"The solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and, 'Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.'"
How is it that The Da Vinci Code has taken off and sold so well? Why are millions reading it—some of whom actually believe its alleged historical "facts"? Obviously, some just want a page-turning thriller. But it is much deeper than that. Dan Brown has tapped into a reservoir of discontent against the
Church, in particular the Catholic Church. The recent scandals involving predator priests—sometimes being protected by their bishops—plays well into Brown's hands. We see the Church getting caught in a shameful attempt to cover up. Many today grew up in the Church, Catholic or otherwise, and are discontent. Spirituality is in. Religion is out.
One reason for the popularity of the book is that it is a murder-mystery-thriller. Since it gained so many readers early on, many others wanted to read it: Success breeds success. Furthermore, it is a controversial religious novel, not orthodox in its perspective. Provocative, antiChristian books sometimes sell well merely because of the controversy.
Another reason The Da Vinci Code is so popular is that it essentially gives permission for sex without restraints. Sex is a powerful force, and the paganistic worldview espoused in the novel encourages one to make up his or her own rules. Brown alleges that a corrupt, patriarchal Church placed arbitrary limitations on sex as a way to control people. Even through Alfred Kinsey's and Hugh Hefner's sexual revolution, most people understood that God, the Bible, Jesus, and the Church did not sanction "free love." (In fact, if people had followed God's ways—no sex outside the bounds of holy matrimony—millions would have been spared the downside of the sexual revolution, i.e., abortion, the exploding rates of sexually transmitted diseases, divorce, and subsequent poverty.)
What The Da Vinci Code does is place a stamp of divine approval on sexual promiscuity. Brown never says directly that Jesus would approve of sexual immorality, but it is easily inferred. After all, Dan Brown's characters are saying that we need to rediscover the real Jesus, the "original feminist."55 The story says we need to free "real" Christianity from the corruption of Peter and the male apostles (who supposedly hijacked the religion from Mary Magdalene, the rightful chief apostle). Since people (because of mankind's fallen condition) naturally want to live without rules limiting their sex lives, and since the spirituality promoted by The Da Vinci Code grants them permission to experience the divine through sex, it is no wonder the book is setting sales records. Maybe it's true when they say, "Sex sells."
Another reason The Da Vinci Code is so popular is its do-it-yourself approach to religion: Make up your own rules of spirituality. Dan Brown isn't saying Jesus is bad or wrong. He is saying the Church has been preaching the wrong Jesus. As Leigh Teabing says in the novel: ".almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false."56
The true conflict in this world is between God and Satan. Today, however, with Christianity under siege from all directions, what is perhaps most disconcerting is the attack on Christ from within the Church. For example, Dan Brown claims he is a Christian, but he denies the deity of Jesus. We believe he has tapped into the dissatisfaction of many former Christians—and even some professing Christians. They are individuals who, for the most part, have never experienced the new life Jesus Christ has come to give. They have never known the Lord personally. Their spiritual hearts have never been opened. Tragically, there are millions in the Church who are in that category. They have a form of godliness, but they deny the power therein (2 Timothy 3:5).
From "Bible scholars" who sit in judgment on the Word of God and throw out those parts of Scripture not popular by contemporary standards, to people within the Church who use Church tithes and resources to exalt the goddess "Sophia" over Jesus Christ, wholesale elements within the visible Church today are actually a part of the present-day attack on Christ in America. In this chapter, we will take a cursory look at this unbelief within the Church and how the popularity of The Da Vinci Code fits into it. Even if the whole world were to follow after this or some other error, may God be true and "every man a liar" (Romans 3:4).
Tragically, many of the nation's seminaries are so liberal they have abandoned historic Christianity or key elements of the faith. Many professors don't believe the Bible, the deity of Christ, His atoning work on the Cross, or His bodily resurrection. They are blind guides shipwrecking the faith of many a young people wishing to serve God, but come away from seminary as virtual non-believers.
Carl Rogers, for example, reportedly went to semi nary to serve Christ. He attended Union Seminary in New York, where he abandoned historic Christianity; he went on to become the father of a branch of psychology that has turned many away from true faith. He has since learned better, but too late (for he has died).
When I set off to divinity school so many years ago, I knew nothing about seminaries. I found myself in one where about half the professors were orthodox, and the other half, neo-orthodox. That's another way of saying that about half them believed the Bible and the other half didn't. I heard the Bible attacked by these unbelievers in ways that were incredibly traumatic to a young theologian-to-be. My faith was shaken during that first year because I had a number of unbelievers for professors. Providentially, those who were believers helped me keep my head above water. In order to spare others from a similar experience, I eventually founded Knox Theological Seminary, so that the Bible would be taught as the inerrant word of God that it is.
