by Ron Clark
May – June, 2006
The combined impact of reading The DaVinci Code, seeing the movie and preparing for a Bible class on the whole phenomenon had me exhilarated.
Christians and non-Christians have read, actually devoured, what has become the best-selling novel of all time, yet few of us addressed it from the pulpit over the last three years.
Now that it has become an anticipated movie, we are suddenly rallying to talk about this fictional but controversial story.
I found myself caught up in the drama, the mystery, and the tension of Dan Brown’s novel. For me the movie was equally tense and packed with excitement. I enjoyed the drama of both accounts and believe that America’s obsession with the story is equally dramatic.
Yet I hear from other Christians a question that is asked every time we attempt to address movies and novels about religion: “Why should we be interested? Don’t these stories only create doubt?” As with Oliver Stone, Dan Brown presents a conspiracy story designed to cause us to question what we’ve already come to believe.
Know the Culture
Do you remember the controversy over the movie The Last Temptation of Christ? This movie was taken from a book that also suggested that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and for a brief moment during his crucifixion he dreamed of abandoning the cross and retiring with Mary to raise a family. I saw the movie years later and felt it was one of the worst quality movies ever made.
Our “boycott” of the production, however, brought the director more money than the movie warranted. I did realize that the movie only portrayed a doctrine about Jesus that was already being discussed in scholarly circles. Many of my colleagues in the Society of Biblical Literature question the divinity and celibacy of Jesus as well as the virgin birth. Movies such as The Last Temptation of Christ and The DaVinci Code have only popularized the discussions that the scholarly community has been having for decades.
Unfortunately, as with the Left Behind series, any theological discussion popularized by media and high grossing sales of books will become ingrained in our American psyche. For this reason, I believe we need to have this discussion.
I have also had Bible studies with many in Portland, Oregon, who have been exposed to “liberal theological issues” discussed in The DaVinci Code. Atheists, Agnostics, a Satanist, and other seekers have questioned me on the grail, Q document, Nag Hammadi texts, and the Nicene Council. The deeper theological issues reserved for the seminaries are now being discussed in the coffee houses, college campuses, bookstores, and movie theaters. These issues are quickly becoming popular doctrines that common readers wish to address and discuss with Christians. This is another reason why I believe we need to join the discussion.
Know the Questions
In the novel are key questions or statements that we ought to address with others seeking to know Jesus as well as the truth of The DaVinci Code.
First, The DaVinci Code asks us if we really have, or can find the truth of Jesus and the kingdom. These key statements suggest that the only reliable truths we have (the Bible, scriptures, church doctrine) are products of a powerful church which preserved only the documents that supported their doctrines concerning Jesus.
“… history is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books—books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?'” He smiled, “By its very nature, history is always a one-sided account” (276).
Teabing’s voice was relentless. “Your grandfather sold out to the Church. It is obvious they pressured him to keep the truth quiet.”
Sophie shook her head. “The Church had no influence on my grandfather!”
Teabing laughed coldly. “My dear, the Church has two thousand years of experience pressuring those who threaten to unveil its lies. Since the days of Constantine, the Church has successfully hidden the truth about Mary Magdalene and Jesus. We should not be surprised that now, once again, they have found a way to keep the world in the dark. The Church may no longer employ crusaders to slaughter nonbelievers, but their influence is no less persuasive. No less insidious” (438).
The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great (251).
How do we know whether the Bible is God’s revelation or the product of powerful men who selected only that which supported their beliefs? This is an important question. We do have evidence that the collected Biblical texts (known as the Canon) were well accepted by the mid-second century. This was many years before the Nicene Council of the fourth century and Constantine’s involvement. We also know that the New Testament texts show the failures of the followers of Christ, in contrast to the martyr accounts of the second century Christians that make the early Christians into, well, super-human saints.We also know that the New Testament texts show the failures of the followers of Christ, in contrast to the martyr accounts of the second century Christians that make the early Christians into, well, saints. The New Testament shows humanity at its worst and best. It is not a likely candidate for changing the truth.
I have always believed that when we get someone reading the Bible, God does the work. This has been my experience. Those who “know the Code” are interested and can be pointed to the Biblical text. We have a great opportunity to share with them in the discovery of truth, drama, and the tension of the incarnation. Yet we must “know the Code” and the questions it presents so that we might be prepared to discuss our faith in the Biblical text.
Second, other key statements in the book suggest that Jesus was only human but became divinity by the hand of a controlling pagan emperor named Constantine. Throughout the story the church, males, and an emperor are blamed for deifying Jesus. They are blamed for choosing only those texts that supported their beliefs and rejecting those texts (found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt) that paint the “true picture of Jesus as a man, not God.”
The divinity of Christ, however, was well accepted by early Christian writers, as well as the New Testament authors, in the first and second centuries. Theophilus and Tertullian both used the term “Triad” in reference to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The divinity of Christ was well supported centuries before the Nicene Council. Constantine’s only concern was to promote unity among the churches, not doctrine. Constantine had little power or effect on the doctrine concerning Jesus’ divinity. God has given us a great opportunity to again look to the Biblical texts with those who “know the Code” and seek to know Jesus. I have found that the Gospel of John has convinced even a Satanist to seek Jesus as a reflection of the glory of God.
Third, The DaVinci Code suggests that Jesus, as a feminist, desired leadership of the Kingdom to rest in his wife, Mary Magdalene, rather than Peter. For Brown, true feminism suggests that men give leadership and authority to women. Jesus’ emphasis in the gospels on male leadership is viewed, by Brown, as an attempt for the Catholic Church to rewrite history. For Brown the real Jesus empowered women and goddess worship.
