Monday, September 27, 2004

Random Reflections on Gnosticism

OK, I am going to cheat a little bit, and post something I wrote in response to reading The Sophia of Jesus Christ for a Sunday School class my friend taught in John. The text of the Sophia is avalable at:

One of the greatest qualities of the gospel is its simple profundity. While simple enough to be grasped by a small child, it leaves a rich wealth of material for one to diligently study for all of one’s lifetime. However well Gnosticism of necessity supports the latter, it fails miserable on the former. The amount of effort needed to be expended just to have a rough understanding of any piece of Gnostic literature is immense. No wonder Gnosticism had such a relatively small and homogenous following; only a small minority of the population would have been able to receive this set of teachings, unlike the “all” to whom the gospel was intended to reach.

Further, the dependence of this system on a very minute set of philosophical presuppositions also speaks against its validity. While one cannot doubt that the Bible itself reflects the culture of its day, including its philosophical background, however, this does little to hinder the careful reader’s basic understanding of a text or the teachings of Scripture as a whole. One criticism of systematic theology is that the questions it is seeking answers for are at times irrelevant or simply generated by the system which one has erected. Yet, however extraneous the points of a systematic theology might be, they do not begin to compare with the esoteric doctrine of the Gnostics. The Bible, and the orthodox faith which it birthed, are truly timeless, and perspicuous.

However, more than these external issues arise concern for the Christian reader. It is not simply the minute, complicated system which gave those committed to Gospel concern. Many of the concerns of the early church fathers are demonstrated in this short selection. The distance between God and creation falls far beneath the care and concern of the Heavenly Father for His creation, even for the small bird and the ephemeral flowers. Of course, the overall anti-material bias of course explains this distance they erect between God and the world. They not only remove God from His care and providential concern over the world, but also from its creation. The idea that the created “entities” of the First Man or Sophia were active is whatever manner in creation is far below the Biblical doctrine of creation directly by God Himself. The concern for later doctrine of course comes in the conclusion that Jesus Himself was a created being, which was unequivocally rejected by the church. The seeming plurality of persons in the “Godhead” is interesting, however, it is far inferior to the later conclusions of the church. Also interesting were the numerous allusions throughout the document to the Gospel of John in particular. Gnosticism lacks credibility as a true Christian system because it does not have a doctrine of sin compatible with that of Scripture. The idea of an epic conflict between the disciples and their followers, and the sons of the Arch-Begetter gives little or no reason for the true nature of the incarnation or the plight of man and the course of his redemption. Ideas of recollection, of release from materiality have no compatibility with the serious one true doctrine of salvation taught in the Old and New Testament. Rather, they confuse and conceal the central issue of the Gospel, God the Son taking human flesh not to release man from his materiality or his ignorance, but from his sin and the wrath it justly deserved.

It is no wonder that the early church fathers saw in Gnosticism something radically antithetical to the gospel and fought so vigorously against it. It is not that Gnosticism was an aberrant minority view which was still a “variety” of Christian expression, it was something totally different. It was not that the early fathers were narrow-minded and intolerant, they were fighting against a cancer afflicting the church, and they rightly excised the gangrenous member. For Christians today committed to the heritage of orthodoxy, to study Gnosticism with any more than historical curiosity is absurd. What the church fought so strenuously to win, let us not give up because of the indifference of time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Church vs. Churches

It is interesting to note the names of denominations and how their names reflect their ecclesiology. Reformed and Presbyterian denominations tend to be singular; Orthodox Presbyterian Church, The Presbyterian Church in America, The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America. Even the liberal denominations follow the same pattern, Presbyterian Church (USA), The Episcopal Church. A similar pattern can be observed with Lutheranism, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

However, on the other side are the churches whose denomination's names are plural; The General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, Reformed Baptist churches in North America. Other names they apply denote a similar phenomenon; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Baptist General Conference. This is not even to mention the myriads of independent Baptistic churches which do not even make an effort to associate with any other congregations.

The question is this, without examining the explicit theology of tradition and in spite of the obvious failings on both sides, which side better displays the basic Christian confession of "one holy, catholic church" by its name?

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Articles by Daniel Wallace

Until I actually get around to really writing my next blurb, hopefully this will keep my illustrious readers off my case for a little while.

In my wanderings on the internet in search of quality articles, I happened upon a large cache of articles by Daniel Wallace, author of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. This is an excellent and unique resource as an exegetical grammar, focusing on the significance various grammatical constructions have for interpretation. Even though Wallace is a dispensationalist teaching at Dallas Theological Seminary; he displays an overall fair and balanced approach to the Bible. While I disagree with many of the positions he may express in these articles; I respect his careful and balanced approach to studying Scripture. I hope they may be of help.