How Now Shall We Respond?
Even though much of the controversy has come and gone, people are still talking about many of the issues raised by Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code. The recently-released DVD will certainly find its way into many stockings this Christmas. Unfortunately, it may also be given to folks along with books like Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion or Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation -- two of the most ridiculous and poorly argued books released in recent times. To help prepare you for the conversations that may come from people who read such books, I am adapting one of the chapters from The Gospel According to the Da Vinci Code. It should also lead us to think more about the implications of the Incarnation.
How are Christians to respond when someone like Dan Brown, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris makes authoritative-sounding claims? We certainly don't burn their books or call for their deaths like the Islamic community did to Salman Rushdie. Still, something must be done, and we are often at a loss as to what it is.
Should we challenge them to debate in the public square? Should we mock them and expose their research as fraudulent? Should we rally our troops with a passionate call to arms and a declaration that the culture wars are still ongoing?
Perhaps some variation of these responses is called for. But first, we should remember something signification: Jesus embodied truth. The Christ who walked the earth, God in the flesh, spoke truth, was and is truth. Anyone who claims to follow him must follow him in the way of truth and be prepared to defend the truth claims of Christianity.
But we must never forget that this divine Christ was and is also grace. The apostle John said it this way: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Before we begin to formulate a proper response to the allegations made by atheists, postmodernists, skeptics, Gnostics, agnostics, or anyone else, we must make sure we are doing so from a posture of gentleness and respect. We must make sure that truth is always spoken in the context of grace and that our grace is always demonstrated in truth.
See, as followers of Jesus, we aren't merely concerned with getting into heaven when we die. We're also concerned with the ongoing work of transformation in this life. God's desire is to see his world restored, and he has seen fit to perform this transformative work primarily through the lives of transformed individuals who are dedicated to going through life as Jesus would if he were in their shoes. "WWJD" is not just a bracelet and a clever marketing ploy; it is a reminder of the commitment we made when we turned over the leadership of our lives to him.
So in asking how we should respond to our critics (even those who refuse to think critically), we are really asking how Jesus would respond to them.
Come to think of it, this response is not only reserved for people who criticize our faith; it could also be applied in our relationships with people who criticize our parenting skills, our housecleaning habits, our cooking and our physical appearance. In other words, we can use the ideas here when dealing with the relatives who are likely to descend upon us in the coming days!
There are two overarching themes in Jesus' life that are instructive for us: grace and truth. Hopefully, by looking at Jesus' life and working through the lens of these two themes, we'll come away with a better understanding of how Christians can engage culture -- and engage difficult people -- in meaningful and effective ways.