A Brief Excursion into PCUSA Heresy

heresy1At a recent Bible Study I said that the PCUSA is being torn asunder by a “christianity” that believes in “god” as simply a human construct that can be used to manipulate others.  I made this comment as an inference based on my observation of our denominational elite’s behavior.  For example, that in the over 24,000 words written in support of gay marriage at the recent General Assembly, Jesus Christ Himself was not quoted even once.  Rather, the entire argument was based on what the proponents believed about Jesus Christ.
The very next day I was stunned to discover that there is a PCUSA pastor (the Rev. John Shuck) in apparently good standing who states openly that which I had inferred.  If you follow the links, you will go from the original source article to The Friendly Atheist, where you will find the Rev. Shuck’s summary of his beliefs:

For example, I believe that:

  • Religion is a human construct
  • The symbols of faith are products of human cultural evolution
  • Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend
  • God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force
  • The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being
  • Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife
From “The Friendly Atheist” site we can continue follow links to Pastor Shuck’s blog site to Southminster Presbyterian Church (Beaverton, OR) to their Staff page.  There you will find that the Rev. Shuck has been their pastor since January 1, 2015.  You will also be told in Rev. Shuck’s staff bio that:

John has been involved in the work of the Westar Institute (the Jesus Seminar).   Westar promotes the advancement of religious literacy.   John is proud that Southminster engages spirituality and critical thinking.   John is a signatory of the Clergy Letter Project that advocates scientific literacy including teaching Evolutionary Theory.   John’s favorite Sunday is Evolution Sunday on the Sunday closest to Charles Darwin’s birthday.

Note that I have already investigated PCUSA ties to the Westar Institute and Jesus Seminar (focus on the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, see from here to here).
I would like to believe that Pastors Shuck and Reyes-Chow are isolated cranks who have no real connection to or influence in the denomination.  Unfortunately, I have to note that the Rev. Reyes-Chow was the 2008 Moderator of the PCUSA and the Rev. Shuck appears to be happily prospering in the denomination.
As I have expressed this concern the responses have varied from support and affirmation to disagreement and diminishment.  In particular on the latter response, some have attempted to diminish by pointing out that these individuals are both few in number and rendered ineffective by the “silliness” of their position.

I can’t shake the sense that the PCUSA leadership (particularly now that so many pastors/members/churches have given up and exited) see “following Christ” from a similar perspective.  Yes, I understand that these denominational leaders talk all the time about “following Christ.”  Yet, when they had the opportunity to make the supposedly compelling case for same-gender marriage, Christ as testified to in the Bible was completely excluded.  That failure destroyed the last shred of their credibility on my part.

My concern has been best put into words by Dr. Van Til in an essay on the Confession of 1967 (emphasis added).

Though we concede that the new creed and its new theology speak highly of both Christ and the Bible, we nevertheless contend that new meanings have been attached to old, familiar words. The whole question, accordingly, is one of reinterpretation. One may take a milk bottle and fill it with a poisonous white liquid and call it milk, but this does not guarantee that the poisonous liquid is milk. It may well be some thing that is highly dangerous to man. …

Though the twentieth-century church has been informed by the new theology that it can have no objective or conceptual knowledge of God and of Christ, this same theology still continues to speak about God and Christ in eloquent terms. But, as we have already noted, these terms have new definitions. The God and the Christ of this contemporary theology have very little in common with the God and the Christ of historic Christianity.  There is good reason to believe that the new theology has virtually manufactured a new Christ, a person who is essentially different from the Savior of the Scriptures.

I’m not attempting here to reopen debate on the Confession of 1967, but the theology described above is what I too often see in our denominational and presbytery leadership today.

Although there is a clear aspect of “silly” in what Pastors Shuck and Reyes-Chow are doing, there is another side far less humorous.  I see people such as them as the avant-garde who demonstrate that there are no theological bounds left within the PCUSA.  Yes, few do or even want to follow them.  But for those who are determined to obliterate Christ as testified to in the Bible and replace Him with an avatar carrying their own beliefs, they show that the denomination cannot rouse itself even to oppose in-your-face heresy.

