Angels & Demons part 2
Misconceptions about the Christian Faith
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
May 17, 2009



Last week we started a 3-part message series taking a look at the book/movie Angels & Demons. The movie, just released this weekend, is based on the book written by Dan Brown way back in the year 2000. And in case you didn’t already know, Dan Brown was also the author of The DaVinci Code, another book that was made into a movie and caused quite a controversy at the time.

Well, Angels & Demons follows the same main character, Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks in the movie, and this character is a Harvard professor who specializes in religious symbology. In other words, he studies the symbols and symbolism found within world religions. Langdon doesn’t seem to have any real faith of his own, but he’s interested in studying faith and taking a look at all of the various religions throughout history.

Now, I’m not endorsing the movie or the book. And I’m not calling for a boycott, either. You can check them out if you want to. And I’ll be careful not to give away too much of the plot today. But just be aware that some of the things that Dan Brown writes about and presents as facts in reality have no basis in fact. In particular, some of the things Dan Brown writes about the Catholic Church and about the origins of Christianity simply aren’t true.

As I mentioned last week, we don’t object to what Dan Brown wrote just because we don’t like it or it doesn’t line up with our faith; we object because it’s not true. And the evidence shows that.

So last week, we took a look at Science and Faith. We saw how in Angels & Demons as well as in our society today there seems to be this belief that Science and Faith are at odds with each other, always have been, and there’s no way to reconcile the two. That’s the underlying theme of Angels & Demons. But what we discovered is that Science and Faith are very compatible.

In fact, it’s the Christian worldview specifically that led to the rise of Science. That’s been documented. Christians believe that our world was created by God… we can debate about exactly how he did it, but we all believe that our world is a God-directed Creation. And we believe that our world is a reasonable, rational Creation because He is a reasonable and rational God. That means that our world has order, it operates according to laws God put in place, and that led to the belief that it can be studied, examined, and understood. It has actually been documented how science arose in the Western World as opposed to anyplace else in the world specifically because of this Christian Worldview.

We also saw how even though there have been times when Christians and Scientists have opposed each other, those are actually the exceptions. The truth is, The Christian Church has historically supported scientific discovery and for centuries was at the forefront of scientific endeavor.

And we saw how Science and Faith are inherently compatible. They are both seeking truth, and both are exploring God’s revelation of Himself to us. And when there seems to be a conflict, usually all that is needed is more time, more study, more understanding, and an openness to learn and grow… and those differences take care of themselves.

Okay, so that was last week, when we looked at the underlying theme of the book/movie. Next week, we’re going to look at what Angels & Demons says that is positive.

But today… Today we’re going to talk about some of the messages that are presented in Angels & Demons that aren’t so positive. Some of the errors Dan Brown makes about Christianity and the Christian Church, either intentionally or unintentionally.

And the reason we’re looking at these are because they are so interwoven in the plot, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that it’s very easy to just accept them as being truth. And as we’ve seen before, Dan Brown likes to present these kinds of claims not just as part of a fictional book but as being fact, even when they are very far from it.


So let’s go at it. What are some of the claims that Dan Brown makes in Angels & Demons that are less than truthful? There were six or seven we could have looked at this morning; we’re just going to look at three. And again, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I’m speaking in terms of the book.


Misconceptions about Christianity found in Angels & Demons:

1.    Christian belief is inherently destructive

This is the kind of message you find in the book, and find other people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Penn from Penn & Teller promoting so vigorously these days. Let me show you part of a conversation from Angels & Demons between the main character, Robert Langdon, and a scientist by the name of Max Kohler. Starting with Kohler, Kohler says…

“Our scientists produce miracles almost daily.”
 “Miracles?” The word “miracle” was certainly not part of the vocabulary around Harvard’s Fairchild Science Building. Miracles were left for the School of Divinity.
“You sound skeptical,” Kohler said.” I thought you were a religious symbologist. Do you not believe in miracles?”
“I’m undecided on miracles,” Langdon said…
“Perhaps miracle is the wrong word. I was simply trying to speak your language.”
“My language?” Langdon was suddenly uncomfortable. “Not to disappoint you, sir, but I study religious symbology – I’m an academic, not a priest.”
Kohler slowed suddenly and turned, his gaze softening a bit. “Of course. How simple of me. One does not need to have cancer to analyze its symptoms.”
Langdon had never heard it put quite that way.” (Brown, pg. 26-27).

