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5/10/2006

CAN I MAKE A RECOMMENDATION?

I've steered clear of making any recommendations about what to do or not do, what to think or not think, how to respond or not respond to The Da Vinci Code...at least here on this blog. Instead, I've done my best to expose us to various view points within Christianity in America concerning the popular book that has now become a film with an imminent release date. My goal was to both start disagreements and then dialogue and then resolution of some kind. Lofty I know, arrogant even, manipulative perhaps - but it's my blog so I can toy with you if I want to...as long as no harm is done.

And no harm has been done. I've learned a lot from everyone who's participated in the discussion here and I've second guessed, third guessed and, well, you get the picture, my ideas about all this. Here's what I'm thinking now about all this - not that you're asking - followed by a recommendation, which you're also not asking for. So stop reading if getting either will be irritating to you.

NOT JUST FICTION:
Some have said, "It's just fiction. Why is anyone upset about this book/film? Why take it seriously at all? That's like thinking Left Behind books are factual!"

That's exactly what I thought until discussion broke out here and my inbox got hit with a few questions from Christians who obviously have been caused to doubt their faith and buy into what I thought were obvious lies in Dan Brown's excellent tale. Coupled with this evidence of the book's impact on some Christians I love, most of them strangers, was the smoking gun of Dan Brown's own words I discovered a couple days ago - again, forwarded to me by a SHLOG.COM reader:

From Good Morning America interview, November 3, 2003 (ABC News Transcripts)
CHARLES GIBSON: "...This is a novel. If you were writing it as a non-fiction book.... how would it have been different?"
DAN BROWN: "I don't think it would have. I began the research for 'The Da Vinci Code' as a skeptic. I entirely expected, as I researched the book, to disprove this theory. And after numerous trips to Europe, about two years of research, I really became a believer. And it’s important to remember that this is a novel about a theory that has been out there for a long time."

So I personally know now, and I didn't before we started talking here about all this, of people who are believing this fictional book to be historically factual enough to end their belief in Jesus as the divine Christ. AND it seems from Dan Brown's own words that he too believes his fiction to be based on factual evidence that the divine Christ is a myth. Therefore, I cannot dismiss this book as harmless fiction. Harmless to me, perhaps. To most, perhaps. But not harmless to all.

THE RESPONSE:
So what to do about this? Depends on who you are I suppose. I certainly won't make any suggestions about what YOU should do or not do, say or not say, in response to this book/film. (Though I will make a suggestion in a minute about the spirit and limits of any response you make.) I have had to come to grips though, as much as I hate this reality for some odd reason, that it is a pastor's job, duty, obligation laid out for him/her in scripture to protect the people entrusted to him/her from false doctrine. It's strange at the very least that a work of fiction is being defended against and being debunked, and I wish it weren't so, but as I've already said, when Mr.Brown put his pen to paper with the intent of spreading what he believed to be facts regarding the non-divinty of Jesus he became a weapon forged against the Church. A mean spirited weapon? Don't think so. An effective weapon? Not largely. But a weapon none the less.

The Church will never die. Nor will God's image ever be soiled beyond recognition. But while the Church and God won't die if I do nothing, somehow, and I don't fully understand why this is, God has made it clear that it is my job as a pastor, teaching and protecting those who accept me as their pastor, to be informed and make time to answer any questions that come my way about this book/film. It's a vocational/occupational inconvenience and honor to now be given the responsibility to enter into conversation about the ideas in this book and defend orthodox Christianity against any lies when they are misconstrued as fact - WHEN those lies are concerning the core of our belief system.

And it's my job to listen as much or more than I talk in this conversation, to admit where the Church has failed, to humbly admit when I just don't know the answers but to also confidently give the facts as I know them kindly and without apology.

I don't, as of today, think it's my job to hold a press conference to tell those outside my faith that Dan Brown is a liar. It's not my job to assault his character or mock him. It's not my job to belittle anyone for believing this book's theories. It's not my job to stage boycotts and the like. My job, and I think your job as a Christian as well, it appropriately and ironically to be like the early Church questioned by Mr. Brown's novel. The early Church, amid martyrdom, unemployment, harassment and the twisting and adoption of their beliefs by pagan religions, kept being the Church: meeting together, praying fervently, reminding each other of what was true, meeting one another's needs, being the proof of a doubted God by putting skin on His love and mercy and peace in their community. They did not go public with their arguments against heresy, did not attack non-Christians for their odd theories and religions, did not expect fair treatment and truth from their society and whine when they did not receive it. Instead Church leaders wrote letters and preached sermons and crafted icons that reminded believers of what was true while living out what was true themselves. Then they sat back and allowed the chips to fall where they may.

