For months now Dan Brown’s novel The DaVinci Code has topped the best-seller list. There are a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s a pretty good mystery action story. But that is not all that’s going on. Helping to fuel record sales is the book’s unique plot. The story is carried along on the back of a unique interpretation of Christian history.
Drawing upon reliable, as well as some not-so-reliable sources, Brown makes the case that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. He also asserts that the church has suppressed this information for over 2,000 years. The failure to at least consider the possibility that Jesus was married and possibly had children is, according to Brown, part of a wider effort on the part of the church to eliminate from official church doctrine any significant role for the feminine experience.
Many in the Christian community are expressing concern about the popularity of the book. They fear that as people read the story they will not be able to sort out the fact from the fiction and will be left with a distorted view of the meaning of the Christian faith. In fact, these concerns have spawned a number of anti-Da Vinci code books which seek to directly refute some of Brown’s more controversial assertions.
There is some justification for these concerns. Stories, especially well-crafted stories, do have a certain subversive power. Jesus certainly understood this. His skillful use of parables was effective in communicating important spiritual and theological lessons, but also had the power to undermine the dominant religion of his day. Those who are committed to a male-dominated church have every reason to be concerned about a piece of fiction that celebrates the possibility of the divine feminine.
What’s ironic, however, is how quickly and exuberantly elements of this same segment of Christianity have embraced another work of fiction as if it were Gospel truth. The Left Behind series written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have sold nearly 50 million copies. These books offer a fictional account of the end of time. Following what is known as the pre-millennial interpretation of the last days, LaHaye and Jenkins offer up graphic descriptions of the Rapture of the church, the rise of the anti-Christ, and the triumphant appearance of Jesus at the Second Coming.
Amazingly, even though the story line is a fictional adaptation of a particular interpretation of a portion of the Bible, the Left Behind series has taken on almost canonical significance. There are folks who buy the books and give them away as evangelistic tools.
But suppose the pre-millennial view is wrong? It could be. It’s just an interpretation; it is not infallible truth. What happens if Christians have misunderstood the message of the Book of Revelation? It wouldn’t be the first time that particularly difficult piece of New Testament literature had been misread.
Besides, there are other credible theories about the fulfillment of history. Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope, just to name one alternative view, affirms God’s guiding role in the course of history, but rejects the pre-millennial idea of a predetermined destruction of the universe.
According to Moltmann, God has a goal for creation that is purposeful, hopeful. Wouldn’t it be sad if a fictional rendering of a skewed theology served to undermine a badly needed hope?
But they’re just stories, right? What do novelists know about the workings of God in the world anyway?
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.