At the end of January 2004, Cook Communications asked me to co-write with Dr. James L. Garlow, pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, a response to the novel The Da Vinci Code. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with The Da Vinci Code, the author, Dan Brown, taps into the public’s fascination with conspiracy theories, anti-Roman Catholic clericalism, and the “true” origins of Christianity. The end product is a scathing attack on biblical Christianity. Brown questions and rejects orthodox claims by cleverly weaving historical fact and fiction, which we call “faction,” thereby making it difficult for the uninformed reader to be sure of much, except that the Bible is doubtlessly wrong.
On the level of the superficial plot that keeps the pages turning, The Da Vinci Code argues that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers, had children, and a descendant of that biological line presently lives in Paris. Elements within the Church will kill to keep this secret from ever getting out. The novel develops the theory that Mary was the apostle whom Jesus intended to lead the church but was forced to flee to France to escape the ire of her male colleagues. Amongst other “revelations,” The Da Vinci Code claims the original church, made up of Gnostic disciples, celebrated the worship of female wisdom and practiced ritual sexuality. All this was replaced by the macho-male-dominated church of later centuries, who suppressed women, sex, and liberated spirituality.
In the history of the church, countless numbers of critics and scoffers have written books that attempted to undermine and debunk Christianity. Yet, none has received as much attention in popular culture as The Da Vinci Code. Presently, there are over seven million copies in print and an estimated 30 million readers world-wide. According to a reliable report, it is even being read in China. The book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 63 consecutive weeks, and now we hear that famed director, Ron Howard of A Beautiful Mind, is slated to release a movie based on the book in 2005, with, it is believed, Russell Crowe in the lead role. Millions of readers are falling for Brown’s rhetoric. Many more will do the same when they experience the persuasive power of Hollywood magic.
Why all the interest around this novel? In an interview with People Magazine, I said that Brown’s novel is successful because he touches a major fissure in contemporary American culture—that of the fading Christian culture of the past and the rising neo-pagan spirituality of America’s “bright” globalist future. Since the 1960s, America has witnessed a revolution far more powerful than the one that established this country as an independent nation. The recent revolutionaries have cut us free from our Christian-inspired past. In one generation, they have established new and radical views of the family, education, morals, marriage, sexuality, spirituality, and God. Darwinism has eliminated the need of a Creator; feminism is slowly executing Christ and God—the ultimate patriarchs. These views have become the new politically-correct orthodoxy of the cultural elite. Up until now, this revolutionary ideology had generally remained within the ivory towers of academia, taught with intellectual persuasiveness to your children in the privacy of required classes. However, with Brown’s novel—and in spades, with the eventual movie—this revolutionary agenda spills over into the popular culture in a way no piece of academic propaganda ever could. The church needs to be on guard.
Brown does two things which we have sought to counter in our book. Negatively, he seeks to undermine Jesus, the Canon, and the Gospel, using the “findings” of modern New Testament “science.” Positively, he proposes a “new” spiritual agenda for the “end of the days.”
Undermining Orthodox Christianity
In the past, our Christian witness was much simpler. The Bible provided the overall framework for the way people thought. We could cite the Bible as the clincher of our arguments, and non-believers would either accept or reject the Bible’s affirmations as applicable or not to their lives. They simply identified themselves as “unbelievers.” Things are quickly changing. Now we are all spiritual “believers” in one thing or another, for there are various choices for the believing public. This is the power of The Da Vinci Code. It relativizes the biblical witness of Jesus. It claims as “fact” that the New Testament is a secondary, later account; that the true Jesus was a Gnostic; and that the earliest and most authentic “Christian” writings were the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and the hypothetical document Q.
Listen to one of the main characters in The Da Vinci Code:
Many scholars claim that the early Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power (233).
In other words, the biblical witness concerning Jesus is an imposter—a later inaccurate composition created by macho, patriarchal males who believed Jesus to be divine. The truth, according to Brown, is that before the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, “Jesus was viewed by His followers as a...mortal…man” (232).
Dan Brown cleverly uses elements from the Jesus Seminar and the radical wing of New Testament scholarship to argue that the Bible is suspect and that we now have “secret scrolls” (the Gnostic Gospels) that were suppressed by the Church. Brown argues that these texts pre-date the Bible and give us the true picture of Jesus—a mere human in love with Mary Magdelene, with no sense of his death as an atonement for sin.
The early church faced the seductive power of the Gnostic texts when they first appeared. Those same texts have been recently discovered (in 1945 in Egypt) and translated into English. They are now being used by apostate biblical scholars, radical, goddess-worshiping feminist theologians, and now by Dan Brown’s clever yarn, to undermine the very historicity of the New Testament. Many now believe that this novel tells the truth about Christianity and find in it a compelling reason to leave the Church.