Thus, I’m concerned that these two apostate pastors are only the tip of an awful iceberg.  That is, while they openly argue for heresy, many others quietly work incessantly to manipulate trusting Christian souls into great error.
My personal response is to pray that faithful PCUSA congregations continues to be a bright beacon of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these dark, dangerous times.  We should support and encourage our pastors to continue preaching and teaching Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Bible as God’s Word.  We should speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) with courage and conviction.  And finally, we should, by trusting in God’s good providence, never despair and never cease praising His saving grace in our lives and in this broken world.
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How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ is? (Part 5)

WHOHowJCThe Confession of 1967 (1 of 2)

The following is the first paragraph from the Book of Confessions introduction to the Confession of 1967.

In approving the Confession of 1967, the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America adopted its first new confession of faith in three centuries. The turbulent decade of the 1960s challenged churches everywhere to restate their faith. While the Second Vatican Council was reformulating Roman Catholic thought and practice, Presbyterians were developing the Confession of 1967.

I have read this Confession numerous times over the years.  However, this is the first time that I have done so since beginning the journey documented in this blog.  Given the theological debacle that has occurred in the case of same gender marriage (among other issues), I can’t help but be wary of the “first new confession of faith in three centuries.”

That is, this Confession was written well after the The Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy which occurred in the 1920s and ’30s (the Theological Declaration of Barman was written in the mid-1930’s, but addressed the specific issues associated with National Socialism’s attempt in Germany to conform Christianity to its totalitarian ideology).  While a detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this post, suffice it to say that by the mid-1930’s the Mainline Presbyterian denomination (from which the PCUSA emerged) was securely in the modernist, liberal camp (the move from “modernist” to “post-modernist” theology has been one of bad to worse).

Therefore, the Confession of 1967 was written and approved by a denomination dominated by liberal Christians.  Surely then we should carefully scrutinize it for theological discrepancies between this and the other Confessions that were written centuries prior to the ascendency of liberal Christianity.

Significant discrepancies were identified as the Confession of 1967 progressed towards passage.  However, it appears that the “people in the pews” were satisfied at the time that this divergence from previous Confessions was evolutionary and of limited consequence to the overall doctrinal position of the denomination.  However, events of the past 50 years have shown that these discrepancies were revolutionary and momentous.  The full rancid fruit of these doctrinal deviations has been on display (see here, here, here and here) in the same-gender marriage debate.

If there’s only one thing that I’ve learned in this recent work, it’s this:

Don’t take what is said by the PCUSA elite at face value.  Rather, look for the inconsistencies and omissions that can, over time, be leveraged to smuggle false, foreign ideas into Christianity.

This statement will likely cause discomfort in some readers.  However, given the PCUSA’s recent record, how can we possibly avoid such a conclusion?

The only real alternative is to go on pretending that all of the theological, social and spiritual destruction that has occurred in the PCUSA over the past 50 years mysteriously occurred in spite of a solid, true doctrinal foundation.  I simply can’t say this because my conscience would rightly accuse me of telling a purposeful lie were I to do so.

It is indeed a humbling experience as I conduct the research associated with this blog.  In particular, I regularly uncover analysis from generations past by people who clearly saw the approaching storm and had the courage to describe it clearly.  What they foresaw I have only recently stumbled and bumbled into, after wasted years of inattention and cowardice.  The most recent occurrence is a booklet on The Confession of 1967 by Dr. Van Til.  What he wrote in 1967 better identifies and explains postmodern Christianity and its consequences than could I ever, even with my advantage of hindsight.

Though we concede that the new creed and its new theology speak highly of both Christ and the Bible, we nevertheless contend that new meanings have been attached to old, familiar words. The whole question, accordingly, is one of reinterpretation. One may take a milk bottle and fill it with a poisonous white liquid and call it milk, but this does not guarantee that the poisonous liquid is milk. It may well be some thing that is highly dangerous to man.

Such is the case, we believe, with the new theology: It is an essentially humanistic theology which disguises itself as an up-to-date Christian theology. Of course, we are told that the new Confession is contemporary in its view of truth. We are also told that the Westminster Standards are outdated, being written in an age of absolutism. By contrast, today’s theological thinkers know that truth is relative to man and the human situation. Has not Immanuel Kant taught us that man can know nothing of God and of Christ in so far as Christ is said to be God as well as man? From Kant recent philosophers and theologians have learned that man’s conceptual knowledge is limited to the impersonal world of science and does not apply to the religious dimension.