If you didn’t catch the subtle meaning here, Kohler is equating Christianity with cancer… a disease that grows and spreads, causing destruction and even death. That seems to be what he is saying, and there’s no real objection to this belief presented in the book.

Now, you might look at that and just think I’m reading into it. And maybe I am, but take a look at what is said just a few pages later. Langdon is describing the Illuminati, a secret society that is prominent in the book and the movie, and this is what they believed…

“The brotherhood held that the superstitious dogma spewed forth by the church was mankind’s greatest enemy. They feared that if religion continued to promote pious myth as absolute fact, scientific progress would halt, and mankind would be doomed to an ignorant future of senseless holy wars.”

Again, Langdon is describing how this secret society viewed the Christian Church, but there’s no hint that Langdon disagrees with them. So what you’re left with is the message that if you believe in Jesus, then you are placing your faith in a myth that only leads to closed-mindedness, ignorance, destruction, and war.

And you know what? There have been some who would fit that description. We can’t totally ignore what Dan Brown is presenting, because there is some truth. There have been people claiming to be Christians who have been closed-minded. There have been some who have been corrupted by power and have done some pretty bad things. There have been some who have treated other people with contempt. There have been moments in history when the Christian Church has aligned itself with evil people and have participated in actions that we regret today.

However, those instances are the exceptions. And a simple examination of the motives and the methods of the people behind those atrocities clearly reveals that they weren’t Christ-followers at all, regardless of what they claim. Or at least they were severely misled. Their actions were not in keeping with Christian teaching either then or now.

And the truth is, there are far more and far greater examples of Christians and the Christian Church lifting society to a higher level. We’ve talked about this here before…

You have the educational systems begun by Christ-followers to educate children who were forced to work during the industrial revolution, you have the great Universities… Harvard and Yale, started by the Puritans… Princeton, originally a Presbyterian college… Cambridge, started in 1209 by Christians… Saint Andrews in Scotland, started as a school of theology… The University of Edinburgh was evangelical… Oxford was established by a variety of religious orders… and the very first institute of higher education was started by a Celtic preacher named Illtud around 500 A.D.

Or how about how Christ-followers led the way in the fight for equal rights for women? Dan Brown seems to think that the Church has always oppressed women, but that is simply not true. Christians have fought for women’s rights. Our own denomination was heavily involved in that movement. The Wesleyan Church was also committed to ending slavery here in North America and participated in the Underground Railroad. Abraham Lincoln was guided by his Christian convictions and was often found on his knees in prayer. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist preacher. William Wilberforce, another Christ-follower, was a British parliamentarian who led a decades-long fight that put an end to the slave trade throughout the British Empire. Going back into Roman times, slavery was essentially ended in the Roman Empire because of Christ-followers.

Or how about the humanitarian contributions of Christ-followers? Most of the major humanitarian organizations in the world were started by Churches or by Christ-followers. Christ-followers are often the first on the scene after a disaster, and they give the most to provide aid and relief. Hundreds of thousands of Christ-followers responded to help with recent disasters like the Tsunami and with Katrina.

But that’s not a new thing. Christ-followers have a history of being the first and best responders to disasters. Like when a plague would hit a society. We talked about this during our recent message series on The Faith. During a plague, the rich would be heading to hills to their country estates hoping to avoid any danger themselves, but the Christ-followers headed straight to where the victims were to care for them, often at the expense of the own lives. And it’s been documented that because of their compassion at times like that, they increased the survival rate by as much as two-thirds.

