown us when we announced we were writing another book under deadline pressure, but just said, “We’ll pray you get done fast so you won’t be dull and boring too long.”