We all have questions that we wrestle with when it comes to God. Not simply with the dysfunction of the world, but with the raw intellectual hurdles we don’t know how to leap.
Author Dan Brown is best known for writing the bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code. At first glance, the plot isn’t anything that stands out above the normal mystery fare: The murder of a curator at the Louvre in Paris leads to a trail of clues found in the work of Leonardo da Vinci and to the discovery of a centuries-old secret society.
But as the plot unfolds, we find woven throughout the narrative a thoroughgoing rejection of the truth of the Christian faith. Specifically, Brown suggests that the church invented the deity of Jesus. So it wasn’t just a novel. Brown put forward a blend of fiction and historical assertion that suggests that the entire foundation upon which Christianity is established is false.
In an interview to promote a later book, he was asked, “Are you religious?” Here was his answer:
I was raised Episcopalian, and I was very religious as a kid. Then, in eighth or ninth grade, I studied astronomy, cosmology, and the origins of the universe. I remember saying to a minister, “I don’t get it. I read a book that said there was an explosion known as the Big Bang, but here it says God created heaven and Earth and the animals in seven days. Which is right?” Unfortunately, the response I got was, “Nice boys don’t ask that question.” A light went off, and I said, “The Bible doesn’t make sense. Science makes much more sense to me.” And I gravitated away from religion.
I had a very different experience with questions when I was young. At the ripe age of nine, it dawned on me that the reason I was a Christian was because my parents were Christians. Or at least, they held a Christian worldview and disposition. Like a thunderbolt from the blue, it hit me:
That’s why I believed it all. I had been raised to!
Which, of course, did not make it true. My preadolescent brain quickly surmised that if I had been born in India, I would have been raised a Hindu. It would have been Hinduism that I would have believed and accepted. If I had been born in Iran, my parents would have raised me to accept the Muslim faith.
I remember panicking – what if I wasn’t born in the right country!
My entire eternity suddenly seemed to rest on whether my family of origin was geographically correct.
I went to my mother, who was innocently working in the kitchen and unaware of my spiritual crisis, and asked, “Mom, why are we Christians? You did check it out first, didn’t you? How do you and Dad know we’re believing the right one?”
I remember her rising from work, and then looking at me for what seemed an eternity. Then she seemed to decide how to respond.
She did not dismiss me or give me a quick “Don’t worry” kind of reply that would have trivialized my question.
She knew me well enough to know that I was serious about the question, and that how she answered could prove to be decisive to my spiritual future. She also resonated with the question, for though I did not know it at the time, she had yet to fully embrace the Christian faith herself. So she said something that was very unusual for a parent to say to her 9-year-old son.
“Jim, your father and I have looked at all of the faiths of the world, and have determined that Christianity is the right religion. But you have to come to that in your own mind. So you are welcome to look into all of the world’s religions and come to your own conclusions. And if, at the end, you want to go to a different church, or believe something else, you may.”
Inwardly I heaved a huge sigh of relief.
Not just because they had apparently done their homework (I had not given them credit for being as reflective about the matter as I had been), but also because I was allowed to pursue my questions without fear of retribution.
There was something comforting, even reassuring, about such freedom.
I was taught that doubt, by itself, was not wrong…
…it was simply the fuel that energizes faith to seek understanding.
James Emery White
Excerpt from James Emery White, A Traveler’s Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying Through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). Available on Amazon.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.