Seeking the Truth that will Set Us Free
By A. Larry Ross and Whitney Kelley

“The truth is out there.”

“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in everything.”
-Gilbert K. Chesterton

“A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies.”
-Proverbs 12:17

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
-John 8:32

The search for truth is universal. It is our driving force – the pursuit of what is real. It shapes our view of ourselves; it shapes our relationships; it shapes our belief systems; and it shapes our culture.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four, because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.”

We live in an era where the media and the entertainment industry have carte blanche in defining reality. If we read it in the newspaper, hear it on the radio, view it on television or see a preface statement that “information to follow is accurate,” we absorb it.

The film and entertainment industry is masterful at this smoke and mirrors game, creating stories that tweak our hearts and create sympathy for the bad guys so that in the end, we can ‘understand’ why they’ve done the things they’ve done. We empathize with decisions that are counter to our core beliefs because these very skilled storytellers appeal to our emotions instead of our intellect. To disagree would mean that we are somehow bigoted, close-minded or mindless drones lacking intellectual horsepower.

No more. Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament challenged the status quo and rocked the world, as they knew it then. He spoke the truth when it was radically different than what was tightly held by both Jew and Gentile. It wasn’t an either/or scenario – he called both factions to a completely different paradigm.

So what will we do with the culture in America? Will we hold fast to the either/or paradigm… or do we challenge that there is a completely different and nobler path?

Dan Brown’s book, “The Da Vinci Code” (Doubleday) took the publishing world by storm in 2004 when it became the best-selling fiction book of all time, and was touted as the “Instant #1 Best Seller” by the New York Times, where it remained for a record 148 weeks. Reports are that a staggering 42 million copies have been sold in 44 languages. Five million trade and 15 million paperback copies were released into the market this week.

Now Sony Pictures takes this publishing phenomenon to a new level in 2006, through the release of a motion picture by the same name. Starring Hollywood heavyweight Tom Hanks and directed by Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, this movie will become an enormous media/cultural event that will bring water cooler discussions begun about the book front and center into the public square.

We know what the book did – stirring our collective intellect and awakening the desire to discover the truth. Under the guise of intellectual honesty, this masterful author has painted a picture so detailed and interwoven with nuggets of truth wrapped in cloths of deception, that it could only be unraveled either by the very schooled or the very dogged.

The Da Vinci dynamic was surprising — even to culture watchers — because it began with a fictional book, the influence of which was thought to be limited to the reading set. And look what a wave it caused.

Three words altered the course of human history: “Did God say?” (Gen. 3:1). The power of doubt was underestimated in yesterday’s Modern culture, but in this Post-modern age, it could very well become the lasting legacy of this film. In Canada, the National Geographic Channel commissioned a study that found 31 percent of Canadians who read the novel believed the theories described therein as true. Christian pollster George Barna recently conducted a survey among American readers of “The Da Vinci Code,” 53 percent of whom responded the book had affected their beliefs.

Hardened individuals with whom believers have shared their faith have recommended the book to their Christian friends, saying, “Finally, I understand the truth.” This novel has swayed even Christians who were solid in their faith. These are not just garden-variety, pew-warming, nominal Christians, but include committed people of faith who may be schooled in Christian doctrine, but not church history.

Americans flock to stories like “The Da Vinci Code,” in part because they are searching for secret knowledge that answers the mysteries of life. Now a motion picture – marketed to the masses, young and the old – possesses even greater potential to present fiction as fact and fact as suspect. Movies about Jesus have historically created movements of people who feel they finally understand “the truth.” However, it is anticipated that this film will create an “earthquake of doubt” – even among individuals within the church, whose faith will be shaken to the core.

Knowing that they would face opposition from scholars, historians and faith leaders, Sony Pictures has launched a website, www.thedavincidialogue.com, suggesting that they are ready for the skepticism and putting forth noted scholars and theologians to fend off criticism.

This pre-emptive move to frame the debate and shape the discussion rings hollow – similar to a “Stop Smoking” advocacy advertisement created by Phillip Morris or a “Don’t Drink and Drive” commercial sponsored by Budweiser. Both lack the credibility of their American Heart Association or MADD counterparts.

While this high quality website is a brilliant marketing/media move, its repercussions in perpetuating fallacy — even blasphemy — could be mind boggling, serving to further propagate both the subtle and blatant deception upon which the book is based. It is, after all, dedicated to motivating people to attend a movie, not driven by a ministry response of a Christian apologetic perspective seeking to define or defend biblical truth.

It is the responsibility of the aforementioned scholars of theology and dogged pursuers of truth — not the creators of the myth — to provide the Christian and biblical response. With that responsibility comes a plan of action to take it to the battlefield and reintroduce Truth to the marketplace. As Orwell said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

While coming from the opposite perspective, this film provides the church with a similar opportunity and objective as “The Passion of The Christ,” namely to engage the culture in spiritual dialogue and be ready to receive and respond to the inevitable questions that will be generated by engaging the culture in informed spiritual dialogue.

The Da Vinci Code movie opens on May 19, 2006. Considering the cycle of DVD release and entertainment awards season, it has potential to have catalytic cultural and media influence and impact for more than a year.

The antidote is a direct response website, www.thetruthaboutdavinci.com, produced with clarity, creativity and conviction and written in language simple enough for the average tenth grader to understand. The premise, as outlined on the current placeholder page is, “THERE IS TRUTH. THERE IS FICTION. YOU DECIDE. You don’t need faith. You just need a computer.”

