Gnosticism Reimagined? (Part 4)

A New New Testament and the Jesus Seminar

SecretKnowledgeIt would be a grave mistake to not further explore the connectivity between A New New Testament and the Jesus Seminar established in Part 3 of this series.  This connectivity is clearly stated in the Presbyterian News Service article on the New New Testament.  The two key paragraphs are excerpted below.

Reyes-Chow is part of a covenant group led by noted theologian and scholar Hal Taussig, which produced A New New Testament …

[snip]

… The discovery of the Gnostic Gospels in Egypt rekindled debate among theologians and religious scholars about what a “proper” New Testament should contain. One think tank that emerged was the 150-member Jesus Seminar founded by Robert Funk. During his lifetime, Funk advocated for a volume along the lines of what was produced by Taussig’s council; Funk also lobbied strongly for the extraction of some books in the New Testament, among them the Gospel of John.

Two of Taussig’s Jesus Seminar colleagues — John Dominic Crossan and Karen King — joined his council for A New New Testament. This move aroused some criticism, including critics who wondered what authority the council members had to re-write God’s Word.

Note the following:

  1. The Gnostic texts, the Jesus Seminar and the debate about the books that should be contained in a “proper” New Testament are directly connected
  2. There is direct personnel overlap between the council for A New New Testament and the Jesus Seminar: Hal Taussig, John Dominic Crossan and Karen King.
  3. The connection between the PCUSA and A New New Testament is through the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, about whom much more will be said in the following posts.

The Presbyterian News Service article presents the Jesus Seminar as an interesting and credible group of scholars.  The only hint of something amiss is the statement (see above excerpt) that the Seminar’s founder, Robert Funk, “lobbied strongly for the extraction of some books in the New Testament, among them the Gospel of John.”  This statement completely fails to convey the truth about the motivating beliefs of Robert Funk, or, of those who chose to throw their theological / intellectual lots in with him.  We can begin to see the truth by visiting the web site of the organization founded by Funk, the Westar Institute (first “about” paragraph excerpted below, emphasis added).

Westar Institute — home of the Jesus Seminar — is dedicated to fostering and communicating the results of cutting-edge scholarship on the history and evolution of the Christian tradition, thereby raising the level of public discourse about questions that matter in society and culture.

Funk-1

Robert Funk Theses (1 of 3)

Funk-2

Robert Funk Theses (2 of 3)

Along the left side of this post are excerpts from the “Twenty-One Theses” of Robert Funk, which are published on the Westar Institute site.  I have included screen shots of the key sections: Theology, Christology, the Canon and the Language of Faith.  Although virtually everything in these theses is appallingly heretical, I have nonetheless highlighted (with red shading) those which are most relevant to this particular topic.

Funk-3

Robert Funk Theses (3 of 3)

We get off to a rousing start with thesis number one: God is dead.  I beg you, dear reader, to stop and seriously ponder.  The PCUSA has published a news article that discusses in positive terms an organization who’s very first motivating thesis is that God is nonexistent.

With regard to Jesus Christ, Funk is no less radical, opening with: We should give Jesus a demotion (i.e., no longer consider Him to be divine).  He then proceeds to call the doctrine of the atonement subrational, sub ethical and monstrous.  Are you prepared to accept these views to be included within the bounds of acceptable Christian belief?  If not, what word except heretical is sufficient to describe these ideas?  If so, then what is heretical?

Can there be any surprise that “The Canon” of Scripture is described as an attempt to invent Christianity as opposed to the inspired Word of God?  And, if the original Scriptural canon was merely a human act of invention, then why shouldn’t we go on inventing and re-inventing Christianity?  Finally, note that the Bible does not contain fixed, objective standards of behavior.  That’s extremely important if your project is to bring religious beliefs into line with the prevailing elite cultural perspectives on sexuality and marriage, among others.  The direct overlap with post-modern Christian beliefs must also be noted, in particular:

  • “Absolutism seems to be replaced by relativism. Christian morality and theology are relative to the people who embrace them. Hence the rise of moral and theological plurality, assuming that no one perspective has the dominant position in church, and no single unique outlook on reality accounts for the world we live in.”
  • “The concept of truth, including biblical truth, seems to have no correspondence to objective reality. Hence, the search for truth appears to be a vain exercise and the reader should be content with individual/personal interpretation. Systematic theology should be replaced by “edifying” theology, which aims at a continuing conversation between the reader and scriptures, rather than discovering truth.”

