Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Da Vinci Code Discourse- What's all the Hype About?

Here is the podcast for the first message in the "Da Vinci Code Discourse" series.

To listen now, click on the podcast icon below.

What's All the Hype About

It has been at the top of the NY Times Bestseller list for months. It was recently released as a major motion picture. What is all the hype about the Da Vinci Code? Why should people who follow Christ care? Whether a fully devoted follower of Christ or someone seeking answers come "seek the truth" as we examine the claims of the Da Vinci Code.

This message is from the series "The Da Vinci Code Discourse". While the Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, author Dan Brown blurs lines between fiction and truth and makes broad claims that strike at the heart of Christianity. We will look at some of the issues the book raises in an effort to discover what people who follow Christ beleive and why we believe it. We hold that Christianity is not a call to bury our heads in the sand or check our brains in at the door but to engage and redeem such cultural phenomenas as the Da Vinci Code.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Da Vinci Code Q & A

As we go through the Da Vinci Code Discourse message series attendees are invited to write questions for submission. Those questions are below.

What great questions people had! Many of them were well thought out and deep!! I want to let you know that I tried to answer the questions to the best of my ability. I do not have all the answers. I do not know it all (of course most of you already knew that I just wanted to remind you again!). In some cases I have directed you to websites to check out. While to the best of my knowledge these sites are fairly reputable as to the information contained, always remember that the web is a double edged sword. Always keep in mind who wrote what you are looking at and what their background is when you read. Again, thanks everyone for the questions. I look forward to our journey together as we explore what we believe and why through this message series.

Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute or was that false information?
That is false information. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. We know from the Bible that she was healed of seven demons, that she followed Jesus, was present at his crucifixion and became the first evangelist to tell others that the tomb was empty. But, she was not a prostitute though that would make for a great story of redemption. So where did this idea come from? There are many Marys mentioned in the New Testament. Mary Magdalene became confused with Mary the spiritually "in tune" sister of Martha and another woman named Mary who was described as a sinner in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 7:36-45). Sometime in the sixth century Pope Gregory in a sermon made the claim that these three Marys were the same person thus lumping Mary Magdalene with the woman thought to be a prostitute in Luke 7. In 1969 the Catholic Church corrected this misinterpretation. For more info go here.

Why does making Jesus divine at the Council of Nicea “keep women down” as you mentioned in your sermon?
The reaffirmation of Jesus’ divinity at the Council of Nicea did not in fact “keep women down.” The claim by Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code and by others who espouse a high view of the sacred feminine is that the church at the Council of Nicea affirmed Jesus’ divinity so that it would be less plausible that Jesus would have been the husband or lover of Mary Magdalene and thus lessen Mary’s true influence and the so called secret that she was the Holy Grail. For those who hold the theory that Mary is the Holy Grail and the mother of Jesus’ descendents this was seen as an attack on the sacred feminine.

Was worshipping women (goddess worship, the sacred feminine) ever practiced? If so, specifically when and why was this practice stopped?
Goddess worship has a long history that predates Christianity. The lines between goddess worship and the celebration of the sacred feminine are blurry. A definition of sacred feminine might be: The veneration in the person of the goddess, who is the Isis of Egypt, and who is embodied by priestesses in sacred rituals. Those who believe that Mary Magdalene is the Holy Grail believe that Mary Magdalene was herself a priestess who embodied the Sacred Feminine. This practice continues today mostly in non-western areas of the world and in cultures that are pantheistic in nature (have more than one god). Even within the Christian Church there would be some who are proponents of the Sacred Feminine and would still call themselves Christians.

Does faith need to be proven?
The Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) While faith in and of itself cannot be proven, it is necessary to know and be able to articulate why you have the faith you have. The Apostle Peter wrote that we should always be ready to give an account of our faith. “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15. And then from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:5-6. While we do not have to prove faith we do have to contend for the faith. Here is a link to a message board discussion you may be interested in.

The Koran was written within 20 years of Muhammad’s death and had to be approved by many people before publication. What took Christians so long to get the word out?
The selection of books that would ultimately make up the New Testament (sometimes referred to as the New Testament canon) were not approved by one person but were only agreed upon at the Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D. It happened over a period of years. Unlike the Koran, the Bible and particularly the New Testament was the witness and collection of many different eyewitnesses, historians and writers. The Koran, on the other hand, is based solely upon what one person (Muhammad) saw and heard. Unlike the Christian New Testament the Koran has less literary variety. In the New Testament one will find narrative prose, parable, poetry/hymns, letters, and a history. The Koran on the other hand is a collection of prose and poetry thus allowing for an easier compilation. Lastly, while the writing of the New Testament appears in the first century in very much an oral culture where important teachings and stories were passed down verbally, the Koran was written in the 7th century.

