The Da Vinci Code: Part 3 of 3
Announcer:The 21st century has ushered in events and issues that cause us to ask "Where is God in today's world?" In response, Dallas Theological Seminary presents DTS Dialogue - Issues of God and Culture: The Da Vinci Code. Written by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code is a fictional thriller that has captured the coveted number-one sales ranking at Amazon.com, camped out for 40 weeks on The New York Times Best-Seller List, and inspired a one-hour ABC News special. Along the way, it has sparked debates about Western culture and Christian history. While the ABC News feature assessed Brown's fascination with an alleged marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, The Da Vinci Code contains many other false claims about Christianity's historic origins and theological development. The following Dialogue, hosted by Dr. Mark Bailey, took place with Doctors Jeff Bingham and Darrell Bock, both of whom participated in the ABC special. Doctor Bock's own book on the topic, Breaking The DaVinci Code, also was a New York Times Best-Seller. Listen in to their discussion about the novel, the opportunities that it has created, and the problematic history and theology proposed within its pages.
Mark Bailey:Talking about the positive element of this: Peter Wright's "Set Christ apart within your heart, always being able to give an answer for the hope that lies within you"---but to do it with an attitude of humility and gentleness that will silence the critics, the slander that might come against Christians. But talk about the positive element, that this allows us really to take those foundational doctrines of the faith and put them on the table in a discussion with the culture, maybe as never before.
Darrell Bock:I'm glad you asked about the relationship of the faith and the culture, because I think that the second responsibility of a pastor, in terms of content, beyond being the church's theologian, which I do think is primary, is, secondarily, to be a little bit of an educator with regard to what's going on in the culture and how best to think about presenting Christ in the context of the culture in which we live. I think most pastors wrestle with how to do this well, because it's a difficult thing to do well. Part of what you have to be able to sense is where this actually is coming from.
This novel is important - and it's important to discuss - not because the issues it raises have substance, but because of where the issues that it raises are coming from.
This is coming from a strand of scholarship that is in the universities, and in some religion departments, around the country; it is being portrayed as if it's top-drawer scholarship. And culture often tends to want to draw its attitudes about things from what it perceives to be top-drawer scholarship. Unfortunately, it's not the best in quality of scholarship; it's very misleading.
And most people are completely unaware that this underlayer to the book even exists, even though it's starting to surface now.
But it's starting to surface in very obvious places; and we're not a few weeks away from a cover story in Newsweek, called, I think, "Bible's Lost Stories", in which some of these accounts that we've been talking about have been elevated to prominence.
Now, I do that not to deflect from the question; but the point is that you're not going to be able even to begin to address the culture about the real Jesus, which is where the opportunity here is, unless you understand the backdrop of how Jesus is being portrayed and why he's being portrayed in that way.
Our culture has a tendency to want to make Jesus always a great religious teacher. And when you think about it from a cultural standpoint: they struggle with the Christian. They struggle with the Christian because the Christian comes along and says, "You don't have enough respect for my Jesus." Meanwhile, the culture is saying, "I have terrific respect for your Jesus. I think he's a prophetic figure. I go up the ladder of religious vocations, and a prophet is pretty high up there. There aren't too many slots above that. I have a great respect for your Jesus. I think he's one of the religious greats of all time."
And that's what some of this writing attempts to reflect: that Jesus was a wonderful prophet, who taught about knowledge of God. Now, it detaches the person and work of Jesus from it, which is where the problem is. But he's a wonderful way of directing us to a better inner understanding of what our relationship with God can be. And it's put on this very much spiritual-quest mode, which our culture tends to embrace.
Well, the problem is that the Christian message is not that Jesus is the great prophet of God. Now, he is a prophet, and he functions as a prophet; but he's much, much more. Jesus is unique. And, unless the church learns how to talk about Jesus's uniqueness in a culture that wants to make him a prophet, we're not going to do a very good job of presenting Jesus to the culture.
So, whatever we do as a pastoral theologian, and whatever we do as an observer of the culture, we have to be teaching - and reflecting in our teaching - that Jesus is unique, that there's a unique message with regard to what Jesus did for sinners. There's a reason why that flesh and blood hung on the cross; and that's because Jesus was a real representative, on our behalf, doing something we were incapable of doing for ourselves. There was a real reason why Jesus was hanging on the cross; and that is that God was making a statement about how much He loved humanity. He loved humanity enough to die in order to achieve the deliverance that humanity needs.
