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Sermons, seminars aim to decode ‘The Da Vinci Code’

The Magnolia church in Florence, Ala., is dedicating six Wednesday nights to a series titled “Cracked Code: The Da Vinci Deception.”
Fliers mailed to 15,000 people by the Del City, Okla., church invite the community to explore “What’s the Deal with Da Vinci Code?”
In Meadows Place, Texas, the Sugar Grove church plans a four-night Vacation Bible School series titled “Seek The Real Truth.”
From California to Florida, congregations are offering special sermons, classes and seminars aimed at separating fact from fiction in The Da Vinci Code, the best-selling novel by Dan Brown that opened as a major motion picture May 19.

“We need not fear Dan Brown and his work, but we need not act as if it doesn’t matter either,” said Alan Henderson, minister of the Southern Crescent church in Tyrone, Ga.
Henderson’s 200-member congregation is encouraging members to see the movie and is hosting a seven-week Wednesday night study on “Encountering Christ in a Da Vinci Code Culture.”
A worldwide phenomenon, Brown’s novel has sold 46 million copies in more than 40 languages since 2003. The Sony motion picture, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard, could draw even more people to the story.
The fictional thriller – which Brown has claimed relies on actual historical facts – calls into question the deity of Christ, asserts that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child, and suggests that early church leaders hid Gnostic gospels depicting Christ as merely human.
“We live in a media-driven culture, and this will be a powerful influence on popular thinking. It is a perfect example of postmodern thinking,” said Bruce Wadzeck, a minister and elder with the Princeton,N.J., church.
“I look at this as an opportunity to equip our members to engage in dialogue with their peers,” added Wadzeck, who is preaching a series on the issues raised by The Da Vinci Code.
Similarly, Tim Kraus, minister of the Conneaut, Ohio, church, planned sermons each Sunday in May on “The Truth About The Da Vinci Code.”
“My concern is that it (the movie) will further erode respect for the Bible in our culture and put people off from considering the claims of Christ,” Kraus said. “We think Christians should respond with rational answers to the
issues Dan Brown brings up, and do it with humility and love.”


Tim Shoulders is body life minister of the 1,000-member Sugar Grove church, which plans a mass mailing inviting the community to its VBS series.
In Shoulders’ view, The Da Vinci Codeoffers “an unprecedented opportunity to share the true story about Jesus.”

But some ministers voiced concern that members had shown little interest in the novel or movie.
“It is amazing to me how few of our members have read the book and how little we know about it,” said Jim Hackney, minister of the Heritage church in Keller, Texas. Hackney’s congregation advertised hisrecent Da Vinci Code sermon on a portable sign and planned a Wednesday night showing of James Kennedy’s Da Vinci Delusion.
Anticipating that the movie would be a blockbuster, Allen Burris, senior minister of the Mitchell, Ind., church, also planned a special sermon on Christ’s divinity.
“I am not discouraging our members from reading the book or seeing the movie,” Burris said. “Rather, I am encouraging them to use the book and the movie as an opportunity to have good conversations with others, especially nonbelievers, about who Jesus really is.”
Still, some church members are not happy about the focus on Brown’s novel.
They say they’d prefer to spend their time studying God’s word.

“In my opinion, responding to this book except in a very limited way is proof that some of our congregations arebehaving out of fear and ignorance in a reactionary way,” said George Cooper, a member and former
elder at the Preston Roadchurch in Dallas.
However, a number of ministers say addressing The Da Vinci Code is important because many Christians are as confused as non-Christians about the issues raised.
“Some of our folks … aren’t really clear about church history and have never even heard about an alleged relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene,” said Scotty Harris, senior minister of the GracePointe church in Montgomery, Ala., which invited a panel of Faulkner University scholars to discuss the novel.

Despite the novel’s fictionalnature, Christians would be remiss not to respond, said Taylor Cave, outreach minister at the Del City church.
“Fiction influences American beliefs and values,” Cave said. “Twenty years ago, the movie Ghost actually broughtabout an increase in the number of Americans who believe in ghosts. I have no doubt that The Da Vinci Code will validate already existent unbelief and may cause weak-minded Christians to doubt.”
Barry Packer, an elder at the 1,500-member Highland Oaks church in Dallas, is teaching a three-month Sunday morning class titled “The Da Vinci Code: Separating Fact from Fiction.”
“My personal approach is not to attack Dan Brown or demonize him,” Packer said. “Instead, we are simply seeking to inform our people … to give them the tools necessary to meaningfully engage others who are asking questions and seeking to find out who Jesus Christ truly is.”
Lee Freeman, a member of the Magnolia church, said his Wednesday night “Cracked Code” series points out that the DaVinci Code attack on Christianity is nothing new.
Rather, Freeman said, it “has been going on for nearly 2,000 years, ever since the Jewish and Roman authorities spun the resurrection by saying the disciples stole the body.”

In that respect, Christians have no reason to be defensive about Brown’s claims, said Henderson, the Georgiaminister.
“Truth never has anything to fear,” he said. “A calm, quiet demeanor will go much further toward gaining a hearing than a shrill, reactionary, postured defense.”

June 1, 2006

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