People have questions about Jesus. Do you know the answers? To help you in your conversations with your neighbors and friends, we have assembled excerpts from The DTS Dialogue about The Da Vinci Code, hosted by President Mark Bailey (PhD, 1997), with Jeffrey Bingham (ThM, 1986; PhD, 1995), chair and professor of Theological Studies, and Darrell Bock (ThM, 1979), research professor of New Testament Studies and professor of Spiritual Development and Culture. Last year both participated in an ABC special about Mary Magdalene. This presentation is free and is available at www.dts.edu/media/podcasts.
On The Da Vinci Code’s appeal
Dr. Bingham: [The Da Vinci Code] reflects a group of assumptions common among some New Testament and church historical scholars. These assumptions can be connected with both modernism and postmodernism. Modernism developed skepticism about the reliability of the past, about what was received, and about what had been passed down. Modernists then claimed that they were the best judges about what was true by employing their own criteria of reason. They doubt the reliability of traditional Christianity and orthodoxy.
In postmodernity the same skepticism remains, but it’s based not on an overwhelming hope and trust in reason, but on the belief in history’s disunity rather than unity. This is applied to Christianity. So The Da Vinci Code plays off skepticism. “Don’t trust the past,” [postmodernity] screams at you. “Or tradition. It’s not reliable.” Then the novel says, “I’m going to show you a more accurate way because you can’t depend on the authorities of the past.”
On the Incarnation
Dr. Bingham: In the beginning of John’s Gospel he proclaims that the Word, who has been with the Father eternally, is God. Matthew proclaims the Incarnation as an event, which brings God present with us, and offers a triune statement in Matthew 28, where the Son and the Spirit are linked equally with the Father in the Christian rite of baptism. Outside the New Testament in A.D. 110 Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, wrote, “There is one physician composed of flesh and spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, authentic life in death, from Mary and from God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The councils did not create doctrine; they made explicit what the church believed implicitly for all the prior years.
On extrabiblical material
Dr. Bock: The early church’s oral discussion of Jesus was rooted in apostolic testimony—people who had been with and had experienced the ministry of our Lord. By the end of the second century, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had risen to the top. The church specifically excluded the so-called secret “gospels” like the Gospel of Thomas.
Some such extrabiblical materials don’t even belong in the gospel genre. And they set forth an alternative theology that is popularized in recent books, which give the impression something has been hidden for centuries. Mystery excites people. The documents reflect the fringes of Christianity in the second and third centuries.
Some books excluded from the canon were respected in the church. They offer good teaching—books such as First Clement and Shepherd of Hermas. This wasn’t a matter of saying, “These are in and those are out,” but, “These are exceptional.” Exceptional material rose to the top, and the Holy Spirit worked through the churches to confirm it. The rise of false groups and persecution moved the church to identify the genuine.
At one point in Brown’s books he says there are about eighty gospels from which the church chose. Wrong. There are not eighty gospels.
On women in the church
Dr. Bingham: We don’t have to go to the Gnostic gospels to find a high view of women in the life of the church. The New Testament Gospels themselves project this. You find orthodox fathers putting women in the early church before us as spiritual giants.
Dr. Bock: In Scripture women are affirmed for their commitment to the faith and their access to Jesus. First-century culture was different from our own. Then a woman was viewed as a second-class citizen. Rabbis debated whether women should be taught the Torah. And Jesus came and allowed a woman to sit at His feet. He allowed women to be disciples in His entourage.
On what we believe
Dr. Bingham: The first calling of all pastors is to be theologians. They need to take their communities back into the arena of doctrinal education, of doctrinal information and training. We are, first of all, what we believe. We are brought to Christ by faith and we never grow beyond that virtue. We are always defined essentially as Christian on the basis of what we believe.