Decoding DaVinci
Rusty Benson
AFA Journal associate editor

April 2006 – What The Passion of the Christ is to Christians and Brokeback Mountain is to gay rights advocates, The Da Vinci Code promises to be to the foes of Christianity.

“[The novel titled] The Da Vinci Code is one of the most serious attacks on the church in terms of effectiveness that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” says pastor, church historian and author James Garlow. “By that I mean it’s an attack on the Bible itself and the divinity of Christ.”

Though Garlow is referring to the best-selling novel by Dan Brown – over 36 million copies sold since publication in 2003 – it’s the upcoming Hollywood movie that will likely thrust the story into cultural orbit.

With credits that include renowned director Ron Howard and superstar Tom Hanks, The Da Vinci Code promises to be the kind of big-budget production that will dominate entertainment buzz this spring. Sony’s Columbia Pictures plans to release the film nationwide May 19. 

Already, the popularity of the novel has caused great consternation among orthodox Christians. Though it is fiction, Brown not only challenges the trustworthiness of the Scripture and implicates the Roman Catholic Church in the biggest cover-up of all time, but so effectively blurs the line between historical fact and fiction that some readers are sure to come away confused.

Garlow and Peter Jones, director of the organization Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet, are among numerous Christian writers who have addressed the historical and theological inaccuracies of The Da Vinci Code. Their book is titled Cracking Da Vinci’s Code (Victor). Other books aimed at debunking Brown’s story include The Da Vinci Deception by Erwin W. Lutzer (Tyndale House) and A Quest For Answers by Josh McDowell (Green Key Books). In addition, Radio Bible Class offers a shorter treatment on the issue in a free online publication, The Da Vinci Code: Separating Fact From Fiction. (See below.

The following summarizes the plot of The Da Vinci Code, then highlights the books mentioned above.

The Code
The Da Vinci Code is a complex tale of intrigue and conspiracy. Although the story is fiction, Brown contends the book is historically accurate. 

In the movie, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called to untwist the baffling clues and ciphers surrounding the murder of an elderly curator of the Louvre in Paris. He is joined in the investigation by cryptologist Sophie Neveu, the curator’s estranged granddaughter. 

The investigation uncovers a secret society called the Priory of Sion. The group, whose members have included Leonardo da Vinci, Issac Newton and Victor Hugo, guards a secret that, if revealed, would destroy Christianity. 

The secret is that, among other things, Jesus was not actually divine but was voted as such at the Council of Nicaea in 325; He married Mary Magdalene and the couple had children; and He intended for Mary Magdalene, not the apostles, to lead the church.

To preserve their version of the “truth” da Vinci and other artists in the Priory of Sion embedded clues in their art, particularly da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

Opus Dei, a powerful organization within the Roman Catholic Church is ready to use any means, including murder, to insure that the “real” Jesus remains a secret.

A subtheme is the story’s assertion that the Roman Catholic Church intended to suppress women and the knowledge that sex is the “sole means through which man could become spiritually complete and ultimately achieve gnosis – knowledge of the divine” (The Da Vinci Code, p. 308).

Brown’s theories draw heavily on alternative views of the historic Jesus such as the Gnostic Gospels and the work of the Jesus Seminar, as well as pagan beliefs that predate even the Greco-Roman world.

The Da Vinci Deception
The premise of The Da Vinci Code is simple: Jesus was not divine and the Church is lying.

To prove his case, Brown spins a yarn that reinterprets real and imagined events including the Council of Nicaea, the search for the Holy Grail, the development of the Biblical canon, the art of Leonardo da Vinci and the person of Mary Magdalene.

In The Da Vinci Deception, Erwin W. Lutzer, author and pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, convincingly separates fact from fiction in Brown’s book.

In a well-written and brief volume – 120 pages, including footnotes – Lutzer clarifies issues ranging from the veracity of the New Testament to the alleged marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Lutzer defends orthodox Christian doctrine and accepted church history in a way that is concise and usable, yet adequately detailed. 

