Walking from meeting to meeting in New York City last Friday—-it was a beautiful Spring day in the city and I preferred walking to a taxi or the subway—-I passed St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It is a stunning site at any time, but what stunned me was the sight of a bus stop placard adjacent to the Cathedral for the movie The DaVinci Code. It was a vivid symbol of Dan Brown and his sponsors “flipping the bird” in the face of the Church.
I read the DaVinci Code last year because it was being discussed so widely by non-Christians, and being so thoroughly criticized by Christian believers who hadn’t read it.
Now the movie is about to apppear, and those of us who are followers of Jesus have to deal with the question of how to react and what to do. Do we know how to answer those who come away from the book and movie with deep doubts and new, false information about the foundations of our faith?
Does the church have the moral authority or societal relationships to effectively respond to this great cultural affront to the fundamentals of historic Christianity?
I found the novel to be fine, about on par with dozens of Robert Ludlum novels, and not as good as most Tom Clancy stories. I found the ending disappointing—if you’re going to be bold enough to make the claims about Mary Magdalene, have the guts to find her grave.
But it is, of course, profoundly blasphemous, and historically inaccurate on so many counts. Christianity is based on many empirically proven facts and accounts, but it also requires what Francis Schaeffer called “the leap of faith.” But rather than find a basis of doubt in that leaping area, Dan Brown based the blasphemy on the wrong telling of known facts.
But Brown’s supposedly bold effort simply reminds me of being in 6th grade. During that year, north of Boston, I pursued grade-school rebellions of that time—-the mid-1960s—-sneaking off behind the big house on the hill with other prepubescent friends to smoke a pack of Kents from the purse of a friend’s mother. Pulling a fire alarm and running. And a variety of other stupid acts that were made delicious because they were so wrong according the rules my parents had communicated so clearly.
And so it is with Mr. Brown. He can call Jesus names and get away with it. He can say that the church made up all that stuff about Jesus Christ being God, and the church can’t touch him. He can make God Incarnate sexually active, and the culture will snicker and sneak off into dark theaters to watch the revelation, because Christians won’t declare a jihad against writers like others would.
There is much being written and said to equip Christians to confront the lies that have been presented as the truth behind Brown’s fiction.
Included are these examples:
To give just one example, Ben Witherington III of Asbury Theological Seminary is following up the criticisms of the novel in “The Gospel Code” with lectures in Singapore, Turkey and 30 U.S. cities. He’s given 55 broadcast interviews.
Assaults on “Da Vinci” don’t just come from evangelicals like Witherington. A senior Vatican official, Archbishop Angelo Amato, called for a boycott of the film Friday, saying it contained slanderous offenses against Christianity.
Among more liberal thinkers, Harold Attridge, dean of Yale’s Divinity School, says Brown has “wildly misinterpreted” early Christianity. Ehrman details Brown’s “numerous mistakes” in “Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code” and asks: “Why didn’t he simply get his facts straight?”
The whole “Da Vinci” hubbub, Witherington says, shows “we are a Jesus-haunted culture that’s biblically illiterate” and harbors general “disaffection from traditional answers.”
But he and others also see a chance to inform people about the beliefs of Christianity through the “Da Vinci” controversy.
“If people are intrigued by the historical questions, there are plenty of materials out there,” Yale’s Attridge says.
And that may be the book and movie’s greatest contribution. We welcome the honest inquirer who asks: Who is this Jesus?