Is The Da Vinci Code a threat to many people's Christian faith?
Or is it a blessing in disguise?
Both, says the “Bible Answer Man."
Hank Hanegraaff, whose radio broadcasts reach more than 6 million listeners a week in the United States and Canada,1 talked with Chalcedon about his response to the Dan Brown best-seller.
"Last time I checked, 7 million people had bought the book," Hanegraaff said. "It's a fast-paced novel, a real page-turner — and it's very depreciating when it comes to the Christian faith."
The Da Vinci Code — soon to be released as a Sony feature film by Ron Howard — rests on the premise that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God, that He did not die on the cross and did not rise from the dead. Instead, He married Mary Magdalene and retired to France. The message of the novel is that orthodox Christianity is nothing more than a colossal fraud.
Many Christian ministries, including Hanegraaff's Christian Research Institute, have been called to confront that message head-on.
"I was standing in line at Starbucks recently," he said, "when a young woman recognized me. She came up to me and asked me about The Da Vinci Code. She had to know if the story in the novel was true. Her faith had been shaken by it.
"Many people have called the Bible Answer Man to ask about this book. A lot of them say the same thing — they've been shaken. That's what made me decide to write a book in answer to it. I've talked to so many Christians who questioned their faith because of this novel. I had to do something."
With Dr. Paul Maier, Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, Hanegraaff wrote The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction?
"Paul debunks the so-called 'history' the novel is based on, while I defend the historicity of the Christian faith," Hanegraaff said. "The author's claim that his book is based on history is what seems to be hard for people to handle, especially if they're weak on history themselves.
"Since our book came out, people have been gobbling it up. I hope that's a good sign."
An Opportunity for Christians
"A lot of people read The Da Vinci Code and wonder if it's really true. And they ask, 'If it is true, does it invalidate my faith?'
"Of course it doesn't invalidate our faith," Hanegraaff said. "We can use this book's objections to Christianity as a springboard for communicating the truth. The Da Vinci Code is a wonderful, intoxicating catalyst — especially for Christians challenged by unbelievers. We can show others, and reconfirm it to ourselves, that our faith is founded on fact. It certainly did not 'evolve' from pagan mystery religions!"
The success of the novel, he said, is evidence of "a great spiritual interest here in America. But it's a pretty misguided spirituality. That's the problem."
Defending Christianity "starts with becoming a Christian yourself," Hanegraaff said. "It's knowing what you believe, why you believe, and whom you believe. And you need a historical framework to go with it.
"The problem of Biblical illiteracy is pandemic in our culture. In our churches especially, we need to do a better job of teaching and discipling people."
Too often, he said, churches are content to take on new members and not bother to teach them authentic Christian doctrine — especially if they are adults.
"We have failed miserably in that respect. It seems the least demanding churches wind up being the most popular."
Here and there, pastors have scheduled special times to talk about The Da Vinci Code and found the public response more than they expected. One small-town Episcopal pastor, John Sewell, packed 600 people into his little church to hear his remarks about the novel.2
"It's wonderful to be able to show that the bogus 'history' cited in the novel is not history at all and not fact," Hanegraaff said. "I think it's great for pastors to use The Da Vinci Code's errors as a means to teach truth and to use it to teach the skills of defending the faith."
But first things first, he added.
"We must learn to exercise the disciplines modeled by our Lord Jesus Christ so that we might be conformed to His image," he said. "That's the most important thing — and that's precisely what's lacking in some of our entertainment-oriented churches."
Hanegraaff, an ordained minister himself and the son of a Reformed minister, speaks at churches all over the U. S. and Canada during his frequent travels.
Coming to Christ
The Da Vinci Code is packed with ancient heresies, false statements, and New Age propaganda, all presented by the author as "based on historical fact." Its controversial claims include a false statement that no one recognized Jesus Christ as divine until the 4th century, when scheming church politicians at the Council of Nicaea voted Him that honor.
"We can use even misstatements like these to bring people to Christ — people who, if they hadn't wondered what all the excitement was about and read The Da Vinci Code, might never have thought of Christ at all," Hanegraaff said. "We can also use this challenge to strengthen our own faith."
Meanwhile, he will continue to comfort shaken Christians who call his radio show looking for answers.
For more information about the show, or the book by Hanegraaff and Maier, contact the Christian Research Institute at equip.org or by phone, 949-858-6100.
1. Official Arbitron figures for 2002
2. Reporting to explorefaith.org/daVinci/1.html