This is the philosophical atmosphere in which the Jesus Seminar and A New New Testament exists.  Given all that is here said and implied, what can possibly be asked except (see bottom of the third figure) “What Comes after Christianity?”  Perhaps Gnosticism?

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Gnosticism Reimagined? (Part 3)

SecretKnowledgeThe PCUSA Embraces Gnosticism!

I’m afraid that there’s no way to ease into this situation.  It’s better to just cut to the facts and then deal with them as best we can.  And, the simple fact is that the PCUSA published an article on its official web site on May 23, 2013 in which Gnostic material was not just discussed, but enthusiastically embraced.  The banner for this article follows.

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 7.23.57 AM

The following figure is a screen shot of a section of this article.  I used my browser search feature to highlight the word “Gnostic.”  I have added blue shading to highlight text sections of particular interest.

Prior to the detailed discussion one point must be made, that being an article cannot simply randomly appear on this site.  No, numerous management decisions and editorial reviews, all resulting in positive decisions are required.  And, once an article is published there are easily dozens of PCUSA leaders who can decide that doing so was a mistake, embarrassment or scandal, and, have it pulled down.  So, over two years later we are discussing a heresy-embracing article published and allowed to stand by the PCUSA leadership.

PCUSA-(Re)Told-Gnostic-LgNote first that the stated pretext for this embrace of heresy was their oh so deep desire to draw “the Nones” (i.e., no religious affiliation) into “Christian” faith.  You see, given “the Nones” apparent interest in pulp fiction such as The Da Vinci Code, our PCUSA elites have no choice but to embrace Gnostic texts to draw them into the “faith.”  These Gnostic texts have been incorporated into God’s Word as “A New New Testament.”

But that’s not all by a long shot.  This article also positively references The Jesus Seminar.  The New New Testament and the Jesus Seminar are linked by a common theological outlook and participating personnel (there will be much more about the Jesus Seminar in the next post).  Here’s what the site linked to in the PCUSA article (and in this post) has to say about The Jesus Seminar (chart and emphasis added).

JeSem-GospelsThe Seminar met twice a year to debate technical papers that were prepared and circulated in advance. At the close of debate on each agenda item, Fellows voted using colored beads to indicate the degree of authenticity of the words and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels. Dropping colored beads into a box soon became a trademark of the Jesus Seminar.

Among the findings is that, in the judgment of the Jesus Seminar Fellows, about 18 percent of the sayings and 16 percent of the deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels are authentic.

Note that no less than ten Gnostic texts were incorporated into the New Testament to create this heretical New New Testament.  Could it be that the authors of this post were so ignorant that they didn’t know they were endorsing heresy?  I highly Heretic-Protectdoubt it, because they actively attempted to inoculate themselves (and the PSUSA elites named in the post) from this charge using the nearby statement (also a screen shot from the actual post).   Note that the blue highlighted section associates themselves with the Disciples and Apostles of Jesus Christ who were martyred by the Roman government for spreading the gospel.  The “heresy” of these Disciples and Apostles was to preach Christ’s Gospel to a pagan world ruled by a God Emperor.

So, should some close-minded, low-intellect person (or, perhaps, a person who lacks the magical “secret knowledge” that they have?) accuse them of heresy, they would only be confirming the author’s identification with the true Disciples and Apostles of Jesus Christ!  My distress from this pathetic attempt is exceeded only by the fact that it may work for some members of the PCUSA.

The fact that in centuries past people were tortured and killed for heresy doesn’t mean that it’s improper to call certain theological beliefs heretical.  And, if this term can’t be applied to the case where ten Gnostic books are added to the New Testament by people who believe that more than 80% of the four Gospels is inauthentic, then there’s nothing to which it can be applied.

