Anne Rice Re-imagines Jesus and Christian leaders applaud
by Berit Kjos - January 2006
"Rice's darkly themed books have sold more than 75 million copies. Her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, has sold more than 8 million copies. Rice has also written historical novels, as well as pornography and erotica.... Her books are widely assigned in high school and college English and philosophy classes.... Why is Anne Rice, once the literary queen of darkness, now writing about Christ, the light of the world?" Christianity Today
Anne Rice has returned to the Catholic Church, and Christian leaders have cheered her new book. "...as thrilled as I was to learn of Ms. Rice’s reconnection with Christ," wrote pollster George Barna in his glowing review of Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, "I opened this book with minimal expectations. I need not have worried." He explains why:
"Ms. Rice did not merely conduct exhaustive research on Jesus’ early life. She created a moving and credible portrait of the young Lord and His family.... It is a simple but powerful tale of the emergence of the Savior as He probes His own humanity and divinity.... This nicely-paced story helps you to connect with the young Master, experiencing life through His senses.... Some scholars and religious leaders will probably demonize this book as 'fabricated history' or 'bad doctrine.'... Ms. Rice is not attempting to add to the canon of Scripture but to stimulate us to experience and bond with Jesus at a different level."
But it is "bad doctrine" to present a fictional view of Jesus that clashes with God's revealed Word. When such a revision of His truth guides the imagination, the reader's "experience" may well make fantasy as believable as reality. The fact that evangelical leaders are fast shifting their foundational focus from teaching "doctrine" to humanitarian "deeds" makes Christians all the more vulnerable to deception.
Yet George Barna isn't the only respected evangelical applauding this story about our Lord's childhood. In a World Magazine review, author Gene Edward Veith commends Christ the Lord as a welcome expression of the author's return to Catholicism. "How to portray someone who is both God and Man?" he ponders. It's a good question -- especially since the childhood of Jesus is barely mentioned in the Bible. Then he wrote:
"Anne Rice, in her novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt hits the orthodox balance. She portrays Jesus as a 7-year-old child, but He is more than a child. He plays, He cries, He is dependent on His parents. But when He yearns to see snow, it snows. When His uncle is sick, the young Jesus heals him.... Out of Egypt can best be appreciated as the work of a skillful writer meditating on the Incarnation and the Person of Jesus Christ."
Yes, Anne Rice is a skilled writer. And in today's tolerant, fantasy-driven world many will welcome a new, heart-warming story about Jesus. But how do we recognize truth or heresy? Consider these questions:
1. Does it match God's Word?
The Gospels are full of wonderful miracles that demonstrate the power and authority of Jesus. So is this new book. But the latter misrepresent the truth. None of our Lord's miracles took place until after His baptism -- an event confirmed by the Holy Spirit as well as the Father's voice. “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove," said John the Baptist, "and He remained upon Him.” (John 1:32-34)
After this preparation for ministry, Jesus attended a wedding where He did perform His first miracle. As the Bible tells us, "This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory...." (See John 2:5-11). It showed God's flawless timing, which is emphasized throughout John's Gospel. So when Jesus was prompted by "his brothers" to "go into Judea" before the time was ripe, Jesus answered: “My time has not yet come." (John 7:6) Toward the end of His three-year ministry, Jesus was led to go to Jerusalem where the religious leaders "sought to take Him." Yet, "no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come." (John 7:30) And when His betrayal and crucifixion neared, He was prepared: "Jesus knew that His hour had come." (John 13:3-4) Everything happens according to God's eternal plan! Who are we to revise its details?
2. Does the story match historical facts?
Was Jesus born in 11BC? That's the date Ms Rice chose for His birth. Though several years earlier than dates set by credible historians, it fits her story. It makes Jesus seven years old during the journey home from Egypt -- old enough to allow us to "experience" events through His eyes.
But let's backtrack. Joseph brought Mary to Bethlehem because he was required to register there as a member of the "house of David." The Roman Emperor Augustus had decreed that "all" in the Roman empire must be registered every 14 years. One such census was ordered in 8 B.C., but historians believe that this census was actually carried out over the next two years and may not have occurred in Palestine until around 6 B.C..
