A few readers have written me asking my opinion of the news stories that are starting to apppear about TheDaVinciChallenge.com, the website that the public-relations professionals at Grace Hill Media have set up to promote and/or debate the upcoming movie about you know what. Then again, a few readers have noticed that I am listed among the writers who have agreed to write pro bono articles for this website. I have, in fact, agreed to write a short article on this topic: "Who is Dan Brown?" It is, of course, almost impossible to answer this question, which seems to be precisely the state of affairs that the author himself wants to maintain. This makes it rather hard for journalists to do serious, balanced writing about his books and his beliefs which, again, may be the point.
I have my doubts about how many moviegoers will dig into the "challenge" website, but there is always some chance that it may point a few mainstream journalists toward critical Da Vinci wars commentary by people other than, let's say, the Revs. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and the usual cable-news suspects.
But wait, Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times notes that the "R-word, the next generation" is still in the mix:
The site, thedavincichallenge.com, will post essays by about 45 Christian writers, scholars and leaders of evangelical organizations who will pick apart the book's theological and historical claims about Christianity. Among the writers are Gordon Robertson, the son of the television evangelist Pat Robertson and co-host of their television show, "The 700 Club," who is writing about how early Christianity survived; and Richard J. Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif.
Dr. Mouw, who contributed an essay on, "Why Christians Ought to See the Movie," said: "It's going to be water cooler conversation, so Christians need to take a deep breath, buy the book and shell out the money for the movie. Then we need to educate Christians about what all this means. We need to help them answer someone who says, 'So how do you know Jesus didn't get married?'"
Actually, I would stress that there are more than a few writers involved in the website who are not evangelicals or, like me, even Protestants. Goodstein also noted that Grace Hill Media is also seeking more Roman Catholics to write for the site, which is fitting since the novel is viciously anti-Catholic, almost to the point of parody. The site needs at least a dozen or so Catholics, including more than a few who hold traditional Catholic beliefs.
The other major fact missing from coverage so far is the matter of funding. Is anyone willing to discuss how many dollars (hundreds of thousands? millions?) the church historians at Sony are investing in this attempt to help shape the debate of this controversial movie?
As you would expect, many evangelical Protestants are doing that evangelical Protestant thing they do, arguing that people need to see the movie in order to evangelize the lost who go to see it and walk away with questions. As someone who has made that argument many times in the past, about many different movies, I do think it makes more sense to attempt apologetics before resorting to PR-friendly boycotts.
Veteran Godbeat scribe Mark I. Pinsky of the Orlando Sentinel offered this summary of that argument, as made by evangelist Josh McDowell (who has a new book on the topic):
"I don't attack Dan Brown. I don't attack the book," says McDowell, who is on the staff of Orlando-based Campus Crusade for Christ. "Let's see where fact leaves off and imagination begins. It's a marvelous opportunity to be positive. The main purpose of my book is to reinforce their belief and placate their skepticism. If you look carefully, truth will always stand."
McDowell and Campus Crusade, a worldwide ministry with more than 20,000 staff members and volunteers, seem to have accepted this truth. ... So instead of fighting the wave of popular culture or urging a boycott, Campus Crusade is pushing McDowell's book, which is aimed at young moviegoers and tries to spin their interest in an evangelical direction. McDowell says he wrote the book after distraught parents told him their children had read the novel and, as a result, walked away from their faith.
But does this mean that people need to see the movie? Why not read the book, since one would assume that it is the better statement of Brown's beliefs? Why not read the book and then some of the books dissecting the book?
Stay tuned. This is just getting started.