The question that we remaining PCUSA members and churches must answer is:

Will we meekly allow ourselves to be led by elites who praise heretics and trumpet heresy?

These elites must be free to believe in and preach such ideas in this great country under protection of our wonderful First Amendment.  However, that doesn’t mean that they must be allowed to defile and deface the Gospel of Jesus Christ as representatives of a denomination that claims to be Christian.

Appendix:

Just FYI, here are the comments regarding the New New Testament and the Jesus Seminar.  Note that I’m not the only person for whom the word heretical came to mind.

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Gnosticism Reimagined? (Part 2)

SecretKnowledgeGnosticism Defined

Before we delve into the evidence it’s important to define Gnosticism.  Otherwise we’ll be talking about a theological label rather than an actual heretical belief system.

The Encyclopædia Britannica’s online article defines Gnosticism as follows (emphasis added).

Many of the so-called gnostic groups are characterized by a mythology that distinguishes between an inferior creator of the world (a demiurge) and a more transcendent god or order of being.  Another frequently encountered theme is that there is a special class or race of humans that is descended from the transcendent realm and is destined to achieve salvation and to return to its spiritual origins. Salvation is understood as a revelation that reawakens knowledge (gnosis) of the race’s divine identity; in contrast, the more “orthodox” Christian emphasis is on redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In order to understand what’s to follow its important to delve more deeply into some of these key concepts.  These Gnostic ideas are generally at odds with orthodox Christian doctrine, and, on many central points are in direct contradiction.  Thus, Gnosticism isn’t another perspective on Christianity.  No, it’s an irreconcilably false set of ideas about Christianity.

The Demiurge

One key concept is that of an inferior God, the “demiurge.”  The web site Theopedia describes the Gnostic belief in two Gods as follows.

God is wholly transcendent, that is, he is far removed from his creation. He did not create the material universe because it was instead created by an evil or lesser God, sometimes called a “demiurge”. God is thus too perfect and pure to have much to do with the evilness of the material universe.

The Scriptures

The Christian History magazine has devoted an issue to Gnosticism.  The following excerpt discusses the implications of this belief on interpretation of Scripture (emphasis assed).

Gnostics identified the evil god/creator with the God of the Old Testament; this had profound implications for their understanding of Scripture and the history of Israel. …

… the Gnostic approach was far more denigrating of the Jewish heritage. In fact, one classic passage in The Second Treatise of the Great Seth uses Isaiah 45:5-6 to show that the God of Israel is inferior; a true God would never need to declare that he was the only God. This text also includes a fascinating litany that states, in parallel fashion, that “Adam was a joke,” followed by naming Abraham, David, Solomon, the 12 prophets, and Moses also as jokes! The capstone is the declaration that the God of the Jewish Scripture is also a joke. Each litany ends with the words “we have not sinned,” referring to the Gnostics’ claim to proper spiritual understanding. (This is an interesting declaration in light of 1 John 1:8- 2:2, which clearly states that those who claim not to have sinned are in error.) Gnostic interpretation of Scripture, therefore, often made the villains into heroes and the heroes into villains. For example, Eve and the serpent in the garden were the ones really in touch with the knowledge of the ultimate God; the inferior creator misled humanity. (In fact, some Gnostic groups were known as the Naassenes or Ophites, from the Hebrew and Greek words for “serpent.”) The 20th-century classics scholar Arthur Darby Nock once quipped that all one needed to do to create Gnosticism was to turn Genesis upside down and do inverse interpretation!

In other words, in order to create Gnosticism we need to directly contradict the teaching of Scripture.  This inversion of Scripture isn’t limited to Genesis.  For example, in the Gnostic view, Judas Iscariot was the hero of the passion story.

Salvation by “Special Knowledge”

Gnostic belief in salvation by “special knowledge” is highlighted by the following Gnostic writings quoted in Christian History magazine.