Though the twentieth-century church has been informed by the new theology that it can have no objective or conceptual knowledge of God and of Christ, this same theology still continues to speak about God and Christ in eloquent terms. But, as we have already noted, these terms have new definitions. The God and the Christ of this contemporary theology have very little in common with the God and the Christ of historic Christianity.  There is good reason to believe that the new theology has virtually manufactured a new Christ, a person who is essentially different from the Savior of the Scriptures.

Is this not “postmodern Christianity” foreseen?  Should we not seriously consider past analysis that accurately predicted the theological and spiritual chaos that The Confession of 1967 precipitated?  If you honestly believe that all is well in the PCUSA since 1967, then feel free to ignore all that follows (though I beg you to reconsider your belief).  If you are concerned that something has gone terribly wrong, then perhaps there is reason to continue.

Finally, I’m well aware  that for some Presbyterians this severe criticism of The Confession of 1967 is shocking.  After all, it was approved by the denomination almost 50 years ago, and, it is now a settled part of our Book of Confessions.  My responses are:

  1. I am only following to where the evidence appears to lead
  2. We are not bound to continue adherence to any human sourced statement if it is shown to be counter to Holy Scripture.  As stated in the Scots Confession: “So if the interpretation or opinion of any theologian, Kirk, or council, is contrary to the plain Word of God written in any other passage of the Scripture, it is most certain that this is not the true understanding and meaning of the Holy Ghost, although councils, realms, and nations have approved and received it. We dare not receive or admit any interpretation which is contrary to any principal point of our faith, or to any other plain text of Scripture, or to the rule of love.”

In Part 2 I will address the Confession of 1967 as it relates to the Bible and interpretation thereof.

Gnosticism Reimagined? (Part 7)

SecretKnowledgeA Working Hypothesis

Over the course of this blog’s existence I have attempted to understand the reasons that our PCUSA elites feel free to ignore and distort the clear teaching of Scripture on numerous issues, Christian marriage being the most recent and prominent.  However, given these deliberations on post-modernism, the Jesus Seminar and Gnosticism, I believe that there is a credible hypothesis that covers the known facts.  This hypothesis, stated from the point of view of the PCUSA post-modern elite, is as follows.

  1. There is no such thing as “objective truth” since post-modern philosophy has disproved this as a possibility.
  2. The Bible cannot be considered to be a reliable source of objective information about God and His relationship to humankind.  In fact, most of the Bible, including the Gospels, contains inauthentic information.
  3. Because Christianity has erroneously used the Bible as THE reliable source of objective information about God and His relationship to humankind, it has failed to successfully evolve as human knowledge and experience has increased over time.
  4. Given this failure, Christianity is currently experiencing a crisis that can only be resolved if it is massively reimagined and updated.
  5. The vast majority of practicing Christians lack the knowledge, creativity and will to reimagine and update the faith.
  6. However, we are  the elite group of Christians who are capable of this feat.  We have  aligned ourselves with the forces in Western Civilization that are working within the enlightened secular context of radical progressivism.  The economic and social pillars of this enlightened secular force are socialism and multiculturalism.
  7. Our implicit religious justification for this authority is reimagined Gnosticism.
  8. Our challenging project is to align Christianity with the enlightened secular world, thus creating a comprehensive, cohesive society in which all aspects of human activity are pursuing the same end goals.
  9. In order to accomplish this goal, we must undermine and then dissolve historic orthodox Christianity so that it can be replaced by the new, enlightened version.
  10. While the Bible can’t yet be openly disregarded, it must be undermined, distorted and selectively used so as to, over time, wean the ignorant masses from its grip.
  11. Due to our  obvious superiority, we, the secret knowledge elite, have the right to destroy Christianity and remake it in our own image.*
  12. Anyone who opposes this project is, by definition, not part of this secret knowledge elite, and therefore must be defeated at any and all costs.

*Thus, this group exhibits a form of narcissism, defined as “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.”


The following figure provides a visual representation of this working hypothesis.  Note that I am not claiming that a significant proportion of PCUSA elites consciously consider themselves to be Gnostic.  However, I am claiming that many of them, in order to justify their goals and actions,  appear to have have  integrated Gnostic-like ideas into their worldview.

