Wednesday, May 10, 2006

We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us

I had not intended to write about the current controversy over The Da Vinci Code because I am not interested in it. A decade ago, when I was in a position of church leadership, I would have read the book and possibly planned to see the movie for the purpose of preparing myself to answer the questions that would be raised by church members and others in the community. Those days are well in the past, with the result that I can limit my reading to those things that interest me. Having heard about the broad themes and the pseudo-history that is central to the work of fiction, I decided long ago that I wasn't interested. I am also not interested in participating in the predictable and counterproductive calls by numerous evangelicals to boycott this "dangerous" movie. Such calls are counterproductive both because they provide the movie with free publicity and because they make it appear as though Christians are afraid of the debate. All of that being said, I changed my mind about ignoring the matter after reading an article regarding the book's popularity that I thought made an important point regarding the current state of the church.

As far as the controversy itself, my own views as to the Church's proper response is largely similar to that expressed by Kat Coble (and those she links to favorably) here.

In an article that appeared in Sunday's The Tennessean (it was a syndicated article not written locally, and I regret that I can't locate a link), it was argued that Christians are largely responsible for the book and movie's popularity. In short, the author contended that the Church's failure to teach American Christians about church history has created a vacuum into which The Da Vinci Code's historical background has entered. The supposed history behind the novel is so discredited that it seems almost silly when serious historians and theologians bother to dispute it. However, most of those who grew up around churches learned virtually nothing about church history, with the result that the book seems mysterious and interesting.

It has been said that American Christians sometimes act as though the Bible fell out of heaven last week. To put it a different way, many American Christians have been exposed to such limited information as to seemingly suggest that the period of the Apostles ended just before we were born and was immediately followed by the current era. Of course, Protestants don't regard history and tradition as authoritative; however, they should regard it as instructive. The failure of Christians to understand their heritage separates them from Christendom's glories and leaves them vulnerable to repeating its mistakes.

As is shown by the public's hunger for a novel featuring an alternative church history, it should not be said that there is no interest in the Church's story. In fact, I used to find that classes featuring discussions of where various denominations came from and sermon illustrations recounting high or low moments and teachings from ages past generated considerable interest. Religious history, like all other history, is not about names and dates, but about people and ideas. People and ideas are interesting if their stories are well told.

Christian leaders in the United States over the last two centuries have not cared enough about that. It is part of the reason that American Christianity can be characterized as 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep. When spiritually hungry people, many of them former or current church members, take interest in the false history presented in The Da Vinci Code, they give evidence that this failure has a cost.

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