After the birth of Jesus, the three Magi alerted the hostile Jewish King Herod to the prophesied royal birth. Determined to exterminate any threat to his reign, Herod decreed the murder of children under two years of age. Meanwhile God warned Joseph to flee with his small family to Egypt. There they stayed until Herod died in 4 B.C. and God told Joseph to return home. Jesus would probably have been between two and three years old, certainly not seven.
In Rice's story, the family settles in Nazareth and the men in the family work as carpenters and stone masons. A year later, when Jesus is eight years old, they travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. There the boy gives sight to a blind man and seeks a teacher at the Temple who can answer his nagging questions about his birth and personal identity. For three days Joseph and Mary search for the missing boy. When found, Jesus promised never to cause them such distress again.[7-280-291]
The Bible gives us a different account of the Passover event, but several similarities could still make the imagined story believable. Here Jesus is twelve years old. When Mary and Joseph were ready to start for home, Jesus was missing. They spent three days searching for Him, and found Him in the temples, "sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions."(Luke 2:46)
The true Scriptures offer wonderful hope and peace to those who will listen. But God repeatedly forbids additions and alterations. For example, "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it...."(Deuteronomy 4:2)
3. HOW CREDIBLE ARE THE SOURCES OF INFORMATION?
In the "Author's Note" in the back pages of her book, Ms. Rice explains her extensive research: "Then there were the legends—the Apocrypha—including the tantalizing tales in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas describing a boy Jesus who could strike a child dead, bring another to life, turn clay birds into living creatures, and perform other miracles.... They were fanciful... extreme to be sure, but they had lived on into the Middle Ages.... Ultimately I chose to embrace this material.... I felt there was a deep truth in it."[7-320]
One source of those legends is The Gnostic Society Library. You can read parts of it in "The Infancy Gospel of Thomas," but don't believe it. It's main character does not reflect the character of our Lord:
"And having made soft clay, [Jesus] fashioned thereof twelve sparrows.... Jesus clapped his hands together and cried out to the sparrows and said to them: Go! and the sparrows took their flight....After that again he went through the village, and a child ran and dashed against his shoulder. And Jesus was provoked and said unto him: Thou shalt not finish thy course.... And the parents of him that was dead came unto Joseph, and blamed him, saying: Thou that hast such a child canst not dwell with us in the village: or do thou teach him to bless and not to curse: for he slayeth our children.... And Joseph called the young child apart and admonished him.... But Jesus said: I know that these thy words are not thine: nevertheless for thy sake I will hold my peace: but they shall bear their punishment. And straightway they that accused him were smitten with blindness."
Ms Rice lists dozens of authors whose writings she has studied in preparation for this book series on the early life of Jesus. "I learned something from every single book I examined," she writes.[7-318]
Even from those that taught a Gnostic distortion of the Gospels? You can recognize this heresy by its emphasis on --
1. Self-knowledge rather than knowing God and His Word. For example, the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas blends truth and error into lies such as this: "When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father."
2. Eternal oneness or wholeness through gnosis (knowledge -- especially self-knowledge), not salvation through the crucified Christ.
3. Angelic hierarchies including archons, demigods, co-creators, etc. [Like Tolkien's trilogy]. In this context, the serpent in the garden offered wisdom -- "your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5) -- not a disastrous temptation.
Angels -- both good and bad -- are part of Rice's story. That's not surprising, considering the demonic/angelic beings that energized her earlier books.
Anne Rice shows special appreciation for Anglican Bishop John A. T. Robinson. I read his book, Honest to God, decades ago, when I was searching for God. It showed me that the God I had loved as a child was an illusion and discouraged me to the point of despair. Though Anne Rice may not have agreed with all he wrote, this statement exposes the kind of worldly "wisdom" he brings to any research:
"Robinson places God deep in the human person (so that we have to look within to find God)..... Whenever we pray we are not speaking words into the heavens... but are allowing our prayers to change us so that we will act.... The close marrying of God with ethics, morality and compassion leads one to emphasize this world rather than anything beyond this world.... Jesus' death, instead of being something that changed the relationship between God and humanity, is rather an example of self-giving love in the face of adversity."
The radical Bishop John Shelby Spong showed his appreciation for Robinson: "One of the great mentors of my life was... John Albert Thomas Robinson.... In 1962... he wrote a little book called Honest to God... It made the controversy about Lady Chatterley's Lover look pale by comparison.... Calls were issued for Bishop Robinson's resignation or for him to be deposed for heresy."
