The power which art possesses to shape culture is unmistakable (which is why I am so passionate about summoning Christians to enter the arts at every level.)
The following article is based on a sermon I preached in 2004, when Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” was first the talk of the town. Looking at our culture more than a decade later, we can clearly see that the theology and sexual philosophy advocated by “The Da Vinci Code” has saturated popular thinking, particularly Brown’s claim that we experience the divine in sexual self-expression and identification. Because Brown’s fallacies about Christianity continue to infect popular culture, it’s critical to refresh our understanding of the biblical truths he tried to destroy.
What if you found out that everything Christians have taught about the Bible for centuries – that it alone of all books is the inspired Word of God with the authority to teach us what we are to believe and how we are to live – was just a hoax concocted by devious men bent on a political agenda?
What if you found out that everything Christians have taught about Jesus for centuries – that he alone of all men is the Son of God, God in human flesh, who came to earth to offer his life as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of the human race, and that after dying on the cross he conquered death and rose from the grave, and is returning again soon to fully establish his kingdom on earth – was a sham, and that instead Jesus married Mary Magdalene and raised a child with her?
What if you found out that everything Christians have taught about true spirituality – that we enter into a relationship with God by repenting of our sins and then pursuing a life of purity and holiness in the strength that Christ provides – was just hogwash, and that the true path to spirituality is actually found in total abandonment to our every sexual desire?
Impossible you say? Well, that’s the premise of an international publishing phenomenon called The Da Vinci Code by author Dan Brown, which has now sold more than 7 million copies worldwide, and will soon catapult to an even higher orbit of popularity when the a new movie by Ron Howard based on the book is released.
A Fad Or A Threat?
When I began reading this book while flying to London a couple weeks ago, my initial thought was that this was just a fad that would soon blow over. The prophet Isaiah tells us pointblank, “Don’t call conspiracy everything the world calls conspiracy.” Christians can sadly get up in arms about way too many things.
But I understand the power of art to shape culture, and The Da Vinci Code is novel-writing the way the modern world likes it. A high-octane thriller, with short, easy-reading chapters, each ending with a cliff-hanger. Oh, and there’s a murder on page one. (Dickens, Hawthorne and Twain would fail miserably today as writers because it takes them forever to kill people off in their books. They’d never hold a reader’s attention today. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” ZZZZZ.
Brown gets right down to it, but he waits 300 pages before he reveals what his message really is. By then, he has the reader totally hooked, and readily convinced that whatever drivel Brown is about to tell them must be true. It became clear to me as I read this book that the average person would not read this book and say, “Well, this is just a good yarn, a good bit of beach reading.” The average person would read this book and come away thinking they’ve just learned something about history, and theology, and more specifically Jesus Christ – the tragedy being that they’d come away believing things which are dead-wrong, even spiritually dangerous.
As if to confirm my suspicions, during our vacation in England, we spent a night with a dear Christian couple we knew from the time we lived there back in the late 80s. We’ve stayed loosely connected over the years, so it was quite a shock to me when I learned that Judith (as I’ll call her) had walked away from the Jesus she said she once loved.
And wouldn’t you know that when she shared with us why she had lost her faith, one of the things she brought up was having read this book. The Da Vinci Code helped Judith confirm her doubts, and helped comfort her that she had made the right choice in walking away from Jesus.
And so it’s time to put on my Myth Buster hat and tackle this red-hot cultural phenomenon. Dan Brown – it’s you and me pal. Let’s get it on.
Claim #1: The New Testament Is A Fraud
The Da Vinci Code purports to unveil several explosive secrets about Christianity which if known, would blow apart historic Christianity as it’s understood today. These secrets have been carefully, even violently, safeguarded by the Priory of Sion which Brown insists on page-one is a real secret-society which traces back to the 11th century. (But is in fact a 20th century forged concoction of a lunatic Frenchman.)
One of the secrets the Priory of Sion has been guarding all these centuries concerns our Bibles. More than halfway through the book, the story’s hero and heroine meet up with an informant who explains the truth of the Bible to them.
“The Bible is a product of man, my dear, not of God,” the informant explains. “More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
Sophie, the heroine of the story, then asks who decided which books to include. The informant tells her that it all took place early in the fourth century, during a church council convened by Emperor Constantine. “Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up and burned…The modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda – to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use His influence to solidify their own power base.”
Clearly, if this is true, then we are in a heap of trouble. The Bible says of itself in 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God-breathed”. If Dan Brown is right, then those words are lies. Which means the Bible is a fraud and we have no authoritative guidebook for life. Heaven has been silent after all, and we are truly alone in this universe.
We already know that Dan Brown is a schlocky historian. He couldn’t even get his 20th-century history correct – something a simple internet search would have helped him with – so we need to be on our guard when he talks about events that took place 2,000 years ago.
Was it true that there were over eighty gospels running around together side by side for the first few centuries? Was it true that the early church had no idea which books were sacred and which were not, and that it took a fourth-century political decision to iron it all out?
There’s an important word you each should know. It’s the word canon. Our good friend Webster defines canon as “an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture.” Back in the days of Jesus, God’s people already had a canon – we call it the Old Testament. Jesus and his disciples regarded those books as sacred scripture.
But what’s interesting is that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as the disciples themselves began writing their gospels and letters about Jesus, it became clear to them and the early church that what they were writing down was also scripture, was also canonical.
For that reason, what they wrote was copied and circulated about. At the end of his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells them, “See that this letter is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” When Peter commented about Paul’s letters, he warned that ignorant and unstable people would try to distort Paul’s writings “as they do the other Scriptures.”
By the end of the first century, there was already a consensus brewing among the church that most of the books we now call the New Testament were in fact sacred scripture. Early in the second century, the four gospels were already being packaged in a new form of writing called a codex (closely resembling modern books) and were being circulated together. As were the letters of Paul.
Where did Dan Brown get the idea of eighty gospels existing? They come from the writings of several Christian-cult communities which began springing up in the second century. Jesus himself warned that false Christs would appear on the scene. Paul gave severe warnings against anyone who brought a gospel different than the one he and the apostles taught. Peter, in the verse just quoted, warned how some were already attempting to distort Paul’s writings.
When we read the writings of second and third generation Christians, we find they are already taking on these false teachers by name: Gnostics. Marcionites. Ebionites. It shouldn’t surprise us that counterfeit cult communities sprang up, and it shouldn’t surprise us that they wrote their false teachings down, and tried to flood the market with their writings. What should surprise us is that modern liberal theologians and historians can’t see what is so clear to everyone else – that the New Testament books came first.
It wasn’t eighty gospels springing up altogether and all at once. It was Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and then a couple generations later, the flood of counterfeits. And it didn’t take four centuries to sort out the canon either. The four gospels, and all but a handful of the remainder of the New Testament books were accepted as God-inspired and canonical from the very beginning. The fourth century church councils merely tied up some loose threads to a process that was largely over the by the end of the first century.
Sadly though, Dan Brown is just getting started. There’s another secret the Priory of Sion has guarded over the centuries.
Claim #2: Jesus Christ Is Not Who We Think He Is
Let’s go back to the book and hear what the informant tells our hero and heroine about who Jesus Christ really is.