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Aslan in Narnia

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INTERVIEW

George Barna: 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' as an Evangelical Tool


CBN.com PAT ROBERTSON: Joining us is George Barna. He is a premier researcher, and the founder and president of Barna Research Groups. George, it is always a pleasure to have you with us. What is the deal? Is this a new trend? We thought that movies were evil, and good Christians did not go to the movies. Now they’re flocking to the movies.

GEORGE BARNA: Things have changed. We know that Christians every year, just in the United States, spend billions of dollars watching movies at theaters, renting them, buying the DVDs, or subscribing to cable television services that play the movies. So it is a big deal.

ROBERTSON: Your research, as I recall, indicates that evangelicals do just about the same thing everybody else does. Am I right? Not only movies, but their whole lifestyle. Am I correct?

BARNA: Well, we would distinguish evangelicals from other born-again Christians. To us, they're two separate entities. It does get confusing. In our research, we don't label people evangelicals because they call themselves that. We know other pollsters do that. But we tested it and found it was not very viable. We ask them what they believe, in terms of the Bible and the life of Christ, and how salvation works and the presence and reality of Satan. We categorize people as evangelicals based on their beliefs. And the way we measure it, only seven percent of the population is evangelical.

ROBERTSON: Come on! Not the 50-million monstrous group, huh?

BARNA: But when we do look at that seven percent, we find that they are very different in terms of their behavior, and their mentality, and their morality. So it does make a difference. But when you look at the overall born-again population of this country -- which is a larger group, somewhere around 85 million across the country -- that's where we find typically there is no difference in their behavior.

ROBERTSON: Eighty-five million are born again. What does this mean to some of these guys – ‘Are you born again? Oh yeah, I am born again’?

BARNA: Again, in our research, unlike other pollsters, we don’t use that term. We don’t ask people -- we categorize them based on their beliefs. Number one, them saying they’ve made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that’s still important in their life today. If they say that, we ask a follow-up question about life after death. If they say, I know when I die, I will go to Heaven because I have confessed my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, then we will classify them as born-again.

ROBERTSON: But until they say that, you don't let them in. You're tough!

BARNA: People say we are tougher than God on that, I don’t know. (laughter) But unless they say that, they are out.

ROBERTSON: (Jokingly) St. Peter says, ‘Did Barna clear these guys?’ (laughter) But, seriously what does this say about the movies? I mean, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, -- I used to read [the series of books) to my kids when they were growing up. These are fabulous stories. It is an allegory -- the lion, Aslan, is Jesus.

BARNA: One of the interesting things we are finding in our research is, when you look at our culture today, there are seven dominant elements that influence people’s thinking and behavior: Movies, music, television, books, the Internet, public policy, and family. These things tend to be huge in determining what people think and what they do as a result. So what we are trying to do is partner with the church to make good movies with moral and spiritual themes available, so they use them as a tool to help people grow spiritually. We know these things stay in their heads and hearts and minds. We want to make sure we can screen things and have a filter, and say this is something you can use to minister more effectively to people.

ROBERTSON: Are you like the league of decency or actively working with the film producers or actively working with the churches? What is your role?

BARNA: All of the above. We are trying to work with the folks in Hollywood to help them understand there is a market out here for good, moral family pictures, not the stuff that you pass off as being that way, but something that is appropriate for the entire family of all ages to watch together.

ROBERTSON: Mel Gibson is a dedicated Christian. He felt passionate about The Passion. He came and had dinner with us, and talked about it. Hollywood doesn’t get it. They try to do that ‘religious thing’ and they totally blow the mission. Do you think they are beginning to understand how to do the movies?

BARNA: I think there are two things working in our favor. Number one, we have shown that they can make money on these things, and that gets their attention. And, there are literally hundreds of devout Christians working the industry who simply have not had a chance to use their gifts in a way that truly honors God.

ROBERTSON: If the studios would let them talk about Jesus! ‘The Passion’ was roundly condemned by the majors –- roundly condemned -- because it was about Jesus.

BARNA: That's right.

ROBERTSON: Unless they can talk about the Lord, they will have a hard time.

BARNA: They are still tiptoeing into the studios. They are still scared of that. But they are beginning to make some smaller films to test the waters with. And they are hoping to show them. You know, people want this, and you can satisfy an actual need in the marketplace.

ROBERTSON: How are the advance ticket sales on this program coming up -- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- going?

BARNA: They are going very well. What we are trying to do is what we call Barna preview nights. The day before one of these films opens -- in this case, the first of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- we get to show it in selected theaters around the country. And churches can bring their people to see it. This is not an event at which people are just entertained, but this gives the church a different image in the community, because now they are seen as more relevant. And it gives the people in the church an opportunity to develop some sense of community, because they have a shared experience. And it also gives those teaching in the ministry something they can keep going back to – such as – ‘remember as in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, this concept – it is in the Scripture.’ So this is what we are trying to connect with.

ROBERTSON: How do people plug into whatever you are doing, to find out about the previews? Is there a Web site?

BARNA: There is a Web site - Barnapreview.com.

ROBERTSON: You can link to Barnapreview.com. For the Narnia Web page, you can link up with our special Narnia section, if you want to, and get to this, but we have all of the movie trailers and you can look at all the key Christian themes in the book, and share them with your family. So I think it is tremendous. George Barna, thank you for what you are doing.

BARNA: You’re welcome, thank you.

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