Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Review: The Books The Church Suppressed

On the blog, we're getting into the swing of book reviews, but the books that I'm reading aren't always the latest books to be found in the bookshops. As I've written previously, I enjoy hunting through secondhand bookshops because you never know what you might find. On a recent visit, I came across the book with this intriguing title - 'The Books The Church Suppressed: Fiction and Truth in The Da Vinci Code' from Dr Michael Green.

Now obviously The Da Vinci Code has been out for a few years now, and this response to it has also been around for about five years, but it was a very useful book in setting out the key issues clearly and concisely. Green identifies the issues at hand in the claims of The Da Vinci code's narrator and characters - that Jesus was only thought of as divine after 325 at the Council of Nicaea, and that in the same year, the pagan emperor Constantine commissioned a new Bible for political motives, which is secondary and later than the Coptic Gnostic gospels from Nag Hammadi and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Green, in refuting these ridiculous ideas, takes us on a whirlwind tour of Church History, back to the formation of the Canon of Scripture (where the Church recognised the authority of the apostolic writings, rather than giving them authority), and the beginnings of the Gnostic heresies. Or in Green's words: 'The church did not impose some list of books for the faithful to regard as authoritative. They recognised one!'

He expertly exposes the roots of Gnosticism, and how it is a completely different religious system to Christianity: 'Two different worlds, are they not? One rooted in human potential, the other rooted in the person and work of the divine Jesus.' Indeed, perhaps the strongest part of the book is where Green asks why it all matters, and then exposes the current trend towards Gnosticism in The Episcopal Church in the USA, and in liberal denominations in general. I don't think that I've read a better analysis of the mess we're in than his paragraphs on modern day Gnostics in the Church.

Thus far it's all been good, but in his comparison of Gnostic thought and Christianity, there was one weak point. In seeking to oppose the individualistic and superiority complex of the Gnostic elect, Green says this: 'Authentic Christianity... relies not on the salvation of those randomly predestined, but on the sheer generosity of God, whose free gift is eternal life for all who repent and believe.'

I understand that the book is perhaps aimed mostly for interested sceptics, those who will be drawn in by the title, and that Green wishes to greet them with the gospel as they think through the issues involved - but surely predestination is an important element of the gospel. To me, it seems that the biblical doctrine of predestination is being ignored, to emphasise the free offer to all. Perhaps there would have been a better way of phrasing it.

All in all, though, the book is excellent. It's a clear, concise defence of the truth, which acts as a good introduction to the early Church, its history and the Bible's authority. Christians wishing to engage in apologetics and learn more of Church History will benefit, but equally will non-Christians wishing to examine the truth claims of Dan Brown's writings. As I've said, this book's best contribution may well be as an exposition and refutation of Gnosticism, both ancient and modern.

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