Thursday, May 11, 2006

Gratitude for Heretics

When I read The Da Vinci Code about two years ago I did so at the behest of many friends who insisted on it. Being a completist, I read Dan Brown's first book, Angels and Demons, beforehand. I found it to be an interesting thriller, so I anticipated reading The DaVinci Code.

I was disappointed. I found the characters flat and uninteresting. Brown used them as the vehicle for unpacking the big conspiracy story the wove together the Holy Grail, Leonardo DaVinci, and the secret history of Jesus Christ. I could have just read Holy Blood, Holy Grail and been done with it.

Now, almost two years later, I am reading "Da Code" again as grist for a sermon series. Of course this is a direct response to the upcoming movie. Along with Brown's book, I am also reading many of the response books that have been written such The Gospel Code, The DaVinci Hoax, and Breaking the DaVinci Code. Perusing the aisles at Books-a-Million today I was amazed at how many different books have a bone to pick with "Da Code." And it is not just the theology that is being corrected, some books set out to correct the interpretations of the artwork and history. If Dan Brown's goal was really to start a conversation about matters of religion, art, faith, and history then I would say he has succeeded.

Dan Brown's version of the collection of the New Testament books is laughable. That's probably why I did not enjoy reading Da Code the first time - it was just too silly. This week I am studying the process of how the church selected and affirmed the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Along the way I have read some of the early non-canonical Christian documents such as 1 Clement, the Didache, and Epistle of Barnabas. Likewise I have re-read some of the Nag Hammadi Coptic Gnostic texts like Gospel of Thomas and read some for the first time, such as the Gospel of Phillip.

This has been an intense and beneficial study for me and I hope for our congregation. The early church was pressed to define itself in response to the unusual and potentially harmful notions of heretical groups. Likewise I find myself benefitting by responding to certain avant-garde proposals current today. So, I owe a debt of gratitude to heretics and heterodoxy. You are challenging me to be a better believer.

1 comment:

Martin Foner said...

Wow! Talk about a successful author! Who wouldn't want to write a book of fiction and have so many talking and writing about it as if it were true? People are reading and rereading it; aisles at Books-a-Million are devoted to books which have a "bone to pick" with it; sermons are being preached about it--sounds like a huge success to me.