He was making a statement that what people cannot do for themselves, in terms of saving themselves, He is willing to do on their behalf. He is willing to do, on their behalf, through One who is His representative and His sent One, who is, if I can say it this way, THE Apostle from Heaven, and, as THE Apostle from Heaven, died in our place. And, if we will accept that uniqueness of Jesus, all the blessings of relationship and fellowship with God, and eternal life - not merely a life of duration, but a life of quality with God, a life that is eternal because it is rooted in Heaven - that is what we need to be preaching in the churches. And, so, however we do it, we must always come back to the idea that Jesus is unique. As good as a prophet is, the title "prophet" is not good enough for Jesus.
And, if we can do that, and if we can help people do that, and if you can draw on the resources that will help you do that - you don't have to do this on your own as a pastor. There are a lot of good resources out there that will help you with these kinds of issues. And, if you learn to draw on those resources and do some teaching around it, you can help your people be prepared and turn what is, at one level, a tragedy - a misstatement of history, and a repetition of that misstatement of history being promoted at some levels of our culture - turn it into an opportunity to talk about who the real Jesus is.
And the real Jesus is unique. And He's worth sharing. And He's worth sharing with a needy culture.
Mark Bailey:This comes back in terms of our Biblical basis and our Biblical revelation. I'm amazed, as I listen to this discussion and as I read outside this discussion, how well God anticipated the heresies that would float through the Lycos valleys - so to speak, to borrow an imagery of Colossians - that anticipated some of the controversies of the early church, that anticipate the Gnostic dualism and the misrepresentation of God's creation in dualistic terms, separating the physical and the spiritual.
I was working through some material in Colossians more recently that all of the almost incipient heresies that get elevated or get refuted in advance in Colossians and John and Hebrews, Ephesians - all of them come back to relate to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Darrell Bock:And to the uniqueness of God as well. I mean there really is - what's going on in these Gnostic movements is an elevation of man and a distortion of deity at the same time, so that, when the idea comes that "The way to have religious understanding and religious appreciation is through something I generate by having direct contact with the Light, and I don't have to go through God to do that; he just kind of points me in the way - 'Go there; you can do it'" - all that falls short. All that's an attempt to elevate man.
What the Gospel is about, fundamentally, is the recognition that a religion is not created in man's image. It isn't designed in the way in which most men would want to design it. The idea that I have to admit and recognize my own failures in order to experience real spiritual growth is a hard step for many to take. It isn't the way we would want to design it. We would prefer a book that says I'm OK, your OK.
And, what Christianity is doing is saying no. What God has done in his creation through Jesus Christ is to put a mirror up everybody's face. And in the mist of looking in that mirror and seeing that I am a fallen and imperfect creature, I need to look up to the Creator and say I need you because of who you are as Creator and I need to listen to what you have done as Creator to reclaim me as a part of your creation.
That's what God is doing through Jesus Christ. Most religious doctrine that is off, is off because it doesn't direct your attention to Jesus and what God has done through Jesus. It's off because it redirects its attention back to you.
Mark: So, it's a mis-definition of sin. And hence, a misunderstanding of the Saviour sent by God to deal with that sin.
Darrell:And even more tragically it's also at the same time a misunderstanding of our own self-identity. In the claim to be elevating self-identity and elevating the self, it actually is a -- how do I want to say it -- it actually is self-destructive. Because it's claiming prerogatives for the self that the self is not capable of bearing. Only God can elevate a person to the status of being all that he has created a man or a woman to be.
Jeff Bingham:And in order to arrive at a criticism of those beliefs, it criticizes -- it tries to tell us that this not reliable, that this is not unique, that there are other books which compete with it for attention. And it questions the doctrines of an errancy and the doctrines of inspiration. Thereby, these other doctrines fall on their faces.
The modernist and the post-modernist want to say I am best judge as to whether or not this is reliable. No, the Christian says, this is reliable because it is the collection of the writings of the Apostles and the prophets handed down to me through the sovereign, devoted energy and ministry of the Holy Spirit as he gave what Christ had taught to the churches.
Darrell:And it is the message of the fact that Jesus Christ is unique and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ is the Word that drives what makes the word of God itself unique.
Mark: That's right. And though -- Christ and word can never be separated -- that's right.
Darrell:Those two things belong very much together and any effort to separate those two things, again, is an effort -- the result of it will always be that it will leave people at sea.
Mark:I want to ask two more questions. One, this is a single novel. It's gained notoriety, it's captured peoples' imagination, the media has looked it, but this is a part of a bigger phenomenon in our culture. Why should we as Christians be interested? Why should we be concerned? In what way should we be aware, Jeff?
Jeff:I think one thing that we need to be aware of is that there is an entire group of literature out there, popular literature, Mark, that the businessman or the businesswoman, the pastor on a speaking trip can pop into any bookstore in any major airport and pick up some of these books. They can walk into any of the major bookstores that they frequent to buy their Christmas presents, or to pick up something to read on a car trip or to read to their children at home.
