Great Booklet!

By an interesting coincidence, this April saw the publication of the Gospel of Judas (featured in a National Geographic documentary), and this May will see the launch in Singapore of the film version of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Both works have been presented as offering a serious challenge to mainstream, historic Christianity: early Christianity, it is claimed, may have been much more diverse than official church teaching acknowledges; the New Testament may seriously misrepresent Jesus’ life and teaching; and in any case, the books of the New Testament only attained canonical status through an accident of history.

‘Nonsense!’ we may reply. But how to convince our non-Christian friends who find such claims plausible and attractive? BGST will be addressing the issues raised by the Gospel of Judas in a Public Seminar this Saturday (May 13th), and you are warmly invited to attend. But if you were wondering how to respond to The Da Vinci Code, you could not do better than read the most recent Grove Biblical Booklet, Decoding Da Vinci. The Challenge of Historic Christianity and Fantasy, by N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham (Grove Biblical Series, B39).

The Da Vinci Code is not just another page-turner,’ Wright begins his booklet, ‘I has outsold everything in sight. Why?’ Why indeed? I have read the book and would rather eat a quart of cold porridge than re-read it! The plot-line is flabby and full of implausible coincidences, the ending is inconclusive and trivial, the characterisation wooden, and the whole book based on outlandish conspiracy theories. What is the attraction of this dreary pot-boiler, when there is so much good fiction on the bookshelves? The book is so popular, Wright argues, because it represents ‘a quintessential statement of where a significant part of our culture, both in North America and in the UK passionately wants to be.’

Wright accordingly develops his argument along two lines. Firstly, he exposes the inaccuracies in Brown’s book: there is no secret society called the ‘Priory of Sion’ (the documents on which this claim is based having been forged in the 1950s); Brown’s interpretation of details in Da Vinci’s Last Supper is ‘pure fantasy’; there are many inaccuracies regarding Israelite and early Christian history; there is no ground at all for the claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalen kept diaries, nor, therefore, for the suggestion that Jesus married Mary.

Secondly (and this is the more important part of his argument) Wright challenges the ‘mainstream liberal-American "myth of Christian origins"’ (p. 8) of which Brown’s book and the recent Gospel of Judas documentary are merely the latest expression. This myth centres around five main claims (pp. 9–10): (1) ‘there were dozens if not hundreds of other documents about Jesus’ (among them the Nag Hammadi texts discovered in the 1940s, some of which have been presented as authentic early testimony to Jesus’ life and teaching); (2) ‘the four gospels in the New Testament were later products aimed at divinizing Jesus and claiming power and prestige for the church’; (3) ‘Jesus himself was not at all like the Gospels describe him. He did not think he was God’s son, or that he would die for the sins of the world’; (4) ‘Christianity as we know it is based on a mistake’; (5) ‘it is high time to give up the picture of Jesus and Christian origins which the church has put about for so long.’

Wright systematically rebuts these claims. The New Testament texts are early, and they clearly present Jesus as both human and divine. The Nag Hammadi texts show signs of being later than the New Testament, and they are ‘demonstrably different in theology from anything we can reliably ascribe to Jesus’ (p. 14). In particular, they convey next to no sense of the original Jewish context of Jesus’ ministry, and no hint of the claim that is so fundamental for the New Testament writers, that in the death and resurrection of Jesus God fulfilled his promises to Israel in the Old Testament. The spirituality of these texts is more or less divorced from history: instead of the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus they offer a teaching of ‘spiritual self-discovery and enlightenment’ which looks rather like some forms of Buddhism.

And this perhaps explains the attractiveness of the ‘myth’: It is ‘not a religion of redemption. It is not at all a Jewish vision of the covenant God who sets free the helpless slaves. It appeals, on the contrary, to the pride that says "I’m really quite an exciting person, deep down, whatever I may look like outwardly"… It appeals to the stimulus of that deeper navel-gazing ("finding out who I really am") which is the subject of a million self-help books… It corresponds, in other words, to what a great many people in our world want to believe and want to do, rather than to the hard and bracing challenge of the very Jewish gospel of Jesus’ (p. 23).

Read this booklet: the issues are of enormous importance to all Christians, and you won’t find a better brief discussion than this. (It is so well written that I had to resist the temptation to fill this whole review with quotations.) There are also suggestions for further reading and a helpful appendix addressing particular questions in more detail. A great booklet in an excellent series.

News Bits

  1. Library Notice. BGST Library will close earlier at 1.00pm this Saturday, May 13, to prepare for the seminar at Bishan.
  2. News from the Library. Are you thinking of buying the LOGOS Bible Software? If so, begin saving now and look out for the special discount given to BGST staff and students between May 15 - 29. Please send an email to lib@bgst.edu.sg if you want to purchase the latest edition of Bibleworks.
  3. Congratulations to Alumnus Lai Pak Wah (Grad Dip CS, 2003) on receiving his MCS degree and The Theology Prize from Regent College on May 1, 2006. He is in the ThM programme and working on his thesis. Pak Wah, Rina and their children (Fide and Isaiah) will be in Singapore in May.
  4. Chapel speakers for the month of May will be Rev Henry Hong (May 10), Mr Lai Pak Wah (May 17), Dr Philip Satterthwaite (May 24) and Dr Augustine Pagolu (May 31).

===================

A Public Seminar

on

"The Gospel of Judas and 
Early Christianity"

by the BGST Faculty.

 

Date: Saturday, May 13, 2006

Time: 4.00-6.00pm

Venue: 4 Bishan Street 13

 

Admission is free.

==================

building fund as at 20060511

A Blessed Birthday to ...

A Blessed Birthday to…

Dr Atomic Leow 8/5

Mr Daniel Jew 8/5

Mr Joshua Cheng 9/5

Ms Tamilarasi 9/5

Mr Lim Hong Kian 9/5

Mrs Chong Swee Kuan 11/5

Dr Chan Kit Yee 12/5

Mr Lim Tanguy Yuteck 12/5

Mr Loy Chin Fen 12/5

Mr Patrick Sum 14/5

M Lim Chin Keng 15/5

Mr Chew Wee 15/5

Mrs Pauline Koe 16/5

Mr Cheong See Hock 17/5

Mr Chin Joong Fui 17/5

Mr Ng Kok Beng 18/5

Dr Jeffrey Loh 19/5

Mdm Tan Soh Hiang 19/5

Ms Grace Lim Mei’en 19/5

Ms Elaine Teoh 20/5

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