Believing and Following

July 30, 2010 — 7 Comments

Anne Rice, the famed author of “Interview with a Vampire,” garnered news a few years ago when she publicly announced  she had become a Christian. Today, she created a buzz with the news she is done with Christianity. On Wednesday, Rice posted on Facebook:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten …years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

…I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

Today she continued:

My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.

On first blush there are things I like about Rice’s confession.

  • I like the fact she is honest about the blemishes of the church throughout history. There is no question there have been seasons the church has been less then sterling in her work and witness.
  • I also like that Rice wants to keep any one group from cornering the market on the faith. For example, I bristle when political parties claim Jesus as their own, thinking their political ideology is in the fat middle of the Kingdom of God.

Thus, I think there are things in Rice’s words to, at some level, affirm. But her sentiments also create caution in me. I don’t think she intends this, but her words can be construed to say, “I believe in Christ. I just don’t want to follow Him.” How do I get there?

Rice lists beliefs she obviously considers right no matter what “Christianity” – the collection of believers throughout history – says. They are dogma to her. But what if, in following Christ, she discovers that Christ holds beliefs in conflict with hers? What does she do then? It appears she may have already shown us: just write off the church. Blame them for being wrong in it all. Say they’ve lost their way and don’t have a grip on modernity. But what if, on some issues, that’s imply not true? What if she’s just at odds with the biblical understanding of an issue. Then maybe…

She really needs to write off Jesus?

The Gospel accounts show us that Jesus gave teachings which very well may conflict with our fallen, man-centered ways of seeing things. His very own disciples (the institutional church at the time, by the way) felt this sting of this truth. John 6:6-69 records:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

The real question we should ask ourselves is, Who do you really believe has the words to eternal life? You or Jesus?

If, like Peter, you believe that Jesus is “the Holy One of God” then what he says about anything and everything is true…even if it conflicts with what you believe about life, gender, sexuality, politics or any other area. And believe me, Christ will say “hard” things – things we need to wrestle with, repent of and embrace. Can the institutional church get things wrong? Yes. For that, she should repent. But, if in finding through the Scripture rightly understood, we are the on opposite side of Jesus and his Word (which Jesus completely affirmed) on any issue, it is we who are to move, not him. Divorcing ourselves from “Christianity” isn’t the answer to the conflict. It’s helping to work with the church to make sure she is hearing God’s Word clearly and truly (see Martin Luther).

The truth is Jesus died for the church. He loves the church. And if we want to follow Jesus, we must love what he loves and believe what he believes. Picking and choosing what we like about Jesus and his Word – embracing what fits our preconceived notions and rejecting the rest – only shows us we want our version of Jesus but not the real Jesus. This warning is for you, me, Ms. Rice and anyone who considers themselves a Christian.

Because to believe in Jesus is to follow Jesus.

Yancey Arrington

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Lover of All Things Texas. Acts 29 Network Fan. Redemption Hound. Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. Author of the upcoming Preaching That Moves People. His first book is TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You.

7 responses to Believing and Following

  1. I was just talking to a friend about how we pick and choose things about Jesus we like and shun the rest. I also remember reading about the Jefferson Bible from Thomas Jefferson. I saw it in the theology section at Books-A-Million and it does have Bible verse that Jefferson cut because he liked those verses.

  2. Barbara Haskell July 30, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Today I drove through North Georgia on the way to South Carolina and I can’t tell you how many Baptist churches I saw across the street from one another. Does it break the heart of God to see “Christians” in that close proximity and not join efforts to reach the world for Christ. Maybe they disagreed on the color of the carpet.

    Although profitable for the cause of Christ for many years, and some still today, I think a large part of the problem with Christianity is denominationalism. Aren’t many united in the “essentials?”

    Having been out of a major denomination for 12 yrs., I am thankful to have put behind me legalism, politics, guilt, and strife amoung church members.

    The greatest commandment is to love God and others. When the Church does that, no one would ever want to renounce the name of Christian. Anyway, Paul called us Saints.

    Sorry to vent, but this just struck a cord with me. Please that this with a grain of salt. After all, does my opinion matter.

  3. steve jackson July 31, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Statements she speaks all have some merit. I am not anti-anything. I only try my best to discern the scriptures and follow the plan to seek God’s will. Some of my best Christian friends are of a another political party. That does not make them satanic. Some of my best friends are gay, and I love on them and sympathize with their situation, but never deny what the Bible says about any sexual perversion. Some of my best friends are secular-humanist, and I will do my best to be a Christ like friend to them. Rice’s ref. to the “pill” makes me think she is affiliated with a legalistic congregation, which makes it tougher on her ability to be growing spiritually.
    I am very much a conservationist without the dogma of demanding we go totally “green” next week. This is the cleanest country in the world from a polluting stand point. It has cost us billions and job losses are a result. Change that caused pollution took 100’s of years to happen, and it needs at least a flexible amount of time to correct.
    Rice’s statements are more political than anything. She prayerfully will move her allegiance closer to Christ and less to a politically correct statement. Yancey’s comments are well spoken. We should all pray for Godly wisdom in this sinful world.

  4. Yancey Arrington July 31, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    I appreciate the spirit of the conversation. Thanks Steve, for your words. This shows us once again we should be anti-sin (hating what God hates), not anti-sinner (which puts all of us in the same bag).

    My post was simply an attempt to challenge us all to follow Jesus wherever he leads us, even…or should I say…especially in the areas where there is conflict with prior beliefs and convictions.

    May he be Lord of us, and Lord in us.

  5. Jason Norcross August 2, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Picking and choosing what we like about Jesus and his Word – embracing what fits our preconceived notions and rejecting the rest – only shows us we want our version of Jesus but not the real Jesus.

    Well spoken. We live in a fickle culture with so much choice that it seems crazy that you can’t just take what you like and leave the rest. I like this movie, but I didn’t like that part or that actor. I like most of the books this author wrote, except for that one. I love my church, but I don’t like it when X preaches or Y sings or Z plays guitar. Jesus is so attractive that he pulls in people from all backgrounds. The thing that’s different about Him is that you can’t just take the parts you like about Him and leave the rest. In a relativistic, me centered culture with infinite choice, this is incredibly hard to accept. A little bit of Jesus is just another self-help philosophy, albeit at least partially grounded in the one source of absolute truth, rather than some other mysterious force.

    Sometimes I wonder if a partial Jesus philosophy is worse than a no Jesus philosophy, because of the false sense of security it creates. Sometimes I wonder if it’s better, because maybe someone is just one step away from seeing the whole picture. Uggh, this topic hits so close to home that it hurts.

  6. Jason Norcross August 2, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Sorry, forgot to close my italic tag after the first paragraph.

  7. It sounds as if Rice has confused Catholicism for Christianity.

    Personally I believe the gay lifestyle is a sin but it doesn’t mean I don’t value that person. As Yancey stated, we’re all sinners so I believe Rice’s internal conflict is quite deep and probably political.

    I cant think of anything more pro-life than the church. Because you don’t believe in abortion makes you anti woman?

    She claims to be pro science, which I also advocate, yet many of her arguments lack the basic tennet of science – logic.

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