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 cultures 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
These are tough questions and they are the sort of questions being raised by various voices in our culture. This isnt the time to get anxious or feel threatened. The truth is that this is a great opportunity for Christs disciples to talk about and live out the differences among fact, fiction, and faith.
I want to assure you that this isnt the time for Christians to get anxious or lose hope. This isnt the reason to boycott theatres or burn books. However, we neednt ignore whats 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.
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.
Lets take Browns 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 1950s 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 Christs 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)
Heres 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 lets set the record straight on a few items:
1. This is picayune, but the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, not the 1950s. And the Nag Hammadi documents are not scrolls they are papyrus books or codices. But hey, Im just being nerdy, so well 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 theres 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 isnt any gospel describing Christs 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?
Dan Brown has not developed original material as the basis of his thriller. He is drawing off recent studies and old conspiracies that view Gnostics as a peaceful, nature-loving, egalitarian strand of Christianity that was suppressed by institutional Christendom. This reinforces the perceptions of some that Christianity is hierarchical, patriarchical, and oppressive. Certainly the history of Christianity has abuses and those who claim to be Christs followers have not always represented Him. We need to respond to that and we will in a few weeks, but its a stretch to characterize the Gnostics in terms of modern views of tolerance and acceptance. In fact, their own documents suggest otherwise. For instance, ...
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 isnt a secret and what we know has more hope! We know ...
Link to next sermon
Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin