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Biblical illiteracy is worse than "The Da Vinci Code"

APRIL 5, 2006
While browsing the AP wire tonight at work (since that's what we do all day in the newspaper business), I noticed a story which said that 500,000 copies of the paperback version of "The Da Vinci Code" have been sold since its release on March 28. (The movie is slated for release on May 19.) It's obvious, of course, that the general public is devouring the book, and there's quite a dustup among Catholics and quite a few evangelicals over the plot involving an alleged coverup by the Catholic Church to hide the "real" Jesus. But is the controversy misplaced? Are we getting upset about the little things and totally glossing over the bigger problem?

Dan Brown has every right to publish this book, and any other person has every right to purchase it. But I don't see what the big deal is about this fictional plot (and if sales figures are any indication, neither do most people), because it's fiction, and people are fully acknowledging that fact even as they buy the book anyway. What I take issue with is that so many Christians are getting upset over this book but not decrying the level of Biblical illiteracy among those of us who claim to follow Jesus.

Survey after survey by church pollster George Barna has shown a consistent lack of Christians' basic grasp of the Gospel message that we are saved by grace alone. Let's face it--without that foundation, no other amount of Scriptural knowledge will do us any good in the end. What good is a building with a bad foundation? (See Matthew 7:24-27.) We can cry and complain all we want about the Biblical inaccuracies in a work of fiction (isn't that why it's fiction??), but if we don't know the Bible ourselves, nothing else really matters. We can't point out error if in our own ignorance we are harboring error in our own lives. When Paul admonished Timothy to "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourageŚwith great patience and careful instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2), none of those things could have been possible unless Timothy was rooted in the Word. So how can we expect to discern and point out error to anyone else if we don't have a clue about what we claim to believe in the first place?

We can cry about the historical and Biblical inaccuracies in "The Da Vinci Code" all we want (after we buy the book and see the movie), but if we know Dan Brown's book better than we know the book we claim as the basis for our lives, aren't we missing the very point we're trying to make?

UPDATED MAY 17, 2006
Here's another blog entry I posted back on March 5 that I think ties in very well to the "Da Vinci" controversy:

The newspaper said on Friday that the U.S. government is beginning to circulate new $10 bills with new features designed to help thwart increasingly sophisticated counterfeiters. Those who are churning out the bogus bills are using state-of-the-art digital scanners and other means to produce fake money that looks more and more like the real thing. Maybe I'm being too obvious, but wouldn't it be a lot easier if people just knew what real money looked like so that they wouldn't be duped by counterfeits?

For that matter, do we know Jesus well enough to know if what we're being taught is really Him?

Look at Matthew 24:1-6:

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"

Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come."

There are two things to notice here: First of all, Jesus is telling His disciples that false teachers will come. And second, obviously, the disciples are spending time with Him. And the more time they spent with Him, the better they got to know Him.

Are we spending time getting to know Jesus? And are we listening to what He tells us?

I spent several summers in high school and college working as a fast-food cashier. I handled hundreds of dollars every day. And after a while of staring at all that money, I began to pick up on some of the subtle and not-so-subtle details of the money that most people might take for granted--but details which were important in trying to weed out the fakes. On at least one occasion, my manager warned the cashiers that counterfeit money was circulating through the area and he told us what to look for. And by looking at real money so much, we'd know if we got funny money.

Would we recognize a false Christ if one was preached to us? Are we spending time in the Word getting to know Him, or are we just accepting what we hear from others no matter if it's true or not? There's an adage in journalism that if your mother says she loves you, double-check your facts just to be certain. In the same way, how are we going to know who Jesus really is unless we check Him out ourselves?

There's no such thing as secondhand faith. Either we're trusting in the Christ we know personally, or we're just blindly nodding our heads in agreement to something someone else told us. If our faith in Christ is little more than just faith in something someone else has told us, it might as well be fake, because we wouldn't know the difference. Are you checking out who Jesus really is? Would you know a fake Christ if you saw one?

Here's another blog entry I posted last October:

I was just talking with a Christian friend about faith issues, and in the course of conversation he said, "I wish I knew the Bible as well as you do." I looked at him and said, "Well, who are you hanging out with?" He asked me what I meant. I said, "Think about it: Your best friend is usually the person you spend the most time with. They've become your best friend as you spend the most time with them, and because you spend the most time with them, you end up knowing them really well." It's not that I'm anyone special. It's just that I tend to know best the people I'm talking with the most.

How many of us are missing this parallel in our lives? If you spend time with someone, you get to know them. I heard an analogy once about how bank tellers learn to recognize counterfeit money. It's not that they spend all of their time examining bogus bills. Instead, they spend so much time with the real thing that they know what it looks like. Of course, if they aren't around money or studying money for a while, their money-recognition skills might get a bit rusty.

It's the same way with us and Jesus. We become experts of the lives of those we spend the most time studying. No special skills needed. No advanced training or special knowledge is necessary. Just time spent with them. And the more time you spend with people, the more like them you tend to become.

Are we missing this simple point that should be right in our faces?