With the upcoming release of the DaVinci Code movie I figured it was time to read the book and do a little study so I can talk about intelligently about it. The book is itself a rip roaring adventure and is offered as a work of fiction. On his website, Dan Brown's first FAQ is this:
HOW MUCH OF THIS NOVEL IS TRUE?
The Da Vinci Code is a novel and therefore a work of fiction. While the book's characters and their actions are obviously not real, the artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals depicted in this novel all exist (for example, Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings, the Gnostic Gospels, Hieros Gamos, etc.). These real elements are interpreted and debated by fictional characters. While it is my belief that some of the theories discussed by these characters may have merit, each individual reader must explore these characters' viewpoints and come to his or her own interpretations. My hope in writing this novel was that the story would serve as a catalyst and a springboard for people to discuss the important topics of faith, religion, and history.
The book and movie are, have been, and will be, catalysts for discussion, but I'm not convinced that today's evangelical/orthodox Christians are prepared to enter into this "discussion." In reality there is more going on here than a desire for mere discussion. There is an agenda being advanced here.
As to why I think today's Christians are ill-equipped to enter into this discussion I'll begin with a reference to Dr. Peter Jones. Dr. Jones is the founder of Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet (CWIPP) and co-author of the book Cracking DaVinci's Code and he believes that Brown's book and the subsequent movie will change the face of evangelism in America.
In the past, our Christian witness was much simpler. We could cite the Bible as the clincher of our arguments, and non-believers would accept or reject the Bible’s affirmations as applicable or not to their lives. The Da Vinci Code relativizes the biblical witness to Jesus. It claims as “fact” that the New Testament is a secondary and later account; that the true Jesus was a Gnostic; and that the earliest “Christian” writings were the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and the hypothetical document Q. Says one of the main characters in The Da Vinci Code:
Many scholars claim that the early Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power. (p.233)
In other words, the biblical witness to Jesus is an imposture, a later inaccurate imposition of a view composed by macho, patriarchal males who falsely believed Jesus was the human and divine Savior.
Without focusing on the particulars here, the thing to notice about Dr. Jones' comments are that the playing field has changed. For most of our history there has been one accepted Christian story. People may or may not have believed this story, but the story has been accepted as the standard version of Christianity.
The DaVinci Code popularizes and places an alternative story into the mainstream of our culture. To be sure, The DaVinci Code isn't saying anything that hasn't been said before. Also, The DaVinci Code isn't solely responsible for the new view of Jesus. But it is a major catalyst injecting this alternative into the bloodstream of our culture.
So, at the risk of sounding conspiratorial or alarmist I think this shows that Christians are facing a new set of circumstances in the DaVinci Code or post-DaVinci Code era. In the past we have focused on a kind of apologetics that defends the Christian story, now our apologetic task will be to define the Christian story. The DaVinci Code didn't cause this set of circumstances but it has brought it to the fore.
I hope to talk about this more in the future but for now I'll share a few thoughts on challenges facing us.
1. We need to recover our Christian intellectual tradition - the pietism of the past leaves us ill-equipped to respond to intellectual/academic attacks on the faith. "Just believe" and "just have faith" may sound fine in church but they aren't good responses to the arguments of DaVinci Code advocates.
2. We need to be prepared for a world where their worldview can accomodate ours but ours can't accomodate theirs - one of the things about the DaVinci Code and the new spiritualities it represents is that these new spiritualities are very inclusive. Dan Brown considers himself a Christian who is yet a student of many religions. His website has this FAQ on it:
ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN?
Yes. Interestingly, if you ask three people what it means to be Christian, you will get three different answers. Some feel being baptized is sufficient. Others feel you must accept the Bible as absolute historical fact. Still others require a belief that all those who do not accept Christ as their personal savior are doomed to hell. Faith is a continuum, and we each fall on that line where we may. By attempting to rigidly classify ethereal concepts like faith, we end up debating semantics to the point where we entirely miss the obvious--that is, that we are all trying to decipher life's big mysteries, and we're each following our own paths of enlightenment. I consider myself a student of many religions. The more I learn, the more questions I have. For me, the spiritual quest will be a life-long work in progress.
Dan Brown is representative of many of the all-inclusive new spiritualities. They can accept our beliefs and faith commitments as long as we are not exclusive about it. One of the common things today is to meet people who call themselves "born again Christians" who also practice other religions. We are back to the pantheon of Rome and Greece where all religions are accepted as long as they are not exclusive.
There's more that could be said, but hopefully that will get us all started thinking about these things.
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