Responding to the Code- It Is about the Reader- May 14

Darrell L. Bock's picture

One key question is often asked about engaging the Code as the movie is being hyped everywhere. It is, "Does such engagement not contribute to the attention being given the book and play into the hands of those who wrote it, making them a ton of money?" That is a very fair question. And, yes, to a degree it does. But the key issue here is not the novelist or the moviemaker. The key issue here are the many readers who already think the history of the novel is true. This is the group that needs the information. That means engaging the movie to get that information to them. These people need more than a response that justifiably indicates a dislike for the historical distortions about Jesus and Christianity in the novel. I myself have noted on national TV that the message of the novel is a blasphemous insult to Jesus, Christians, and Christianity. Boycotts and othercotts are well intentioned. I understand those Christians who wish to respond that way. I have taken such a view on many other Christian slandering efforts of the past. It represents an appropriate response. However the situation with this novel and movie is different. This novel has already influenced millions and has caused those millions to ask questions. That reality needs more than a "stay away" response to the movie. What these readers need are the facts about the history the novel distorts. Even more, many more will see the movie and likely have questions as well. Those millions were going to go to the movie regardless of how Christians responded to it. Some estimate that some twenty million people believe the history in this novel even before the movie's release. This is why engagement was and is necessary. Engagement also means understanding the arguments coming from the other side, critiquing the book or movie with knowledge of how the argument against the faith is being framed. It also means the church must do a better job from now on equipping its own members about the history and truth of Christianity so that the millions who have such questions can be reached. In his first homily on Luke 1:1 in the early third century Origen said this, “I know a certain gospel which is called ‘The Gospel according to Thomas’ and a ‘Gospel according to Matthias,’ and many others have we read–lest we should in any way be considered ignorant because of those who imagine they possess some knowledge if they are acquainted with these. Nevertheless, among all these we have approved solely what the church has recognized, which is that only the four gospels should be accepted.” That approach is the approach of engagement. It says we will be familiar with that which opposes the gospel as well as know what we believe. Those who speak up for the gospel need to be equipped to do so and that equipping means understanding what is being opposed and the context out of which that opposition expresses itself. That means either reading the novel (borrow a copy, if you must) or seeing the movie. Do one or the other to be prepared for the questions those twenty millions of readers impacted by the book and movie may possess. It also means knowing something about the history of the early church and how the church got the Bible. You see in this situation, the key concern is not about the novel, its contents, and those seeking to make a ton of money from it. Much of that money was already in the bank when the movie was being made. The movie's addition of a visual element to the novel's message only makes preparation and engagement more necessary. The cultural impact of the novel demands a public discussion and engagement. Engagement is about concern for the reader whose view of Christianity has already been impacted. Boycotts will not touch their questions; engagement will. Engagement is necessary because we care about the reader of the Code's questions, just as we care about the reader. Engagement requires preparation. Those who will stop a cancer must understand how its cells destroy and divide and not simply scream, "It will kill you." The gospel is about rescuing the perishing, because those who know Christ understand what it is to be rescued. Rescue requires diving in where danger lurks. Engagement is about such life saving rescue. Engagement cares enough about the novel's readers to be prepared fully to give a defense for the hope that rescues. That rescue cost Jesus a trip to the cross. Today it calls believers to get prepared by moving into the challenge the world has thrown our way.

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