And we're still here. And we'll still be here after The Da Vinci Code posts record first week box office numbers...and it will.

Like I said, I don't know what your response should be to this book/film but mine is to remind people who look to me for answers of what I know is true and to back that up with my life. Whatever your response is to be I do know it should represent the love of God accurately while making obvious your confidence in the divinity of Christ with a life of obedience.

THE RECOMMENDATION:
There are many books out suddenly "debunking" The Da Vinci Code. Honestly, I think much of it is poorly written and over kill. One need not prove that there are more windows in the Louvre than Dan Brown claims to rectify the IMPORTANT errors in his account of historical Christianity. Those important errors, in my opinion, would concern matters like: How was the bible we have today assembled? What was Constantine's role in that process? What changes did COnstantine and others make to Christianity and scripture? Did Jesus claim to be divine? Why are "new" books such as the Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Judas not credible to modern day Christians?

Answering these questions alone, using historical evidence and prevailing wisdom among non-Christian archaeologists and scholars pokes enough holes in Dan Brown's theories for them to sink on their own. One source I'd recommend for researching answers to these questions is Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code : A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine by admitted agnostic Bart D. Ehrman, chair of religious studies at UNC Chapel Hill, NC. It is a book without a theological or denominational agenda of any kind - seemingly. It focusses on finding answers to the questions I've listed here as seemingly most important and foundational to Brown's theories and the Christian faith.

So there. I gave an opinion of sorts. Hope we're still friends. See the movie or don't - I don't know what you should do. But I know this book/movie, while it is fiction, is somehow affecting some Christians profoundly and was written to do so and therefore cannot be ignored but must be responded to, at the very least, by church leaders being asked great questions by intelligent people in their churches.

24 Comments:

Blogger GrovesFan said...

Shaun,

Thanks for your openess, honesty and your integrity. I really think our focus should be on what we know to be true because of scripture and how to be able to discuss it in love and with genuine concern for the wondering and wandering.

I just received some books in the mail today that I hope will help me learn more. "Church History in Plain Language" by Bruce L. Shelley (forward by Mark Noll) and "The Baptist Way-Distinctives of a Baptist Church" by R. Stanton Norman. I chose the second title because I too am a Southern Baptist and know very little about our church's beginnings. I'll let you know what I find. Any other recommendations would be greatly appreciated as I'll certainly have time over the next months while I'm recuperating.

Beth

5/10/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

It's eerily silent on this post.

Which means:

A) There's disagreement with what I posted but no one will write about it.

B) I wrote so much that no one bothered to read this post.

C) The whole post WAS read but caused a state of boredom close to a coma only previously theorized about by physicists, rendering SHLOG readers incapable of coherent thought or motor response.

D) No one cares and is burned out on The Da Vinci Code.

E) Serious pondering is going on.

F) You all have more important things to do with your time than post comments here today.


If A, then stop being a pansy and speak up - teach me a thing or two.

If B, I'm sorry.

If C, again, my apologies and I'm willing to be dropped into Iraq and Iran on mission to non-violently bore U.S. enemies to into submission.

If D, me too. How 'bout them Baptists threatening to sue Belmont University this week?

If E, get a life.

If F, I've got grout to bleach too. See ya.

5/10/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will like to thank you Shaun for sharing your thoughts with us on this very delicate subject. I am glad that the church I attend has spent the last few weeks dealing with the inaccurate statements made in the book. My pastor finished his last sermon by saying that it is not his job to tell us whether or not to see the movie or to read the book. He then reminded us that we must be willing to answer any and all questions about this subject in a loving prayerful way. This could be one of the few chances we might to have to witness to a person who is lost and confused. I agree with what he said.

The sad fact is no matter how much we as Christians protest this movie it will not make a big difference in ticket sales. The one thing I can see is the church being harmed by the foolish and unwise behavior by a select few who do not no any better or who are trying to force their private agenda onto the public.

Thomas

5/10/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

man i have nothing to teach you. . and i'd be afraid to even try. . same for everyone else who frequents this blog. . wise, wise, wise people every one. .

5/10/2006  
Anonymous Rachel said...

It is definitely interesting to see the dynamics that emerge when something that supposedly threatens our core beliefs is raised, especially on a wide-spread medium like a major film. I agree that many of our so-called leaders in Christianity are overreacting and becoming legalistic about the whole thing. I myself plan to see the movie, but not on opening weekend, because that is when Hollywood measures its box-office success.

