JACKSON, Tenn. – May 4, 2006 – As a literature professor, I have a favorite Scripture passage: Acts 8. Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch and says, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch replies, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?”
The same opportunity looms for believers as “The Da Vinci Code” comes to theaters in our hometowns. We should not be afraid to ask our neighbors and co-workers, “Do you understand what you saw?” Most of them will reply, “What does it all mean?” We need to be sensitive to such a question.
Our culture is fascinated with spiritual and religious topics. From the Gospel of Judas to the various spin-offs of “The Da Vinci Code,” our culture is responding to the God-created void that each of us possesses which longs to find glimpses of the divine. Unfortunately, our culture is likewise afflicted with the fallen characteristic of settling for substitute half-truths over transcendent truth.
This characteristic of settling for half-truths is exactly why Christians must be prepared to turn a very anti-Christian story into an opportunity to yield some very helpful conversations. A few very quick questions can be quite beneficial to a person who is struggling to make sense of these stories.
The first question that we should ask is, “Does the novel match up with the facts of history?” The novel’s first word is “Fact”; the text sets itself up to be a truth-based work of imaginative fiction. While Dan Brown never claims that the novel’s historical claims are accurate, he does claim absolute accuracy in the novel’s “descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and ancient rituals” (pg. 1). Most readers do not notice this authorial sleight-of-hand. Brown sets the terms himself: the story makes a bold truth claim.
The book, however, does not square with many basic facts of history, as Darrell Bock (in “Breaking the Da Vinci Code”) and many others have proven. Once the book begins to delve into the intricacies of church history, it veers into ignorance at best and falsehood at worst (chapter 55 is a good example of this). These errors do not require the skills of a professional historian; they are simple errors that any person can identify. If, then, the book makes an initial claim to tell the truth but then misses that mark in its historical claims, how reliable can it be in its theological claims?
One of the most dangerous claims made in the book is that Jesus was a mere man. According to the text, the early church believed Jesus to be fully mortal, and it was only later, after Emperor Constantine’s reign (A. D. 325), that he was given divine status. One of the characters, Sir Leigh Teabing, actually claims (pg. 233) that Christ’s divinity resulted from a vote by fourth century church leaders!
Too many Scripture passages, John 1: 1-3 for example, reveal Christ’s eternal divinity for such a claim to be taken seriously. Likewise, even a cursory reading of history reveals that Christ’s divine status was pretty much settled almost from the outset of organized Christian theology.
This sets up the second question that we should ask; C. S. Lewis dealt with this same question in his masterwork “Mere Christianity”: Should we call Jesus a liar, a lunatic or Lord? Jesus made many bold statements about himself. If he made these claims but didn’t really believe them, then he was a liar. If he believed himself to be divine but was not, then he was a lunatic. Either way, his moral teachings are undermined.
The third option is the claim made by the New Testament: his moral teachings radiate from the fact that Jesus is Lord. If we use Scripture as our foundation, then we must conclude that he was, and is, something more than just a wise, gentle teacher. He is the Son of God who loved us so much that he willingly allowed himself to die on Calvary on our behalf.
If the film follows the novel, the Jesus of “The Da Vinci Code” will be simply a man whose story was compelling, but whose followers were cantankerous, lying, manipulative, women-hating brutes. As Teabing says in the novel, “The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God” (pg. 231). Part of what church history tells us, however, is that the earliest followers of Christ were committed, self-sacrificing persons, both men and women, who were willing to die because they believed in Christ’s divinity and in his role as Savior.
2 Timothy 4:2 exhorts us to be ready to share our faith both in season and out. We also should be humble and gentle in our walk (Ephesians 4:1-3). People who are confused and a bit frightened by the implications of a work like “The Da Vinci Code” need to hear a comely defense of the Truth.
We need to be confident in our faith and allow that confidence to overflow in genuine concern for those around us who may be struggling with important spiritual decisions or genuine physical needs. Perhaps we can even share in Philip’s experience and see some of our friends come to accept the truth of Christ: He is Lord and Savior.
Gene C. Fant chairs the English Department at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. With his wife Lisa, he is the co-author of “Expectant Moments: Devotions for Expectant Parents” (Zondervan).
By Gene C. Fant