This, therefore, is the true testimony: When man comes to know himself and God who is over the truth, he will be saved, and he will crown himself with the crown unfading. — The Testimony of Truth

The Savior said to them: “I want you to know that all men born on earth from the foundations of the world until now, being dust, while they have inquired about God, who he is and what he is like, have not found him. … But to you it is given to know; and whoever is worthy of knowledge will receive (it) … ” — The Sophia of Jesus Christ

Dualistic Worldview

Gnostic dualism regarding both God and creation is summarized in Christian History magazine.

From a Gnostic perspective, the material world is not just fallen but an utterly flawed creation, beyond redemption. God—or at least, the good, true God—certainly does not work in history. Escape is only available to the small minority who know, who recognize the need for liberation, which lies within. Wisdom, Sophia, is for the spiritual, the elite, and distinguishes them from the gullible herd of humans mired in the material, the victims of cosmic deception. They will remain asleep, while the true Gnostic is awakened.

Note also the central place of an elite who possess a “special knowledge” unavailable to the ignorant masses in this passage.

The Gnostic Christ

Gnostic rejection of Christ’s humanity is highlighted by the following Gnostic writings quoted in Christian History magazine.  This rejection flows from Gnostic dualism, which conceives of the spirit as “all good” and the material world as “all evil.”  Thus it is inconceivable that God (i.e., Christ) would actually partake of the material world through the Incarnation.  For, to so do is to soil the perfection of spirit with the vile evil of the material world.

But I [Christ] was not afflicted at all. Those who were there punished me. But I did not die in reality but in appearance … it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. It was another upon whom they placed the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over all the wealth of the archons and the offspring of their error, of their empty glory. And I was laughing at their ignorance.” — The Second Treatise of the Great Seth

[Jesus said to Judas:] “But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me. … Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star.” — The Gospel of Judas

Although there is much more that could be conveyed about Gnosticism, this should be sufficient as a foundation for what follows.  Readers can find much more by following the provided links.

Road, meet Rubber

Let me conclude by asking a question.  Given the above description, were a church’s leadership found to be strongly influenced by or theologically open to  Gnosticism, would you view this as:

  1. A liberating good;
  2. Of no consequence one way to the other;
  3. A devastating indictment?

What follows may well force you to answer this question as a practical matter.

Gnosticism Reimagined? (Part 1)

SecretKnowledgeIntroduction

Earlier in this blog  I presented “post-modern Christianity” as a hypothesis that is tested against the available evidence.  Over time, I’ve expressed increasing confidence in the accuracy and usefulness of this hypothesis for explaining the behavior of our PCUSA elites.  However, there has been one major area of doubt, that being: How can people who deny the possibility of objective truth be so convinced that they know the truth?

This issue is particularly relevant to the Person and purpose of Jesus Christ.  As I have discussed here, here and here, our post-modern PCUSA elites claim “knowledge” about Jesus Christ’s mind on gay-marriage that is utterly at odds with the Scriptural witness.  This disregard for the Christ of Scripture as opposed to their imaginations was summarized in the post, Jesus Christ Avatar.

And yet, so sure are they of Christ’s mind on gay-marriage that they will throw the PCUSA into chaos and destruction to force its official sanction in our Book of Order.  In all of my research and experience, including review of all 24,000 words in Rationales from dozens of Presbyteries, significant research on numerous related PCUSA issues and floor debates at the Presbytery of Chicago, I have yet to find an instance in which this disconnect is addressed, let alone resolved.

Certainly there’s always the possibility of meaningless irrationality as an explanation for so fundamental a logical contradiction.  However, though I don’t deny this possibility, I tend to give this crowd more credit than that.

There’s also the possibility of outright deceit.  Although I’ve considered this possibility, I don’t think that the vast majority of our elites are anywhere near that cynical.  That is, even though I’m concerned that post-modernism’s rejection of objective truth decreases the moral barrier to lying, I’m also convinced that most of our elites are honestly expressing their positions.

