In writing of her approach to the novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, Anne Rice describes the challenge of being able “to take the Jesus of the Gospels, and try to get inside him and imagine what he felt.” In this Rice is similar to any modern reader of the gospels and of modern Christological scholarship in particular. Moreover, what makes Rice’s challenge in the novel more difficult is that, as opposed to many who undertake the psychological question of Christ, Rice is an orthodox believer of sorts, stating explicitly that her attempt tries to stay true to the definition of Chalcedon. When coupled with the fact that Rice additionally states that she has attempted to remain “true to Paul when he said that Our Lord emptied himself for us, in that my character has emptied himself of his Divine awareness in order to suffer as a human being,” there can be no doubt that the task Rice undertakes in the novel is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. However, while Rice almost necessarily sets herself up for failure from a theological standpoint, her exploration into the person of Christ is both spiritually edifying and motivating.
The way Rice describes her kenotic approach to portraying Christ in her novel sounds semi-Thomasian in that she appears to be enunciating a kenotic theory which relegates the “Divine awareness” to the realm of relative divine attributes while giving the impression that this sort of ignorance was necessary in order for the work of salvation to be carried out. Given the fact that Rice is attempting to remain faithful to the Chalcedonian formula, this is perhaps where the difficulty starts. For while claiming that her Christ is ignorant, this ignorance certainly does not prevent the Divine essence from thoroughly permeating his person, as evidenced by his ability to bring inanimate balls of clay to life, raise the dead and even make it snow. It seems that Rice is utilizing a kenotic theory which upholds the Chalcedonian formula from the approach of Bauckham, who argued that the divinity of Christ was obvious to the very first Christians because he does things that only God can do. Because of this, throughout the novel Rice vacillates between an almost overt Nestorianism on the one hand, and some form of Eutychianism on the other. Because of these obvious difficulties, Rice fails theologically, and how could she not? She is trying to portray a mystery. Therefore, while the novel fails to perfectly depict the Chalcedonian formula, the efforts of Rice are not in vain. For in her exploration of the developmental psychology of Christ, she at one and the same time makes him more relatable and forces us to contemplate this mysterious person.
Rice’s exploration into the psychology of Christ revolves around the question of what it meant for him to ‘grow in wisdom’ as stated in the biblical text. The way Rice answers this question is simply to say, ‘he grew in wisdom like the rest of us do;’ that is, we learn from our experiences, carrying them with us throughout life, applying the lessons we learn along the way to address challenges and answer questions we meet as we move through life. Rice accomplishes this by portraying the parables of Jesus as having “historical” inspiration. For instance, we find the Parable of the Good Samaritan was inspired by a Rabbi in Jesus’ childhood Nazareth, and that his teaching that God cares for us more than the lilies of the field and the birds of the air come from the childhood development of an appreciation for creation’s beauty.
This latter point, coupled with the very natural human concern for others we see in the person of Jesus throughout the novel; most especially in her moving portrayal of the mother/son relationship of Jesus and Mary; are the greatest contributions Rice makes towards facilitating an encounter with him. For in Rice’s Christ, we see a God who finds his creation not only good but beautiful, hating to see any part of it destroyed, least of all human life. In this, the most essential theological characteristic of Christ comes shining through in full force, that of love. There is no doubt that in the mind of Rice, God became man solely because of love, and it was a desire to communicate this that compelled her to mentally adopt a kenotic approach. Here her technical failures pale in comparison, for in this Rice has succeeded in communicating the very heart of the gospel. For these reasons, those looking for a good devotional-contemplative type of read this Advent Season, Rice’s novel may be just the ticket.