This coming week’s launch of the movie based on ‘The Da Vinci Code’ has been the subject of increasing media speculation and reflection on the claims made in the book about the nature of the Holy Grail and the life of Jesus. On the back of this we have been informed of the discovery of previously “hidden” gospels which serve to reinforce the idea that the church has ‘got it wrong’ and that the real story of Jesus has been hidden by a conspiracy within the church. It is worth reflecting on the media publicity and traction which such stories are able to obtain.
There are two sides to this story – and it is easy to miss one when being defensive. The popularity of such books reflects an interest in spiritual matters, born of a gnawing suspicion that the materialistic world in which we live is not providing us with the peace of mind and sense of value which we had hoped. Far from being satisfied with the secular, millions exhibit an interest in the spiritual. At the same time, however, there is a deep and long-held suspicion about the church and institutional faith. Many of Dan Brown’s readers have probably turned their dissatisfied backs on the church, yet remain puzzled and intrigued by the Jesus whom the church seeks to proclaim. But institutional and formulaic faith has left them empty, particularly with its historic emphasis on hierarchical and patriarchal religion.
Many of Brown’s readers are not interested in knowing that the theories which underpin his novel have little to no historical credibility. In comparison with the Jesus of the church, at least this one is intriguing. Similarly, the recent ‘discoveries’ of the Gnostic gospels also suggests that there are other options to the Jesus who is captive to the church. It does no good to suggest that most of these readers may have never read the canonical gospels – these are considered to be represented in the church’s life and mission.
There is a clear credibility gap. One might dare suggest that there are many aspects of the life of Jesus as represented in the biblical narratives which offer far more intrigue and challenge than the Jesus presented by the church today, particularly in light of some of the rationale adopted to justify the war on Iraq. The Jesus of the church has a credibility problem because the church does. It is a position which we have engendered ourselves, given our declaration of custody of the truth.
There are two approaches available to us: to point out what is wrong with the movie, and reinforce the notion that the church has no reason to change, or to acknowledge that the Jesus of the gospels is different from both the image presented by Brown, and by the church at large.
And let us pray that the true Jesus might be found.
May 14, 2006