Special to the ASSIST News Service  

SANTA MONICA, CA (ANS) — The Da Vinci Code is not going away. The book was a bestseller, the movie will no doubt do big box office, and the DVD release isn’t far away. And after that, someone else will create another novel, television series, or movie that toys with the facts, denigrates our religious sensibilities, and offends our faith. So unless you’re ready to set up a permanent boycott office underneath the Hollywood sign, we need to consider another approach to these types of entertainment and media projects that provides a more effective way to share our faith with the culture.

I’m a producer and media consultant, and I advise major faith-based organizations on issues just like this. After all, the media is the most invasive influence on the planet, and that’s why understanding its power is one of the most critical issues facing the church today. Ultimately, it’s about change – the need to change the way people of faith react to confrontational issues. Sadly, we’ve blown it again and again. We’ve boycotted studios and seen their box office actually increase during the protest. We’ve picketed movies – even paying the studio to park while we held protest signs outside their door. Yes, it’s easier to raise money for our religious organizations when we protest, criticize, or boycott, but the fact is, it doesn’t appear to actually be doing much to advance cultural change.

Culture critic and writer Craig Detweiler described it this way in a recent forum discussing The Da Vinci Code: “We have to realize there’s a reason a book sells millions of copies – and we can’t just dismiss it as a bad thing. This is really significant here. We can protest and criticize all we want, but the truth is, I’m more interested in finding out why the culture is so fascinated by a book that claims to have discovered a cover-up by the church that potentially could challenge the validity of the Christian faith.”

Craig’s right. Popular culture gets its name because it’s popular. I’m interested in looking deeper at why the culture is so easy to convince that Christianity’s a fraud. What have they been exposed to that has caused this response? Have we as believer’s done the best job of presenting the love of Christ to the culture? What could we have done that may have created this backlash? They are difficult questions, but if we really want to impact the world, we have to continually understand how culture changes, and how we should respond to that change.

In the case of The Da Vinci Code, it’s not really about flawed theology, poor research, and distorted facts. All of those things fill the book of course, but focusing on those issues will only be perceived as shrill harping. We’ll never win there. That’s why I recommend a different course. Let’s stop criticizing and start conversing. Let’s begin listening to people, and responding to their questions with honesty, love, and respect. I have yet to meet a person who became a Christian because he was humiliated into the decision.

So as you think about your own personal reaction to the movie, and how you’ll discuss the film with your friends, co-workers, and family, here are a few things to consider:

1. How you discuss the film reveals a great deal about your own relationship with God. Communication researchers know the non-verbal aspects of a conversation say much more than the words. Therefore, our attitude and perspective communicates just as much as the information you’re sharing. When the subject comes up, are your hostile? Defensive? Superior? Frustrated? Or do you react out of love, looking for the opportunity to share the real story of your faith? That doesn’t mean compromise, but it does mean sensitivity.

2. I’m not so sure God really needs defending. There are many believers out there who seem to thrive on their ability to defend the faith. Yes, we should know the facts and doctrinal principles of our faith, (I have a Ph.D. in Theology myself), but in cases like this, God can handle this film and anything else quite well by Himself. I’m frequently reminded that although God graciously allows me to take part in His eternal plan, He certainly doesn’t need me. The truth is, our job isn’t to defend the honor of God, like some over zealous boyfriend defending the honor of his girlfriend. Our job is to reach the world with a message of hope – to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ. Often, spending our time building fortresses to defend the faith just distracts us from our real assignment.

3. Before you speak, consider how your non-Christian friends will respond to the message. They don’t operate from our playbook. They don’t understand and therefore respect what the Bible says, so they don’t share our worldview. It’s about PERCEPTION. In a media driven culture, “perception” is just as important as “reality.” How an audience perceives our message is critical to the successful communication of that message. I would submit that throughout history, we could have stopped bloodshed and devastation had we been more sensitive to the public perception of our pronouncements. Jesus was remarkably aware of His audience, and always responded sensitively to different types of people.

Galatians 1:10 tells us that it’s not about “pleasing men.” It’s not about being spineless. I believe the world is looking for men and women who aren’t afraid to stand up for the Truth. But Acts 17 teaches us that we also have to engage and justify their attention, in order to begin the conversation.

4. Know what you’re talking about. It’s interesting that the crowd’s reaction to Jesus in Matthew chapter 7 wasn’t about how anointed He appeared, his speaking skills, or even the content of His message. They remarked that Jesus spoke as “one having authority.” We could do well to make sure we have our facts in order, and speak from a position of expertise, so that regardless of whether the audience agrees with us, they have to concede that our argument has authority and “works.” Recently, we’ve seen the damage that Christian leaders create when they speak without thinking, so it’s vitally important that we engage our brains before we open our mouths.

I wish we lived in a world where everyone agreed with me, but I can’t even get my wife to do that. The fact is, in a democracy, people have the freedom to make outrageous statements, spark controversies of all kinds, and offend. But I’m absolutely convinced that with certain exceptions, the answer is engagement, not building walls, protesting, or boycotting.

Speaking of change, will The Da Vinci Code drive millions away from the historic Christian faith? This, in my opinion, is doubtful. The Barna Research Group reported that less than one-tenth of 1% of the people who watched “The Passion of the Christ” actually accepted Christ as a result of viewing the film. The gay population won’t spike because of Broke back Mountain, and I doubt The Da Vinci Code will create a nation of agnostics. What it will do is give us one of the greatest platforms we’ve had in a long time for sharing the story of our faith.

Don’t waste this opportunity by holding a picket sign. Be ready to engage in a spirit of friendship and respect that will begin a conversation that could eventually change the culture.

Phil Cooke is President & Creative Director of Cooke Pictures, based in Santa Monica, California, and founding partner in commercial production company “Thomas Winter Cooke.” As a producer, media coach, and consultant, Phil works with many of the largest and most effective faith based organizations, and speaks at workshops, seminars, and conferences on a global basis. He’s considered an international expert on the subject of “change” and a regular contributor to major magazines. He’s most likely the only working producer in Hollywood with a Ph.D. in Theology, and his blog at philcooke.com  is considered one of the most insightful resources on the web on issues of faith, culture, media, and the power of change. If you would like to interview Phil Cooke, you can contact him at (818) 321-8574 or by e-mail at: phil@cookepictures.com.  His website can be found at www.cookepictures.com.