CBP: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Erwin: Well, I was born in Canada. Really in life I wanted to preach. So it shouldn’t be a great surprise that that’s what I’m doing today. But the bottom line is God has given me the privilege of being the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago for twenty-five years.
The interesting thing is I’ve never known a time when I didn’t want to preach. So God led me into that ministry.
My parents, interestingly enough, are still alive. My father will be 102 this August and my mother is on the threshold of being 96, and they still take care of themselves. They are still quite active in their home doing all that is necessary. And so I have a very good heritage because they pray for me every day. So I am privileged to be in a family where I have so much good support.
CBP: So you decided to write a book about Dan Brown’s book. And the question that I get from a lot of people is, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a novel. Why are you so upset about a work of fiction?”
Erwin: Since you asked that question, I can speak to that. The problem with Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code, is that it is a work of fiction, but it purports to be based on history. If you read the flyleaf of the book it says, “The following are realities. They actually exist.” And then it refers to Opus Daily and the Priory of Scion and a whole host of other things in the book. And in the book it quotes the Gnostic gospels as if they are authoritative.
So the bottom line is the book gives the impression that it’s based on history. And what does it teach? That Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene; they had a child that became a part of the French Royal line. It was Christ’s intention that the church be based on Mary Magdalene but power hungry men stole it from her and built it on Peter instead. And Constantine at the council of Nicaea in 325 AD took a mere man, namely Jesus, and declared him a god for political purposes.
So what The Da Vinci Code does is it is a vicious attack against Christianity. It attacks the deity of Christ and it says that the New Testament documents are not as reliable as the Gnostic gospels. So you have an attack against Christ, and you have an attack against the reliability of the New Testament. And many people who are reading it, even Christians, know that it can’t be true, but on the other hand, they’re coming away with doubt and they’re saying, “Is it possible that even some of it can be true?”
As far as those who are not Christians who are reading it they absolutely love it. The stories that I’ve read and heard are ones like this: Someone today said her son read it, and he was, I guess, turned off to Christianity. He said, “Mom, this is exactly what I thought the whole church was built on – lies.”
A waitress said to me she can’t go to church again after reading the book because how can she go to church now when she knows the “true story” of the church? So those who are turned off to the church, particularly, are vulnerable because they want to believe it.
CBP: What do you think is the best way to combat that doubt?
Erwin: There are many people who say, “Well, if Christians knew their Bible better then they’d be able to answer it.” And the answer is, “No,” because to some extent they could, but on the other hand, The DaVinci Code, which purports to be based on history, unless you know something about history and can counter the Gnostic gospels and so forth, you’re not really qualified to do it.
Now, people who are willing to study and read The Da Vinci Deception, for example, this is a great opportunity for them to learn about the history of the church and our roots and why we root our faith in the New Testament to contrast them. What I do in The Da Vinci Deception is, first of all, I have a chapter on the divinity of Jesus. And show that Constantine did not invent him. It’s taught in the New Testament. All of the early church fathers believed in the divinity of Jesus. For example, Ignatius of Antioch in the year 110 calls Jesus Christ God Incarnate. That’s 200 years before the Council of Nicaea. All of them believed in the deity of Christ. Christians were willing to die for the faith in Rome because they believed in the divinity of Jesus. So the idea that Constantine invented it is pure myth.
Now let’s talk about the Gnostic gospels. The Gnostics were a group of people who believed it was possible to have a relationship with God apart from Jesus directly. And they had many teachings based on Plato. The word Gnostic means gnosis or knowledge. And they were heretics and were known by the early Christians. A man named Irenaeus wrote a book about them. But their documents were hidden and lost until they were found in 1945.
Now, very quickly, you have books in the Gnostic gospels such as the gospel of Philip, the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Mary. There isn’t a scholar around who actually believes that Philip wrote the gospel of Philip, or Thomas wrote the gospel of Thomas, or Mary wrote the gospel of Mary. What these Gnostics did is they had their own writings and ascribed them to apostles to give them credibility.
Already in the New Testament the Apostle Paul warned against this in the book of 1 Thessalonians when he said, “When you hear of a letter which is purported to have been written by me, don’t believe it.” Because they were doing this. The early church knew that these were fraudulent documents.
Secondly, we know they’re not reliable because of their dates. For example, the gospel of Philip says that Jesus was seen kissing Mary Magdalene. Let’s take that one. My Gnostic bible says that it was written in the year 250 AD in Syria. So the question I like to ask people is this: whose portrait of George Washington would you believe? Someone who knew him, or someone who lived 200 years after the time of George Washington and then used George Washington to put his own political ideas in George Washington’s mouth? That’s the question, you see. Do we believe the New Testament documents, and if so if we believe the New Testament documents why would we believe the Gnostic gospels which were written far later?
But let’s suppose for the sake of argument, that even if the Gnostic gospels are true as in the gospel of Philip that Jesus was a companion of Mary Magdalene. It says nothing about the fact that they were married, much less that they had a child that became part of the French royal line. So all of that is mythology. And we need to be able to say it.