My friend R. C. Sproul, the pastor, author, speaker, and head of Ligonier Ministries in Orlando, recalls a day when he was in seminary. One of his unbelieving professors asked in class, "How can you possibly believe in the atonement of Christ in this day and age?" Sproul thought to himself, "How can you possibly deny the atonement of Christ and be teaching in this Christian school?"57
More than a decade ago, on the day after Easter, the perceptive syndicated columnist, Don Feder, who is an Orthodox Jew, wrote about Harvard Divinity School.
He points out how far this school has fallen from its Puritan beginnings:
Instead of singing hymns, they're sitting in the lotus position, chanting 'omm' at America's oldest school of theology. The Nave's [student newsletter] calendar reminds students that March 20 is Spring Ohigon, "a special time to listen to the Buddha and meditate on the perfection of enlightenment "...There's no mention of Palm Sunday or Passover, reflecting their insignificance at an institution where all is venerated, save Western religion.58 Feder has a friend studying there who told him that at Harvard Divinity School, "all religions are equal, except Christianity, which is very bad, and Judaism, which loses points where it intersects with Christianity."59 Feder refers to it as a "poison-ivy" school.60
Indeed, a lot of these seminaries are theologically poisoning young people with their unbelief. While there are some excellent seminaries out there today, others are theologically disastrous. Young people considering the ministry today should be exceedingly careful before they decide where to attend seminary. Make sure it is biblically sound. Alumni of Christian universities should monitor their alma maters before blindly giving them their money. There is an attack on Christ from within many formerly Christian seminaries. Not all Christians falter in their faith, but some do when they are not prepared for the onslaught of unbelief.
ANTI-BIBLICAL "BIBLE SCHOLARS"
Meanwhile, there are numerous "Bible scholars" who undermine the Scriptures. An example from a decade ago is the so-called "Jesus Seminar," where more than seventy scholars voted anonymously as to whether they thought Jesus said the various quotes attributed to Him in the gospels. They ended up concluding that He only said 18 percent of that which He is credited with. For instance, these scholars voted—again, secretly—that Jesus never said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). Out of the Lord's Prayer, the only thing the group definitely agreed He said was "Our Father."61 Period!
They wrote a book entitled, The Five Gospels, so named because they treat the largely apocryphal Gospel of Thomas on a higher level than the four Gospels. In some ways, the Jesus Seminar evaluated Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (1st century documents) through the grid of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas62 (no earlier than 125 a.d.).
Furthermore, a spate of relatively recent books has come out against the historical Christ:
Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism by Episcopal John Shelby Spong, former Bishop of Newark, New Jersey. I'll bet you didn't realize the Bible needed to be rescued from fundamentalists, did you? Christendom has waited twenty centuries to know that the Bible needed to be liberated from those who take it for what it claims to be—the revealed Word of God. One wag pointed out that someone needs to rescue the Episcopal
Church from Spong. He has generated a few books now that essentially deny key tenets of the historic Christian faith. His latest attack is entitled Sins of the Bible. Unfortunately, the former bishop is not alone.
Jesus the Man presents Jesus as a divorced father of three, who later remarries a woman bishop. The book was written by a woman professor at the Department of Divinity of Sydney University. When it came out, the book was reportedly selling "like hotcakes" in Australia and in America.63 Even if that sales report is true for that particular volume (and I must add that I have never come across a copy), there is no doubt that in the religious book market, the evangelical volumes (that promote faith, not denigrate it) sell the best, even though they are sometimes hard to find in the secular bookstores.
Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography is an iconoclastic book written by John Dominic Crossan, a scholar and professor (since retired) at a major Catholic University (DePaul in Chicago). He views the Gospel writers as engaging in what one journalist labeled "retrospective mythmaking."64 The book denies such essential Christian doctrines as the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection; instead, he believes it is likely that the body of the Lord was eaten by dogs.
And now comes The Da Vinci Code, not written by a scholar, and full of historical errors, as noted in the last chapter, and misinforming millions on the details of the historic Christian faith.
These are widely publicized books sold by major publishers. (As of this writing, Doubleday has published 40 million copies of The Da Vinci Code.) The tragedy is that if you go to your average secular bookstore, and you make your way to the back, where the religion section normally is (it is to the "back of the bus" for Christians today), you will generally find as many books against Christianity as you will find books for it.
