The release of The Golden Compass as a major motion picture represents a new challenge for Christians -- especially parents. The release of a popular film with major actors that presents a message directly subversive of Christianity is something new. It is not likely to be the last.

Having seen the movie at an advance viewing and having read all three books of His Dark Materials, I can assure Christians that we face a real challenge -- one that will require careful thinking and intellectual engagement.

Why is this movie such a challenge?

First of all, The Golden Compass is an extremely attractive movie. Like the book on which it is based, the movie is a very sophisticated story that is very well told. The casting was excellent. Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig (the latest James Bond actor) are joined by others including Sam Elliott and newcomer Dakota Blue Richards, who plays the central role of 11-year-old Lyra Belacqua. Kidman is chilling as the beautiful but evil Marisa Coulter and Craig is perfect as Lord Asriel. Actor Ian McKellen (Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) is the voice of Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear.

The movie is very well done and will be very attractive to audiences of all ages. The special effects are superior to any previous movie of the type, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy (also released by New Line Cinema). Everything is in place for this to be a blockbuster at the box office.

Second, the movie is based in a story that is captivating, sophisticated, and truly interesting. Philip Pullman is a skilled writer and teller of tales. His invented worlds of The Golden Compass and the entire His Dark Materials trilogy are about as good as the fantasy genre can offer. His characters are believable and the dialogue is constant -- largely due to Pullman's brilliant invention of a companion for each character -- a "daemon."

The bottom line is that these books and this movie will attract a lot of attention and will captivate many readers and viewers.

So, what's the problem?

This is not just any fantasy trilogy or film project.  Philip Pullman has an agenda -- an agenda about as subtle as an army tank.  His agenda is nothing less than to expose what he believes is the tyranny of the Christian faith and the Christian church.  His hatred of the biblical storyline is clear.  He is an atheist whose most important literary project is intended to offer a moral narrative that will reverse the biblical account of the fall and provide a liberating mythology for a new secular age.

The great enemy of humanity in the three books, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass (together known as His Dark Materials) is the Christian church, identified as the evil Magisterium.  The Magisterium, representing church authority, is afraid of human freedom and seeks to repress human sexuality. 

The Magisterium uses the biblical narrative of the Fall and the doctrine of original sin to repress humanity.  It is both violent and vile and it will stop at nothing to protect its own interests and to preserve its power.

Pullman's attack on biblical Christianity is direct and undeniable.  He once questioned why his books attracted little controversy even as the Harry Potter books attracted so much.  He told an Australian newspaper that what he is "saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said.  My books are about killing God."

Will viewers of the movie see all this?

The direct attack on Christianity and God is toned down in the movie.  But any informed person will recognize the Magisterium as representing the Church and Christianity.  Of course, in our world the Magisterium is the authoritative leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.  In Pullman's world it represents Christianity as a whole.