The Jesus Film Project by Campus Crusade for Christ International:
A Description and Critique
by Loren L. Johns
Produced by Campus Crusade for Christ and John Heyman (Grease,
Passage to India, Heaven Can Wait, Marathon Man, Odessa File)
Produced in 1978 at a cost of $6M; opened in U.S. theaters
in late 1979
Originally a brainchild of Dr. Bill Bright in 1950
U.S. Distribution: Warner Brothers
Limited commercial success in U.S.: in 2,000 theaters
with "several" million viewers
Language statistics: Jesus is now in 606 languages,
with 256 in process
Jesus has been shown in 233 of the 234 countries of the world.
Total number of "Jesus film teams" around the world: 3,156
As of July 2, 2000, 121,481,585 have indicated that they
have made a decision for Christ as a result of viewing this film. (Estimates
of decisions for television showings after 1986 are not included.)
The film project's official web site now claims that 3.6
billion people worldwide have viewed this film (number includes multiple
"Project" web site: http://www.jesusfilm.org/
history of the Jesus film project
offered by the Jesus film project
to support the Jesus film project
the entire film online! (requires RealPlayer; or order
the videocassette or DVD) in one of these languages:
Afrikaans, Amoy, Arabic (Standard), (Common) Bengali, (Muslim) Bengali,
Cebuano, Chinese-Cantonese, Czech, Dutch, Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, English,
Western Farsi, French, Standard German, Greek, Hakka, Hausa, Hebrew, Hindi,
Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Malayalam, Mainland
Mandarin, Marathi, North African Arabic, Western Panjabi, Western Pashto,
Polish, Portuguese (Portugal), Portuguese (Brazil), Romanian, Russian,
Serbian, Shanghainese, Sindhi, Slovak, Castillian Spanish, Latin American
Spanish, Sudanese Arabic, Tagalog, Tamil, Telegu, Thai, Turkish, Ukranian,
Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, and Zulu.
to the audio version (via RealPlayer or order
cassettes or CDs)
Jesus film project team, either as a volunteer or an employee
film project list of related links
press releases of the project
Producersí Criteria Regarding Historical and Theological
The Theology of Those Supporting the Film
"All of the action and virtually all of the words spoken
by actors and narrator alike were taken directly from the Gospel according
to Luke." [But the film begins with the prologue from the Gospel of
John scrolling across the screen.]
The film must be as archaeologically, historically, and theologically
accurate as humanly possible. [But no attention is given here to the
recent findings of historical Jesus research--not even to the insight of
Albert Schweitzer, who perceptively argued in 1906 that modern attempts
to reproduce the life of Christ usually succeed better in portraying the
author's own ideal self, rather than the historical Jesus in all his strange
otherness. Note, for instance, that the Jesus of this film looks suspiciously
like a warm American Evangelical.]
The presentation must be unbiased, acceptable to all as a
true depiction of Christís life. [I.e., it must not offend anyone, including
those who benefit from the status quo?]
The film story must appeal to all ages.
The script must be easily translatable into virtually any
language on earth.
The film must be of theater-viewing quality and effective
with both urban and rural audiences worldwide.
Campus Crusades Claims Regarding the Success of the Film
At a showing of the film to 1,000 refugees from Mozambique
at a camp in South Africa, an unnamed man interpreted the film to the refugees
as the film was being shown. "Between reel changes (there are four reels
and three changes) he told them why it was important that Mary be a virgin
and how only a supernatural man could be God" (April 1998 letter).
"When they [audiences] realize He has taken upon Himself
the punishment for their sins to satisfy the justice of His holy Father,
they are deeply moved and affected" (April 1998 letter).
"Mozambique was a nation in absolute chaos. Civil war had
degenerated into total anarchy. Marauding soldiers and Marxist rebels were
fighting each other. Even worse, they were routinely raiding villages and
robbing, raping, and killing any person they encountered. And, Mozambique
was gripped by a cruel famine. Millions were dead or dying. ...
Shimmering waves of heat rose in the distance. ... Gritty red dust hung
in the air. ... [Jesus Film Partners Willie and Marie Erasmus] were overcome
by the stench of human excrement. Even worse was the sea of emaciated bodies
and the empty, hopeless looks in the eyes of the people. They heard tale
after tale of misery, like the young mother who had fled Mozambique with
her children, but was eaten alive by a lion before she could make it to
the camp. Her two children survived, only to be confronted with this Hell
on Earth--their hopes for a better life dashed" (April 1998 letter, emphasis
original). The answer to the personal trauma experienced as a result of
this crisis appears to have been the Jesus film.
Campus Crusade Initiatives
"One of the greatest evangelistic success stories of all
Every 13 seconds, someone indicates a decision to receive
Christ as his personal Savior as a result of seeing the film.
Full-time and volunteer teams, currently numbering "over
1,300" [earlier reported as 2,223], take the film into both urban and rural
areas using 389 different translations of Jesus.
In 1997 Berry Fiess, director of Field Information for The
JESUS Film Project of Campus Crusade for Christ International, claimed
that 1,120,977,663 people in 219 countries have viewed the film as of July
1, 1997, most in their own language. However, on February 20, 1998, the
project's web site indicated that 830,000,000 people worldwide have viewed
this film (http://www.jesusfilm.org/index.html) and
in the organization's April 1998 fund-raising letter the number of countries
was reported as 218.
46 million people have indicated a decision to accept Christ
as their personal Savior and Lord as a result of seeing this film (April
The filmís real success story is not how many have seen it,
but how many will see it in the coming years.
Crusade hopes to return to Albania, where rioters looted and burned the
warehouse holding the resources for the now-canceled Project AERO outreach,
destroying an estimated $120,000 worth of Jesus film equipment and
prints, among other things.
Campus Crusade is trying to raise $1.25M to finance 1300
"film teams" to show Jesus to millions of people with the hope of
reaching every person on earth by 2000.
Campus Crusade has found that "one person can receive Christ
as Savior and Lord" "for every dollar you send." "This means your $30 gift
today would help lead one person to Christ every day for the next month!"
line 'em up and send them through! Mass production at its best!
The February 1998 mass mailing by Paul Eshleman, Director
of The JESUS Film Project, invites those who hesitate to give to consider,
"[Addressee: place name here], imagine leading someone to Christ every
single day for the next 30 days ..." The letter then says, "As incredible
as it sounds, you can do exactly that. In the next 30 days, you can help
30 individuals to faith in Christ. You can do it by giving a simple, straightforward,
tax-deductible gift to The JESUS Film Project." No fuss, no real sacrifice,
no accountability needed. Avoid all the messiness of friendship evangelism,
avoid the discomfort of the cross: just send in your money and let the
film do the work.
The April 1998 fundraising letter says, "As you know, we've
found that for every dollar you send, one person can receive Christ as
Savior and Lord. So, would you consider a gift of $100 to help lead 100
people to Christ? Or, would you pray about a gift of $250 to help introduce
250 to Christ?"
Dr. Loren L. Johns is Academic
Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical
Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana.
Page maintained by Loren L.
Johns, mailto: LJOHNS@AMBS.EDU
Last updated 3 August 2000.