For example, in debunking Brown’s claims in The Da Vinci Code that Constantine “upgraded Jesus’ status [to divine] almost three centuries after Jesus’ death” for political reasons, Lutzer offers a layman’s look at issues faced at the Council of Nicaea. He follows that with profiles of early church fathers who were martyred defending the divinity of Jesus, then counters the false claim that the Council rejected the Gnostic Gospels in favor of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – all in only 16 pages. 

Cracking the Code
Garlow and Jones combine narrative and storytelling to reinforce their contention that Christians should view The Da Vinci Code as a golden opportunity to engage others with the Gospel.

To that end the authors created a short story of three college friends, Carrie, Jen and Evan. Their story serves as an effective introduction to each chapter as well as a real life model for patiently and persistently dealing with those who have been influenced by Brown’s novel. In fact, the story of the trio is so well done that readers may be compelled to complete the book just to find out what happens to the characters. 

In the story that accompanies the narrative, Carrie’s lesbian roommate, Jen, gives her a copy of The Da Vinci Code to help Carrie understand the roommate’s homosexuality. When she attends a Da Vinci Code discussion group, Carrie begins to buy into the book’s agenda.

At the same time she makes an unlikely friendship with a Christian student, Evan, who patiently and gently challenges her suppositions about The Da Vinci Code

One of their early encounters includes this exchange:

“So you’ve fallen into the da Vinci trap, huh?” asked Evan easily as they walked back from the one class they shared, Conversational French. “Now every time you see the Mona Lisa, you’re going to wonder if it really is the artist himself in drag.” He said this in a gentle, mocking manner.

“I couldn’t care less about those parts of the book,” said Carrie, wondering why she felt it necessary to take a defensive position. “Da Vinci was, admittedly, an odd duck. What gets me is that what Christians believe about Jesus is all wrong; but I have a much clearer understanding of Jesus now, after reading Brown’s book.”

… Evan, still smiling replies, “I’m surprised at you, Carrie. Learning theology from a novel. Next you’ll be telling me that you can prepare for the bar exam by reading Grisham.”

In the narrative, Garlow and Jones prove themselves competent to crack Brown’s code. Quoting frequently from the novel, the authors deconstruct its major themes giving particular emphasis to the issue of sex as a way of gaining secret knowledge of God.

Cracking Da Vinci’s Code also includes end notes and a study guide.

A Quest for Answers
Apparently Josh McDowell, Christian apologist, evangelist and writer, agrees that fiction is an excellent framework to demystify The Da Vinci Code

His recently released self-published book, The Da Vinci Code: A Quest for Answers, is structured as a series of conversations between three fictitious characters. Unlike Garlow and Jones, McDowell uses his fictional dialogue without additional narrative. 

Although the imaginary discussions are sometimes forced and predictable, McDowell’s effort overflows with details that break the back of The Da Vinci Code. Readers of McDowell’s earlier work including the Christian classic, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, will recognize his thorough and well-documented apologetic. 

The volume runs 102 full-sized pages and includes endnotes, as well as an extensive bibliography.

Prepare to engage
Should Christians read The Da Vinci Code and see the movie? Garlow says yes. 

“The movie will spark Da Vinci Code conversations everywhere,” he predicts. “People are going to be talking around the water cooler about the divinity of Christ. What an opportunity!” 

At the same time, Garlow says, Christians must exercise caution for the sake of their own souls. 

“This is a classic case where what the enemy meant for evil, God will use for good,” he says. “Therefore, I am not focusing on the offensiveness of the book and movie, but rather on the potential for fulfilling the Great Commission. We are all missionaries. And as missionaries in this hostile culture, it is our task to learn their language. And in this case the language is The Da Vinci Code.”  undefined

Briefly debunking Brown
In a format that is easily read in one sitting, Radio Bible Class (RBC) offers a brochure titled The Da Vinci Code: Separating Fact From Fiction

RBC’s 8,000-word treatment of the issue summarizes the case discrediting Brown’s major themes and briefly uncovers several historical inaccuracies. Read brochure here.

 The Da Vinci Deception by Erwin Lutzer and Cracking Da Vinci’s Code by James Garlow and Peter Jones are available online.

 The Da Vinci Code: A Quest for Answers by Josh McDowell is available online.