Tuesday, 25 November 2014

IG-88, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Christian Growth

A couple of months ago, I had lunch with a friend who’s currently a Church of England ordinand. (I shall refer to him as ‘IG-88’; not because he resembles the assassin droid from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, but because I want to (a) preserve my friend’s anonymity and (b) have a reason to put a picture of IG-88B on my blog.) IG-88 was telling me that sometimes he’s not sure precisely what his fellow ordinands believe. For them, he sighed, the Christian faith seems nothing more than a helpful way to live a good life. It doesn’t matter if Jesus really was raised from death, if Jesus really is King of the world. All that’s important is its provision of a framework for human growth and prosperity.

I can empathise with IG-88 (my friend, not the assassin droid). To be honest, if all we want is a basis for general living, or a guide on how to grow as a human being, I’d recommend watching all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which provide a far more entertaining and arguably relatable account of the often painful movement from adolescence into adulthood. If all I want is a guide for better living, why on earth would I turn to the Christian faith when (again, arguably) Buffy Summers is far more attractive than the Lord Jesus?

But the fact is that even if some people, including ordinands, see Christian faith only as a means to personal enrichment, I cannot. And why not? It’s simple: I cannot see how the Christian faith promises anything useful to anyone unless – and this ‘unless’ is supremely important – the mystery of faith is true. If Christ did not die; if Christ is not risen; if Christ will not come again; then what is the point of reciting this mystery (a mystery rendered gibberish) week in, week out? Precisely what is the good news of Jesus Christ?

I’m not suggesting that the Church, or any one church or denomination, has a monopoly of the truth of God in Christ, or that some Christians are so attuned to the movements of the Holy Spirit that they cannot fail to be right. But I do think that if God raised Jesus from the dead, that if the man Jesus of Nazareth has been glorified and now sits at the right hand of the Father as King of all things, then it matters how Christians live this truth out in their lives, propositionally and practically – not as a matter of personal growth as a human individual, but as a matter of growth personally and communally into the likeness of Christ. If the Church – and, as I’m a card-carrying Anglican, I guess I’m thinking of the Church of England in particular here – if the Church has nothing more to offer people than self-help programmes and therapy, then, as useful as these often are, IG-88 (my friend, not the assassin droid) is perhaps right to despair at the motivations of some of his fellow ordinands.

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