Theologians say be not afraid of 'The Da Vinci Code'
() - April 13, 2006 - 12:00am
To commemorate the 554th birth anniversary of Renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci on Saturday, April 15, Sony Pictures, the distributor of the upcoming screen adaptation of Dan Brown's controversial bestseller The Da Vinci Code, has upgraded its two Web sites for the film with more essays from Christian theologians and religious academics articulating their views about the premise of the book.

The sites, www.thedavincichallenge.com and www.thedavincidialogue.com, contain essays by about 45 Christian writers, scholars and leaders of evangelical organizations who pick apart the book's theological and historical claims about Christianity.

Sony Pictures spokesman Jim Kennedy says the studio realizes the book has created controversy "about history and religion," which is why the Web sites have been created to provide an opportunity to educate young people about theological issues raised by the film.

The essays generally urge people to see the movie or at least don't dissuade them from doing so. The sites also note where the book "suggests" conclusions that differ from mainstream Christian dogma.

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 wrote about how early Christianity survived, and Richard J. Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif. who contributed one of the new essays entitled, "Why Christians Ought to See the Movie."

Mouw tells the New York Times, "It's going to be water cooler conversation, so Christians need to take a deep breath, read the book and see the movie. Then we need to educate Christians about what all this means."

For his part, Dr. Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, shared the essay, "Mary Mary, Extraordinary." Dr. Witherington tells the United Methodist Reporter, "Christians shouldn't be afraid to publicly address distortions of the Gospel in conversation with others. I would just say, to reassure Christians who are nervous about this, 'Greater is He who is in you than these forces that are out there in the world. Be prepared to give a reason for the hope that's within you. Be prepared to dialogue and discuss.

"I'm not of the 'boycott, ban or burn' approach. I think that's a serious and foolish mistake because it will serve no purpose except to make the Church look obscurantist, which is not helpful at all. I think we should engage," concludes Witherington.

Among those who also contributed essays for the Web sites are Hugh Hewitt, host of a conservative radio talk show in America; Darrell L. Bock, a professor of New Testament studies and the author of "Breaking the Da Vinci Code"; and George Barna, founder of a polling and research firm that focuses on evangelicals.

Barna said it was a "hard call" for him to agree to post an essay. But, as he wrote in his dissertation, "Heresy rightfully gets Christians upset, and responding is necessary."

In the Philippines, a Filipino priest has also expressed tolerance to "The Da Vinci Code." Fr. Michael Angelo Cardenas, an Opus Dei member and director of the Theological Centrum, said some members like him were not angered by the book's portrayal of Opus Dei, according to the Asian Journal.

"We view it with complete openness," Cardenas is quoted by the Asian Journal, reiterating the position taken by the personal prelature of Opus Dei when the novel first came out. He said the mind-set was to consider the controversy as an occasion "to allow more people to know Jesus Christ."

Recently, Dan Brown has publicly declared that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction and stressed that each individual reader must explore the characters' viewpoints and theories and come to his or her own interpretations. "My hope was that the novel would serve as a springboard for people to discuss the important topics of faith, religion, and history," he added.

The film version of "The Da Vinci Code" is directed by Ron Howard, produced by Brian Grazer and written for the screen by Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar-winning team of "A Beautiful Mind." The cast is headed by two-time Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Jean Reno, Sir Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina and Paul Bettany.

Produced by Grazer and John Calley, "The Da Vinci Code" begins with a spectacular murder in the Louvre Museum. All clues point to a covert religious organization that will stop at nothing to protect a secret that threatens to overturn 2,000 years of accepted dogma.

"The Da Vinci Code" is scheduled to open across the Philippines on May 18.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND ACADEMY AWARD AKIVA GOLDSMAN ASIAN JOURNAL DA VINCI CODE DAN BROWN NEW TESTAMENT OPUS DEI SONY PICTURES VINCI
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