You will often find more con than pro. Christianity Today even had a cover story once on some of these new books about our Lord, appropriately entitled, The New, Unimproved Jesus.65 In one sense the anti-biblical scholarship is not new. On the other hand, it does seem to be gaining momentum, except insofar as adherents are concerned.
So how are we to come to grips with this kind of scholarship? I remember what my seminary professor, Dr. William Childs Robinson, said. (He was one of the orthodox ones.) He commented that you have to remember that you choose your scholars. There are scholars that say everything. Whom you choose to listen to determines the outcome.
I repeat: You choose your scholars. There are scholars that say everything. Whom you choose to listen to determines the outcome. While there are liberal Bible scholars who deny some or many tenets of the faith, there are, at the same time, many scholars (just as bona fide) who hold to a much more conservative position. For instance, there is a much larger group of biblical scholars than those 74 or so of the Jesus Seminar, who believe Jesus said everything that is recorded of Him in the four Gospels. But that is never going to make Time, or Newsweek, or any other magazines. They seem to only print that which is contrary to the Bible.
Father Francis Martin, a New Testament scholar who teaches at the John Paul II Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C., says: "In my opinion, having worked in this field now for about 40 years, 85 percent or more of the scholars in the United States and in Europe would not accept the basic principals of the Jesus Seminar."66
Let us delve further into the Jesus Seminar. The critical point to understand about this group is that there was no new evidence in the Scripture that drove them to their conclusions; it was rather their own liberal approach that led them to even undertake the project in the first place. The Jesus Seminar is best understood as worn out, liberal theologians who have turned to a publicist instead of the truth—the Jesus of Scripture. The late Dr. James Montgomery Boice, formerly the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, points out the Jesus Seminar is "really an example of liberal ministers and professors coming out of the closet. All they are really doing in public is what they do in a more private way in the classroom and in their own studies."67 Dr. Boice points out the obvious: "Imagine a group of scholars, two thousand years from the time that Jesus lived and whose words were written down by eyewitnesses, later voting in a meeting on what Jesus really said and what He didn't. That is laughable."68
"It just seems like the more preposterous you can be," observes R. C. Sproul, "the more radical you can be, the easier it is to get a degree or to get a hearing in certain academic circles."69
"Liberal" and "unbelieving" are synonymous when it comes to theology. So the Jesus Seminar is essentially unbelieving scholars sharing their unbelief. When they ask a question like, "Did Jesus make this statement or not?" and then vote on that anonymously, as the Jesus Seminar did, what they are voting on is simply their own prejudices. There is nothing in the historic record, again nothing in the biblical manuscripts, that supports what they say. While manuscripts may differ in places when it comes to spelling or words, they are in complete agreement in virtually every point of theology.
If there are any of the various things in question, they are all listed in the "critical apparatus" of the Greek New Testament. (English translations have the same thing, saying things like "This verse is not found in the earliest manuscripts.") However, the people of the Jesus Seminar weren't dealing with the manuscript evidence; they were dealing with, frankly, their own feelings and with extra-biblical writings (primarily, the Gospel of Thomas—which the early Church decidedly rejected as Gnostic heresy).
Material in the Gospels where manuscripts differ in spelling or in words deals with maybe 3-4 percent of the text; the New Testament documents are very reliable.
Instead, what the Jesus Seminar has done is to get rid of 82 percent of the text. Textually, they stand on quicksand.
An important book rebuts the Jesus Seminar from an evangelical perspective: Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland. Among those who have written essays for this book is Dr. Gary Habermas, author and co-author of numerous books on the historicity of Jesus Christ. In the chapter entitled "Where Do We Start Studying Jesus?," Denver Seminary professor Craig Blomberg has this to say about the group:
The Jesus Seminar and its friends do not reflect any consensus of scholars, except for those on the "radical fringe" of the field. Its methodology is seriously flawed and its conclusions unnecessarily skeptical The conservative nature of oral tradition in ancient Judaism, particularly among disciples who revered their rabbis' words, makes it highly likely that Jesus' teaching would have been care fully preserved, even given a certain flexibility in the specific wording with which it was reported. . . .There is a huge volume of scholarship to support the picture of Christ that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John portray.70
The more a denomination moves toward embracing these anti-biblical notions, the more it loses member ship. Mainline denominations and liberal seminaries are vanishing from a lack of interest and relevance, even as we speak. Note that in 1965, there were 3.4 million Episcopalians in the U.S.71 By 1994 that number was down to 2.4 million.72 Note that during the same time, the U.S. population grew from 194.5 million in 19 6573 to 262 million in 1994.74 As the population grew to 300 million by 2005, the number of Episcopalians slightly stagnated to 2.3 million.75 Not all Episcopalians are liberal, of course, but the fact that the denomination allowed John Shelby Spong to serve as a bishop for so long speaks volumes about its lack of biblical standards. And it has only grown worse since 2003, when the Episcopal Church chose an out-of-the-closet homosexual as a bishop.