There is a group of books that are appearing which are all putting forward this idea that the church of history tried to hide something from you. It tried to keep something from you. It didn't tell you about all the gospels that were out there. It didn't tell you the true story on all the options that are in Christianity.
And so, these books are trying to set forth the idea that Christianity is really much bigger than the traditional church taught you that it was. There are many more options that you can choose from out there. Something was kept from you. You were cheated.
I think here for instance of one of the main popular authors who was also an extremely accomplished technical author, but Elaine Pagels, whose early book, The Gnostic Gospels does this. Her most recent book Beyond Belief does this. Books on Gnosticism and the options that are available to one in Gnosticism regarding the biblical books, extra biblical, other options for belief, are appearing on the bookstands all the time.
You can just walk up, lay your money down and walk out with them. So, we want to be aware that this novel is presenting an academic discussion that is also being communicated at the popular level.
Mark: If it's in the books today, it'll be in the theaters tomorrow.
Jeff:Absolutely. And unfortunately, it's entering into the hands of Christians who are unschooled in the ability to discern between truth and error.
Darrell: [whispering] And what makes it so exciting is it's secret.
Mark: [whispering] Secret.
Darrell:[whispering] It's secret, that's right. And so, we're going to tell you something that you didn't know before. And in that process it adds an aura to the whole thing that -- actually most of this stuff was known. Centuries and centuries and centuries ago it was discussed by the church fathers, what's different is that we now have the finds at Nag Hammadi where we can listen to these views being expanded by the people who actually held them.
What's interesting about that is that when we listen to the people who actually hold these views, expand their views, we find that the church fathers describe their views actually rather well. They were pretty accurately represented in terms of what it was that they were arguing and teaching.
What these two groups disagreed about, years ago, was something they both recognized were distinct theologies. What the new group won't tell you is this. That was centuries ago, when these theologies existed beside one another, each group saw the other as not being authentic Christianity. There was no period in which these two groups existed as a kind of large Christian family side-by-side to one another. They were always in contention with one another.
And so the option that they want you to take, which is to just open up Christianity and allow for this variety, is an option historically that never existed. That's the real secret about this stuff.
So, it's important in working with these resources and knowing that they're out there and knowing that they're going to continue to come, that they are being fostered by a wing of scholarship.
That scholarship is being underwritten by major publication efforts that are continuing to come out in sequence. They're making a penetration. You can go -- this is an irony -- you can go to the top 20 booklist for Christianity on a site like Amazon.com and, because I know the area, I can tell you that a half dozen of those books are these Gnostic Christian books restating this idea in a new way. That's how much penetration it's had.
Mark: Would we call this a neo-Gnosticism?
Darrell:That's what some people will call it. They'll call it a neo-not -- now if you listen to the people who are propounding these books, they say we ought to do away with the term Gnostic, we ought to do away with the term Orthodox, we ought to do away with heretical. All these terms need to be put aside because that's anachronistic. It's the lighter winners imposing themselves on the earlier history.
What we've been trying to say to you is this. No, it's not anachronistic. It's built-in to the actual historical story. It is the historical story. This conflict was something that existed within Christianity in its earliest centuries. It was being contended for in those early centuries and when we come to the period of the third and fourth century, the church made a very clear decision between these two expressions of theology.
Jeff:Of course, the bottom line here is that without the Scripture and without the help of those Christians who have gone before us, we aren't smart enough to figure it out on our own.
Mark:Right. Which brings us back to the pastoral responsibility that all of us have, with our familes, with our churches, with our Christian movements of which we are a part.
I am reminded of Paul's instruction to the Ephesian elders shepherding the flock of God included protection from false teaching. We live in a period of time; and, Darell, you just described it, in which tolerance is the spirit of the age. And, tolerance works except for that which God says is true about Christ and true about His word that they would view as intolerant. Others would say that is too narrow. It seems that Paul, talking to the Ephesian elders, said that there is a truth to be taught; there is a body of belief that is to be protected; there are people who are in danger. And, even from within the midst of religious fervor and in the midst of under so-called Christianity, error can rise and draw people away.
And so, how can we help? What are some sources that we can we recommend to those that might be watching our conversation and listening to our conversation that might help them get up to speed, so to speak; and, help them get prepared for this discussion?
It is coming in the culture. It is seductive. It is attractive. Reading that book, it is a good read. I do not know of a novel I have read lately that I have sat down and read the first 150 pages without putting it down. Part of that was to get ready for this kind of a discussion. [laughter]. Part of it was that it was that interesting. I even did it while the football game was on! [laughter].
How do we prepare our people?