Then you’ve got all the orphanages started and operated by Christ-followers. You’ve got the way that they’ve cared for widows… all kinds of humanitarian concerns answered by Christ-followers.

And if you want to look at some other benefits, how about scientific discoveries, like we talked about last week?

And then there’s exploration. Marco Polo, David Livingstone, Christopher Columbus, James Cook… all explorers guided by their faith. Plus, untold numbers of missionaries trekking into the most remote parts of our planet to spread the message about the good news of Jesus.

Plus there are the contributions Christ-followers have made toward ethics and morality, and the many many contributions to the arts… sculptures, paintings, music, drama…

These great positive contributions throughout the past 2000 years… all accomplished by Jesus Christ and His followers.

But yet, Christian belief is supposed to be like a cancer that destroys everything that it comes into contact with? Sorry Dan, I don’t think so. All you have to do is look at the teachings of Jesus to know that Christianity benefits society; it doesn’t destroy it.

Luke 6:27-28 (NLT)
“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.”

Matthew 7:12 (NLT)
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”

Matthew 18:21-22 (NLT)
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”

John 13:34-35 (NLT)
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

I’m sorry; remind me again how this is evil? How this is a cancer? I think it’s obvious that this claim from Angels & Demons is incorrect. The mission of Jesus and the mission of the Christian Church is and always has been to provide love, acceptance, forgiveness, life, healing and restoration to all people! That permeates throughout our Scripture and it’s evidenced throughout our history. Yes, there are blemishes. But they’re the exception, and we’ll be talking about them next week. But I am more than confident that this world would be a much worse place without Christianity.


2.    The Bible is a book of fairy tales

In Angels & Demons, Robert Langdon teams up with a scientist named Vittoria, who always seems to speak with wisdom, she always seems to have the right answer… and here’s what she says about the Bible:

“Holy scripture is stories... legends and history of man’s quest to understand his own need for meaning.”

And I think that echoes the misconception that a lot of people hold today… that the stories in the Bible are just that: stories. They might say that they are fictional allegories or metaphors to teach us moral lessons. They might say they’re ancient legends. They might try to discredit them in a variety of ways. But you need to realize that the Bible is an accurate source of history. It’s a book of facts, not fiction.

For centuries opponents of the Bible have tried to disprove it using other historical writings and archaeological discoveries. But the more we learn, the more the Bible is proven true. Cities mentioned in the Bible that people claimed didn’t exist have been unearthed. The names of people who were thought to be made-up characters have been found in other ancient and historical writings. Time and time again, the Bible establishes itself as a reliable and trustworthy source of history.

Let me show you what Paul wrote. Talking about Jesus, Paul said…

1 Corinthians 15:4 (NLT)
He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.

And yes, this is an example of me using Scripture to prove Scripture. But what I want to show you here is that in Paul’s writing he obviously believed that what he was writing about actually happened in real history. And as far as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is concerned, we talked back at Easter time about it and saw how the evidence supports the belief that it really happened.

Plus, beyond that, the Bible is not just a collection of stories; it’s the Word of God. As we read in Paul’s second letter to Timothy…

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

Now, to really understand the Bible, you have to know that it actually contains a variety of different kinds of writings.

Types of Writings in the Bible:

a.    Historical

You’re going to find the accounts of actual historical events that took place just as the Bible says they took place. The accounts of Abraham, Moses, King David, Esther, Ruth, Job, the birth of Jesus, His miracles, His death and resurrection, Peter, Paul, the formation of the church… all of these people and events are conveyed to us in the pages of the Bible as factual events. These are historical accounts.