PCUSA-Model

Time and experience will tell if this hypothesis is on the whole correct.

With this post the Gnosticism Reimagined series is completed.  I will explore the issue of multiculturalism in the next series — Loving All Our Neighbors.

Gnosticism Reimagined? (Part 6b)

SecretKnowledgeGnosticism, Post-Modern Christianity and Theological Collapse (continued)

It likely takes an updated form of Gnosticism to complete the post-modern Christian world view.  For, post-modern Christianity by itself offers only the negation of religious truth as divine revelation conveyed by the objective truth of human language.  That is, post-modern Christianity has the power to destroy Scriptural revelation, but is powerless to replace it with an alternative.  That’s where Gnosticism, with its subjective truth carried by a “secret knowledge” elite comes into play.

As I’ve previously stated, the number of actual Gnostics is likely relatively small.  However, as with post-modernism, many people can be strongly influenced by its ideas without realizing the source, or, even knowing of its existence.

Two Examples:

The best way to explain the last point is by example.  Please note that I am not accusing either of these ministers of being Gnostic.  Rather, I am pointing out that their stated positions may well be best explained by the influence of Gnostic ideas.  From the point of view of results it makes little difference if the motivation of Gnostic or not.  Of course, from the point of view of theological integrity it does make a difference.

Emergence of the “Secret Knowledge” Elite?

In order to delve deeper into this mindset, review the PCUSA web article titled “What’s next? NEXT Church gathering explores what PC(USA) is becoming.” Here, the Rev. Jessica Tate speaks to the NEXT Church national gathering about both the church’s current struggles and the process to determine “what’s next.”

The Rev. Tate uses the Biblical account of the Annunciation as the starting point for hew sermon on “what’s next.”  In her  telling, “The story was made possible because someone — Mary — said yes.”

From an orthodox Reformed theological point of view this is a profoundly erroneous statement. The sovereign LORD God, the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is not dependent on human assent for His will to be done. I will not here delve into the perplexing issue of human free will versus God’s acts of providence. Rather, I will simply point out that the orthodox Reformed understanding of this dichotomy does not allow for the necessity of human cooperation for God’s will to be done (see paragraph 6.012 from the Westminster Confession in “Counting Equality with God a Thing to be Grasped”).

Thus, when the Rev. Tate elevates Mary’s position to that of a necessary enabler of God’s will, she also elevates human will as a means by which God becomes Incarnate. Mary’s key contribution is described as inhabiting the “space of radical availability to God.”

Why would the Rev. Tate invest so heavily in Mary’s presumed power as an enabler of the Incarnation? The answer is found at the end of the talk, starting around minute nineteen (total length is 19:36).

To you this day a savior is born Christ the Lord. Did you hear that? It’s so familiar I don’t know if we hear it. Don’t be afraid. Because when you enter that uncertain creative space that allows God’s unexpectedness to happen, salvation is born. That’s the promise, that’s the true hope. To you, today, a savior is born. Not 2000 years ago, not far far away in Bethlehem, but to you today a savior is born. God is with us; prepare to be surprised. Amen

What is the stated prerequisite for salvation to be born? It is that human beings “enter that uncertain creative space that allows God’s unexpectedness to happen.” And, in particular, the human beings at this NEXT Church gathering: “Not 2000 years ago, not far far away in Bethlehem, but to you today a savior is born. God is with us; prepare to be surprised.”

Obviously, the Rev. Tate is not referring to an actual physical incarnation when she speaks of a new salvation being born at this gathering. However, isn’t it likely that she envisions that the “creative space” of this gathering will create an “adaptive change” in how we understand Jesus Christ that will enable what’s next?

There are numerous benign explanations for the Rev. Tate’s elitist rhetoric.  However, there’s something arrogant, unseemly and ultimately narcissistic  about comparing the experience and purpose of a conference to that of Mary.  An analogue would be, as I write these words, to imagine myself comparable to the Apostle Paul – which would be an absolutely fantastic and absurd conception.  Were we to seek a justification for this level of elitism, the influence of Gnosticism would be a good fit.

Echo of the Demiurge?

