The Implications of 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 Implications of The Da Vinci Code. Although considered fiction, Dan Brown's novel challenges orthodox Christianity in serious ways. Thanks for joining us as we discuss what all believers need to know about "The Da Vinci" Code, Part 3.
Dr. Mark Bailey:Let me turn the corner a little bit with that, as you both mentioned it. Jeff, tell me -- and I think I know where your heart is -- tell me where and how the person in the pew, who is riding on a plane, seeing the Dan Brown novel being read, talked about at the water cooler. It's going to be the subject of a movie. How does that person get equipped, so that their faith is not wrecked by a social agenda that comes out through media?
Dr. Jeffrey Bingham:Well of course, first of all it begins with that person's pastor. And if the church ever thought that it could go on a preaching agenda that talked about other issues, more than it talked about canon, more than it talked about the natures and person of Christ, more than it talked about the doctrine of the trinity. If the church ever thought it had the luxury to attack in its preaching time issues that were not fundamentally doctrinal, then the church had been very, very mistaken.
We are playing catch up here over the last couple of years because the church in many ways, the pastoral ministry in many ways, had not been doing its number one responsibility which was never to allow the pulpit to become anything else except the place where the faith of the people of God is renewed, where it is taught, where it is preached and where people week after week come to a renunciation and reaffirmation of the basic issues of the faith which they confess. If the pulpit has ever been used for anything else than that, then it has been misused. And so the ability of the Christian to carry on discussions at the water cooler or on the airplane next to his or her seatmate begins with the responsibility of the pastor.
The other thing that can be done is to take advantage now and play catch-up with the number of wonderful books that are being authored. Dr. Bock is the author of one of them, and there are others, one by Ben Witherington, which is extremely helpful.
And Dr. Bock will be coming out with a new one, just shortly, so there are books being made available on these topics. The importance here is that the church, once again now reorient itself to the reality that the 20th and 21st century are much more like the second century than popular Christianity might have let itself believe.
We are not yet grown out of the second century, in a very real way; we are smack, dab, right back in it. The issues that challenge the church in the second issue are the very issues that are challenging the church in the 21st.
Mark:That's great. I think of a passage in Ephesians 4, that the gifted people that God has given to the church are to "equip the saints to do the work of the ministry until we all come to a unity of the faith, of knowledge, of the Son of God.
A measure of maturity that belongs to the statute, the fullness of Christ." That's a power pack section that equipping not only for maturity, but unity and purity in life which all has the doctrinal foundation that one faith, one lord, one baptism, one hope, etcetera, and that only can be found, obviously, in Christ, from the Scriptures, in how God has provided that.
Darrell:That maturity is defined in that passage. The church gets to such a point that she's not being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. The winds are blowing right now and the church has to be prepared to navigate its way through windy seas.
Part of that preparation is involved in getting familiar with the very things that were talking about. Knowing, if you will, what your genealogical roots are, as a child of God. That is really what we are talking about.
Mark:Remember, working in X-ray technology here in the Dallas area while I was in my doctoral program and probably the first time I ever got totally shut down in a witnessing conversation by the son of a liberal preacher who had just abandoned the faith. He said, "Mark, I don't believe in the Bible any more than I believe in little green men in the ceiling."
I remember it was suddenly the criscross of swords between my faith and a witnessing opportunity that I really wasn't prepared for. I remember scampering back to my house and pulling out a volume of theology that had all the arguments for the existence of God!
Mark:But the wonderful opportunity I think this gives us, the motivation, is what both of you have mentioned, that doctrinal purity, doctrinal soundness and popular culture have now crossed swords at some very interesting points: the passion of Jesus, The Da Vinci Code. There has been attacks on the text of the Gospels, and the text of Scripture, and "alleged errors of the Bible" have always been around.
But who would have ever thought that church history, Jeff, which is your specialty, and biblical manuscripts, New Testament studies, Darrell, which is your specialty areas and the historicity of Jesus, and his life and teachings, etcetera, who would have ever thought that would be number one in two of the bestseller list in the culture?
But it really, I think, goes to show exactly to what you've been saying: if we're going to engage our culture, then there's going to need to be some reading, some teaching, some dialogue, and to help our people who are listening know that there great resources that are out there and that are available and that are being produced, to not only respond to the novel but in preparation on this case for the movie that's about to come, and I think we have a great opportunity to really teach our people truth, on which they can build their life and faith and also be prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies within, as they're asked for it, in those locations.