b.    Figurative

Anything in the Bible that is presented to us as if it really happened, did happen. But there are times in the Bible where we’re told stories simply to teach us a moral lesson. These stories can use metaphors or allegory or symbolism to convey to us eternal Truths. For example, the parables of Jesus weren’t actual events; they were stories He made up to teach the hearers something. It’s as if the crowds or his disciples would gather around Him asking Him questions, and He’d say, “Come here, let me tell you a story…”

c.    Poetic

Some of the writings are in the form of songs or poems, often expressing emotions. The most obvious section of the Bible where you’ll find this is in the Psalms, but it’s really found in various passages throughout the Bible. For example…

Psalm 22:1-2 (NLT)
My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

The writer here feels like God has abandoned him. But has God abandoned Him? No. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the writer felt that way. The poetry – regardless of if it’s angry, joyful, depressed, confused, blissful – the poetry contains some of the most personal and honest writings in the Bible.

d.    Instructive

We can learn from the entire Bible, but you’ll find a concentration of practical and educational writings in Proverbs and in the New Testament letters written by Paul and the other apostles. These are instructions about how you should go about everyday life. They’re not promises, they’re not guarantees, but they are guides as to how to live wisely.

e.    Doctrinal

These would be the passages that teach us about who God is, how He acts, what He’s done, and how we relate to Him.

f.    Prophetic

Prophetic writings are about events that haven’t happened yet. For example, the Old Testament writings of the birth and life of Jesus were written centuries before Jesus was born, but the writings were about an actual birth, an actual death, and an actual resurrection.

There are also prophetic writings about events that are still yet to come… about what we call the End Times. Some of those passages are difficult to understand, but they are clearly written about actual events that are going to happen, even though we don’t comprehend everything about them.


So there are a variety of different kinds of writings in the Bible, and of course there’s some overlap between the different types.

But the point is, the Bible is a very special book, in a class all by itself in all of literature… in style, content, and importance. It’s the Word of God… without any legendary qualities… and it is relevant and applicable to life today.


3.    Christianity is just one option among many

In other words, what Angels & Demons tries to tell us is that all religions are equally valid. You can find God through Christianity, but you can also find Him through Islam, through science, or any other religion. Take a look… Vittoria tells Langdon…

“Religion is like language or dress. We gravitate toward the practices with which we were raised. In the end, though, we are all proclaiming the same thing. That life has meaning. That we are grateful for the power that created us.”
Langdon was intrigued. “So you’re saying that whether you are a Christian or a Muslim simply depends on where you were born?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Look at the diffusion of religion around the globe.”
“So faith is random?”
“Hardly. Faith is universal. Our specific methods for understanding it are arbitrary. Some of us pray to Jesus, some of us go to Mecca, some of us study subatomic particles. In the end we are all just searching for truth, that which is greater than ourselves.”

So basically, Vittoria is saying that where you place your faith is completely arbitrary… it doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re searching for truth. But Jesus says that where you place your faith is critical. It’s vital. Where you place your faith determines your eternity. Jesus said…

John 14:6 (NLT)
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

Does it sound like it doesn’t matter if you believe in Jesus or if you believe in someone or something else?

1 John 5:11-12 (NLT)
And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

So again, we read that Jesus is the only way. If you have the Son… if you have Jesus… you have life. If you don’t have Jesus you don’t have life. You might have Muhammed or Buddha or Krishna or Brahma or Allah… you might have good deeds, you might have generosity, you might have religion, you might have science, you might have perfect attendance at church… but if you don’t have the Son… if you don’t have Jesus… you do not have life.

Acts 4:11-12 (NLT)
“For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures… There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

1 Timothy 1:5-6 (NLT)
For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

And think about it. We just came through the Easter season. And we took the time to remember what Jesus went through for you and for me on the first Good Friday. We remembered how Jesus was arrested and put on trial and executed on the Cross. We talked about why He was willing to go through that… so we could receive forgiveness and life. So let me ask you this:

Do you think that Jesus would have subjected himself to scourging, the whipping, the beating, the crown of thorns, the humiliation, the mocking, the nails through His wrists and His feet… Do you think He would have gone through that kind of torture if there was any other way? If all you had to do was follow the teachings of Buddha, would there be any reason for Jesus to come at all? If you just had to be a good person, what was the point of the crucifixion? If you could find salvation through Islam or through science, what would be the point? Do you really think Jesus would have willingly gone through what He went through, and then said… “Okay, you can follow Me… or not. It really doesn’t matter. You can find another way to God.”