The Priory’s tradition of perpetuating goddess worship is based on a belief that powerful men in the early Christian church “conned” the world by propagating lies that devalued the female and tipped the scales in favor of the masculine (133).
The Grail is literally the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church (258).
The Church, in order to defend itself against Magdalene’s power, perpetuated her image as a whore and buried evidence of Christi’s marriage to her, thereby defusing any potential claims that Christ had a surviving bloodline and was a mortal prophet (274).
Jesus did empower women and Jesus interacted with women more than most rabbis and teachers. That, historically, has made Jesus open to criticism. Jesus as single savior also put him open to criticism. Jesus’ association with eunuchs, children, women, outcasts, the poor, lepers, and sinners continually made Jesus a target. Jesus was not seen as the typical model for Roman males. That is precisely what Jesus came to do. He came to redefine masculinity by practicing gentleness, peace, patience, love, and acceptance.
According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned, and the obligation for a Jewish father was to find a suitable wife for his son. If Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible’s gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood (265).
I had a Mormon student approach me after my New Testament class, which I taught at a community college in Portland. He indicated that for Jesus to be single would make him suspect in his culture. That is why they, Mormons, believe that he was married and had children. I responded that this is exactly the reason Jesus was criticized. He did not follow the typical pattern for a man.
Instead, Jesus redefined who we are as men and how we are to treat women. Jesus practiced a feminism that brought respect and honor to women, rather than pain. Jesus also showed men that we need to carry the characteristics of God such as compassion, meekness, patience, love, and forgiveness that were seen as feminine in the ancient world. Jesus relationship with women and his refusal to marry provided a counter-cultural view of manhood in his time. Those who “know the Code” can see, through the Biblical texts, that Jesus called men to respect and love women rather than control and overpower them.
Even more interesting in Brown’s book is how Sophie Neveu, a descendant of Jesus’ supposed bloodline, changes in the story. In the beginning of The DaVinci Code she is a strong, intelligent, cryptologist that rescues Robert Langdon from imprisonment. Her high-speed driving, wit, and courage earn her the respect of the reader. Yet as the story develops she becomes a passive, ignorant, and helpless woman. While Brown’s feminism suggests that Mary Magdalene’s line led the church, his hero actually becomes passive and dependent on men. Brown seems to advocate a feminism that does not empower women but only empowers men to question truth in their foolhardy search for the “Grail.”
Finally, The DaVinci Code suggests that belief and faith over true knowledge is somewhat skeptical. In order to survive, the truth had to be hidden. Brown indicated that the world could not handle the truth, so guardians and protectors were installed to keep people ignorant. People who were ignorant live by faith.
The clergy in Rome are blessed with potent faith, and because of this, their beliefs can weather any storm, including documents that contradict everything they hold dear. But what about the rest of the world? What about those who are not blessed with absolute certainty? What about those who look at the cruelty in the world and say, where is God today? (288).
Bishop Aringarosa said … “The doctrine has become a buffet line. Abstinence, confession, communion, baptism, mass – take your pick – choose whatever combination pleases you and ignore the rest. What kind of spiritual guidance is the Church offering?”
“Third-century laws,” the second cardinal said, “cannot be applied to the modern followers of Christ. The rules are not workable in today’s society” (448).
Once again, those who “know the Code” can be encouraged to read the Biblical text to see that Christianity is not about hiding truth but explaining it. As the Gospel of John seeks to encourage belief by providing stories, so we can introduce those seeking answers to explore the Bible with us to join the story of God’s mystery. The mystery where God leaves clues that humans may seek and find the answers to Jesus, the true Holy Grail.
Know the Time
Directors, producers, writers, and readers come and go. Every year, every decade, every century people have sought answers to eternal questions. We continually question what we have and what we do not know. The DaVinci Code is another book and movie that asks the questions that have been asked throughout history.
The Church has always had the opportunity to respond and join the discussion. As Paul, in Athens, engaged the philosophers in discussions about theology, philosophy, and popular culture, so we continue to engage The DaVinci Code.
Those who seek truth will ask questions, and those of us who seek God will be sent to talk with them. As always we have the opportunity to read the Bible to them and listen to their questions. Dan Brown and director Ron Howard have not given us a crisis but an opportunity to grow in our faith and help others see our faith in a world seeking answers.
Ron Clark, D. Min. recently (April 9, 2006) resigned as the preaching minister of the Metro Church of Christ in Gresham, Oregon. [www.metrocofc.org] in order to work with Kairos Church Planting [www.kairoschurchplanting.org/] to lead a church plant to the west side of Portland.
He has served as president of Portland’s Community Against Domestic Violence (CADV) and directs their ongoing Clergy Abuse Workshop training program. He has led training seminars on relationship abuse for ministers, law enforcement organizations, and faith communities. Ron earned his undergraduate degrees from Central Missouri State University and his Masters of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Harding University Graduate School of Religion. He is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and has published articles on as abuse, theology, ministry, Hebrew textual, and Greek textual studies in a number of theological and counseling journals. His books include Setting the Captives Free: A Christian Theology for Domestic Violence (Wipf and Stock) and Good Shepherds: Elders Tending the Flock as God’s Servants (under review). Ron is also an adjunct Bible lecturer at both Cascade College and George Fox Evangelical Seminary, a co-founder of the Portland Center for Building Caring Families, and a member of the Multnomah County Early Childhood Education’s Grants Committee and the Portland Wrestling Officials Association.
He blogs at [http://kokemushkeivogel.blogspot.com/] and at [the New Wineskins blog] as “KMiV”.