Thank you for addressing this issue Shaun, even if you didn't want to, you did a good job. :) I'm new to Ikon, but it is refreshing to see a pastor take the intiative to deal with major topics like this head on.

Shalom!
*rachel*

5/10/2006  
Blogger holyteach said...

Very well said. In fact, I just forwarded this blog post to my pastor for him to read.

We're also in the middle of a DaVinci-busting series. My pastor struggled with the very issue you brought up: what is worth correcting in the book?

After lots of reading and a month and change of praying about it, he settled on the following five topics: 1) overview of the worldview expressed in the book, 2) how did canonization *really* happen, 3) when did people first view Jesus as divine, 4) what do we really know about Mary Magdalene and the Bible's view of femininity, and 5) how did the early church form and grow?

So *my* answer is: G) most people don't bother commenting when they have nothing to add.

5/10/2006  
Blogger Seth Ward said...

I think that I didn't really get what your recommendation was. Sorry my brain was a little fried by Church Choir sopranos sounding a bit like a duck trapped under something large. Was it "see the movie or don't"? If that is the recommendation then my response is.... okay?

tally ho, peace, goodnight

sethro

5/11/2006  
Blogger Chaotic Hammer said...

Shaun - Great job. I like your approach to this a lot.

I almost commented earlier, but as you see by my previous paragraph, I really didn't have anything to add.

I'll just say that my home group decided to study the issues that the Da Vinci Code raised, not because we cared that it was popular right now, but because we all felt we needed to learn more about the things you mentioned -- church history, canonization of Scripture, Constantine and church councils, etc. And we have learned a lot, and long after the controversy has passed, we will all be better equipped to give an answer for the hope we have in Christ than we were before all this stuff came up.

Out of a group of about 13 adults, only one had previously read the book, and one decided to start it now. Very few of us will probably see the movie, but not because of protests or boycotts -- rather because we're all busy raising families and living life and stuff.

Personally, I only see things in the theater any more if they are so extraordinary or visually stunning that I'd be missing out by waiting until they are out on video. Or occasionally to take my wife out on a date -- but when we do that, we usually just show up at the theater and decide what we want to see when we get there. It's not really driven by the content of what's showing, but rather by a desire to see fluff and eat buttery popcorn and Red Vines.

5/11/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

Crazy delicious.

5/11/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think i may fall into the "d" camp on this one.

i just wish christians made more of a fuss about other movies threatening to destroy our culture, corrupt our children, and threaten our faith. i suppose this one is personal though.

b

5/11/2006  
Anonymous KRB said...

The Divinci Code is today's disco: IT WON'T GO AWAY!

There definitely is merit in using pop culture/current events to initiate discussion, sometimes the opposite is true. DVC has surpassed its saturation point. I personally don't know anyone (Christian or not) whom is eagerly awaiting this movie's release. DVC needs to be put to bed. It's 9:30 on a school night and DVC is tired!

As far as DVC attacking the church or causing people to question their beliefs, GOOD! How do we know we have faith if we never have to lean on it? How do we know what we truly believe if we never allow ourselves to be exposed to different beliefs?

5/11/2006  
Blogger Seth Ward said...

are you kidding me? I'm pumped about the release. We have had the biggest movie drought in years. I hope it is as scandalous as we are all making it out to be! Tom Hank... Ron Howard... its gonna be good. I suppose this makes me an evil, evil man.

5/11/2006  
Blogger M. Joseph said...

Hey Shaun. I truly hope you are doing well this week. It's been a while since we last spoke (it's Mike Herman, from CTI in Chicago).

There are a lot of great articles, downloads, sermon helps, Bible studies, and other resources at ChristianityToday.com

Here are a few of those specific links:

Collection of Links
http://ChristianityToday.com/go/davinci

Christian History-Related Links
http://ChristianityToday.com/history/special/davincicode.html

Was Jesus married? Our FREE handout Answers 5 Big Questions
http://ChristianityToday.com/biblestudies/areas/biblestudies/articles/060426b.html

Bible Studies & Courses
http://store.yahoo.com/biblestudies/davicost.html

Preaching Tools
http://www.preachingtoday.com/home/offer.html?offer=davinci


Hope this is of some help.

5/11/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Herman, are you spamming my blog? Get me a job with CTI and I'll let your flagrant misuse of my comment section continue without punishment. ; )

Good to hear form you, Mike. Thanks for the links.

