After reading about 100 pages of The DaVinci Code, I am well aware of it's lack of literary merit and yet its ability to attract a following because of its sensational story -- that is, one that appeals to the senses, to the sense we all have that there is a back-story to life. Indeed there is a back-story to life, only this book gets its so wrong. I understand why such books are popular. It's not the first, of course, abounding with great conspiracies, secret societies, and hidden knowledge. But the runaway success of this book must be attributable to more than mass gullibility. But what?
In a recent article on the Relevant Magazine website, North University Professor Scot McKnight attributes the interest in The Gospel of Judas -- a text all scholars agree is contrived and offers no reliable information on Jesus -- to this generation's distrust of the Church as a source of authority, given the scandals of TV evangelists, pedophile priests, and more general evidence that Christians don't behave any better than non-Christians (and sometimes worse!). McKnight says that "[w]hat makes this text relevant to me is that it makes me realize that the only thing this generation will believe is a Story that is made true by local churches that live out that Story in such a way that it becomes a living, credible Story for a new generation."
He's on to something. That something is that I'm not sure if most people really desire to engage in a discussion about whether The DaVinci Code story or the text of The Gospel of Judas are actually true, because, at bottom, like good post-moderns, they are enamored with the story. And for the post-modern, all stories have equal weight. You just pick the one you like, the one that "makes sense for you." This tyranny of the narrative is a product of a life rooted in an exalted self. You are self-defining; your story is what you make it or that which you adopt.
This is a lamentable fact. Several books have now been written "debunking" The DaVinci Code and demonstrating the complete lack of reliability of The Gospel of Judas and yet, I suspect most of those who are attracted to these stories are not reading these books and do not plan to do so. At best, they do not regard the source of most of these books (The Church) as credible -- the realm of hypocrites, money hungry tele-evangelists, and a clique of religiosity. While it's not wise to generalize about this (there are folks still interested in debating objective truth), this has ramifications for evangelism: our actions, our incarnated story, come first. That, and not our words, will speak most loudly and provocatively in these times.
Objective truth is inescapable and our quest for it -- despite apparent indifference -- is creational, bound up in who we are as people made in the image of God. People will talk with us about whether there is, as Francis Schaeffer said, "true Truth," but they must come to trust our embodiment of that Truth first. If it's lived out -- that is, incarnated -- the Christian Story will attract. It is compelling. As Schaeffer said in his little book, The Mark of the Christian, love is the final apologetic. It's the first, too.