Finally, if anyone doubts whether the Gnostic gospels are in any way competitive with the New Testament, all that you need to do is to read them. There are these references to Mary Magdalene, that’s true, but let me give you a quote from the gospel of Thomas which is the most famous of the Gnostic gospels. It says this: “He who has known the world has discovered a carcass, and he who has discovered a carcass, of him the world is not worthy.” Now, haven’t you been waiting for years just to hear that bit of blessing?
I could read passages as I quote in my book from the Gnostic gospels, which show that they are filled with foolishness. They do not have the credibility, the weight of the New Testament. You read them and instantly you know; you are not reading something that has been inspired by God. So properly interpreted, we have nothing whatever to fear from The Da Vinci Code. But if you read The Da Vinci Code and they quote the Gnostic gospels and make statements about the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene as a matter of historical fact, etcetera, which is a quote from The Da Vinci Code, people read that and they look and they say, “Really.” Well, the answer is, no, it’s not a matter of historical fact, and when you look at the evidence, it’s like sand through your fingers. Because there’s no evidence at all historically that that was the case.
CBP: Do you think that it’s going to become worse when the movie comes out? Is that just going to bring the discussion to the forefront?
Erwin: Yes. You see, the movie is going to multiplying the number of people who now know of these views, this fiction. And there are various streams in our culture that feed The Da Vinci Code. For example, feminism. You have women studying this book who absolutely love it. They love the idea. “Yeah, it’s just like those wretched old men to steal the church from Mary Magdalene and build it on Peter.” So it appeals to the feminists.
It also appeals to those who love conspiracies. “It’s just like the church to hide this from people throughout the centuries.” And, “If you only knew what the church was doing, then you’d understand.” So you have that.
You have another stream flowing into our culture. That is the stream of everybody believing whatever they want to believe. The Gnostic gospels give you the freedom to deny all the cardinal doctrines of the faith: The deity of Christ, the virgin birth, and so forth. And you can pretty well make up what it is that you want to believe. And so our whole age is in tune with the Gnostics who believe that everybody could have their own revelation of God. You hear that today, “I’m into God my way, and you’re into God your way, and we can all approach Him in whatever way we’d like.”
So what you have is a culture that has been schooled with the idea of individual belief. And as a result of that, The Da Vinci Code has come at a perfect time when people are ready, willing, and anxious to believe it.
CBP: So do you believe that the people who will read your book are primarily those who are trying to reconcile The Da Vinci Code with their belief in their Christianity, or do you think that non-Christians are going to read it?
Erwin: It’s always dangerous to ask an author who should read his book because he’s going to say, “Everybody with any brain should read it.”
CBP: But realistically, who’s going to read it?
Erwin: I believe that The Da Vinci Deception is going to be read by people who’ve read The Da Vinci Code and are seeking for answers. Probably primarily Christians, but I would like to think that there are also seekers who are anxious to find whether or not The Da Vinci Code really has some validity who will also read The Da Vinci Deception, because they want to do some historical digging.
I wrote the book in such a way that no one has to have read The Da Vinci Code in order to profit from it. First of all, I summarize The Da Vinci Code in five pages. And then what they can do is to see the basis of the Christian faith. I discuss the validity of the New Testament manuscripts, I discuss the Gnostic gospels, I discuss the Council of Nicaea.
By the way, another myth in The Da Vinci Code is that Constantine decided what books would be in the New Testament. That is total fabrication. And so what I want people to do is to realize that the Christian faith is built upon a firm foundation. So even though primarily Christians would read it, I’d like to think that a broader culture that is interested in the validity of The Da Vinci Code, or the lack of validity, would be willing to read it and find out what the historical sources, the primary documents have to say.
CBP: Have there been a lot of Christians who have been swayed or given a lot of doubt, or has it been mostly Catholics or whom?
Erwin: Let me just say this. The book is very critical of the Vatican and the Catholic Church. And I believe that another reason why many people are reading it is those who have been turned off to the Catholic Church because of the scandals now find that there’s an even bigger scandal. The church for years has been hiding this secret so they too are willing to believe.
So I think primarily the book is believed by those who want to believe it because they have an argument with the church whether Catholic or Protestant, also believe that there are Christians who are reading who are coming away wondering whether or not at least part of it might be true. And seeds of doubt are being sown in their hearts.
I just want to say this: I’ve read books written by atheists, I’ve read attacks against Christianity because I have an interest in apologetics; I’ve never come across a book that is such a direct attack against Christianity that is so popular that the common culture is reading it. These other books, you know, a few people read. But this book being read by the masses – when the movie comes out you’re going to find a lot of other people being exposed to these ideas. And they’re going to be wondering about the basis for these ideas.
CBP: So hopefully through what you’ve presented in your book people like myself who can go into an active discussion and help to repeat those.
Erwin: Nothing would delight me more than if people want to read The Da Vinci Code, let them read The Da Vinci Code; but let them also read The Da Vinci Deception and use it as an opportunity to build a bridge to our culture.
I told someone who is having some studies in The Da Vinci Code in his church because Christians wondered about it; invite the wider culture. Since we have to live with The Da Vinci Code, let’s build bridges to the world and use it as an opportunity to witness to the authenticity of Jesus. That’s what Christians should be doing. I hope that my book makes a small contribution in that direction.