Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gnosticism Today!

Thomas Long's book "Preaching from Memory to Hope" describes an atmosphere and trend that is very prevalent in the church today as gnosticism. He labels as "gnostic" four themes that sound out in the church:
1. Humanity is saved by knowledge. We are really not enslaved to sin as much as lacking enough information to know better. "The human problem is not sin but ignorance" and the temptation for us who preach is to dole out the data, tips and suggestions "how to....." better.
2. Antipathy toward incarnation and embodiment. "Contemporary gnostics are allergic to flesh and embodiment, to history and structure." Wow! That hits home with the anti-institutional, anti-organizational sentiment I bump into all the time. These are good people hungry for experiences and moments of illumination, but wary of any external structure, and creed, any historic organization. The "Word" doesn't dwell among us full of grace and truth as much as float above us.
3. A focus on the spiritual inner self and "divine spark" within. Again this is an over-emphasis on the individualism of the spiritual quest and ignoring the community, the body of Christ. The structure of the church becomes a distracting impediment to spiritual growth and all we want to do is get away and be alone with Jesus.
4. An emphasis on the present spiritual reality rather than eschatological hope. Gnosticism has no history and no validation of time. Instead it leans into the eternal now, this present moment. It is impatient with waiting for God to come but expects immediate gratification of communion with God directly.
Long says "God is not seen as the mysterium tremendum, an awesome and holy presence approached in humility with eyes shielded and shoes off; God is viewed as the loquacious next-door neighbor, always in a rocker on the porch, always near, always accessible, always wanting to talk, and always eager to be known."
What Long pushes us who are preachers to do is preach the text, the full text.


At 12:46 AM , Blogger Beth B said...


Thanks for an excellent post. It's not welcome news to many in our congregations, however!

I once wrote about some gnostic tendencies I saw in some emergent texts, questioning those who proudly proclaimed "We love Jesus but not the Church." (a la themes 2, 3 and 4).

I was nailed for being too philosophical, "traditional" and "institutional."
May you be spared the grief I went through!

You are hereby inducted into the Glorious Company of Gnostic Busters, lately of Covnet and now in diaspora. (Brad Boydston Honorary Chair.)

Keep the faith! ; )

Blessings in Christ,


At 7:36 PM , Anonymous Rick in Texas said...

That was good stuff. I most often encounter gnostcism in people of the faith healing persuasion, but the identity of it in some of the emergent stuff is well noted.

At 6:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comes near to disallowing some emergent Christians their thought world, a world you might find just beneath the surface of faith yet rife with aching and painful disillusionment. The "body" seems to feel better after putting a defining synonym/definition to it, but it isn't that easy to dismiss nor should it be. I am appalled to think that I can be easily cast in pejorative and derogatory tone.


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