Fanciful fiction or challenge to Christian orthodoxy?

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Fanciful fiction or challenge to Christian orthodoxy?

May 11, 2006    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0484}

An e-Review Commentary
By the Rev. David T. Waller**

A cinema event that will create quite a buzz is coming soon to a theater near you. Scheduled for global release May 19, the film “The Da Vinci Code” will vivify Dan Brown’s widely-received novel of the same name.

The screenplay adaptation by Akiva Goldsman promises to be faithful to the book. Just as “The Passion of the Christ” was received amid controversy and yet was widely viewed, so this film may be a major motion picture event; one of the most highly discussed of the year. 

Will this film paint broad and callous strokes on what many hold as sacred? As surely as this film must, if a reflection of ideas presented in the novel, it will raise issues that ultimately relate to the nature and significance of Christ. Will this film serve to cloud belief and create doctrinal confusion? Aside from the award-winning artistic value and quality entertainment many have come to expect from Ron Howard’s direction and Tom Hanks’ acting, important ramifications for Christians will exist in this coming film. 

This fictional drama-thriller will offer an intriguing mystery that will carry audiences along an exciting ride of seemingly credible questions, ancient enigmas, conspiracies revealed and hidden theologies exposed. A prior book, “Holy Blood, Holy Grail,” by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, appears largely to have inspired some of the questions and debated issues Dan Brown’s novel presents. Seemingly plausible questions couched in a revisionist historical context, though in the genre of fiction and in the name of entertainment, draw ambiguous lines between a beguiling fantasy and an informed belief. The gullible and uninformed viewer may unwittingly consign her- or himself to small perspectives and an unworthy investment in vaguely authenticated, but false conclusions.

In defense there will be those who say it is only a story and a harmless movie. Others will not underestimate the pervasive cultural influence of such a medium. Still others may react by actually calling for focus or study groups in the church. Such study outlines, documentaries and companion books are already in print as a result of the novel, which has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. Ministers and Christian educators might brace themselves for what’s to come. Incidentally, some observers believe the film industry is intentionally marketing some of its current releases to attract the attention of the Christian community; thereby, seeking to boost its audiences amid lagging theater attendance and for the sake of funding an expensive medium for communication and entertainment.

The church would acknowledge that, for some believers, the beginning of a strong faith, a faith that has integrity, begins in honest doubt. Dan Brown indicates on his Web page he is not anti-Christian and regrets some have been offended by his book. Brown’s spin on his work is that he hopes the story would encourage people to discuss important topics of faith, religion and history.

The movie may offer a compelling mystery and a vicarious view of legends and myth fused with some meticulous, but esoteric historical perspectives and actual geographic locations that are cleverly woven together in an intriguing tale of inquiry utilizing symbol and riddle. The work premise suggests the artistic genius, scientist and inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci has codified a truth hidden in plain sight. The story has given rise to the Columbia pictures adaptation to film and explores the proposition that Da Vinci has communicated a secret of great magnitude and of far reaching significance in his most well known paintings, a covert and protected truth so powerful that if brought to light will alter an understanding of history and shake the very foundations of humankind.

Any audience should surely understand the film is fiction and not a documentary. However, an intricate and crafty story with or without truth but communicated with great artistry and intensity has power. Will this contribution from the film industry do anything to obfuscate or occult the meaning Christ embodies as a personal saviour and God’s Son for anyone?
Ministers may find themselves especially honing their skills and performing their roles as earnest historians and Christian apologists to clarify traditions and communicate basic belief as they deal with questions raised in the wake of the film. The film will likely have widespread influence, foster controversy, create notoriety and afford an opportunity for plenty of conversation, both inside and outside the church, beyond what the novel has caused. 

What effect might you anticipate this film will have as it receives vast public attention on a global scale by an educationally and culturally diverse audience? The nature and heart of God is best understood through knowing Jesus. In a world where there is much in popular culture, distortion and disinformation that has the potential to erode, dilute and confuse Christian history, belief and practice, the question for church leaders remains, “Are we yet prepared and capable of a clear, honest, knowledgeable, courageous, relevant and effective articulation of our Christian faith that is received with the same, if not greater, enthusiasm and trustworthiness than that generated by a matinee?”


This article relates to Christian Beliefs and Pop Culture.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Waller is a clergy member of the Florida Annual Conference.

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