The Rev. Shawna Bowman is a prominent, influential member of the Presbytery of Chicago. She is the pastor at Friendship Presbyterian Church and an artist. The Rev. Bowman has preached at a Presbytery Assembly, represented the Presbytery at the “What is Marriage, Why does it matter?” event at the April 2014 Assembly meeting and presented at the 2014 Next Church National Gathering (the PCUSA article excerpted above was about the 2013 Next Church National Gathering). I am not acquainted with her, but she appears to be a creative, caring, prolific and intelligent individual. The Rev. Bowman is also deeply engaged in Scriptural study and interpretation.

Therefore, when the Rev. Bowman openly discusses her understanding of God, we should pay close attention. She does just that in a sermon titled “Unbinding,” posted on her web site on September 16, 2013. The sermon topic was that terrible, fraught Biblical incident in which God instructs Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

As the Rev. Bowman struggles to understand and communicate the meaning of this event to her congregation, she uses a statement by one of her friends. This statement is not in the slightest questioned or corrected. Rather, it is presented as a particularly wise, perceptive thought. The paragraph in question is excerpted below (bolded text, not in the original).

These prophets show how complex our story of God is, but they also give us permission to not only see the way in which the people of God change but how God might be changed by the people… a friend of mine suggests that it is God that learns something in this story, “God learns that God’s capable of wounding God’s loved ones, even though God was sure it was the right thing to challenge and grow Abraham’s faith in this dramatic way.” He says, “Maybe God finally learned how fragile people are, and how little God knows about them, maybe it’s events like these that makes God finally determine to, ultimately, simply become one of us.”

Note that the ellipsis (…) at the beginning of this section is not there to indicate that I have removed text. Rather, it is in the original as a connecting mechanism from the Rev. Bowman’s observation about “permission” to the suggestion of her friend.

And so to what does this presumed “permission” to contemplate “how God might be changed by the people” lead? Here it clearly leads to a very low conception of God. First, note that it is God who is the learner in this story. The first thing that God “learns” is that He is capable of wounding His loved ones. Apparently the Flood in Genesis 6-8 had not sufficiently registered upon God’s mind. He is also found to be mistaken by testing Abraham in this manner. Though His intentions had been good, He erred terribly in turning these intentions into actions.

No wonder then the air of exasperation with this dimwitted God, who “finally” learns that people are fragile. I’m confident that these individuals are not young earth creationists. However, even if we make this assumption (to be the most charitable), this phrase is saying that God had not learned in thousands of years what most human beings are capable of learning in well less than a lifetime!

And so, what can happen if we assert a “permission” to teach God, to find in Scripture “something deeper, something more true,” even if that something contradicts the very words of Scripture? Here, we find that it leads to a conception of God so low that it is an act of human generosity to deign equality between ourselves and Him.

Once again, there are numerous benign explanations for this conception of God.  However, isn’t it also true that the Gnostic concept of the Demiurge is an excellent fit?  The main difference is that the old concept of an evil god has been updated to make this god a pathetic victim who is in need of our help to save him from his idiotic errors.

Gnosticism Reimagined? (Part 6a)

SecretKnowledgeGnosticism, Post-Modern Christianity and Theological Collapse

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 “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.

ProtectOrthodoxy

A Properly Protected Christian Theological Environment

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.

UnprotectedOrthodoxy

A Compromised Christian Theological Environment

This actual PCUSA environment differs from the healthy one in three primary respects:

  1. 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%.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

BreachedOrthodoxy2

A Breached Christian Theological Environment

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[1] 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.


 

[1] 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.

Gnosticism Reimagined (Part 5c)

SecretKnowledgeOur Gnostic PC(USA) General Assembly Ex-Moderator (continued)

The Rev. Reyes Chow and A New New Testament (continued)

I will conclude this review of the Rev. Reyes-Chow’s engagement with his critics with the following two excerpts.

I must help heretics because of inclusion and tolerance!

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 2.49.45 PM

Thanks to Mark Robinson for saving me some work.

The pretense of personal orthodoxy while advancing heresy

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 5.42.05 AMThis exchange is the capstone, if you will, of the deceitfulness in which so many of our PCUSA elites engage.  Perhaps a brief parable will best capture this situation.

There once was a man who said that he so loved the redwood forest that he would dedicate his life to its preservation and expansion.  In fact, he took a solemn oath to do so in an organization created for that very purpose.  Many years later, members of that organization found this man madly chopping down redwood trees with a group of vandals.  They asked in bewilderment why he was doing this given his beliefs.  He replied: “Oh yes, I still hold to all my beliefs about preserving and expanding the redwood forest.  But I came across these good people who believe the opposite, and, in order to uphold inclusiveness and tolerance, decided that I must help them in their task.”

