American Jesus films also invite us to use our imagination, even a sanctified imagination, to add to the biblical text. This furthers the trajectory that began in the nineteenth century in which the biblical accounts failed to address contemporary readers’ and viewers’ needs, which in turn legitimized the action of adding to the text (see chap. 3). The additions tend to have a strongly emotional appeal, embedding one’s encounter with Christ in experience, an experience limited by one’s cultural horizons. The Jesus of Scripture comes from outside, not from within, our cultural horizons, standing above, over and even, at times, against those horizons as the Lord and Savior.
The Jesus of American film, however, looks more like a homegrown action hero. At least that’s the conclusion of Stephenson Humphries-Brooks. He sees America’s fixation “to identify with, cast itself as, and become a hero in its own view” as underlying the development of Jesus as the action hero in this wave of Jesus films. Even Gibson’s The Passion speaks to ‘America’s preferred view of itself as a suffering hero.’ This leads Humphries-Brooks to pose the question, ‘Where is the real Jesus? For Hollywood he is no longer to be found in the gospel tradition.’ He continues with an explanation of why the Jesus of the Gospels no longer suffices, ‘We seem to desire a new kind of more heroic and more reassuring Savior,’ adding, ‘Hollywood certainly seems willing to create and to market him to us.’ In the turning from the Christ of Scripture to the cinematic savior, ‘we have lost those limits and questions posed by the individual Gospel portraits of Jesus that have from time to time ameliorated the tendency of all readers, the faithful and the not-so faithful, to see in him what they want to see.’ We have made Jesus a celluloid version of our own image. Maybe, at the end of the day, that is the true controversy of Jesus films.—Stephen J. Nichols, Jesus Made In America, pp. 171-172