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Pastors Wonder If Flocks Can Answer `Da Vinci’s’ Gospel: With optional trims to 775 word

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The success of “The Da Vinci Code” has led pastors and church leaders to ask concerned questions in the weeks leading up to the release of the movie version of Dan Brown’s novel. It’s the answers that are making them nervous. A lack of substantive education on church history, […]

c. 2006 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) The success of “The Da Vinci Code” has led pastors and church leaders to ask concerned questions in the weeks leading up to the release of the movie version of Dan Brown’s novel. It’s the answers that are making them nervous.

A lack of substantive education on church history, theology and doctrine has some leaders concerned that “biblically illiterate” Christians will not be adequately informed to answer the questions the movie raises. Such as:

Was Jesus really married to Mary Magdalene?

If the couple had children, why doesn’t the Bible say where they settled in France?

Why has the church _ Catholic or otherwise _ spent centuries covering up these truths?

“Christians are more biblically illiterate now than they have ever been,” said Kenneth Boa, co-author of “The Gospel According to the Da Vinci Code: The Truth Behind the Writings of Dan Brown.” “Not only that, there is a lack of historical understanding. Consequently, they have no ability to discern.”

The numbers are sobering. A recent survey commissioned by Opinion Research Business found that British adults were “twice as likely to believe that Jesus Christ fathered children after reading the Dan Brown blockbuster.”

Here in the United States, about 20 percent of people who have read the book said Christianity is trying to suppress “the truth” portrayed in the book, according to a Zogby poll commissioned by Southern Baptists, and 10 percent of people said the novel was more truthful than the Bible.

Although the numbers may be small, those percentages translate into real lives of people in the pews. A similar survey by Christian researcher George Barna found that 5 percent of “Da Vinci” readers had changed their beliefs after reading the book _ representing at least 2 million souls, by Barna’s count.


At the same time, however, new research by Baylor University suggests regular churchgoers aren’t rushing to read the book. People who practice yoga, visit fortunetellers, believe Atlantis once existed or consult their horoscopes were far more likely to have read the book than regular churchgoers, Baylor found.

More than half of non-Christians have read the book, according to Baylor’s survey of 1,721 Americans, compared to only 18 percent of evangelicals and 36 percent of Catholics and mainline Protestants.


Whether their flocks are reading the book or not, Christian educators worry that weekly sermons, Sunday School classes, small group sessions and discipleship seminars have not given parishioners the tools to respond to what they call misrepresentations and errors in Brown’s book.


To fill the education gap, several resources are being made available to help Christians deal with Brown’s claims.

One is “Unlocking the Da Vinci Code,” a satellite broadcast from Church Communication Network (CCN) featuring well-known evangelical apologists Lee Strobel and Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Chicago’s Moody Church. The program is a 90-minute broadcast designed to equip Christians to respond to questions generated by Brown’s book.

Deborah Layman, director of marketing for CCN, said the network saw the buzz created by the upcoming movie as an opportunity to use the issues as “a springboard for spiritual discussion.”

With 2,500 church subscribers in CCN’s network, Layman estimates that 1,000 of them have events planned around the broadcast, with an average of 200 people at each event. That totals 200,000 Christians watching an educational video about a work of fiction.


Boa said many Christians aren’t capable of responding because churches have ignored educating their flocks for years.

“Churches have not done theological education,” he said. “The average person thinks of theology as dry doctrine, and while there is nothing wrong with life application-type teaching and preaching, theology that is taught properly is wonderfully applicable.”

Part of the problem may be the curriculum. Many churches try to make their education programs relevant to contemporary needs and applicable to everyday life. In other words, a suspense novel that calls historic doctrines into question probably didn’t factor into education committee deliberations before Brown’s novel.

As a result, church history, the formation of the Christian canon and christology are not common class topics. The Southern Baptists’ publishing arm, Lifeway Christian Resources, for example, had no titles in stock for Sunday school or small groups dealing with those subjects prior to “The Da Vinci Code.”

“We have titles directed at pastors, but no resources for Sunday school,” said Jay Johnston, the director of evangelism and discipleship at Lifeway.

The barbs in Brown’s book are directed most sharply at the Roman Catholic Church: The secretive Opus Dei, conspiring bishops and popes receive harsh treatment in the novel.

Generally speaking, Catholic religious education (called catechesis) tends to be more structured and systematic than in many Protestant churches. Catholic converts undergo a yearlong learning process called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), whereas many Protestant churches offer some sort of “new member” class that lasts a few weeks.

Christopher Malloy, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas, a Catholic liberal arts school, said RCIA classes vary in quality from parish to parish, but he senses a larger problem than RCIA.

“There is a lack of funds for education in parishes,” Malloy said. “Priests who are willing to educate their parishioners don’t have the funds to hire a director of religious education. And people can’t just do religious education on their own. Even with personal motivation, you need personal teachers.”

Regardless of how well the movie version of Brown’s book fares at the box office, observers say its effect on Christian education has already been profound.

“The stir has shown Christians that they are more children of their culture than they care to admit,” Boa said. “This provides an opportunity to help Christians become worldview thinkers.”


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