Fact, Fiction, and Faith
part 1

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Fact, Fiction, and Faith
by Chris Benjamin

The heavily anticipated movie adaptation of “The DaVinci Code” opens this month on May 19. The book and movie are works of fiction, but they raise issues of faith. Also, the author of the book claims that many of the historical issues addressed in his story are matters of fact.

The DaVinci Code is just one example of our culture’s current interest in spirituality and Jesus Christ. There are of course many views of Jesus and spirituality being asserted. Some of them are fact and some are fiction.

How do we separate fact from fiction? How important is faith? For the next few weeks, these questions will be a part of the preaching and worship. We will listen to the debates and discussions in our culture over the identity and history of Jesus and his church. We will respond to these so that we might be all the more certain of what we believe so we can help others come to know our Lord Jesus Christ. The questions we will seek to answer include…

  • Was Jesus married?
  • Who was Mary Magdalene?
  • How did we get the Bible?
  • Are there lost books of the Bible that reveal secret truth?
  • Has the church suppressed the truth about Jesus?
  • Who were the Gnostics? Were they the true followers of Jesus?

    These are tough questions and they are the sort of questions being raised by various voices in our culture. This isn’t the time to get anxious or feel threatened. The truth is that this is a great opportunity for Christ’s disciples to talk about and live out the differences among fact, fiction, and faith.

  • movie poster I recently received an email asking, “What is our stance on The DaVinci Code?” Why would we need a stance on The DaVinci Code? If you haven’t read the book or intend to see the movie next week I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, but the story really isn’t about Leonardo DaVinci so much as it is about Jesus Christ.

  • The website for the movie gives you a hint –
  • One of the characters in the book states at a critical moment in the plot that “almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.” (p. 235)

    I want to assure you that this isn’t the time for Christians to get anxious or lose hope. This isn’t the reason to boycott theatres or burn books. However, we needn’t ignore what’s going on. Our culture seems to have a new interest in knowing Jesus Christ, so we ought to be cheerfully and optimistically engaging in the conversation.

    book cover On his website, the author of Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, answers common questions ...

    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.

    Let’s take Brown’s suggestion to heart and "discuss the important topics of faith, religion, and history." And this might be a good moment to point out that not everything about the artwork, architecture, (and especially) the documents and secret rituals depicted in the novel all exist. What about these Gnostic Gospels for example? And who are these Gnostics anyway? Why do they write their name with a silent “G”?

    One of the characters in the novel describes the Gnostics and their so-called Gospels thus ...
    “Fortunately for historians ... some of the gospels that [Emperor] Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950’s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And of course, the Coptic Scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi ... These documents speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms ... The scrolls highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications, clearly confirming that the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda ...” (p. 234)

    Here’s the problem when fictional characters discuss supposed facts: the line between fact and fiction gets very fuzzy. We will talk more about the “documents” and the history of the Bible in a future sermon, but let’s set the record straight on a few items:

    1. This is picayune, but the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, not the 1950’s. And the Nag Hammadi documents are not scrolls – they are papyrus books or codices. But hey, I’m just being nerdy, so we’ll let that go.
    2. A little more significant is the fact that many of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written 200 years before Christ. They are important because they contain the earliest known versions of certain OT books. They actually confirm much of what we have always known about the Old Testament and the Bible. But there’s nothing in them about Christ or Christianity (unless you count Isaiah). These are Jewish documents, not Christian. So we can factor the Dead Sea Scrolls out of the discussion because there certainly isn’t any gospel describing Christ’s ministry in human terms anywhere in the collection.
    3. The Nag Hammadi Coptic documents are another matter. They do contain material about Jesus Christ. Many of the documents claim to contain secret teachings from Jesus. The documents were written and hidden in the 4th century AD and some of the original texts they are based on were written in the mid-2nd century at the earliest. This hardly represents “the true basis” of Christianity. Furthermore, the Gnostic documents hardly describe Jesus’ ministry in “very human terms” – rather, they do all they can to describe Jesus as anything but human. This makes sense when you understand what the Gnostics believed ...

    Who are the Gnostics?

    Jesus answered him, "I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in
    the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing."
    (John 18:20)

    What do we KNOW? Are we missing out on the secret wisdom? Are we missing the truth? Not hardly. What we know isn’t a secret and what we know has more hope! We know ...

    1. The World is Good. When God created the world he declared more than once that it was good (Genesis 1). Certainly sin has marred the creation, but God has not discarded the creation. He is redeeming it. There is nothing evil about flesh. John 1 – The Word became flesh. It didn’t become a good idea, or a slogan, or a book, or a feeling. It became flesh. Things always go wrong when some group – Gnostics or otherwise – claim that creation and matter is either unimportant or corrupting.
    2. Salvation is by God’s grace. We are not saved because we have the secret password to get into heaven. We are not saved because we have performed all the tests. To do this is to put a claim on God. We are self-serving when we give in to the desire to produce a receipt to place before the heavenly throne and prove we are entitled to our turf in heaven. Paul is clear that salvation is by grace and not anything we have done or can do. We don’t get bragging rights (Ephesians 2:4-10).
    3. But our salvation isn’t just a lottery either. It has more of a purpose than that. Christ is trying to save us from the corruption that spoils the good creation. Christ living in us is what it means to be truly human and salvation is just as much about the cobblestone streets as it is the golden street. “I am crucified with Christ, yet I live but it isn’t me that lives, it is Christ living in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
    4. Jesus died and was resurrected. To deny this is to deny the core of our faith. He was resurrected not as a ghost or as a spirit, but with a body. He was seen and lived among witnesses for over a month after his resurrection. I would rather base my faith on the testimony of 500 witnesses that a secret wisdom passed around among the elite.
    5. The Gnostics rejected Judaism, and we reject Judaism to our loss. We haven’t always been good at this, but we need to regard Judaism as our roots. It is our heritage. The Old Testament was the Bible that Jesus read. Israel is the root into which we have been grafted. If you read Rom 11, you learn that God is going to save Israel thru us! We have a rich heritage of faith and do not have to establish what we believe by rejecting the past.
    6. The Gospel is for All! We are one in Christ. In Christ, there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free. (Galatians 3:28) This doesn’t mean that the differences go away; it just means that they don’t get us preference nor should they separate us. The wall dividing us has been torn down. (Ephesians 2) The Gnostics have a secret wisdom for the selected few, but we have the gospel and it is for everyone!

    Chris Benjamin

    West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
    Morning Sermon, 7 May 2006

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