On and on it rages—the mass evangelical effort at dismantling Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The idea is that we all must band together in these desperate times and snuff out the heresy before it snuffs out today’s church. One notable Christian apologist is declaring that this is perhaps the greatest outreach opportunity in the last 200 years. The World Wars? The computer and the rise of the Internet? 9/11? Nope. The Da Vinci Code.
Now before anyone reads my sarcasm and concludes that I should be tossed atop the fires forged at the latest book-burning sessions, let me say loudly and clearly that I think The Da Vinci Code adequately lives up to what it is filed under in bookstores and libraries—fiction. I think it’s based on profoundly biased research. I think that though it’s a great read, it’s laughable in places. I would agree with many that it’s potentially dangerous to those who are seeking God and even to those who have “found” Him. I am quite aware that literally millions of people have read this book, are confused by it, have jotted down several questions concerning Christianity, and they want answers. This is “evidence that demands a verdict.”
Personally, I don’t think The Da Vinci Code is the greatest outreach opportunity in 200 years, but it may be one of the most telling phenomena of the last 200 years. This whole mess exposes so much about us, and hidden deep within, there may be some lessons to learn.
Ask yourself, “Why The Da Vinci Code?” Because it challenges the evangelical world in the area we seem to covet the most—the intellectual. This particular book and its cinematic incarnation attempt to “one up” us on the playing grounds of science, logic, reason and the ever-so-adored historical-grammatical approach to the narrative of Christ. Since the days of Galileo, it has been clear that above all else we will have none of that.
I am not saying we should abandon the realm of the intellectual. That would be stupid and would be done in a context completely void of a text like Acts 17. The truth is we can reason through all of this. We can point to history and prove Christ’s existence. We can point out certain grammatical and syntactical issues. We can even point to science to some degree. As best I see it, we won’t ever really lose the debate, but I’m not entirely sure we will win it either.
When all is said and done, the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ are not all that logical, scientific or reasonable. If I can quote the apostle—it will always and forever sound a little “foolish” (1 Corinthians 1). This is ultimately a matter of faith (not “blind faith,” but faith still). Perhaps on the other side of this latest pop outreach effort, there is a lesson to be learned—that it’s high time for us to not only be head-over-heels for the intellectual and reasonable, but also for the grand mystery of faith that is to be lived day in and day out as our greatest apologetic.
Notice that we didn’t create programs and buy out theaters for Hotel Rwanda (an opportunity to dialogue about injustice and human cruelty) or Crash (an opportunity to dialogue about racism) or Brokeback Mountain (an opportunity to dialogue about homosexuality). Is this related to my prior point? Is it because though these films are indeed intellectual, they are chiefly social? These films stir us not just intellectually, but incarnationally. They demand a verdict not just in the mind, but in the active arena of our hands and feet, too.
Art is an open door. Walk through it selectively for sure, but not exclusively. Every single day films are being released that create great avenues for education and discussion. Can we band together to throw a bone to some of those “opportunities,” too? Maybe that’s a lesson to be learned on the other side of all of this.
We can be certain that challenges to the story of Christ will come and go. In fact, one of Christ’s promises to the Church was that dissenting voices would always be around us and even among us. Such “battles” are as old as the conspiracy theory the Roman soldiers and religious leaders dreamed up in Matthew 28. The sobering reality is that even if we “get rid” of a Dan Brown, we will probably have to deal with someone like Michael Baigent (he’s the gentleman who sued Brown for supposedly stealing his ideas). Give me a Brown, and I’ll raise you a Baigent. Already the secret Judas documents are stealing the headlines. Who knows who else or what else is coming. One thing I am sure about is that this is ongoing and unending. Another thing I am sure about is that we can do more to make sure it never gets to this silly an extent again.
I am convinced that the most telling thing about The Da Vinci Code phenomenon is that it exposes how anemic our proactive efforts have been as a missional people who carry a profound historical narrative. It pretty much proves that we’ve just sort of sat around and opted for a more reactive stance (“Oh boy! Here’s comes another movie! Now let’s take every thought captive!”). Is all of this Dan Brown’s fault? To some degree it is. Is it ours, too? You bet. You see, all a proactive Dan Brown did was grab a literary bullhorn and give the world a story to flock to in the absence of a clear, meaningful, provocative, incarnate story about Christ and Christian history. It seems people wanted answers, and maybe we weren’t giving them. Maybe Brown’s story, with its tagline “seek the truth,” is so popular because we haven’t been doing all that great of a job of helping folks seek the truth or even see it.
Maybe on the other side of tackling Brown’s best seller we can simply start telling the story again—no apologies. It could actually be quite the revolutionary thing to do in these times. And after all, the Bible is the best seller of all time.