The Da Vinci Code Flap: On a crusade against mere fiction

Some evangelists’ multimedia opposition to `The Da Vinci Code’ suggests they are insecure

I’m used to seeing television preachers peddling their pamphlets, books and sermon tapes, but I stumbled upon one the other day that made me pause.

A well-dressed gentleman was hawking his multi-CD rebuttal to “The Da Vinci Code,” the controversial novel by Dan Brown that has been turned into a movie by Ron Howard. The film, starring Tom Hanks, opens Friday.

There is genuine concern in the evangelical and Catholic ranks about Brown’s work of fiction. Many are worried that readers and moviegoers will think the story it tells–of a Jesus who fathered a child with Mary Magdalene and whose descendants are hunted down and murdered by Opus Dei, a Catholic group–is true.

The minister’s CD series is but a small part of a deluge of books, films and TV shows rebutting Brown’s novel, which has become one of the biggest-selling books of all time. But some see this hysteria over a book with dubious historical veracity as an overreaction. Some also question the motives of some of Brown’s bashers–or at least their publishers–who stand to profit from a book they despise.

More than 20 books rebutting Brown’s novel are on the market, from scholarly works such as “Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code,” by University of North Carolina historian Bart D. Ehrman, to titles marketed to evangelicals such as “Cracking the Da Vinci Code” and “The Da Vinci Codebreaker.”

The Da Vinci Code

So error-laden is The Da Vinci Code that the educated reader actually applauds those rare occasions where Brown stumbles (despite himself) into the truth. […] In the end, Dan Brown has penned a poorly written, atrociously researched mess.
Source: Dismantling The Da Vinci Code By Sandra Miesel, Crisis, Sep. 1, 2003

“I actually stopped counting at a certain point,” said Lynn Garrett, religion editor for Publishers Weekly. “It seems like every other day, a new one comes out.”

Indeed, many churches are sounding the trumpets to alert the faithful, scheduling sermons designed to do the same thing as the aforementioned avalanche of books. The church I attend, for example, is devoting four weeks to deconstructing “Da Vinci” and even imported a friend of mine, popular Christian author and former Tribune journalist Lee Strobel, to lead the charge.

Dick Staub, a broadcaster and writer about faith and culture, caused a ripple in Christian circles on his blog at when he criticized evangelicals for making too big of a deal about “Da Vinci.” He said too many Christians don’t use the minds God gave them, content to be infants “strapped in a high chair” who dutifully swallow whatever outspoken Christian leaders serve them.

In an interview, he said the frenzy over “Da Vinci” is, ironically, an indictment of many Christians’ ignorance when it comes to the Bible and church history.

“You’ve got to ask yourself: Why are evangelicals buying those books? Because they want to master the content or be assured in their own beliefs? And if that’s so, then why the heck did it take `The Da Vinci Code’ for them to learn how their [biblical] canon was formed?”

Andy Crouch, an editor and former columnist for Christianity Today, sees a danger–not in “Da Vinci,” but in fellow Christians attaching so much significance to a breezy read suited for a long plane ride.

“Do we become shallow and silly by seeming to be overreactive? Possibly,” he said. “Airport fiction generates airport theology.”

Staub said the hoopla over Brown’s book is merely a new front in the culture wars, another instance in which Christians are foolishly fighting their fellow humans instead of befriending and serving them.

“It’s seen as a battle between us and the people who disagree with us,” he said. “We’re trying to arm the troops to go out and do battle with the bad guys. But most evangelicals have kind of liked Ron Howard. For goodness’ sake, he was in `The Andy Griffith Show.'”

The Opie factor notwithstanding, Crouch said the furor over Brown’s work is the latest installment of a trend that began in the late 19th Century when the twin forces of secularism and Darwinism set evangelicals back on their heels, unsure of how to combat what they saw as threats to their faith.

“We’ve never quite gotten our confidence back,” Crouch said. “That’s why I think there is this need to respond point by point, which does betray a lack of confidence.”

The release of “The Da Vinci Code” film also is seen by some as a vehicle for evangelism in the same way that “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” provided a pop-culture platform. It’s a different platform–Christians embraced the Mel Gibson movie and the “Narnia” film, after all–but anything that gets people talking about religion is seen by some as a marketing opportunity to trumpet their faith.

Yet the platform is also a moneymaking opportunity. The slew of books battling “Da Vinci” will undoubtedly extract millions of dollars from the flock.

“Even a movie that’s hostile to traditional Christianity is an opportunity for publicity and marketing,” Crouch added.

The point-by-point defense of Christianity that Crouch alludes to is called “apologetics” in theological circles. It is a stream of the faith that has spawned several best-selling books over the years. But though an intellectual defense has its place, pastor and author Doug Banister thinks that Christians would be better served by letting their love and acts of service speak just as loudly as their debates with perceived enemies.

Apologetics PLUS Love

Apologetics and love are not mutually contradictory (though some Christians do act as if they are). In fact, they should go hand in hand. See: Apologetics, Truth and Humility

“In a postmodern culture that defines truth experientially rather than [scientifically], the best argument for a living God is people who are in love with him,” said Banister, pastor of All Souls Church in Knoxville, Tenn., and the author of “God On Earth” and “The Word and Power Church.”

As to the infamous “Code” itself, surprise: Banister liked it.

“It’s a wonderful book, and I’m sure it will be a great movie,” he said.

“[But] it’s most important to be a community of people who really love Jesus Christ. If we’re doing that, then I’m not really too worried about `The Da Vinci Code.'”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Chicago Tribune, USA
May 14, 2006
Patrick Kambert

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 15, 2006.
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