What about those missing years of Jesus’ life? Why wasn’t his whole life important enough to be written about if he is the savior of the world?
The only record of Jesus’ life before his public ministry began, apart from the birth narratives, is a story in Luke about Jesus conversing with the religious leaders/scholars in the temple after his parents had left the Passover Festival. Luke 2:41-52 It has been speculated by some that Jesus learned the trade of carpentry from his father during this time though there is no direct corroboration of this in the scripture. Though we have little about Jesus’ boyhood in scripture this should not surprise us for a couple of reasons. One reason has to do with God’s timing. Jesus began his public ministry at thirty years old when the appointed time had come. The Gospels present a clear time line of events controlled by God. Secondly, we must understand that the Bible was not written as a history book like we would have for a 10th grade ancient history class. It was a religious text that for the most part used story to convey meaning. The purpose of the scripture was not to convey dry facts or every detail or provide a step by step timeline. To expect the Bible to do such is to impose upon the text a modern day assumption of how we gauge the validity and veracity of texts.

Did Jesus have any children?
No. There is no credible, verifiable or substantial evidence that Jesus had children. The claim of Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code is that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene and that Mary and the child fled after Jesus’ crucifixion. The contention is that the blood line continues today.

Is this your idea to address the subject matter or is it a requirement by the UMC (United Methodist Church)?
This was my idea to address the issues of faith brought to the surface by the Da Vinci Code. I usually plan the message series at New Season months in advance after prayerful consideration always allowing for exceptions because of unplanned events or the leading of the Holy Spirit in planned series or messages. The subject matter of messages (sermons) is never dictated by the United Methodist Church but is left up to local pastors in the local church.

Why even address or devote worship time if the UMC (United Methodist Church) position is “the book is a work of fiction.” Are we truly worried about believers will change their minds? Any “hype” about Christian beliefs should be welcome. It will open doors to share the truth.
One of the values we have at New Season is that we would know why we do the things we do and why we believe the things we do. I believe that it is important for all followers of Christ to know about who Jesus is. Likewise it is important to know if the Bible, which is the rule and norm for our faith and life, is reliable. And if we claim it is reliable then why do we make such a claim. I would hold that those are issues that are appropriate to address and devote worship time to. After all, we should know the best we humanly can the one we worship and know about this book we read out of every Sunday. The United Methodist Church does not have an official position on the Da Vinci Code. In fact, the only group that can make official statements for the United Methodist Church is what is called the General Conference which meets every four years and is composed of persons elected to attend the Conference from across the world. The worry is not that believers might change their mind in light of the Da Vinci Code, though that would be a shame, but that believers and those curious would have reliable evidence from many sources instead of just accepting the claims of the book and movie which blur the lines between historical fact and fiction. I agree 100% that the “hype” should be viewed as a positive thing and as an opportunity to share truth. I strongly support redeeming the “hype” for the purpose of sharing faith and truth to the glory of Christ. Good questions!!

The Koran states that it’s preposterous that God would have any use for a son. Can it be that millions of people (Muslim, Jews, etc.) would not also be loved unconditionally by God? Why is it that Christians are the only group allowed “entrance” into heaven? So…God’s original “chosen people,” the Jews, will be left behind unless they believe in Jesus? How can God have changed his mind in the New Testament?
Wow!! What great questions that we could spend hours discussing. I will do my best in this short space and in this forum to address some of these. First, God does love all people unconditionally. Whether they choose to accept that grace is another story. As to the Koran, I would suggest that God does not have any use for a son but we do: that it was through his son that God moved in salvation history to reconcile the world to himself. In the end, as a follower of Christ, I respect the Koran as a religious writing for Muslims but I do not view it as authoritative for my faith and life- though I recognize for others it is authoritative or at least considered one among many texts of authority. The question of salvation for those outside the Christian faith is one that many Christians struggle with- including myself. In our modern and enlightened politically correct world we will do all that is possible not to exclude or even have the appearance that we are excluding people. However, we must be informed by things other than the latest fads of cultural expectation. Know that people in the church are not of one mind when it comes to this question. In my view, the way one answers this question is not an essential to the faith. In other words, you and I can disagree about whether “Jesus is the only way” and still both leave as followers of Christ. Having said that, I am happy that in the end salvation decisions are made by God and not me- phew! However, from my tainted, sinful, fallible and limited knowledge and understanding of scripture, tradition experience and reason I believe that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to eternal life. See John 14:6 among others. I have trouble accepting that God would empty himself out of heaven, take the form of a man and subject himself to being fully human, be spit upon, cursed, beaten and mocked, hung on a cross to die if there were all these alternative ways. The multi-way view also troubles me as an evangelist. How can I proclaim the necessity of turning one’s life over to Christ, accepting his love, and living for him if he is just one of many ways? Shall I say that he is just “one” of the ways and the best way for me so I think you should go this way too? There is a ton more that could be said to describe both views. As to the question of the Jewish people as God’s chosen people I do not think that it is God who changed his mind as much as his people rejecting the continuing unfolding of his love and grace in the person of Jesus Christ. I invite people to read what Paul had to say about this issue in Romans chapters ten and eleven. This particular question of Jewish inclusion in the new covenant is one I am still resolving in my mind and continue to wrestle with in the scripture and through prayer.