In sharing this information and in responding to the culture, what should be the goal? We can shut a person down by saying, "Dan Brown is wrong. The Bible's right. That settles it, let's get on with it."
What needs to be remembered as we engage this topic at both the historical and the emotional, or social, levels?
Darrell:I think as a practical matter, it is very important in the initial parts of the conversation to do a lot of listening. The reason I say that is, there really are, the best I can tell, four types of people, four types of responses to this novel and they require a little different approach.
The first group will say, "I don't understand what the fuss is about, this is a piece of fiction, I don't get my history from a piece of fiction, so what's everybody worked up about?" I think with that person, you just have a nice, calm conversation. You are exactly right. Then move on and talk about some of the issues that it raises and that kind of thing.
The second kind of person is actually a person you told me about, Mark. I think you told me a couple of years ago that you were at your dentist talking about this and he had raised the book with you and started to ask you all kinds of technical questions that the book was raising, and that kind of thing. And although I was struggling to get past the picture of you having this conversation while your teeth were being worked on...
...I was sitting there saying, "Here is a person who has had honest questions because they don't know the history of the early Church." This book has come in, and taken a black hole, and filled it with information, which they have no reason on an initial impression, perhaps distressed I mean, their reaction might be, "Well, I don't believe that Jesus is married, I know that is a bunch of hooey, but what about the rest of it?" And so that person is asking very sincere questions, and I think they need be dealt with very sincerely. That's the person coming out of a Christian background.
The person coming out of a non-Christian background, there is no reason to expect why they would have any knowledge about this period, so they are kind of in the same position and are oftentimes asking very sincere questions that the novel has created for them so I think it's important that you respond to them with a sensitivity of what they're trying to wrestle with and what they're trying to process.
And then the final group as a group that has reacted against Christianity, they're looking for a reason not to believe. I think with that group you want to listen real hard because oftentimes what is behind that reaction is a personal experience with the church or with a form of conservative theology that has produced their reaction. Their issue is not really the book; their issue is something that has happened in their life that's caused them to react against God, Jesus, and the church. They've put it all in one package and they're reacting against it.
So, my initial piece of advice is to say get a sense of where the person is on that emotional map. And then once you know that you've a better idea of how to proceed in the discussion.
By no means do I think the thing to do is to react defensively or harshly or anything like that.
Lay out what you can. The fact is that the history in this discussion is very much on the side of the orthodox church on traditional Christianity, there is nothing to be defensive about.
That is why I view it as an opportunity. It is a real opportunity to correct people about what they perceive this early history to be.
Jeff:I think one of the main things that can take place in these conversations is to take advantage of the fact that its basically a conversation of the reliability of the Scriptures; so Evangelicals can make it fundamentally a conversation about the Bible and it is amazing that the Scripture can be powerful in the presence of those who do not initially recognize its authority.
So we can give thanks here to God, and take advantage of the great gift that He has offered us in these circumstances to bring the Bible into the point of discussion. They may not agree with the passages that are in the Scripture. They may question what is in the Scripture. But still, Dan Brown has made it a discussion about Scripture. Thank you!
So let's go ahead and talk about Scripture. Let's read it to them. Let's point out to them the very passages that Dan Brown is challenging. And in doing so, what takes place is the gospel is read, and the gospel is heard, and wherever the gospel is read and heard the Spirit can use that word to bring forth regeneration and faith. So this is by no means an occasion for Christians to be frightened or to feel threatened. It's an opportunity to talk about the blessed fact that God has not remained in darkness or in silence, but he has spoken to us in the light of Scripture. And people are actually wondering what's in there.
Mark:On the question of "early versus late," it is ironic that we would take what we know to be second-century materials and later and somehow give them more credence than what we know are first-century materials.
Mark:Whether you believe its Bible or not, you know, even the historical record is there. But Jeff I appreciate that because the power of the living Word of God cannot be replaced. That's very helpful.
Just in closing, Darrell, we've mentioned your book, Breaking the Da Vinci Code, and you've got others. It seems like you write one about every six months on these great issues. But Dr. Lutzer, one of our graduates, has a book out on this. Dan Wallace, from our New Testament Studies department, has a book out on this. We mentioned Ben Witherington's book that is out. Any other resources that you guys would mention that our listeners might be helped by consulting.
