Twenty years ago, Christian protesters compelled Paramount to abandon Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. When Universal produced the movie a few years later, Bill Bright offered the studio $10 million to buy the movie and destroy it.
But today, many churches are taking a different approach to a controversial film. Leading up to The Da Vinci Code-Ron Howard's film adaptation of the Dan Brown bestseller-pastors and scholars are writing books, preparing sermon series, and creating websites devoted to "engaging" this pop-cultural phenomenon.
Michael Licona, director of apologetics and interfaith evangelism for the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board, created a 65-minute video lecture to foster discussion about some of the book's claims. He remembers telling people to avoid The Last Temptation.
"I think we made a mistake back then," he says. "I think we communicated that we're not interested in having critical discussions-that if you mention Jesus in a negative way, we're just going to pick up our ball and go home.
"If you look at Acts 17, Paul was familiar with the secular poets, because he quoted them. When he spoke to the philosophers at Athens, he never quoted the Scriptures; he quoted their own poets. And if we're going to relate to nonbelievers as Christians, we need to be familiar with what's coming out, movies and books."
In addition to the many Da Vinci Code-related books filling Christian bookstores, several resources have sprung up online. More than 40 commentators representing Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox churches have written critical essays for TheDaVinciDialogue.com, a website sponsored by Sony Pictures Entertainment, the studio behind The Da Vinci Code.
However, some observers take a dim view of the opportunities for "dialogue" created by the book and upcoming movie. Barbara Nicolosi, executive director of the Act One screenwriting program in Los Angeles, says Christians have become so concerned with appearing "hip" and not being rejected by the secular world that they have allowed themselves to be co-opted by the corporate forces behind the movie.
"Is slander an opportunity for dialogue?" she asks. "Everything is an opportunity for dialogue, but the question is, are we framing the dialogue? And the answer is no, and anybody who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves. The dialogue is completely being framed by Sony Pictures and Dan Brown."
Nicolosi says Christians who believe they need to see the film should wait until at least the second weekend.
"All Hollywood listens to is the box office," Nicolosi said, "and if Christians don't see this movie, it tanks."
Darrell Bock, a professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and a contributor to TheDaVinciDialogue.com, says he would have advised people not to see The Da Vinci Code if the public had not "embraced" the book's ideas to such a large degree.
"I have a very strong feeling that we should go read the book or borrow the book from someone to read it," he says. "If we're going to engage the culture and interact with a point of view, we need to read the point of view that we are interacting with. It undermines our credibility to say that we have never read the point of view or seen it."
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Christianity Today's full coverage of the movie is available on our Da Vinci Code page. Articles about boycotting the movie include:
Let's Othercott Da Vinci | Many Christians see The Da Vinci Code as an opportunity for evangelism; others say it's a chance to engage the culture. Rubbish. Da Vinci is dangerous, so I'd like to suggest a better alternative. (From CT Movies, May 3, 2006)
Da Vinci Boycotts Planned | Vatican official calls for boycott of "slanderous" film; Maine Christian organization boycotts all theaters. Meanwhile, evangelicals respond to Da Vinci with video Bible, books, Web campaigns. (From CT Movies, May 8, 2006)