Were you to judge this man in the parable would you hesitate to call him a liar?  And yet, here is a man who has enthusiastically joined forces with people who believe that God is nonexistentWe should give Jesus a demotion, the Canon of Scripture is an attempt to invent Christianity and the Bible does not contain fixed, objective standards of behavior.  And what is Reyes-Chow doing with these people?  He is proposing a New New Testament that adds heretical Gnostic texts which contradict the teaching of the real Bible at every turn!

Yet, to preserve the “peace of the church,” we look quickly away and pretend that there’s nothing of significance to see here.  I’m sorry, but yes, there is.

Actually though, it’s far worse than this.  Here’s how the parable ends.

The leaders of the redwood preservation and expansion organization then wrote and published a fawning article in which the vandal-joining man was praised for being at the forefront of preserving and expanding the redwood forest!

 

Gnosticism Reimagined? (Part 5b)

SecretKnowledgeOur Gnostic PC(USA) General Assembly Ex-Moderator (continued)

The Rev. Reyes Chow and A New New Testament

The blog post to which Reyes-Chow refers in his question (see Part 5a) to Taussig provides important insights.  The blog post itself is relatively short, with two key sections excerpted below.

Last year I was privileged to be part of a group of folks brought together to think about sacred Christian texts, past AND future. Yes, I said future because like many others, I have always felt that the texts that have informed my faith and life in Christ were never meant to be static, rather, were meant to expand and grow. So when Hal Taussig asked me to part of a Church Council who would determine the texts to be included in the new book, A New New Testament (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) I did not need much convincing.

[snip]

After all, to many, this will undoubtedly be seen as messing with The Word of God and will be labeled as blasphemous and heretical. Not the first time that those labels have been directed my way, …

However, it’s the dialogue between Reyes-Chow and his critics that is of the greatest value, for two related reasons.  Firstly, because they allow insights into the post-modern Christian worldview.  Secondly, because they provide information on how post-modern Christians use language to confuse and repel their opponents.  In the following comment excerpts these are the issues upon which I will primarily focus.

There are no lines of distinction in human thought and I’m a better Christian than are you

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The commenter asks a direct question “What line will you not cross?”  Reyes-Chow responds by claiming that the question is incomprehensible because it “could be pointed at anyone by anyone at anytime.”  Apparently he believes that everyone at all times can be legitimately accused of “crossing a line.”  Thus, we apparently are all crossing lines all the time, thus invalidating the concept.

This is indeed pure evasion.  Reyes-Chow is a Teaching Elder and past Moderator of the General Assembly.  He has therefore committed himself to the maintenance of clearly defined lines through his ordination vows, in particular:

b.  Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the church universal, and God’s word to you?

c.  Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

d.  Will you fulfill your office in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?

The fact that Reyes-Chow pretends to be confused about the existence lines that can be crossed doesn’t free him from the fact that these lines do indeed exist, and that he both acknowledged their existence and promised to abide within them when he took his ordination vows.  As is stated in the Book of Confessions:

But to ensure that those who lead the church do so in faithfulness to its doctrine and form of government, the church does require ordained ministers, elders, and deacons to declare their adherence to the confessions of the church.

Yes, Rev. Reyes-Chow, there are lines, you once acknowledged them and you have clearly crossed them.

Having attempted to throw dust in Eric R.’s eyes, Reyes-Chow next retreats into pretended superiority as a Christian.  He does this by citing a single verse of Scripture, types words that adhere to it, and then implies that, even as a heretic, he is still a better Christian than is his accuser!

This attempt at self-justification can only work on someone who has been utterly deceived by the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” distortion.  As I have pointed out here and here (see Rationale section), Jesus was not “meek and mild” towards false teachers, or even always towards His own desciples.  Nor were the Apostles Paul, Peter or John.  Reyes-Chow hopes to deceive us by falsely claiming himself as a “true” Christian while implying that anyone who forcefully objects to his conduct is a mean person, and thus not Christ-like.  This is, again, pure deception.

