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Wednesday, January 10, 2007
The New/Old Gnosticism

I read a good article from Christianity Today. This was an interview with N.T. Wright, who's writings and lectures have been a big influence with me.
The interview covered a range of topics, but mainly focused on understanding the world we live in and the church's mission within it.
What got me thinking were the words that Bishop Wright spoke on gnosticism. For those of you who are unfamiliar with gnosticism, it is the belief that everything one needs for spiritual well being is found within one's self. That is to say, that each person must look within to find the meaning of life. True life is not lived in the physical of what we can see, but in the "light" of what is inside of us. This is a brief and elementary definition, for gnosticism is much more complex, but it is a good place to start.
Bishop Wright mentioned that gnosticism was popular during the time of Jesus and the church he estabilished. Signs of this come from the Nag Hammadi findings, or the gnostic gospels; gospel of Phillip, gospel of Thomas, etc. These so called "gospels" show the influence of gnosticism in the world surrounding the Early Church. Much of the what the New Testament writers wrote was lined with the defense against the message of gnosticism.
Interesting enough, Bishop Wright reminds us that gnosticism isn't dead. It might wear a different cloak, but it is still influential in the world around us and even in the church. This is again seen in the popularity of the afore mentioned gnostic gospels found at Nag Hammadi. Many books and articles are being written in defense of these gospels, and in either intentional or unintentional opposition to the gospels of the Christian canon; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
It is my estimation that gnosticism may even be better seen in the current and prevalant new age philosophy. The new age philosophy is ancient gnosticism with a new name. We see the same drive to look for truth, if such a thing can be found at all, within one's self. That the spiritual journey must first and always go inward.
Interestingly enough, I see shades of this new/old gnosticism ribboned within many of our so called Christian theologies. For example, in much of the Christian world it is taught that the point of being a Christian and following Christ is attaining eternal life, so as to have the hope of escaping this world that will some day burn. Because the primary focus has been on the individual gaining eternal life, and escaping what is around her, the spirituality proposed by this emphasis is very similar to the gnostic way of thinking. Escape by focusing inward.
Of course, there would be many Christians who would point out that the big difference is that gnosticism would say the answer is within a person, and Christianity would say the answer is with Christ within a person. I recognize this, but the weight of the theology is on the person focusing within. Bishop Wright made a good point when he mentioned that so many Christians today treat the task of following Christ as a personal, internal, and individual decision, when Christ did not just come to transform the internal individual, but the whole cosmos.
In Christ's resurrection we see that God is setting all of the world "to right", not just individuals.
Have we let the gnostic philosophy of self attention narrow our view of what God is doing?
How does this affect the way we see our mission? How does this change the way we do things?
I will post again on some of these thoughts.

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posted by Ben Thomas @ 10:24 AM  
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