Next round of Da Vinci debates

222px The da vinci codeA few readers have written me asking my opinion of the news stories that are starting to apppear about, 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,, 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.

x6644The 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.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • AK

    If people’s faith is so weak that it cannot stand up to a challenge like The Da Vinci Code, there are bigger problems than what Hollywood is doing. You are right to say that to simply ignore the film (or worse, promote a boycott, as the Catholic Church has done at various times since 1934 and the “League of Decency”), is less effective than closely examining the movie and showing where it falls short of the truth.
    No one should be afraid of a spirited debate on their faith (or even a pointed attack). No truth is afraid of the light.

  • Bartholomew

    The site needs at least a dozen or so Catholics, including more than a few who hold traditional Catholic beliefs.

    Does it? The best way to debunk Brown’s silly book is to turn to serious historians – and in that case academic standing is going to be more more to the point than religious affiliation. The list of experts contains some credible people – but Josh McDowell is not someone who can be taken very seriously. And what use is Hugh Hewitt?

  • Chris H.

    AK is right, to a point. But you can’t deny that today’s world is great at producing cultural Christians – kids, students, young adults, etc. – who are Christian mainly because they were raised that way. It’s easy to knock their faith.

    I most strenuously feel that it is inappropriate for writers such as yourself, Terry, to provide PR for DVC.

    1.) Could you not write out your apologetics on a website that didn’t promote seeing the movie? With the rise of DVC in Hollywood and the press, surely people are going to be seeking out DVC info. It seems like you’re taking this opportunity because it will give you more exposure than being “just another DVC info source.” Such is your benefit, even in the absence of payment by Sony. I admit I have no idea about your interior motives and that through the time I’ve read this blog you’ve always seemed to be honest and a straight-shooter (refreshingly so!) – it is speculation on my part to suppose that the increased visibility of helping the DVC movie makers is perhaps part of why you are interested in doing it.

    2.) It also seems that one doesn’t need to financially support Dan Brown either by purchasing his book(s) or by seeing the movie. The apologetics books I’ve seen do a more than adequate job of explaining the heresies/absurdities and revealing the actual truth.

    3.) By having these slew of Christian/Catholic/Orthodox writers show their willingness to fill in the historical blanks that DVC draws over and over, it seems that they are merely attempting to use you to real in the newly-discovered post-Passion Christian millions. At the very least, your purpose is obviously to lessen the worry of the Christian masses to the elements of DVC so that more will go see it, or feel more comfortable seeing it. As such, it seems you should make sure that DVC is something you personally want many, many people to see. What do you know of the movie at this point? Enough to comfortably agree to write things to encourage or enable large amounts of people to go see it?

    4.) What kind of editorial oversight is there on your writing? How strenuous are you able to be in what you write? If the execs are goign to edit out your indications of just how offensive much of the material is in the DVC, you will perhaps not accurately portray the correct response to the nonsense of DVC. Alternatively, since you know you’re writing for the DVC website, might your tones and/or overall message be ameliorated by your reluctance to sound like the proverbial whiner?

    Just some ideas and questions that come to mind.

  • Jacob

    Here’s a question. Does anybody really believe any of the stuff in Dan Brown’s book?

  • Laurie Goodstein

    Hi Terry,
    I’m not sure what you’re suggesting needs a correction in my story for the NY Times about the “Da Vinci Challenge” website. I describe the people who have agreed to write for the site as “45 Christian writers, scholars and leaders of evangelical organizations…”
    I think that description includes people like you and others of various Christian denominations – Eastern Orthodox or Presbyterian or other. I do make a point of noting that Roman Catholics are surprisingly under-represented. But the story doesn’t say anywhere that all the writers are evangelicals. If I’m misunderstanding your objection, please let me know. – Laurie

  • Daniel

    I read Christian as the larger definition of Christian, as opposed to Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu. Not the “had a born-again experience and accept Christ as my personal Lord and Savior” sense of Christian.

  • tmatt


    I see your point. It depends on whether “and” is inclusive. I am a Christian writer. I am not an evangelical. So I am part of your equation.

    I still think most readers would assume that you are saying this is an evangelical site full of evangelical writers.

    But I see your point.

  • Amy Welborn

    My question – other than where the heck is my book cover – is also funding. I’ve heard figures of how much Grace Hill got, but it’s totally unsubstantiated. The other question is script/film cut. Has Jon Bock of Grace Hill read the script/seen a cut of the film? Have any of the experts?

    Our presumption is that the film will maintain the essence of the book – Howard has rather obstreperously affirmed that – but one would assume that in order to maintain some interest in such a well-known book, there might be changes, especially to the ending, which satisfied no one, not even those who enjoyed the book.

    The website has some interesting errors, one of which I have noted on my blog. It also omits “Opus Dei”, the prime bad guys, from the “what’s what” area. Sony has resolutely refused to answer Opus Dei’s questions about how they are portrayed in the film. But they have reached out to this evangelical group (Grace Hill, not the individual contributers), and given them some sort of access and information? Why?

  • Amy Welborn

    One more point – who’s not buying into Sony’s “dialogue?” Pinsky mentions Focus on the Family – pretty big group. Sandra Miesel mentioned, in a comment on my blog this morning, that Coral Ridge Ministries – large and influential – also rebuffed the Sony/Grace Hill outreach. Who else?

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Since the DaVinci Code movie is so clearly anti-Catholic and anti-Christian (to the point of being a “cartoon”) and smacks of bigotry (Brown on TV even said he intended it as an attack book, not just fiction-entertainment) shouldn’t all those media outlets which out of “respect for religion” refused to publish the cartoons of Mohammed deemed disrespectful by Moslems now refuse to run ads or publicity for the Code movie deemed crudely disrespectful by so many devout Christians and Catholics? For if they don’t give the Code the same treatment they gave the genuinely newsworthy Mohammed cartoons it puts in neon lights their fraud and hypocrisy in the reasons they gave for not publishing those cartoons– or reveals their craven cowardice,in essence giving Christians the horrible message–”Really, you need to use a little violence to end our promoting of ignorant bigotry against your faith.”

  • Carl E. Olson

    Here’s a question. Does anybody really believe any of the stuff in Dan Brown’s book?

    Most certainly. Far, far too many, judging by all sorts of anecdotal evidence (since no one has yet provided a scientific survey of DVC readers). I discuss some of the evidence for significant numbers of credulous readers in my article, “The ‘It’s Just Fiction!’ Doctrine: Reading Too Little Into The Da Vinci Code

  • Carl E. Olson

    Does it? The best way to debunk Brown’s silly book is to turn to serious historians – and in that case academic standing is going to be more more to the point than religious affiliation.

    That’s why The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius Press, 2004) is the best of both worlds: Sandra Miesel and I are both Catholics. Sandra is a medieval historian and I have degrees in art and theology. In addition, our book has nearly 600 footnotes, drawing upon a host of scholars, historians, and experts, many of them non-Christian. And our book has been endorsed by Catholic leaders (Francis Cardinal George) and non-Catholic scholars (Philip Jenkins, Marvin Olasky).

  • DanUpBaby

    look, I dislike the way he played fast and loose with the facts as much as the next guy, but Audrey Tautou’s in it, so I’m going to have to see the movie. Several times. And then buy it.

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