Culture

In need of Rutherford

Culture | Religious cafeteria and other cultural buzz

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 1998," Dec. 5, 1998

Church shopping
Will America's religion get any better in the near future? The populace is Shopping for Faith, according to journalists Richard Cimino and Don Lattin (Jossey-Bass). Subtitled American Religion in the New Millennium, the avidly non-judgmental pair survey the spiritual landscape and conclude that the future will be a lot like the past, only more so. While the familiar statistic that 95 percent of Americans believe in God will stay true, that deity will look less and less like the one true God and more like the star of a do-it-yourself gospel pulled off a tray at the postmodern cafeteria. The millennial generation doesn't want any more of that complicated doctrinal stuff or the supposedly stifling limitations of churches with pastors and elders. In the near future, the spiritual urge will be equally fulfilled through revival meetings, the Church of Scientology, or even an online chat room for Touched by an Angel. Other dangerous cults like the People's Temple and Heaven's Gate will spring up. If it prays good, do it! Even movements that draw people toward classical Christianity will have converts who accept the fragments of orthodoxy that scratch their itches but follow the spirit of the age in everything else. "Shopping for faith may not be easy, and it may threaten the religious powers that be," the authors conclude, "but this uneasy mixture of practicality and personal faith will mark American religion in the new millennium." The only way to overcome "consumerism and fragmented spiritualities that cater to individual needs" is for the church to truly be the church. Those who marry the spirit of the age are still destined to be widowed. Lex is still rex
For a moment the Clinton scandals brought a powerful name back from undeserved neglect: Samuel Rutherford. The Rutherford Institute, which bailed out Paula Jones's lawsuit after her original lawyers quit (see World, Nov. 28), took its name from the 17th-century Presbyterian pastor. His doctrine of lex rex (or law is king) blasted a hole in the doctrine that rulers are above the rules. A generation ago, Francis Schaeffer helped return Rutherford to his stature as a great Christian leader, yet few know what the man really believed. His works were considered so dangerous that Charles II had his Lex Rex book burned, and most of his writings have languished in obscurity ever since. Small wonder he was controversial. He called Charles's predecessor a tyrant who was "drinking the blood of innocents and wasting the church of God." And he was just as intense about scholarship, theology, and piety. A recent biography, John Coffey's Politics, Religion, and the British Revolutions, excellently explains Rutherford and his world. "For Rutherford, divine sovereignty and human agency were not merely abstract theological doctrines," Mr. Coffey writes, "they were practical political truths." Ever devoted to reformation, he served on the Westminster Assembly, and his devotional letters stayed in print while his books languished. Mr. Coffey says Rutherford called for "popular sovereignty, the rule of law, and the right of resistance to tyranny," while "it was the Old Testament concept of a nation in covenant with God that lay closest to his heart." Mr. Coffey paints Rutherford as a man of heart, head, and passion. Even in defeat on his deathbed, the Scottish prophet declared that "a remnant shall be saved; and He shall reign a victorious conquering king, to the ends of the earth." The video, not the musical
The staying power of Les Miserables is beyond belief. The musical-known to millions as "Les Miz"-has been running on Broadway for 11 seasons. And this year, Victor Hugo's novel came to the big screen for the third time in America (rated PG-13 for language and adult themes). Generations of readers and viewers have been moved by the story of Jean Valjean. The ex-convict determined to become a new man is played this time by a dignified Liam Neeson, who won best actor for Schindler's List. Australian actor Geoffrey Rush plays Javert, the political inspector determined to track down the escaped parolee with his last breath. Their conflict-one of the great fugitive stories of literature-is the focus this time. The tale of love and death, sacrifice and barricades, has less sparkle and more grit in this version than in Cameron Mackintosh's musical. Even those who remember lavish songs and revolving sets will see Les Miserables with new eyes-particularly the first hour when Valjean's life is saved so he can save Fantine (Uma Thurman) and her daughter Cosette (Claire Danes). But a more realistic story means more realistic politics. Marious and his band of revolutionaries who bring so much tragedy are more Leftist this time; those barricades are "the people's" barricades after all. But Valjean's heroism seems even stronger as he tries to evade Javert long enough to make wrong right. Les Miserables amazingly combines echoes of Christendom with the egalitarianism of the French Revolution, and it now thrives in postmodernity. Oddly, it seems to fit in everywhere.

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