Monday, August 2, 2010

Advice for Anne

Novelist Anne Rice made headlines a few years ago by embracing the faith and religion of her childhood - Roman Catholicism. This was after years of wandering the earth as an atheist. But now she has publicly announced her decision to no longer be a Christian. She wants to hang on to Christ but not His Bride.

Anne seems to have come to the astonishing conclusion that Christians are sinners. The church is a messy place. How can it not be?

I would tell Anne that part of the problem is that she has neither understood Christ or His Church. My advice is for Anne to convert to the Reformed tradition. First of all, in a faithfully Reformed church she will hear the unadulterated Gospel of the Lord Jesus. Secondly, she will not be thrust into a position of having to conform to a particular political party. Certainly, Anne needs to come to terms with the abomination of homosexuality and abortion. Ann must overcome her autonomy which seems to lead her to believe that she can pick and choose among the commands of the One she claims as her Lord. That said, the Reformed tradition will help Anne understand that being a Christian does not thrust one into either political left or right. She would come to understand that the kingdom to which Christians are called is not a this worldly kingdom.

Scott Clark of Westminster California has made the same observation but has stated better than I could.

For many modernists, Romanists, and evangelicals the visible church is just another vehicle for achieving a socio-political goal. The cultural right wants the church to do one thing and the cultural left wants it to do another and neither seems to understand that the visible church was commissioned by her Lord to represent a kingdom “not of this world” with transcendent concerns with implications for this life that are not neatly consistent with any particular socio-political agenda.

Sometimes becoming confessionally Reformed, especially when leaving American evangelicalism, is like a second conversion because it requires a death to autonomy. As an evangelical I did not have to renounce my autonomy. Indeed, I was encouraged to baptize my assumptions and to bring them into the church. When I discovered the Reformation I found that there was another way of understanding the Christian faith which required me to deny that I am the measure of all things. It is this recognition that is at stake in the argument about human free will and sola gratia: autonomy. This is what is at stake in the argument about sola scriptura: the denial of human autonomy relative to the source of authority. Perhaps the great difference between Reformed confessionalists and American evangelicals is, however, the doctrine of the visible, institutional church. It is the recognition that Jesus wasn’t only meek, he wasn’t a rebel against all institutions, he wasn’t a prophet of pietism and the spontaneous experience of the divine. It was a great shock for me to learn than Jesus intentionally established an institution: the church (see Matt 16; 18; 28:18-20).

Rice is right about some things but she is also wrong too. Jesus wasn’t a proto-modern. He wasn’t a prophet of modernity nor a preacher of personal autonomy. He wasn’t an anti-institutional rebel. He was and is God the Son and the Son of God (and the Son of Man). He purified the temple but he did not destroy it, not until AD 70. The temple that was destroyed c. 33 AD was was his body which he gave up willingly for sinners. Yes he was at war with the status quo but not in service of enlightened, rationalist or post-enlightened subjectivist late modern religion. He was a warrior for the glory of God and the salvation of sinners, two agendas in which autonomous modernity has had absolutely no interest. Jesus wasn’t devoted to human welfare. He did not heal every sick person in Palestine nor did he raise every corpse. By enlightened modern standards he practiced animal cruelty. He did not stop the slaughter of animals in the temple and he sent pigs racing off a cliff. He was (apparently but not actually) indifferent to some pressing human concerns. If he was really all about our health and well being then his death, which he could have avoided in the service of temporal human welfare, was ill considered and ill timed.

Read Dr. Clark's entire article HERE.

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