What specifics books were left out of the Bible and why?
For a list of books that did not make the cut go here. There are a variety of reasons that books were not accepted. One main reason had to with their date of composition. Was the date early or late? The books of the New Testament were all fairly early. The books that did not make it were fairly late. Second, what did the books say? Some of the claims of the books are outlandish and do not agree with the general tenor of the whole collection of writings. For example, the Gospel of Mary, among other things claims that there is no sin. Many of the books rejected were works traced to a cultic group called Gnostics. The early Christian community dismissed the Gnostics, their theology, and their literature. The reasons books were rejected are much more nuanced than this but these are the main reasons.

What is the historical evidence to verify about the writers of the Bible? How do we know the Bible is the truth?
While there is some debate among Christian scholars as to when certain New Testament books were written, the debates center around issues of whether a book was written ten years earlier or later as opposed to centuries earlier or later. The Gospel of Mark is usually dated somewhere between 50-70 A.D, the other Gospels between 50-66 A.D. and the Gospel of John as the latest around 80-90 A.D. We know that Jesus died somewhere around 30 A.D. Therefore, it is very plausible that the writers of the Gospels were eyewitnesses or near eyewitnesses to the events and teachings of Jesus’ life. As to the veracity of the Bible I suggest you check out this link- they say it better and more concise than I ever could. Also be there in two weeks when we address the question in the message "The Truth about the Bible."

Are Dan Brown’s assertions/ claims the first time in history that these claims have been made?
No, Dan Brown is not the first to make these claims. The whole Holy Grail legend has a deep history going back to Joseph of Arimathea who used the chalice to capture some of Jesus’ blood as it fell from the cross. The quest to find the Holy Grail (whether the chalice itself or some other powerful items like the documents that the Da Vinci Code claim exist showing Mary as the Holy Grail and exposing the secret that she and Jesus had children) is what the legend of King Arthur, the Knights Templar, the Knights of the Round Table and countless movies are made of. Perhaps the most well known people to make the claims and assertions that Brown makes are Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, whose own 1982 work Holy Blood, Holy Grail made similar claims. Baigent and Leigh’s book was a scholarly look at the issue (not a novel) of which they have accused Brown of lifting large tracts of their research without permission for use in the Da Vinci Code. Creatively, Dan Brown names the character in the Da Vinci Code who is an expert on the Holy Grail Leigh Teabing- a code using the authors Leigh and Baigent’s last name.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Da Vinci Code Starting This Week

On May 19th the Da Vinci Code will be released in movie theaters. Based on the New York Times best seller by the same name the movie stars Tom Hanks and is directed by Ron Howard. The movie, like the book before it, will raise questions for both believers and non-believers.

While the Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction (it is on the NY Times Best Sellers List under fiction), Dan Brown does a convincing enough job of blurring historical fact and historical fiction. The book and movie makes some interesting claims about who Jesus is, the authority of the Bible and who Mary Magdalene is.

We have a value at New Season that we are called by Jesus to redeem culture for his glory. That will be our aim in our upcoming message series "The Da Vinci Code Discourse" that starts this Sunday. We firmly believe that God is always working to bring good out of what on the surface seems like difficult situations. I believe we have an opportunity to present the true Jesus because of the Da Vinci Code. While we always have this opportunity before us and should be taking advantage of it, through this book persons who would not even consider giving Jesus a second look will now.

Here are the messages we will be doing in the next few weeks at New Season. Don't miss them and bring a friend, relative, co-worker or neighbor to hear them with you.

May 21st What's All the Hype
May 28th The Real Jesus
June 4th The Truth about the Bible
June 11th Mary, Mary, Why You Buggin?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Open Communion

My posts have been few for a while. I was busy last week with a project that was part of my continuing studies. I had to write a twenty page paper for a class I was taking. The paper had to do with what is called open communion. Those of you at New Season know we practice a weekly communion and that we invite all who want to experience the presence of Christ to come and receive.

There is great debate among people in churches that hold the Lord's Supper in high regard like we do at New Season about who should be welcomed to come and receive communion and who should not. Open communion used to mean that people from different churches could go to each other's church and receive no questions asked. Today, the definition of open communion has expanded to mean not only that but also that unbaptized people can receive and even non-believers.

My paper examines these issues and arguments and argues for an open table where all are welcomed recognizing that this was a practice of Jesus and key to his ministry of hospitality with sinners and outcasts like you and me.

I invite you to read the paper here. It is a good read if you are interested in that type of issue or having trouble sleeping. As you will see writing is not my gift so all you English teachers do not need to hand me back a copy all marked in red!!