There is another possible explanation, one that both justifies (1) the existence of sure knowledge outside the bounds of objective truth and (2) total confidence in the conclusions of an elite group .  It is  an ancient belief system that disrupted the early Christian church, called Gnosticism.  One useful definition of Gnosticism follows (emphasis added):

The doctrine of salvation by knowledge. This definition, based on the etymology of the word (gnosis “knowledge”, gnostikos, “good at knowing”), … it is markedly peculiar to Gnosticism that it places the salvation of the soul merely in the possession of a quasi-intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and of magic formulae indicative of that knowledge. Gnostics were “people who knew”, and their knowledge at once constituted them a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know.

It is believed that the epistle 1 John was written to counter early Gnostic beliefs.  Gnosticism was eventually declared to be a heresy and driven out of the Christian church.  The term “heresy” is little used and even less understood in today’s relativistic culture.  R.C. Sproul defined this important term as follows.

But what do we mean by heresy? Is every theological error a heresy? In a broad sense, every departure from biblical truth may be regarded as a heresy. But in the currency of Christian thought, the term heresy has usually been reserved for gross and heinous distortions of biblical truth, for errors so grave that they threaten either the essence (esse) of the Christian faith or the well-being (bene esse) of the Christian church.

I don’t blame you if this idea about Gnostics in our PCUSA elite seems to be a bit ridiculous.  After all, why would post-modern elites take up these ancient beliefs?  Why would people who call themselves Christian take up a theology that has been agreed to be utterly  heretical?  Perhaps this quote from the R.C Sproul article linked above will provided some context.

We live in a climate where heresy is embraced and proclaimed with the greatest of ease. I can’t think of any of these major heresies that I haven’t heard repeatedly and openly on national tv by so-called “evangelical preachers” such as Hinn, Crouch, and the like. Where our fathers saw these issues as matters of life and death, indeed of eternal life and death, we have so surrendered to relativism and pluralism that we simply don’t care about serious doctrinal error. We prefer peace to truth and accuse the orthodox of being divisive when they call a heretic a heretic. It is the heretic who divides the church and disrupts the unity of the body of Christ.

What is true for the modern Evangelical church is even more so for the modern Mainline church.  As you will see, I am not bringing this possibility up without good reason.

Finishing the First Year

I’d like to introduce the two topics that will dominate the last quarter of The Reformed Sojourner blog’s first year.  If you’ve been keeping in touch, I’ve been focusing on the deep, consequential failure of our PC(USA) leadership, with occasional lighter fare, like excerpts from The Language of Suffering 😉

I don’t blame you if this seems a bit depressing.  However, it’s important to press on because we must attempt to understand the forces that are at work.  This is a necessary prerequisite to wise decisions, both as individuals and as churches.

This is also important because the consequences, which are well described by Joseph Bottum in An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, are so profound.

“We must begin by noting that the single most significant fact over the last few decades in America — the great explanatory event from which follows nearly everything in our social and political history — is the crumbling of the Mainline churches as central institutions in our national experience.  It is a collapse of numbers, certainly: a disappearance of parishioners astonishing in its speed.  Even more, however, it is a collapse of influence, the loss of religious institutions that had defined, supported, and challenged the nation for all of its previous history.”

In the overwhelming business of holding together our family, work and personal lives, there appears to be no room for the addition of anything else.  However, there are forces at work that, though they often fall off of our priority list, nevertheless are substantively contributing to our civilization’s decline.  One of those forces is the movement in Mainline denominations to “reinvent” Christianity as a “faith” that is aligned with today’s apparently dominant political and cultural forces.  This project requires both the subversion of our theology and the demoralization of our civilizational confidence.

And so, in this Fall I will report on two new areas:

  1. Gnosticism Reimagined? (beginning next Monday)
  2. Loving All Our Neighbors

The confidence and courage with which Christians throughout two millennia have challenged their culture is not due to their own sense of wisdom or power.  Rather, it is due to their complete confidence in God’s (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) providential engagement with this fallen world.  So, it is no accident that we find ourselves standing at this place in this time.  Rather, there is a holy and sovereign purpose at work; one that humbles itself by asking us to participate in faith, hope and love.