Character assassination and using children as shields

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Consider first the brazen dishonesty with which Reyes-Chow attempts to smear “JDM.”  There is absolutely nothing in JDM’s statement that so much as hints of profanity.  And yet, Reyes-Chow responds as if this were the case.  Can any other word besides dishonorable be applied to the Reyes-Chow response?  No, and now there is another thing about which Reyes-Chow should be ashamed.

Then, Reyes-Chow brings his children into the debate.  Here is a man who has been aggressively assaulting the foundations of Christianity attempting to shield himself from criticism by hiding behind his children!  Does Reyes-Chow care about the children whose spirits will be vandalized by his heretical views?  Does he care about the spiritual health of the Christian communities to whom parents entrust their children?

Reyes-Chow’s responses strike me as equal parts entitlement and deception.  He feels entitled to attack Christianity but is unwilling to honestly debate his beliefs with critics.

Gnosticism Reimagined? (Part 5a)

SecretKnowledgeOur Gnostic PC(USA) General Assembly Ex-Moderator

The “star” of the Gnosticism celebrating Presbyterian News Service article is the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow.  Here’s his bio from the “A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts” web site.

Bruce Reyes-Chow is a Presbyterian minister, blogger, and social media consultant based in San Francisco, California. Bruce was the founding pastor of the young adult faith community Mission Bay Community Church; he was elected as the youngest-ever Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2008 and recently published the e-book The Definitive-ish Guide for Using Social Media in the Church.

Note that in 2008 commissioners to the General Assembly elected the Rev. Reyes-Chow to be their Moderator.  A mere five years later this elite  PCUSA leader enthusiastically participated in a group bent on creating a Gnostic “New New Testament,” that had significant overlap with members of the Jesus Seminar.  I won’t insult your intelligence by seriously considering the possibility of a sudden, unexpected switch from orthodoxy to heterodoxy in that time period.  No, by the longstanding standards of our PCUSA elite I’m certain that the Rev. Reyes-Chow’s heterodoxy was a well known strong net positive.  That his spiritual path eventually led to outright heresy did not in the slightest harm his reputation in the denomination.  Rather, it led to the previously referenced fawning article in the Presbyterian News Service.

In the previous post I connected the Jesus Seminar to the A New New Testament from a theological / philosophical point of view.  Here I’m first going to show the deep personal tie between the Rev. Reyes-Chow and Hal Taussig, who is a central figure in both the Jesus Seminar and A New New Testament.

Next, I’m going to illuminate how the Rev. Reyes-Chow deals with criticism for his participation in and support of A New New Testament.

The Rev. Reyes-Chow and Hal Taussig

The following commentary is based on the transcript of the Rev. Reyes-Chow’s interview of Hal Taussig.  The interview is actually a dialogue between two kindred spirits.  Even though they are discussing radical, controversial ideas, there is no sense of challenge in Reyes-Chow’s questions.  Rather, it’s one softball after another, as he gives Taussig the best possible opportunity to explain his views in a positive light.  The following excerpts support this conclusion.

Q: “No doubt people who don’t know you are going to paint a one dimensional picture of you. So who is Hal Taussig and what’s one thing that we might not guess about you?”

[snip]

Q: “I blogged about this project a few months back, and while there were some positive comments, a majority of the comments accused you and The Council of being a group of arrogant religious celebrities who have finally gone too far. How do you respond to these accusations?”

[snip]

Q: “The Council was diverse in many ways. How did you decide who would be invited to be a part of the The Council?”

[snip]

Q: “Think five or 10 years down the line, what do you hope will be the overall impact of A New New Testament on culture, Christianity and/or the church?”

[snip]

Q: “What part of the entire process brought you the most joy?”

Aside from the question about negative comments (see next two posts) to his blog post, a reader could be forgiven for not noticing that this is a discussion between two men bent on the destruction of orthodox Christianity.  Rather, it comes across as two eminent scholars discussing their challenging but reasonable views on Christianity and its sacred texts.  But make no mistake, these two men are sworn enemies of orthodox Christianity.  Read again the previous post on the Jesus Seminar.  Then consider that the Rev. Reyes-Chow freely chose to join with Taussig to generate the Gnostic A New New Testament.  Finally, recall from the previous post on Gnosticism that it directly contradicts orthodox Christian doctrine.

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?

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.

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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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