Darrell:Well, I think that if someone wants a discussion of the canon and the historicity of the recognition of the New Testament, Bruce Metzger's work on the canon of the new testament is very, very good and is very, very well done and relatively simple to read. I mean, it's a difficult topic. Jeff has a nice, little, church history.
Mark: I was just getting ready to mention that.
Darrell:I think it is called The History of the Church or something to that effect. It goes through the periods of church history. For most people, their understanding of church history is: we go to Revelation; we might stop by Augustine on the way to Luther. Those are huge leaps, so it walks you through the history of the church, and it also gives a nice little beginning bibliography so if you want a rundown and want even more detail, you can do it.
The beauty of Jeff's book is that it's short and crisp and takes you through an initial overview in a real straight-forward style. So, I would recommend that and then just follow what I call the footnote trail for my students, in terms of the books he references if you want more detail.
What has really happened to us now is that we need resources and pastors need to talk about this, as Jeff said earlier. We need resources that deal with what the New Testament does. We need resources that understand how our Bible is put together. We need resources that understands what our early history is, and what the controversies were that we've been through, because we are very much back smack in the second century in terms of what we're doing.
And in fact we have a privilege, in one sense, if you want to think about it, of continuing the witness that has gone on for generations in the church to represent Christ in a world that oftentimes takes strange turns and twists, in terms of how it thinks about our relationship to God. In a very odd and strange sense, we become heirs to the very thing that Mary Magdalene was among the first to testify to.
That is, that as the recipient, among the first women to see the empty tomb and to see that Jesus was raised from the dead and to declare that to the Apostles. Who then went out and declared it to the world. We inherit the mantle that she has passed on to us of declaring the risen Jesus, the one who is at the side of the Father, the one who offers salvation, forgiveness, and quality of life to anyone who trusts in him, and in affirming the message of the scripture, ultimately, what were hoping to affirm, is the message of the church and that is about what God has done through Jesus Christ. On behalf of any and all who will be responsive to what he has done. So, in that sense, the best resource ultimately is to be well armed with what the gospel has to say and what it has to say about who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
Jeff:Let's not forget the fundamental resource for the average Christian here, who may not have time to read these books, may not have the interest to read it all from cover to cover. Fundamentally, the greatest resource is what is going on in the church on Sunday mornings or on Sunday evenings or on Wednesday evenings.
What the music minister is saying when he introduces, or she introduces a song, the songs that are being recommended, how the songs are being introduced, what theology the songs teach, what the pastor is saying from the pulpit, what the Sunday school teacher is saying on Sunday mornings, what the preacher is saying on Wednesday nights.
That the church be very, very conscious of what it says at a baptism and in the words that accompany the Lord's Supper, that the church be extremely proactive in determining that the gospel is being preached, correct doctrine is being shared, and that the entire ministerial staff from the music minister to the Sunday school teacher take responsibility for making sure that no one leaves that meeting without being counseled and instructed in what the essentials of Christian faith are.
The Da Vinci Code is going to go away. Sooner or later The Da Vinci Code will become just another book on the shelves and it will be replaced by something else. What the church cannot afford to do is to allow itself to slip into the situation in which once The Da Vinci Code has gone away that it goes back to preaching on issues that are not fundamental to the spiritual life and the doctrinal health of Christianity.
The Da Vinci Code has been a wake-up call, but for heaven's sakes, when it goes away and when it becomes culturally boring, let's make sure we realize the greatest resource is still what the ministers are providing for the people in the community.
Darrell:And the one thing that's not going away, even after The Da Vinci Code goes away, will be these alternative approaches to God that will be a challenge to the church to make sure that she has her stuff together, in terms of preaching and teaching the gospel.
Jeff: It'll come forth in other clothing.
Darrell: Exactly right.
Mark: In every generation.
Jeffrey: Wolves are always there in sheep's clothing. It just looks different.
Darrel: It is very important we be prepared.
Mark: That's right.
Gentlemen, thank you so much for your insight, your counsel. And I think we have given our listeners some material, some ammunition, some wisdom. And I appreciate you both being with me here today.
[music building toward close]
Darrell: My pleasure.
Mark: Thank you.
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