The Resurrection and The DaVinci Code

Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel, The DaVinci Code, will certainly outsell N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God by a factor of 10,000:1, and probably more. Quite unintentionally, though, Dr. Wright’s book is the perfect response to the anti-Christian slander that underwrites The DaVinci Code – the charge that the early Christians deliberately lied about Jesus, his friendships, and his fate in order to keep women subjugated. Really.

Jesus, you see, was not a carpenter and itinerant preacher of the Kingdom but a wealthy religious intellectual with aspirations to David’s throne. His well-healed and royally inclined lover, Mary Magdalene, is the “holy grail,” because she held within herself the blood of Jesus while bearing his children. After Constantine legalized Christianity, the Church rewrote the story to suit its, and Constantine’s, imperial purposes. Thus the truth (sic) about Jesus and the origins of Christianity can only be found in the “gnostic Gospels,” ancient texts never incorporated into the New Testament but unearthed by archaeologists in recent decades. These esoteric texts reveal the story the Church has been suppressing for almost two millennia, often by violence.

All of which could be dismissed as the most ludicrous rubbish were it not for the fact that recent academic work on the gnostic Gospels has tilted, if in a more refined way, toward a thesis not unlike Dan Brown’s in The DaVinci Code. I recently saw a whole slew of such books displayed on a single table in a large bookstore under the rubric, “Now that you’ve read The DaVinci Code…”. (I asked the store manager whether they were planning a display entitled “Now that you’ve read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the classic anti-Semitic canard. He didn’t know what I was talking about.)

I’m almost ashamed to mention The Resurrection of the Son of God in this context. To put it simply, this is the most exciting work of biblical scholarship I’ve read in twenty years. It gave me the same kind of intellectual thrill and spiritual glow I experienced when I first read Servais Pinckaers’ The Sources of Christian Ethics in the late 1990s: the sense of being in the hands of a master teacher who has an astonishing amount of material at his fingertips, wears his scholarship lightly, has original things to say, says them brilliantly, swats critics deftly, and in doing all of that changes the state of the question. Wright’s Resurrection – 700+ pages of closely argued analysis of biblical texts, early Christian documents, and other ancient sources – isn’t leisure reading. Those willing to work through it, though, will come away with their Easter faith re-confirmed on a solid historical foundation.

Yes, that’s right, a historical foundation. For Wright’s argument is that the only historically satisfactory explanation of the rise of the early Church and the only satisfactory reading of the relevant texts (Paul’s references to the Resurrection in his letters and the four Gospel accounts) lead to the conclusion that “Jesus was bodily raised from the dead.” As Dr. Wright puts it, briskly, “…the only possible reason why early Christianity began and took the shape it did is that the tomb really was empty and that people really did meet Jesus alive again.” Yes, Wright continues, this involves “accepting a challenge” to the way we usually think about the world and the way it works. But if we’re willing to think outside-the-box of conventional modern world views, “the best historical explanation for all these phenomena is that Jesus was indeed bodily raised from the dead.”

In other words, N.T. Wright uses the skills of historical-critical scholarship precisely to affirm the historicity of “the resurrection of the Son of God.” A more thoroughgoing demolition of the trendy scholarship and pseudo-scholarship underneath The DaVinci Code could not be imagined.

The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press) will be of special interest to bishops, priests, and deacons preparing homilies and to teachers charged with transmitting the Church’s faith to the next generation. For too long now, in Wright’s Anglican Church as well as in the Catholic Church, the resurrection has been preached and taught under a cloud of debunking. By contrast, Wright’s Resurrection is a brilliant example of critical affirmation.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”