Samford professor delves into books, film in CBF General Assembly workshops

By Ashley Grizzle, CBF Communications
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
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Bill Hull, research professor at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., presents a series of Bible studies on the “Left Behind” books, “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Passion of the Christ” at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s 2004 General Assembly in Birmingham.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Jesus Christ is everywhere in contemporary culture.

Bill Hull, research professor at Samford University, gave his assessment of Tim LaHaye’s "Left Behind" novels, Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ," and Dan Brown’s novel, "The Da Vinci Code" at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala., June 24-26, at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

Hull, minister-in-residence at Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham, critiqued each of these best-selling media in a series of Bible studies at the Assembly.

"Christ dominates best-selling media today," said Hull, a veteran Baptist educator. "The media saturate us today in a way like never before."

The "Left Behind" authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have captivated the public’s interest by combining religion with entertainment. The 12-volume set, complete with prequel and sequel, has sold more than 60 million copies.

Hull, however, does not think the book series is biblical. He argues that the subject of the rapture, an idea that Christians will be seized from the world into heaven, leaving non-believers behind to undergo the tribulation – a seven-year period of suffering – is nowhere in the Bible. The rapture is the centerpiece for LaHaye’s books.

"There ain’t no ‘Left Behind’ theology in the Bible," he said. "The Bible does not talk about every living and dead Christian leaving the world behind."

The idea is that the chaos of the rapture and the tribulation will lead to conversions of non-believers, causing Christ to return, leading to the final judgment. Hull emphasized that Jesus came to show grace and love, and not that God is angry.

The books were influenced by dispensationalism, a popular biblical interpretation found in the Scofield Bible, as well as the turmoil of World Wars I and II. LaHaye, a literal interpretationist, used several passages of scripture, mainly Daniel 9:24-27, as a framework for depicting the rapture and tribulation. Hull stated this particular passage was never used in the New Testament, not even by inference.

"God said there would be no signs – not even the Son of Man knows," Hull said. "What God has left apart, let not LaHaye join together."

Hull’s study on Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" called attention to the power the movie had on its public. Never before has a commercial movie received an endorsement by evangelicals as this one did. The film, largely shaped by the Catholic imagination, had churches buying out movie theaters and has grossed $400 million in the U.S. already.

Gibson, Oscar-winning actor and director, is a strong Catholic traditionalist who does not accept the reforms of the current papacy, Hull said. After battling for years with depression, Gibson used the wounds of Christ to heal his own wounds, Hull noted.

The film, which has been Gibson’s idea for 12 years, was considered a high-risk project, especially because Gibson recruited unknown actors. It was based on images of Jesus from Passion plays, medieval icons and artistry of that age, according to Hull.

Also, Hull said Gibson used Mary, the mother of Jesus, as "the mirror of the meaning of the action." In Mary, the audience sees the shock, penitence and all of the moods of Jesus. Gibson has Mary working hand-in-hand with the Trinity.

While the movie used Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles, Gibson used the image of Mary to transcend language with image.

"It’s almost like watching a silent movie," Hull said. "Gibson wants you to see and feel it. You start to tune out the Aramaic and Latin and just watch."

Hull said the movie showed no content of the controversy that cost Jesus His life, including the cleansing of the temple, for which Jesus was charged and sent to the Romans. Even the resurrection was only a momentary blip at the end of the film, he added.

"The mood of the movie is that Jesus died for you, not that he lived for you," Hull said.

Hull said that Gibson was criticized for the film being "grossly overdone" and for being too interested in literal blood. The Gospels do not emphasize brutality and use words such as "s

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