With the movie version of Dan Brown’s novel “The DaVinci Code” about to debut, all the anxiety that accompanied the book’s success is back. Of course, we must account for the success, and the fact is, it’s a pretty good mystery action story. But that is not all there is to it. Helping to fuel record sales and fuel the controversy is the book’s unique plot. The story is carried along on the back of a particular interpretation of Christian history.
Drawing on reliable, as well as some not so reliable sources, Brown makes the case that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that together they had children. 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 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.
This is where the anxiety starts. Leaders in the Christian community fear that as people read the book or watch the movie they will not be able to sort out the fact from the fiction. This concern has spawned something of an anti-DaVinci code industry which aggressively seeks to refute some of Brown’s more controversial assertions.
There is some justification for this anxiety. Stories have long been known to have a certain subversive power. Jesus certainly understood this. His skillful use of parables served to undermine the dominant religion and politics of his day. Those who are committed to a male dominated church today have every reason to be concerned about a piece of fiction that celebrates the possibility of the sacred feminine.
What’s ironic, however, is how quickly this same segment of anxious Christianity has 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 60 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 rendering of a particular biblical interpretation, the Left Behind series has taken on an almost canonical status. 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, affirms God’s guiding role in the course of history, but rejects the pre-millennial idea of a predetermined destruction of the universe. Wouldn’t it be sad if a fictional rendering of a skewed theology served to undermine a badly needed hope?
But in the words of the Bible, let us Fear Not! Both story lines are just fiction, right? Everybody take a breath and count to ten. Novelists will not be the undoing of the faith. That’s something that happens somewhere closer to home.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.