The kerfuffle over Anne Rice “leaving Christianity in the name of Christ” has been instructive. Not because of what she is doing but the way she did it (via Facebook) and the reasons, many of which are silly and inane but some of which have some substance. Even more interesting has been the reaction to her announcement. Some people in the church have used this as an occasion to rail against all manner of doctrinal ills. Others have used this as a call to normalize sins to avoid offending people. Some hopefully have used this as an opportunity to ask some hard questions about the church. Those outside of the church have used this as a license to denounce Christianity as a whole. One such writer, William Lobdell, had a featured editorial in the L.A. Times. Lobdell sees Rice’s defection as a sign of the impending doom of Christianity in his essay The Anne Rice defection: It's the tip of the religious iceberg. Lobdell is an interesting fellow, someone who was once a religion writer and decided to leave faith altogether based on what he saw (which seems to be the clergy abuse scandal in Rome and faith healers like Benny Hinn, neither of which is representative of Biblical Christianity). Lobdell makes this statement which kind of summarizes his whole argument.
American Christianity is not well, and there's evidence to indicate that its condition is more critical than most realize — or at least want to admit.
Is this writer correct? Is American Christianity in trouble?
Only if you think there is such a thing as American Christianity. There are Christians in America that are culturally shaped for good and ill (mostly ill) by living here but there is no such thing as American Christianity. If you think that the civic religion of America is “American Christianity”, well that is a different story because that is certainly in deep trouble. I am no expert on Anne Rice but she seems to have subscribed to what can only be described as a muddled faith and when you subscribe to a “pick and choose” pseudo-Christianity, eventually it becomes reasonable to drop the pretenses all together and embrace a self-exalting form of religion.
Mr. Lobdell demonstrates a woeful misunderstanding of Christianity in many places, lumping Roman Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism together and making statements like “On the bright side, Barna's surveys show evangelicals…do pledge far more money to charity, though 76% of them fail to give 10% of their income to the church as prescribed by their faith.”, as the Bible nowhere specifies 10% as the standard of giving for Christians. However, he does seem to understand something that many religious talking heads don’t:
How to explain the Grand Canyon-sized gap between principles outlined in the Gospels and the behavior of believers? Christians typically, and rather lamely, respond that shortcomings of the followers of Jesus are simply evidence of man's inherent sinfulness.
But if one adheres to the principle of Occam's razor — that the simplest explanation is the most likely — there is another, more unsettling conclusion: that many people who call themselves Christian don't really believe, deep down, in the tenets of their faith. In other words, their actions reveal their true beliefs.
That really cuts to the chase. All the handwringing over declining church attendance and “Christian kids leaving the faith” misses the point that an awful lot of Americans call themselves Christians without even the faintest hint that they understand or care to understand what that means.
Finally, I think he understands this reality:
A well-informed hunch says American Christians aren't ready for the kind of reformation that will realign their actions with biblical mandates. And in the meantime, the exodus from the church will continue.
There is a lot of talk about “reformation” in the church but most of that talk centers around keeping the traditional church in place with better doctrine. I am all for better doctrine and believe you me we need better doctrine in the church! But the church will not be reformed by better doctrine or more expository preaching or by appeals for $500,000 to prop up a radio ministry. Real reformation will couple doctrinal reformation with reformation of church life, reforming both creeds and deeds. I have yet to see much evidence that fountains of preaching leads to transformative lives.
Anne Rice “leaving” Christianity has nothing to do with actual Christianity but it is yet another sign of the death of American cultural Christianity. Good riddance.