Kites Without Tails

Old bed sheets.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’m highlighting two surveys released this week citing how The Da Vinci Code has undermined faith in the Roman Catholic Church and badly damaged its credibility. A British survey revealed that readers of Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel are twice as likely to believe Jesus Christ fathered children and four times as likely to think the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei is a murderous sect. The second survey — an American one — found evangelical Protestants are more likely to be shaken than Catholics. If you’ve ever flown a kite, you can see why.

For the uninitiated, the traditional triangle pattern kite is pretty difficult to fly — if not down right impossible — without the proper tail attached. The tail adds stability and balance. Without it, the kite will lurch, dart about, and ultimately crash. I know — the first kites I bought as a kid came without tails. We learned to cut old bed sheets into strips and attach them to base of the kite.

A great many people are attracted to evangelicalism because I believe it’s a kite stripped of the tail of history and tradition. Evangelicals rely solely on “The B-I-B-L-E… yes that’s the Book for me.” Isn’t it ironic, then — when you read the Bible — the gospels themselves begin by tethering the good news about Jesus to the tail of tradition and history? The next time you happen to come across a Bible, pick it up and open to the first gospel, written by Matthew. Read the first 17 verses. It took me 47 seconds this morning. It begins like this: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. To Abraham was born Isaac; and to Isaac…” It’s hundreds and hundreds of years of history and tradition. It’s the tail on the kite of the good news.

This is why The Da Vinci Code undermines the confidence of so many evangelicals. It’s a skewed version of church history. And that’s exactly what most evangelical Protestants know little or nothing about. In our imagination, the church was launched by Jesus, furthered by the Apostle Paul, resuscitated by Martin Luther, enriched with a series of books written by John Calvin, and extended by evangelists like Billy Graham. Boom! Here we are in the 21st century!

But I would be hard pressed to find an evangelical who could describe how the church flourished in the 2nd century, or how the canon of Scripture came together, or what were the contributions of Origen, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Dionysius, Clement of Rome, Mathetes, or Polycarp. How many people can tell you about the Iconclast Controversy in 1054? What happened to the church under the rule of Islam in the 9th century? These are mostly black holes. We have no tail on our kite.

Evangelicals — and I am proud to be one — mostly study the Bible and emphasize expository Bible teaching. And we should. But we’re not known for book and film clubs or discussions of history. Our kites are not tethered to the tail of tradition and history. Some even believe history and tradition is a drag on the kite — we want to be relevant and up-to-date. Who needs old bed sheets?

Perhaps we do. This is not a call for Protestants to become Catholics. But a richer appreciation of church history and tradition might anchor the flopping kites of evangelicals.

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