I read The Da Vinci Code about three years ago. Long before it was a soon-to-be-released motion picture blockbuster. Long before it was the latest controversy keeping church members up in arms. Long before it was the hottest sermon topic to come along since Jabez. Back then, The Da Vinci Code was just a bestselling suspense yarn.
The Code is definitely a page-turner. I couldn’t put it down. The book has it all: a globe-trotting chase, fast-paced action, strange conspiracy theories, some interesting historical threads, and lots of cryptic codes and puzzles to chew on. It’s what you would get if you combined Mission Impossible with Oliver Stone with the Travel Channel with the History Channel with a Sudoku book. I really enjoyed reading it.
I am an evangelical Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is the living Son of God. I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word. I have dedicated my life to serving Him. Nothing I read in The Da Vinci Code rattled my faith. But I don’t form my religious beliefs from the content of popular fiction. Is there anybody who does that?
I often hear people claim that The Da Vinci Code says this or that about Jesus. That’s overstating the case. The Da Vinci Code serves up a fictional tale in which members of two cloak-and-dagger organizations, the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar, believe Jesus took a wife and had a child and perhaps even promoted goddess worship. In the fictional story, at least some higher-ups in the Catholic church know the Priory’s secret, and will do almost anything to keep the secret from being revealed. The Da Vinci Code isn’t about Jesus Christ, it is about the Priory of Sion, the Knights Templar, and a few members of the Catholic Church.
Does Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments “say” that God’s people ought to be kept in slavery, just because Pharoah attempts to do so in that film? Does The Godfather “say” that people ought to devote their lives to crime, since most of the characters in that story are criminals? Does Shrek “say” that all green monsters are cute, especially if they speak with a Scottish brogue?
Unlike the fictional Priory of Sion in Brown’s book, the real Priory of Sion is apparently only a few decades old. Of course, the notion that an ancient line of French kings traced its lineage back to Christ is balderdash. So The Da Vinci Code is not a good source of historical information about Christ or about secret societies. Did somebody say that it is?
A story that has some Catholic bureaucrats involved in murder and intrigue is perhaps offensive to some Catholics. But I’m not a Catholic, I’m not a member of Opus Dei, I’m not a member of the Priory of Sion, and I’m not a member of any fraternal organization, secret or otherwise. Unless you are, what’s all the fuss?
But I’m not surprised that The Da Vinci Code has caused such a buzz among even non-Catholic churches and Christians. The modern evangelical church is quickly becoming the most market-driven organization in history. Even authors and movie makers have some artistic motivations behind their craft. But what is driving the churches’ excitement to jump on the Da Vinci Code bandwagon? Nothing but sheer marketing appeal. Modern church leaders seize upon any and every marketing ploy to draw attention, keep the auditoriums full, and sell their latest books. Churches are inundating us with books, tapes, magazine articles, and TV and radio broadcasts “debunking” The Da Vinci Code. Many churches are featuring special Da Vinci Code sermons from the pulpit. I’m sure some are throwing in popcorn and Twizzlers for good measure. The evangelical church (at least in the U.S.) is quickly losing its identity in its mindless haste to be whatever it needs to be each day to keep the attention of an easily distracted public. To churches, The Da Vinci Code is just this season’s hot church marketing gimmick.
I remember when the church existed to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to be on the cutting edge of movie and book reviews. And I remember when a piece of popular fiction was considered a good way to while away a few hours, but not something to make the center of our focus and energy in the church.
Better brace yourselves. Superman Returns is scheduled for theatrical release on June 30. Long before anybody ever heard of Dan Brown, the parallels between the Superman tale and the story of Christ have been noted. Coming to earth from another place in the heavens. Able to do amazing feats mere mortals cannot do. Standing for truth and justice. Determined to save the human race.
Churches can’t coast on The Da Vinci Code ride forever. And we sure know that nobody’s going to show up for church just to hear a 2,000-year-old message drawn from an ancient Scriptural text. So it’s definitely not too soon to start gearing up for the next big church event. It’s time to start cranking out the “Superman Uncaped” books and planning those sermon series on “The Real Superman.” As the great theologian P.T. Barnum once said, “Every crowd has a silver lining.”