No, Jesus claimed to be the One and Only Way to God the Father. He believed that, and I believe that. He is the hope of the world. Salvation is found in no one and nothing else. That’s what Jesus Himself claimed. That’s what the Bible teaches. Jesus is THE way or He’s NO way.

And the great thing is, He makes this offer to everyone. He welcomes every person who will listen to come to Him and receive the love and forgiveness and life that He offers.

Romans 1:16 (NLT)
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes…

No one is excluded, regardless of age, social status, ethnic or religious background, whether rich or poor… no matter who you are or where you come from, Jesus loves you, He died for You, and He rose again to offer you life. You can accept Him or reject Him. Take Him or leave Him. But you can’t just number Him as one choice out of many. Jesus Himself refuted that possibility.

Now, Angels & Demons has a point that people do tend to adopt the religion of their parents. But that doesn’t mean it’s right. And it doesn’t mean that they’re all equally valid. And there are people all over the world, from a variety of faith backgrounds, that are now coming to faith in Jesus Christ, have entered into relationship with Him, and are looking to Him for their hope for the future.


Maybe you’re here this morning and you’ve bought into some of these kinds of misconceptions. Maybe you’ve never really thought about how important it is for you personally to make a decision about what you’re going to do with Jesus Christ. Jesus claimed to be God, and He proved it through His death and resurrection. And He also claimed to be the One and Only Way… there is no other way for you to find forgiveness and purpose and life, and ultimately for you to find hope for eternity. That’s what Jesus claimed, and that’s a claim that can’t be ignored. You’ve got to either accept it or reject it. What are you going to do with Jesus?

Perhaps you’ve never thought about it seriously before, but now you recognize that what Jesus claims really is true. And you realize that requires a response from you. Are you ready this morning to choose to place your faith in Him and follow Him from this point forward?

If that’s where you’re at this morning, I’d like to lead you in a prayer. Let’s all bow our heads and close our eyes. And if you’re ready to place your faith in Jesus and enter into that personal relationship with Him this morning, you can just pray silently… you can pray something like this…

Dear Jesus, I know that I need you in my life. I’ve tried it on my own, but now I realize that without You, life has no purpose, it has no meaning, it has no hope. I’m sorry I haven’t come to you earlier, but I come to you now asking you to forgive me for all my sin… everything I’ve ever done wrong… and I choose to follow You from this point forward. Teach me your ways, and lead me on your paths. Thank you.

Just keep your eyes closed for a minute. Let’s just do that to respect each other’s privacy. If you’ve just prayed that prayer, I’d like to be able to support you and pray for you myself. I’m not going to mention you by name or embarrass you in any way, but if you’ve prayed that prayer would you just raise your hand?

Now let me pray…

Lord, I thank you for speaking to our hearts this morning. Thank you for confirming within our spirits that you really are who You say you are. You are God, who came to earth as a man, who died to pay the penalty for our sinfulness, and who rose again to conquer death, offering us life in its place. [For those here this morning who have chosen to follow you, I pray that you will give them a sense of confirmation through Your Holy Spirit, that you would guide them, and help them grow in their faith.]
For all of us, we pray that you will give us discernment and help us recognize when things are true and when things are false. There are a lot of misconceptions floating around, and it could be very easy to be deceived. So we pray for Your protection, and Your wisdom and Your guidance as we live day to day. May we remain faithful to You and to Your Word. For all of this we thank You, and we pray this under the authority of Your name, Amen.


 

 

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