In 1980, there were 9.7 million United Methodists in the U.S.76 Twenty-five years later, even though the general population grew significantly, the number of United Methodists dipped to 8.2 million.77 Again, not all Methodists are liberal, but it is undeniable that there are certain liberal tendencies among some of the clergy and members.
In 1958, the combined membership of the two leading Presbyterian denominations, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., was four million.78 These two bodies merged in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) which today claims a membership of 2.4 million.79 Again, not all Presbyterians in the U.S.A. branch are unbelieving, but many are. And in some areas, the denomination has veered greatly from its biblical roots. I personally have never been a part of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. It is too liberal for me. Instead, I am a minister with the Presbyterian Church in America, a Bible-based, Christ-centered body.
Simultaneous with the waning of the liberal denominations, the evangelical groups have been growing significantly. A study conducted in 1990 found that of the "500 fastest-growing Protestant congregations" in this country, the vast majority—89 percent—were evangelical.80 That trend continues.
Today, there are things being said about Jesus even that would never have been said before. One Bible scholar of the Jesus Seminar had the audacity to call Jesus "a party animal"81—a very disrespectful way to label Him. The late founder and head of the Jesus Seminar, Dr. Robert Funk, said that Christ was "no goody two shoes."82 What's more, The Atlanta Journal reports that "Jesus probably was a homeless drifting sage who ate and drank freely, was not celibate and challenged the religious customs of his day, according to the head of the Jesus Seminar."83 Not celibate? Doesn't it seem like it is open season these days on Christians—and even Christ—the sinless, only perfect human being to ever live? Now His character is being dragged in the mud by those with the respectability of a degree behind their names.
I should point out that I have earned an M.Div. (cum laude) at Columbia Theological Seminary (where former Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall went), an M.Th. (summa cum laude) at Chicago Graduate School of Theology, and a Ph.D. at New York University in world religion, and nowhere is there evidence that Jesus was not celibate or that He was "a party animal." It seems that nowadays some theological circles seem to play a game of "Can you top this?"
In early 2006, rapper Kanye West mocked Jesus on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. This took place at about the same time that Muslims were rioting in the streets of the Middle East and Europe in protest of a series of anti-Mohammed cartoons published initially in a Danish newspaper. There were no riots outside the offices of the Rolling Stone. Christians know that Jesus will be the one who ultimately fights His own battles. Whenever Christians have used force to promote a supposedly Christian ideal, it has only brought reproach and shame on the Lord. This was true of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witchcraft trials.
In 2006, NBC mocked Jesus Christ and Christians in a sacrilegious program airing on Friday nights. The Book of Daniel featured a pill-popping Episcopal priest with a dysfunctional family that was sexually promiscuous. Radio host Adam McManus described the show as "Desperate Housewives with a Clerical Collar."84 To top things off, "Jesus" appeared to the priest; only this Jesus was made in the priest's image and not vice versa. He was more of a 1960s hip Jesus with a "do what you please as long as you don't hurt anybody" attitude. Thankfully, the program, which garnered few viewers and fewer advertisers, was canceled soon after it began. It was created by an ex-Catholic homosexual who admitted he had an axe to grind against Christianity. But then we ask, what is NBC's excuse?
Also in 2006, a painting in a black museum of art in New York City featured Osama Bin Laden as Jesus. To equate the Prince of Peace with such a prince of darkness reflects the level of hatred and animosity against Jesus.
Review the pop culture of the last few decades—perhaps beginning with the movie M*A*S*H (1970), as Don Wildmon once observed. You will see a repeated pattern of anti-Christian bias in that era. First it was Christians who were mocked. Eventually it was the Lord Himself. To wit, The Last Temptation of Christ and now, The Da Vinci Code, which has the potential for more damage. Why? Because everyone knew The Last Temptation of Christ was anti-Christian. Not everyone will know that about The Da Vinci Code.
And why is it open season on Jesus? He gives us the clue: "Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19).
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