If you are a post-modern Christian who has rejected that authoritative, objective truth about God is to be found only in the Bible, how then can you speak authoritatively about God? It seems to me that if Gnosticism didn’t already exist you would be forced to invent something very much like it. That is, you would need a theological justification for why you, a small, self-proclaimed elite faction in Christianity have the right to reinvent the faith in your own image. What could be a better foundation for such a project than to embrace a theology that posits “a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know.” You need not accept everything from historic Gnosticism. As with Christianity, you, as a superior class of beings, are free to pick and chose whatever pleases you.
There are extremely few members of the PCUSA who openly embrace Gnosticism. However, just as is the case with post-modernism, many people can be strongly influenced by a philosophy that they don’t know much about, or even that it exists. The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow is certainly not the only believing Gnostic in the PCUSA. However, the number of PCUSA members who have been unknowingly influenced by Gnostic ideas dwarfs the number of actual Gnostics.
Gnosticism is valuable in general to the undermining of orthodox Christianity because it provides a contradictory narrative at every point of importance. That is, if you are able to smuggle in Gnostic ideas they will act as a solvent on orthodox doctrine. And, the more orthodoxy is dissolved, the more room there is to replace it with your own reimagined doctrine.
In a healthy Christian culture there are significant barriers set up that protect against heresy. A conceptual rendering of this situation with respect to the Gnostic heresy is shown in the following figure.
Note that in order to exit orthodox Christian theology one must first breach the wall of orthodox doctrine (in the case of the PCUSA, this is our Book of Confessions). Then, an unknown territory must be traversed, a theological desert of sorts. Only then can one enter the territory of Gnostic theology. In this theological environment it would take great determination and consistency of purpose to migrate from orthodox to heretical doctrine.
Note that it is entirely possible for some areas of “Terra Incognito” to eventually be absorbed into orthodox theology. This likelihood is due to the fully admitted incompleteness and even potential error in orthodox doctrine. The key point, though, is that this process must be undertaken with the greatest of care, lest error be added rather than truth.
However, the tragic truth is that the previous figure bears little relationship to our actual theological environment, which is shown below.
This actual PCUSA environment differs from the healthy one in three primary respects:
- The “wall” of orthodox doctrine (Book of Confessions) has been reduced close to nonexistence. If you doubt this point, ask yourself what percentage of PCUSA Elders (let alone members) have consistently referred to the Book of Confessions as a source of objective Reformed Christian orthodoxy. If you can respond with a number greater than 10% I would be astonished. In my experience the number is well below 5%.
- The area of “Terra Incognita” has disappeared, and replaced with a larger area of “Personal Preference.” To a shocking extent, members and Elders of the PCUSA have ceased to think about Christianity as something external to themselves. In this void has entered whatever it pleases each person to believe. If challenged by objective Biblical evidence to the contrary, the typical response is to reject the Biblical teaching in favor of what they choose to believe. This sad situation is by no means limited to the PCUSA. Rather, it permeates all of Western Christianity to one extent or another.
- The area of “Personal Preference” intersects with that of “Gnostic Theology.” In other words, one can without concern of criticism embrace aspects of Gnosticism as a personal preference.
This is where the PCUSA stood prior to the publishing of the PCUSA article. I contend that this article was published because this state of affairs didn’t sufficiently support key goals of numerous PCUSA post-modern elites. No, they desired to move further and faster than even the above tragic theological environment allowed. The theological environment that they are seeking is suggested in the following figure.
Here Gnostic theology has been brought into intersection with orthodox theology and a far larger proportion of Gnosticism is allowed as a matter of personal preference. Note also that the incursion of Gnosticism serves as a solvent on orthodoxy. The area of corruption is intended to grow as PCUSA members become even more confused and emboldened by the accelerating theological collapse.
Were this situation to become a reality the post-modern/Gnostic elite would be freed from maintaining the pretense of orthodoxy. They could openly pursue their goal of recreating Christianity in their own image.
By publishing and maintaining “The greatest story ever (re)told,” the following things have been demonstrated.
- An official PCUSA article that embraces both Gnosticism and the Jesus Seminar can be published and maintained for over two years
- The “hero” of the article can remain a Teaching Elder in the PCUSA in spite of open embrace and teaching of heresy
- The PCUSA staff who published the article are undisciplined
- There is no outcry in the general PCUSA aside from a few negative comments
The publishing of this article does not mean that the PCUSA is already in a theologically breached state. However, the fact of its publishing and maintenance means that another fraught step has been taken in that direction.
If this all seems a bit overblown, consider the fact that I’m not alone in this concern. In this 2008 post (seven years ago, well before the New New Testament) by Dr. Peter Jones titled Gnosticism in the Mainline he sounded the alarm about the growing influence of Gnosticism. After a substantial review of Gnostic ideas in the Mainline Churches — one in which individuals and organizations in the PCUSA were promenant — he makes this point.
Most people in the pew are not caught up in this radical rejection of the faith. In vast numbers, however, they have adopted the contemporary notions of theological tolerance, effectively giving up any solid ground on which to oppose the onslaught of radical Gnosticism.
He concludes this comprehensive and troubling post with these words.
Johannes van Oort, Professor of church history and the history of dogma at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, and a recognized authority on Manicheism, warns:
“Gnosis in one form or another is expected to become the main expression of secular religion in the new millennium. In order to equip the Church for this new age, the scientific study of Gnosticism is vital.”
Van Oort could also have said that an essential part of equipping the Church is to identify Gnosis within its walls, lest it become the main expression of mainline “Christian” religion.
 Dr. Jones has an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a ThM from Harvard Divinity School, and a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is Director of Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet and Adjunct Professor of New Testament, as well as Scholar in Residence at Westminster Seminary California.