Friday, December 3, 2010

Gnosticism is Alive and Well in the Church

If anyone thinks that Gnosticism is just something that you read about in dusty old Church history textbooks, Robin Phillips invites you to think again. In a blog posting from last summer entitled "8 Gnostic Myths You May Have Imbibed," Robin lays out "the number of Gnostic tendencies that the modern church has imbibed without realizing it." While he's primarily addressing the evangelical Christian community, much of what he writes about includes "mainstream" churches like the Episcopal Church, too.

Here's a teaser:

Gnostic Myth # 1: Christianity isn’t a Religion, it’s a Relationship
By relocating the nexus of religion in the private experience of each individual and self-consciously downplaying the public and corporate aspects connoted by the word “religion”, much of contemporary evangelicalism has unknowingly drunk deeply from the wells of Gnosticism. In the process, much of the modern church has lost the categories with which to think about Christendom, viewing the faith primarily through an individualistic lens.

Those interested in exploring this aspect further should consult the first essay in Stephen Perks’ Common-Law Wives and Concubines.

Gnostic Myth # 2: Salvation Means Going to Heaven When You Die
For much of the contemporary evangelical community, the doctrine of bodily resurrection of believers has been eclipsed by the innovation that salvation means living in heaven for eternity. It is revealing that many evangelicals find nothing amiss with the idea that the immortality of the soul, not the resurrection of the body, is the goal of personal salvation. Moreover, recent surveys have shown that many Christians no longer believe that their bodies will be resurrected at all.

Those interested in exploring this further should continue reading this paper or consult N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope or my blog post "Resurrection or Disembodiment? Gnosticism in Evangelical Theology."

Gnostic Myth # 3: The Material World isn’t Important
Under the influence of Gnostic myth # 2, as well as various eschatologies which teach a lack of organic continuity between what happens during this age and the future renewal, many Christians have colluded with the Gnostic notion that what happens in this world is unimportant to God.

Those interested in exploring this aspect further would do well to consult Os Guinness’ Fit Bodies Fat Minds or my article "Recovering the Protestant Affirmation of Life."

Gnostic Myth # 4: Institutional Religion is Bad
Having been suckered into embracing a number of Gnostic dualisms, many modern Christians automatically think that institutional religion is at odds with genuine heart-felt faith, and that whatever we give to the former is less we have for the latter.

Those interested in exploring this aspect further should consult DeYoung and Kluck's Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion and my article ‘Institutional Religion.'

Read about the remaining four Gnostic myths here.


JC Fremont said...

Aren't we really just talking about Gnosticism as a reaction to the materialism of the Enlightenment project? (Another reaction would be John Wesley's 'assurance' as a reaction to Calvinism.) Gnosticism has returned many times, in many forms. As soon as people realize that it's a philosophical dead-end it gets abandoned. That said, I think many denominations have a lot more of it than they need in the twenty-first century.

The Underground Pewster said...

Oh boy, that "relationship" thing has been the repeated message that I have been hearing ad nauseum over the past several years.

Like most heresies, it contains a kernel of truth. That kernel, of course, tastes good as a snack, but probably just leads to tooth decay, and it does not provide a life sustaining meal.