The Last Temptation of Christ Denied
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
Nash, Ronald H. Christian Faith and Historical
Understanding. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing
______________. 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
___________. 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,
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,
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
absolutes 5, 17, 44, 82
agenda 82, 94
American 80, 88, 98
angel 35, 36, 40, 42, 57
apologetics 82, 84
Bethany 40, 41, 77
Bible 5, 6, 9, 17, 34, 55, 56, 67, 72, 73, 77-79,
blasphemy 16, 34
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,
Church 3, 4, 11, 12, 19, 76, 84, 92, 95, 103, 105
compromise 7, 97, 101
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
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
entertainment 3, 18, 80, 82, 85, 89, 97
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,
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
God 5-10, 12, 21-40, 42, 44-56, 58, 61-68, 70-83,
87, 96, 97, 100-103, 107
gospel 4, 19, 29, 30, 35, 44, 59, 72, 80, 84, 85,
96, 98, 100, 101, 103
government 82, 91
Greek Orthodox 11
Greek Passion 26
He Who Must Die 26
heresy 3, 11, 18, 105
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
immorality 19, 101
immortal 40, 77
incarnation 72, 74, 75
injustice 37, 41, 101
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
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
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
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
Lucifer 7, 22, 32, 48, 70, 97
Luke 34, 59, 75, 78
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,
matter 5, 9, 24, 27, 43, 44, 47, 62, 74-77, 80,
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
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
myth 23, 26, 28, 29
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
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
options 82, 83, 106
panentheism 5, 61-64, 66
parables 34, 56
Passover Plot 10, 92
Paul 2, 41, 58-60, 63, 73, 84, 89, 96, 102, 104,
penance 31, 77
Peter 2, 23, 59
philosophy 17, 29, 43, 45, 55, 61, 63, 74, 82, 106
politics 21, 24, 82
principles 58, 100
process 22, 28, 30, 54, 61, 62, 70, 107
Prodigal Press 88, 105
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
rational 55, 58, 63
reconciliation 67, 68
redemption 52, 79
relativism 6, 18, 19, 64, 80, 81, 97, 106
Roman 12, 37, 60, 106
Roman Catholic 12
sacrifice 37, 50, 52
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
Scorsese, Martin 4, 8, 10-13, 17-19, 21, 22, 43,
44, 53-58, 64, 65, 67, 81, 85, 86, 91,
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
sex 4, 17, 40, 75-77, 81, 90
sin 7, 19, 22, 48, 66, 67, 73-78, 91, 97
society 3, 4, 6, 17, 19, 61, 80-82, 85, 94, 98,
soul 5, 23, 32, 34, 47, 71
spirit 5, 8, 9, 24, 26, 27, 44, 47, 51, 61, 62,
71, 75-78, 93, 96, 101, 102
Spiritual Exercises 12, 26
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
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,
truth 2, 7, 8, 19, 23, 32, 35, 41, 43, 48, 56-61,
64, 65, 67, 68, 71, 72, 81, 96, 97, 101,
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
violence 37, 38, 50, 88, 101
wedding 50, 51
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
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
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
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."