Jeff:I think, on the one hand, you let people know what the resources are. And, on the other hand, you remind them of how important this kind of a discussion is. Let me mention some of the resources you can look at. There is an interesting book that gives a little bit of the history of what is going on in our culture. It is this book. It is called Hidden Gospels. It is written by a history teacher at Penn State University. The subtitle is, How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way. The author is Phillip Jenkins. You can get this at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com or Borders. It is on the shelves. It is a fairly widely read book. And, it walks through the history of this scholarly/popular thing that is happening. It does some good analysis of it.
I would say for someone who is a pastor or an interested lay person who kind of wants the, I can say it this way, the guts and the gore of all the details; this is a nice place to start.
I have already mentioned Bruce Metzger's, The Canon of the New Testament that deals with the canonical issues. If you want to take a little dabble into what is going on in these Gnostic works and what their theology really is; I really think that one of the most effective ways you can deal with this is to actually quote some of these works and let people read them.
My daughter, who is looking at the manuscript of the book that I am working on that is about all of this, said to me last night on the phone, she said, "Dad, that stuff is just weird." [laughter]. And, she is right.
Here is a collection of the translation called The Nag Hammadi Library. It is edited by James Robinson. If you were to just take a little dip, if I can say it that way, into the Apocalypse of Peter, or the Apocalypse of John, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Phillip where these passages are coming up; and, you were to read them in context, not the little snippets, which you sometimes get. Just read certain portions of the document whole; you would see how different the theology is that we have been talking about compared to what you read when you pick up portions of the Bible and read it. There is a different view of God. There is a different view of Jesus. There is a different view of salvation. There is even a different definition of how to do spirituality.
I think the best way to do that is to rather than let people kind of suggest to you, oh this is secret and it is really interesting and to give you a little snippet. The best way to see it is to see it in context.
Let me give you one example. In the Gospel of Thomas there is a very famous text. Remember that the Gospel of Thomas in these gospel is to elevate the role of women, the sacred feminine, etcetera. The text is Gospel of Thomas 1:14. In it, it says, that Mary needs to become a man in order to enter the kingdom of God. Now, that certainly is not an affirming text on the position and the role of women. It is a very famous passage. It actually reflects the culture that it was a part of; because, we talked about what the nature of the culture was of the first and second century in relationship to women. So, sometimes, I think the best preparation is to just take a glance at the some of the stuff directly itself. Just read it itself, not because you are expecting to get any spiritual buzz out of it. But, simply because the contrast will be so evident when you see what these texts are actually saying, not what people are reporting them to say or what the best snippets of them say. But, what these texts are actually in contrast to what has been said and taught and preached for centuries as Christians.
Mark: Recommendations, Jeff?
Jeff:I think for the pastor who wants to educate and to bring his people in to the theology of Christian orthodoxy; I think popular handbooks that come forward from our own school, for instance, that are still so good although they are somewhat dated. Charles Ryrie's little book, Basic Bible Doctrines, his larger book, Basic Theology, the average Christian can get their hands around these.
For the one who wants to go a little bit further, Millard Erickson's, Christian Theology, I think, is an extremely helpful volume.
But, in addition to just getting a handle on basic theological issues, basic historical issues in the history of the church is important as well. So, I think of my own colleague in the Theological Studies department who has written a fantastic book on the doctrine of Christianity, the history of Christian doctrine entitled, Our Legacy, Dr. John Hannah.
Other books which introduce the history of the church, Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language, Mark Knowles' book, Turning Points and I think also of a little book that came out by InterVarsity Press by me...
Mark: I was going to ask you about that.
Darrell:...A Pocket History of the Church. So, it is important for the pastor to be able to know the issues theologically and historically.
Jeff:I think it was Dwight L. Moody who said, "If you want to know how crooked a stick is; put a straight stick down along side of it." And, I think what we have in the Scripture is straight stick. And, I think the better our people understand and keep reading the Scriptures and working their way through the passages of the Scripture: Who is God? What is the Bible? Who is Christ? What is salvation? What is the Christian life? What is the church? What does the Bible teach? I do not think there is a better way to get prepared when you see what you see whether it is in the Nagomady Library, whether it is in Dan Brown and The DaVinci Code.
To stay rooted in the Scripture. God has given gifted people to the church to equip saints to do the work of the ministry until they come to the unity of the faith, a measure of the stature that belongs to the fullness of Christ. Their lives are transformed. They are built up. And, as a result, Paul says, they are no longer like children, immature, who are carried about by every wind of doctrine.
So, I think that the better we can help our people get rooted and grounded in scripture, the spiritual life, active in ministry, engaging our culture and not being afraid to engage; we have truth. And, I think the better we learn that truth; the better we will be able to engage. But, at the same time, to be aware of what is happening about us; that has been the purpose of this discussion. It is to help ourselves help others. So: What is being said? What is being taught? What are the trends? What are the tools? How do we help one another grow in our ability to take that life-transforming gospel?
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