When Christian witness was simple, yet profound

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James Faulkner plays Paul in Affirm Films' Paul, Apostle of Christ. Photo: Mark Cassar

A few weeks ago, my partner, Marlene, and I saw a unique movie at our local cinema that I would like to tell you about. Paul, Apostle of Christ is an inspired, contemporary example of using the popular media to tell the Christian story.

It is an account of the apostle and his understudy, Luke—both evangelists—based on authentic but dramatized moments in the life of the early Christian community. It is 67 CE, in Rome, hardly a generation distant from the time Jesus walked this earth. The film takes some liberties with the biblical record, but provides an opportunity for two key scriptural figures—later in their lives—to recollect and retell their stories, using familiar biblical language.

The Roman church is suffering persecution from the emperor Nero; who blames Christians for a devastating fire that destroyed a major part of the city. We witness first-rate examples on how Christians—in spite of their fears of persecution—developed into mature humans, exhibiting patience in suffering, sacrificial service and spiritual integrity.

The story is believably told, but in a way that speaks to audiences that may have heretofore been turned off by traditional piety or hardened by media violence. Paul is portrayed authentically by James Faulkner; as is the physician Luke, by Jim Caviezel. John Lynch and Joanne Whalley play Aquila and Priscilla, nominal leaders of a threatened Christian insurgency in the city. Olivier Martinez is Paul’s warden while in prison, whose seriously ill daughter is restored to life by Luke the physician.

The Sony company Affirm Films that previously produced Heaven Is for Real and Risen is not so much interested in proselytism as in creating open-ended explorations of faith challenges.

Viewers, I believe, will be impressed by the high production values for faith-based cinema demonstrated by director Andrew Hyatt’s capture of lush settings (filmed in Malta) and the quality narrative and acting that results.

Why did Christianity, within three centuries, become the official religion of the Roman empire? The seeds of that miraculous achievement are already in evidence here. Christian witness was simple but profound. “Love is the only way,” says Paul repeatedly. “We don’t respond with violence. Like Jesus, we respond with love. Our strength is made perfect in weakness. Death is already destroyed. Our victory is even now complete.”

Even though both Paul and Luke had never met Jesus in the flesh, they learned how to live his Good News in the face of opposition

I was disappointed that Canadian media—both secular and religious—did not provide the promotion for this film that it deserves. The major national papers did not review it. Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant media gave it some attention. A new movie venture like this needs time to be recognized and assessed; but I believe that mainstream Canadian Christian media missed an important opportunity.

Paul, Apostle of Christ is formally dedicated to all who have been persecuted for their faith.

 

 

 

 

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Wayne Holst
Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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