Gnosticism Reimagined? (Part 1)


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.


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