ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–“The Da Vinci Code” has arrived in theatres, and Christian leaders offer various messages: “Don’t see the movie, since doing so places money in the pockets of the Hollywood elite and encourages them to make more movies of this sort;” “Go see the movie, since doing so gives you credibility for discussing with nonbelievers why the movie is gravely mistaken.”
These conflicting messages can be confusing to the person in the pew. To see or not to see: That is the question!
Like it or not, every ticket purchased places profit in the pockets of those behind its production. And there is the possibility that lining their pockets further will encourage future films of the sort. Moreover, “The Da Vinci Code” insults the deity of Jesus by claiming that the doctrine was invented by fourth-century Christians. Several Christian leaders have called for a boycott of the movie for these reasons, and this is both understandable and warranted. Would anyone fault the Jewish population for doing the same if a movie presented a severely distorted portrait of the holocaust?
On the other hand, any Christian who does not live in a monastery is going to be asked by nonbelieving colleagues what they think about the movie. Without reading the book or seeing the movie, the Christian is not in nearly as strong a position to speak on the matter credibly and may lose an opportunity to discuss spiritual matters. While it is true that I do not have to watch pornography in order to discuss its moral dangers, the movie is not pornography. It is much more complicated. A strong knowledge of the Bible won’t suffice, since the major claims of “The Da Vinci Code” concern whether the Bible we have today is what was originally written and whether the truly authoritative writings were banned and were replaced by our four Gospels. Granted, a Christian’s faith can be shaken as a result of viewing the movie if he or she is not grounded in some basic Church history. But Christians should be grounded, and this movie provides an opportunity for that to occur.
Christian apologist Lee Strobel said he hates providing any profit to those involved in the making of this movie, but adds that there is a higher value: People are going to hell. If familiarizing oneself with Dan Brown’s claims in “The Da Vinci Code” as well as learning how to answer them allows you to interact with nonbelievers in meaningful dialogue, it’s a relatively small price to pay. The Apostle Paul familiarized himself with the works of secular poets (Acts 17:18-31). And let us not forget that Solomon wrote that “the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22).
Many Christians, and especially Southern Baptists, want to please Christ by being proactive in sharing the Gospel with others. We look for the low-hanging fruit ripe for picking and, unfortunately, many times ignore the work of sowing seed and watering, which are necessary and just as spiritual an exercise. Sowing and watering requires relationship building and earning the right to be heard. Conversation precedes conversion and “The Da Vinci Code” provides the opportunity to have those conversations.
My friend Mark Mittelberg says Christians should be asking, “What can Brown do for you?” The answer is that he spurs you on to learn and appreciate the foundations of your faith. He provides an opportunity for you to help dispel the stereotype that Christians have checked their brains at the door of their church. And, if you’re willing to invest a little time learning how to answer the major claims of the book/movie, Brown provides numerous opportunities for you to engage in discussions with nonbelievers on spiritual matters. Isn’t this what we want?
In answer to the dilemma, “to see or not to see,” I side with those who say it is better to see — on the condition that one is prepared to answer the major claims put forth by the book/movie. However, I recognize that there are Christians who exceed my maturity in the faith and who hold that it is better not to see. And I believe they have a valid position. This seems to be an instance when a Christian should follow his or her conscience. If seeing the movie will cause you to feel you are sinning, you should abstain. Instead, go to the library, check out the book and read it, then prepare your replies. But if your conscience allows you to see the movie and use the experience to facilitate dialogue with your nonbelieving friends, then go for it.
Licona is director of apologetics and interfaith evangelism at the North American Mission Board.