SG

5/11/2006  
Blogger bdg.theTRu said...

you can count me as "B" with intentions of coming back to actually read it later... (since it's later and i'm back and i've actually read it, i feel comfortable telling you that)...

i agree with you for the most part... i guess part of me just wonders, and this extends beyond DVC or any of the latest hot button topics, how much time should we spend trying to figure out what other people are saying and why that's wrong?

i guess i just see, in regards to the early church, they didn't seem to seek out opposition to the Gospel so that they had something to defend... Even in Paul's letters he mentions that false teachings are prevalent, but i don't think he directly addresses the false teaching, just consistently encourages the church to immerse themselves in the truth and continue to focus on the true teachings that he gave them previously... then, he reinforces that teaching...

this warring for my time and attention has occurred several times in life, another example would be: how to "deal" with door-to-door Mormons or JWs... some people are certain that we need to conduct in depth studies about their religions so that we can expose to them where it falls short... i just wonder if we should just pour those efforts into understanding our own faith and let the pieces fall where they may...

I just think that the time we spend trying to debunk what we know to be false mostly distracts us from becoming firmly established and well-versed in what we know is true... such that we may start to become confused and possible fall prey to the false teachings...

it's a brilliant strategy on a Screwtape/Spiritual Warfare level...

i will admit that there are times when we learn more about our faith while conducting this research, but i think our focus should be on the truth...

i think this is kind of what you're saying, maybe i'm wrong, maybe i'm way off base... but if nothing else, a healthy balance makes good sense to me...

peace... love... bdg...

5/11/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I didn't "Seek out" opposition to my faith. People who have been affected to various degrees by DVC sought me out. My choice then is do nothing (tell them it's just fiction) or dialogue about it from an informed position (read the book I suggested and others, talk to wiser people than me about church history and what not, see the movie, read the book etc).

This seems very much in line with what Paul did concerning the gnostics of his day in cities like Corinth (and this is a gnostic book/film). It's nothing new under the sun. So, I'm doing my best to not over react and not under react, but in a well-informed and kind way dialogue with anyone who looks to me for answers.

SG

5/11/2006  
Blogger cruz-control said...

Thanks for pointing out that this whole gnosticism thing is 'nothing new under the sun.' Christians just don't have enough info about Christian history to informatively dialogue about the history of the gnostics and their writings, beliefs, etc. Unfortuneately without studying religion at a college level, most Christians aren't even aware of things like other virgin birth narratives existing before Jesus. And when they are heard, especially out of some kind of spin, they can have a detrimental affect on what some people believe. Just like the DVC. Education is the key, and DVC provides Christians with a reason to get educated about their history and tradition.

Bart Ehrma, who calls himself a "Happy Agnostic" had what he calls a "deconversion experience." And it wasn't in a theology class or anything like that; it was when his greek professor made an off-hand comment that John may have made some mistake in the text. Because he held so tightly to inerrancy of textual scripture, this, as he says, turned his whole faith upside down. Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis talks about brick-wall Christianity where we center out entire faith on one ascpect, like inerrancy, and when something shakes what we've always been told, our entire wall can crumble.

I just think that Christians should be educated about scripture, their history, and their tradition. Ehrman now says that he wrties from a purely academic perspective, but his books like Misquoting Jesus have a clear spin in them that 'because there are inconsistancies in the text and because of past Church tradition to silence them, than none of it is reliable.' DVC just gives Christians a reason to be educated, and hopefully motivation to become so.

5/11/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Yep, it's precisely BECAUSE Ehrma ISN'T a convert to Christianity and sees any problems with it that his take on the scholarship of DVC is very convincing.

Inerrancy is a topic for another day (and another blog) but you story of errancy tumbling Ehrman's faith makes the point that there is no "key" to a solid faith; there are KEYS. Education alone with crumble my faith as it did recently (I wrote about all that here remember?) and an emotional faith alone gives us nothing to stand on when a mood swing hits, and a relational faith won't stand when we find ourselves alone in college or soldiering in the Middle East, and...

You get the point. There's no one rope that can keep us tethered to faith. There's a whole tangled web binding our mind, emotions, will, intellect and affections to God isn't there? So I'm not afraid of or shaken up at al by DVC for a myriad of reasons: education, first hand experience with Jesus, relationship with individuals and the Church at large, "manifestations" of God (witnessing miracles and power beyond human capacity) etc. ALL of this is the face of God to me - I recognize it and can't doubt it. Not today.

-SG

5/11/2006  
Anonymous keith said...

Check here over the next couple of weeks if you want point-by-point rebuttals to some of the claims made in the book. I recommend the second video, which will be posted as soon as I'm finished editing it, over the first. You can see the third part live if you're in the Raleigh area next week.