This website, powered both technologically and theologically by Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) and www.wts.edu, seeks to present a balanced account of the historical facts set forth in Dan Brown’s best-selling novel and the soon-to-be-released eponymous movie. While appreciating the engaging narrative, and recognizing any author’s right to present a good yarn, there is concern that the mix of fact and fiction in the book and film is leading many audiences to question the Bible‘s message and its impact on history. Using the best resources available, both human and written, the site seeks to set the record straight and commend the historic Christian faith.

This repository of experts and resources on biblical truth will debunk several foundational questions generated by the film, including:

  • Was Jesus really God?
  • Is the Bible reliable?
  • Was Mary Magdalene married to Jesus?
  • What about the ‘secret’ Gospels?
  • Has the Church oppressed women over the centuries?

What is the Holy Grail; is it the cup used by Christ – the same one knights tried to find in the Crusades – or is it a woman, i.e., Mary Magdalene?

However, this website, has the potential to go well beyond The Da Vinci Code in the clash of the church and culture. The national dialogue and debate about this film is merely the launching pad for what could become a cultural apologetics clearinghouse and unrivaled resource – not only for the academician, but also the pastor, the individual congregant, and the media for years to come.

Having a strong reputation as the “Harvard of Reformed Theology,” Westminster Theological Seminary wants to leverage its renowned academic bonafides and scholarship to continue to influence culture beyond this film, through reinforcement of biblical truth in the context of other current and inevitable future publishing or entertainment projects that set the Zeitgeist, or “Spirit of the Times.”

WTS has created a website that seizes the opportunity of the release of this film and provides substantive biblical apologetics and a defense of biblical history and truth, in a style reminiscent of Jesus, who was the master at not simply answering a question, but reframing the question altogether. The secular modern man won’t tolerate being told what to believe is truth, but instead wants to come to the conclusion of truth on his own. What better way to do that than to provide Truth contrasted with absurdities and let the disparity between the two speak for itself.

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The consumer audience for www.thetruthaboutdavinci.com can be broken down into the three main categories, including men, women and teens who are:

  • In Christ, and in the Church — individuals rooted in their faith, but who need a reliable reference point for getting up to speed on Christian history
  • In Church, but not in Christ — people who attend church, but do not yet enjoy a personal relationship with Christ

Not in the Church and not in Christ – individuals who are plugged into the culture, but remain spiritually-minded.

This website is intentionally and specifically geared to answer the questions and feed the interest of the first two groups – those who are in Christ and in the Church, and those who are in Church but not in Christ. Its purpose is “to create doubt about doubt,” simultaneously reassuring Christians and restoring confidence in their faith, and introducing non-believers to the relevance of the Gospel message in their lives.

Additionally, the site will provide more in-depth information that serves the needs of other equally important visitors of the site: pastors, youth leaders, academicians and the media. One unique characteristic is that the site holds appeal for all Christian leaders — whether they are urging congregants to steer clear of the film, or focused on equipping them to use its release as a ministry opportunity.

This site is truly neutral on that subject – purely serving as a repository of Truth and facts. As such, it can be used by the group wishing to refrain from seeing the movie in a way that enables them to articulate their arguments against it and solidify their stance of why they choose not to engage. Conversely, for those who want to leverage this media/cultural event for ministry by using the deceit of the movie as a spiritual conversation starter with unchurched friends, this site will provide biblically sound, intellectually honest, and historically accurate information so that the claims in the book and movie can be refuted point-by-point.

Source experts on the site represent the ranks of Westminster and like-minded institutions, supplemented by orthodox voices from a variety of disciplines to address non-theological aspects of the misinformation from the movie and the book.

A robust marketing, advertising and public relations plan has been designed and is already being implemented to coincide with the site’s go-live date on Good Friday, April 14th as well the week following the release of the film in May. The aggressive, edgy print and radio campaign will reinforce the diametric opposition of the claims of the book and film with that of substantiated and accepted truth about Christ, Christianity, history, and culture. Additional media and public relations support will help shape the message in a way that cuts through the chatter of other respondents who are clucking in the marketplace.

Regardless of whether the visitor stops at the first page of each section or digs deeper, they will be met with hard and fast facts that discount the claims set forth by Dan Brown’s novel. However, this site is not and will not become a place for ad hominem attacks on Mr. Brown, Ron Howard or Tom Hanks. In order for this site to be set apart, it will begin as and remain a factual rebuttal from an apologetics standpoint, responding only to claims that are in direct conflict with history and theology.

The credibility of Westminster Theological Seminary is a first among equals in the realm of academia, and that credibility will extend to www.thetruthaboutdavinci.com. While this site does engage the culture, it will not be blown about by the winds of opinion and will ultimately become a resource for all spectrums of people desiring to find and know the Truth… not only about “The Da Vinci Code,” but more importantly, the Divine Truth.

Martin Luther once observed, “How soon ‘not now’ becomes ‘never’.” Westminster Theological Seminary recognizes if not now, at this critical intersection of faith and culture, when will the church engage in preserving and defending biblical truth? If you share that urgency and conviction, bookmark the site today, place a link on your ministry’s website, and forward the URL http://www.thetruthaboutdavinci.com to everyone on your contact list and access this comprehensive resource when it goes live on Good Friday, April 14.

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