LoS: Blessed are the Persecuted – Closing Thoughts

uncomfortable-christiansChrist is here announcing a radical reinterpretation of suffering – if it is experienced because of allegiance to Him. Rather than being endured, it should be received with rejoicing as a seal of authenticity upon our faith. Even more, suffering on earth for the sake of Christ builds up eternal treasure in heaven.

These are hard words for Christians living in the United States, particularly those of us who live and work in the higher income / quality of life strata of an already wealthy nation. Although some of us may have experienced real persecution because of our faith, many of us simply have not.

In part this may be due to the partial victory of Christian mores, at least in lip service, in our culture (though this influence is receding fast). But, for my part, I fear that there could be another reason. Is it possible that I’m not living my life as fully and openly as a Christian as I should? Is the lack of open persecution a telltale sigh that the bushel basket may be partially over the light of Christ in me? These are questions that must be faced. It’s possible that we live in a society where many people will like us more (although some surely will like us less) if we live out our Christian values more fully. Perhaps we should simply say that Christ calls us to ever-fuller obedience, regardless of the cost. If persecution is the price, rejoice, for great is your reward in heaven. If it is not, then you are still seeking to follow your Lord and Savior to the fullest where you are. There surely will be a reward in that as well.

It is nothing short of stunning to see how much meaning can be drawn out of just three of Christ’s sentences; and nothing short of hopeless to add anything of value to what He has said. In a very real sense it is folly to comment on His words. They contain a power and immediacy that can only be detracted from by the addition of more. And yet, we are compelled to respond to them, to enter a dialogue in which our poor attempts to understand are patiently, lovingly blessed by our Master. As with so much in Christianity we are forced to live within an unfathomable paradox, but one that offers “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27b).

LoS: Blessed are the Persecuted – Perspective

6th century mosaic of Jesus Christ in Ravenna

6th century mosaic of Jesus Christ in Ravenna

The Old Testament has taught us much about the language of suffering. However, it must be acknowledged that suffering is but one of many strands that are woven into a beautiful, but highly complex tapestry. The reason that we knew to follow this scarlet strand was due to suffering’s unmistakable centrality in the New Testament.

The New Testament exists, of course, because of the incarnation of the Son, Jesus Christ. Before Christ, we were only able to observe God’s will indirectly through the experience of mortals. With Christ, we have been given the wonderful privilege of directly observing God’s will for human life.

There are times when this privilege feels more like a burden as we despair over our faltering, failing attempts to live up to the standard that Christ has set. There is no reason to despair. Christ is the Victor over Sin and Death. We can live confidently in this new life.

As we pass through these passages of dark suffering, remember that Christianity is at its core a faith of light. But light would have no meaning if there were not darkness for it to shatter. We will have to wait to fully understand why so much darkness had to be let into our world. Until then, we can rejoice that:

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:4,5)

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12,13)

Amen!Sermon on the Mount detail

LoS: Blessed are the Persecuted – Exposition (Matthew 5:12)

Sermon On The Mount with the Healing of the Leper; Cosimo Rosselli, 1481

Sermon On The Mount
with the Healing of the Leper; Cosimo Rosselli, 1481

12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We have discounted the doctrine of heavenly rewards to our great spiritual impoverishment. The separation of Christian philosophy from influence of the heavenly by ideas such as “she’s so heavenly minded that she’s no earthly good” has removed one of our greatest sources of comfort and hope in suffering. It has also isolated believers in this present world, preventing them access to hope for or understanding of the holy environment that God intends.

But Christ affirms the reality of heaven. When we arrive there we may find those who have suffered most for their faith occupying positions of greater glory. In heaven, though, there will be no envy, as we will rejoice and worship the perfect justice of our triune God.

Note that Christ connects the suffering of Christians directly with that of prophets from the Old Testament. This statement is only one of many by which Christ weaves the Old and New Covenants into a seamless garment. Thus, in our study of suffering, we can move between the Old and New Testaments with total confidence that all is God’s Word. What is true for suffering is also true in general. Perhaps Christians would be more comfortable with the Old Testament if they were brought into appreciation of how completely their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, affirmed it as Holy Scripture.