5/11/2006  
Blogger bdg.theTRu said...

Shaun.

I'm not saying that you sought out the opportunity... many people have, waiting for something that causes a lot of buzz that they can jump out with their quick answers and whatnot, slap together a book (or simply throw a new cover on one they've already written) so they can sell it off to the masses who are confused... i'm not including you in that mix and i hope you realize that that wasn't aimed at you...

my point is more that the church now versus the church then is an entirely different playing field so to speak... as a teacher/pastor/anyone with a voice that people listen to nowadays, you HAVE to field questions like that ("Is it possible that Jesus was married?" etc) because, by and large, the church isn't educated enough to answer them on their own... Paul, on the other hand, either wasn't asked those questions or simply didn't have to directly answer them because the church already knew the real answers... and by simply reinforcing what they already knew, it answered any doubts in and of itself...

maybe it's skepticism or something else, but it seems like that approach doesn't really work today because people don't buy it unless you've already "earned" an unquestionable trust in the eyes of your audience...

we question everything... we like the idea of some secret society hiding the truth so that we can find it ourselves... we like conspiracy theories...

and we don't know the truth as well as we should... we like to doubt the integrity of those who taught us our faith in the first place, because we didn't figure it out for ourselves... so if someone holds up a text like DVC next to the truth... rather than accepting the truth and dismissing the lies, we hesitate... and the longer we hesitate and process things through our human minds, we start to doubt... and so on and so on...

basically, i'm not saying the problem is with you or your willingness to dialogue... the church needs that... maybe we shouldn't, but we do...

does that make more sense?

peace... love... bdg...

5/11/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

bdg said, "Paul, on the other hand, either wasn't asked those questions or simply didn't have to directly answer them because the church already knew the real answers... and by simply reinforcing what they already knew, it answered any doubts in and of itself"

Not that it matters - maybe I'm just feeling cantankerous today - that's not true.

It was precisely BECAUSE early Christians didn't know what was true that Paul wrote many of his letters (Corinthians for example.) "Should we eat food offered to idols? Are those gods real?"

5/11/2006  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

You can count me as option "G": Blogger wouldn't show me the little letters that I had to type in to add my comment.

5/11/2006  
Blogger Jason...aka Farky said...

I feel the need to offer up my suggestion even though no one cares.

First let me say that when the buzz about the book broke out, I was in the "It's fiction, who cares" camp. Then I read the book.

At this point, though, (since I now also expect this movie to approach or set box office records) I think the movie can't just be ignored and that it's probably best that we go see it. I fear that if Christians don't see it or stage even some mild form of boycotts we will be viewed as some sort of head in the sand crowd who can't handle the truth. I think we need to see it because this could be the best opportunity in a decade to have chances to explain our faith. I think we need to see it because... well... it's just gonna be huge and what would you think of someone who didn't see Star Wars, E.T., or Titanic? I think we need to see it because it could create barriers if we don't. I honestly wish I didn't feel this way because it irks me that the great fabricator Dan Brown will soon get richer off of me. But, I'm not sure I have another choice.

5/11/2006  
Blogger Brody Harper said...

I have been reading all the comments and gathering my opinions, and am not sure that I have really nailed down how I feel about the movie. Originally my vote was the "It's fiction, give it a rest" approach. After reading your thoughts and talking things over with my wife (whose parents are not Christians) I realized that the real trouble is for those who are looking for something to believe. I know my faith won't be shaken. I know my kids lives won't be worse off because of this movie, but I know there are people in the world that will grab hold of this belief and run with it.

I think my biggest issue with the uproar that has been created from this (fiction) book, is the lack of Christian influence elsewhere in the film industry. It is great to see the Church fight for something threatening to cause its "flock" to doubt. To see them print books, preach sermons, and blog blogs, but where is the church when borderline pornography is released to teenagers, in the likes of "American Pie" (2,3, and 4), "Scary Movie" (2,3 and 4) and all of those other movies aimed at making 13 year old girls think that they have to be thinking about which boy they want to have sex with for the first time. Where is the uproar for that? Unfortunately we have to look at this society and think about what is raising our next generation. In the next 15 years these teenagers that grow up thinking sex at 12 is ok, multiple partners is ok, and unfaithfulness is ok, will be running this country.

I understand the church taking the DVC personally. It is an attack on our belief system and an attack on our creator. Call me selfish, call me stupid, but I am also concerned with the attacks on my children's generation. I think discussions are great, and I think this book/film has generated some great thoughts. I would just like to see the church focus some of that energy and passion towards protecting morals also.

5/11/2006  

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