"My quest is not over," says Rice. "There is so much... I have yet to cover.... There are also theologians who must be studied, more of Teilhard de Chardin...."[7-319]
Teilhard de Chardin? The 19th century French paleontologist whose faith in man's spiritual evolution led, in part, to the fraudulent "discoveries" of Peking man and Piltdown Man? Recalling his book The Phenomenon of Man, I can't help but compare Teilhard's tension between cosmic oneness and self-actualization with the Gnostic emphasis on union with "God" through self-realization:
"The way beyond the ignorance [to knowing or gnosis], for Teilhard, is basically an individuation process. Teilhard opines that the human ego must make the pilgrimage into *Self.* ... The more the ego is connected with a sense of cosmic insight, the more it finds its true Self.... and via the Self the more connected humanity becomes with the Cosmic Mind. To be fully ourselves, according to Teilhard, we must head in the direction of 'convergence... towards the other.'
"'...according to the evolutionary structure of the world, we can only find our person by uniting together. There is no mind without synthesis."
It sounds complicated, doesn't it? But this emphasis on self-knowledge and unity fits right into the systems thinking embraced by today's leading church managers and pastors. [See Rick Warren -- A New Way of Thinking and Re-inventing the World]
4. Will it strengthen or undermine faith in God's absolute Truth?
Ms. Rice has made storytelling a popular pastime in Jesus family. She places her own attitude toward storytelling in the young Jesus' mouth:
"Stories were our history, and who we were, and there were times when I liked nothing better than stories. I was coming to understand something of the greatest importance: all stories were part of one great story, the story of who we were."[7-228]
But it isn't true. All stories are not part of the one great story any more than "all [so-called] truth is God's truth." In fact, very few of man's stories are part of the truth revealed to us by God. Therefore He wisely warns us, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways." (Isaiah 55:8) Do we dare redefine God's thoughts, truth, and ways?
Many do! Therefore storytelling is fast replacing preaching in pulpits around the world. And as Biblical understanding fades, few church members have the wisdom to discern error. [see Megashift]
Myth and storytelling are vital to today's social transformation. Environmental philosopher Thomas Berry tells his followers that myths "provide not only the understanding and the sense of direction that we need, they also evoke the energy.…" The traditional story [the Bible] is dysfunctional…. We need a story that will... heal, guide, and discipline us.”
But the "traditional story" of the Bible can't be squeezed into the mold of popular pluralism. That's one reason why popular church leaders and visionaries despise "the powerful myth of fundamentalists" and are determined to replace it with stories that match their own visions.
The fundamental truths of the Bible are anything but myths. They alone provide an anchor of hope in the turbulent current of cultural change.Yet Anne Rice's story suggests that Jesus' family enjoyed stories about Greek philosophy and polytheism. After the family's return from Egypt, Cleopas, Mary's brother who traveled with them, asks his old Aunt Sarah this question:
"'And what do you know about gods and goddesses who drink nectar and eat ambrosia?'...
"'Look in the boxes of scrolls when you have the time for it, curious one,' she said. 'You think my father had no room there for Homer? Or for Plato [who embraced Greek polytheism and reincarnation.]? You think he never read to his children in the evening?" [7-136]
Anne Rice's Christ the Lord is likely to speed today's social and spiritual transformation. So are "change" leaders like George Barna and Rick Warren, who minimize Biblical teaching. As Warren said, "The first Reformation was about beliefs. This one needs to be about behavior." The church is now leading the race toward a global society with tolerance for everything except God's "divisive" and "offensive" old Gospel. It's message of hope is being silenced by the seductive illusion of humanist love, communitarian service, and global solidarity.
"The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." 2 Thessalonians 2:9
6. John MacArthur, ed., The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Word, 1997), page 1514.
8. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas From "The Apocryphal New Testamentat www.gnosis.org/library/inftoma.htm
13. www.crossroad.to/articles2/04/community-2.htm and www.crossroad.to/articles2/Reinvent1.htm
14. Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), 34, 124.
15. www.crossroad.to/articles2/05/peace-un.htm and www.bwanet.org/Congress/congresstoday29f.htm