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Philippians and The DaVinci Code

The following essay was written by Rodney Tolleson, pastor of Community Bible Church in DeMotte, Indiana.
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Philippians and The DaVinci Code
Rodney Tolleson, May 2006

I have been preaching through the New Testament book of Philippians since the end of January. The next passage that comes up is chapter 2 verses 14-18.

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:14-18)

At the same time that I have been preparing messages on Philippians, I have been praying and thinking about whether or not to address the “DaVinci Code kafuffle” as I like to call it. Two things are clear. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown is hugely popular and it is blasphemous in nature.

So today, I have been asking myself the question what does Philippians have to do with The DaVinci Code? It seems like to me there are two or three things contained in Philippians 2.14-18 that help me understand The DaVinci Code phenomenon and how Christians should respond.

“… crooked and twisted generation…”
What makes the DaVinci Code so attractive? Here is what my brother-in-law says about post-modernism and the DaVinci Code, “I like to think of post modernism as a philosophical slight of hand card trick that changes the subject and muddies the water, which, of course, is what the DaVinci Code also is all about--on a lower level--MUCH lower. Its not exactly great literature! It’s meant to be a cheap novel and it won't disappoint. On the other hand it has exactly the right elements to provoke controversy; not because it has a shred of anything new. But because it’s presented in such a way that Americans who hardly read can understand.”

The DaVinci Code is certainly what my college literature professor would have called “escape literature”. But why is this particular novel so appealing? Is it possibly because the culture of today has a piqued interest in all things that are anti-establishment? Is it possible that the anti-authoritarian spirit combined with the healthy dose of pagan rituals and philosophies are what make the DaVinci Code popular?

I think that is a major part of its popularity. People are delighted when they are told that the establishment (whether that be the church, the government, parents, or university) are really hiding the facts and foisting lies to acquire and maintain power. Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Pope Benedict XVI have not been exempted from this trend. Have there been major conspiracies and cover-ups in the past? Of course! Just look at the Catholic Church’s response to various sex abuse scandals. And remember what most popular evangelical preachers do if they are caught in adultery. But have Dan Brown or Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln (authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail) uncovered an authentic conspiracy? Historians have soundly replied, “NO!”

So if part of the popularity of The DaVinci Code is from our culture’s fascination with debunking all in authority, how should Christians respond? And if part of the popularity also comes with its promotion of paganism, goddess worship, and sexual rites, how should Christians respond?

“… shine as lights in the world…”
Dealing with darkness is nothing new to lights. Paul and the Philippians faced challenges from pagan cults and from rebellious spirits just as much as we do. It is part of the condition of our world and it is not unique to our time in history. Paul teaches us that by being blameless and innocent we can shine as lights. Have Christians been blameless and innocent? Well, to be honest, no! Those who have named the name of Christ have frequently covered up their sins. And then when the world around us defames the name of God, we often fume and protest in such a way that is very unlike Christ.

I am not saying that movies like “The Last Temptation of Christ” or books and movies like The DaVinci Code should be ignored by Christians. Paul also clearly teaches that part of shining as lights in the world is to “hold fast to the word of life”, which includes clear proclamation of the true faith as passed down by the apostles. We must respond Biblically, clearly and wisely to false claims regarding the true faith. However, our response cannot stop there.

How can we live the truth that The DaVinci Code denies? Several things come to mind:

§ Without becoming absorbed with evert minor fault of Christians in the past, we should readily acknowledge the major sins of past generations of Christians. People have suffered from those who have claimed to have been working on behalf of God. We need to acknowledge not only the suffering but also the grave sinfulness of inflicting human suffering, especially in the name of God.
§ We also need to be ready to acknowledge our own sins, both personally and corporately today. Authentic Christian living requires a lifestyle of repentance. Covering our sins will never protect the name of Christ. When we sin against others we must confess to them, ask for their forgiveness, and make restitution when needed. God would be glorified if when people read The DaVinci Code they thought to themselves, “but the Christians that I know confess their sins and don’t cover things up.”
§ Our treatment of women needs to be Christ-like. A major theme in the book is the idea that during and after the Constantinian period female leadership in the church was squelched for political reasons. Smearing Mary Magdelene as a prostitute was part of the campaign to secure power in the hands of a few men. The four canonical Gospels already present Jesus as radically kind and gracious to women in general and specifically to women whose sins were of a public and sexual nature. There is no need to “rewrite” the tradition to “help” Christians treat women with dignity and respect. We simply need to follow Christ. Although I do not believe that the New Testament teaches that women can hold the office of elder in the local church, that does not mean that women have not always ministered in hugely significant ways. Even from the canonical Gospels we learn that a group of women regularly ministered to Jesus.
§ Finally, “innocence” is mentioned by Paul in Philippians 2.15 as a part of Christians shining as lights. There are a number of sexual rituals that are not only mentioned in The DaVinci Code but are not so subtly promoted as healthy and somehow good. As Dr. Donald S. Whitney asks, “Is the kind of ritual sex associated with worship (as advocated in The DaVinci Code) really an exaltation of women, or is it a pandering to the lusts of men condoned by their religion?” Everybody knows that both Judaism and Christianity both forbid any sexual promiscuity or misconduct. Indeed, they forbid any sexual union that is outside the covenant of heterosexual marriage. When Christians live in sexual sin we certainly give the enemies of God occasion to blaspheme. When Christians live in sexual purity their light shines brighter into the darkness of perversion. There are still things from which God calls Christians to remain pure.

“… holding fast to the word of life…”
As I mentioned above, we should not ignore blasphemous material. Certainly, a reasonable response should be made to The DaVinci Code. However, if that reasonable response is combined with insensitivity, or name calling, or harshness in our specific response, or if it is combined with less than authentic Christian living in general it will definitely fall on deaf ears.

The DaVinci Code phenomenon should be a reminder to Christians of the call to follow Christ in our lifestyle. And it may be a platform for not only testifying to the truth about Jesus but also a backdrop against which true Christian lights can shine all the brighter!

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