How should we respond? Here are a couple suggestions. We argue that the Q/Thomas reconstruction of radical, pro-Gnostic scholarship is overwhelmingly hypothetical and is far from gaining anything close to a consensus, even among mainline scholars. Moreover, an early Gnostic community could not have predated the orthodox apostles. We show, for instance, that no reputable scholar puts into question the early dates of the apostle Paul. Saul was a contemporary of Jesus, converted around 35 AD, and wrote in the Forties and Fifties. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, Paul cites the earliest written form of the Gospel (which came from Palestine), and this “creed” is in no sense “Gnostic,” since it insists on the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus “according to the Scriptures” which Gnosticism denies.
We argue that from the beginning, the first disciples saw Jesus as divine. Again, Paul is the king-pin of the argument. His early writings, from the Forties and Fifties, show that the divinity of Jesus is already a fundamental element of the church’s faith. Most of the apostles gave their lives for that faith, and there is a mass of evidence proving that the second and third century Fathers confessed Jesus to be divine. Therefore, the notion that the deity of Christ was first introduced in 325 AD must be rejected.
Promotion of a “New” Spirituality
Brown’s “positive” approach is to resurrect what he calls “pre-Christian” symbols and by them promote the ancient spirituality of paganism. This is the worship of Nature as god. The all-inclusive circle, “the divine feminine,” and the figure of the goddess offer hope for the future of the planet in the Age of Aquarius. He finds this new message encoded in the architecture of Roslyn Chapel, which he calls “the Cathedral of Codes” (432):
Each block [of the chapel] was carved with a symbol…to create a multifaceted surface (436)…Christian cruciforms, Jewish stars, Masonic seals, Templar crosses, cornucopias, pyramids, astrological signs, plants, vegetables, pentacles and roses…Rosslyn Chapel was a shrine to all faiths…to all traditions…and, above all, to nature and the goddess (434).
The hero of the novel, Robert Langdon, appropriately a forty-something handsome professor at Harvard, is exhorted in terms missionary and prophetic: “We are beginning to sense the need to restore the sacred feminine…Sing her song. The world needs modern troubadours” (444).
Here is Brown’s deep code—the old, earlier, and authentic pagan spirituality is now replacing its later “Christian” imposter. Pre-Christian, peace-loving “matriarchal paganism” and the “divine feminine” are displacing the inventions of our power-hungry, macho fathers (124) and their violent “patriarchal Christianity.” In short, the pre-Christian goddess is replacing the God of the Bible. This, of course, was the “gospel” of ancient Gnosticism, which, in its extreme forms, declared that their goddess will cast the biblical God into hell. In The Da Vinci Code the biblical God is cast into oblivion. He is never mentioned.
On the internet, one can read many postings declaring that Dan Brown’s novel “gave permission” to abandon biblical Christianity. One sixteen year old girl said to a woman who was attempting to share the Gospel: “The Da Vinci Code shows the Bible is a fake. Besides, I feel very comfortable with the spirituality I have discovered there. It fits me fine.” This young woman has been affected by both elements of the novel. She dismisses the Bible as bogus history, and she is a convert to this “new spirituality”— the sad result of a powerful, double whammy!
It is important to show that Brown’s novel is neither a piece of harmless fiction nor a neutral, objective restatement of the “facts.” His massive ideological agenda colors everything he writes. People need to know that this is a propaganda piece for Brown’s recently discovered spirituality. In order to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us, it is my belief that Christians need to read this novel to become acquainted with what our neighbors are now believing. For when this novel and its movie is finished with America, evangelism will never be the same.
We can deplore the success of this anti-Christian propaganda and race up the nearest mountain. But the “lie” always calls forth a statement of “the truth.” This is the way the persecuted Church throughout history has responded, not with flight but with creeds, not with craven fear but with confessions, and not with spiritual ghettos but with open theological argument. Actually, Brown “gives permission” to raise the question of spirituality. On a plane the other day, three women were reading his book within the confines of 10C and 12F. It is easy to begin a conversation on the nature of the Christian faith, and since Brown’s account is so flawed, people can be moved by a well-presented biblical defense of the facts. The Da Vinci Code can be a wonderful occasion for evangelism.
Westminster Seminary California seeks to promote a responsible theological answer to the neo-pagan threat in our time and point people to the truth. May God grant us a revival of true faith and courageous witness in these difficult times. Only a fully biblical, reformed faith has the answer to the pagan challenge. May we stand together to produce that response, strengthened by the knowledge that we have not been given “a spirit of fear but a spirit of power and love and self-control,” in order to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
Editor’s Note: Dr. Peter Jones, our Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Scholar-in-Residence, co-authored the book Cracking Da Vinci’s Code. His book answers Dan Brown’s attacks against Christianity in his best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code. Dr. Jones’s defense of the Gospel has garnered national attention. He has appeared on several television programs (some of which include Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN) as well as many radio broadcasts and newspapers nation-wide, even world-wide.
First published in Evangelium, Vol. 2, Issue 3 (Jul/Aug 2004)
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