t f p g+ YouTube icon

Let’s Not Surrender Science to the Secular World! Part 3: Gnosticism Today

Bookmark and Share

December 1, 2011 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now
Let’s Not Surrender Science to the Secular World! Part 3: Gnosticism Today

Today's entry was written by Mark H. Mann. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

This blog is the third in a multi-part series arguing that science should not be viewed as a secular form of knowledge needing to be ‘integrated’ with Christian faith. I began the series by stating:

To put it succinctly, even to talk about ‘secular knowledge’ and the ‘integration’ of science and faith is to buy into a problematic bifurcation of knowledge. The basic assumption lying behind such a distinction is that the world of knowledge can be divided into two discreet realms. On the one hand we have the world of secular knowledge, the goal of which is pure objectivity, which is governed by reason and humility, and which finds its ideals embodied in the practice of science. On the other we have the world of religion, which has a completely different set of goals and ideals. Religious knowledge is based upon faith, for the goal of religion is fidelity to God, to Jesus Christ, to the Bible as inspired by God and revelatory of God’s truth. There are multiple problems with this bifurcation of types of knowledge.

Moreover, I am seeking to make the case that anti-scientific attitudes among some Christians are grounded in an unbiblical theology that was rejected by the early church. Finally, I would suggest that we may identify this theology as a sort of resurgence of ideas which characterized an ancient movement called Gnosticism.

As we saw in the previous blog, Gnostics possessed a negative view of both the material world and the human beings who lived in it. For Gnostics, creation ultimately revealed nothing of the truth of God, and human beings were so deeply involved in the brokenness, evil and ignorance of the world that any human endeavor to understand Truth was an exercise in futility. In fact, for Gnostics, it was only possible to know God because God revealed secret knowledge (or ‘gnosis’) about Himself through a solely divine messenger, Jesus, who then passed this gnosis on to certain followers, such as Mary Magdalene or Judas Iscariot (at least, according to the Gnostic writings that bear their names).

If something resembling Gnosticism were to reappear today, one would expect its adherents to have little regard for an enterprise such as science. After all, as I stated in the last blog:

Gnostics generally held a pretty negative view of the physical world, treating it as a realm of evil and ignorance. This presents us with a serious problem, claimed Gnostics, because each of us has (or, more properly, is) a soul that has become separated from its true home with God and trapped within a physical body within this world of materiality, ignorance and evil. To make matters worse, the ways that we naturally learn as physically bound beings is through our senses, which are directed toward and therefore can only give us knowledge about the petty and/or evil matters of the material world. In other words, our senses only lead us deeper into the dungeon of our ignorance.

According to this view, science—the disciplined study of the physical world primarily using observation and testing, and conclusions drawn from the results of such study—is in general a distraction from our true end, which is eternal life as spiritual beings in Heaven. Even if there were some value in learning about the material world, our knowledge of it would ultimately be untrustworthy because our “senses only lead us deeper into the dungeon of our ignorance.” Indeed, for a Gnostic, the only way one could expect to learn the Truth about the physical world, much less the spiritual world, would be through specially revealed gnosis. That is, through one very particular and very privileged understanding or interpretative lens. For the historic Gnostics, this was secret teachings passed on through divinely selected messengers.

Where we find this particular Gnostic tendency reappearing today is in ways that some Christians affirm certain privileged interpretations of Scripture. We see this, for instance, in many arguments for a ‘plain reading’ of scripture among those who only apply the plain reading selectively. So, many who argue for a plain reading nevertheless agree with science that the sky is not a solid dome that holds back water and that the earth is floating through space rather than resting on foundations, despite the fact that a plain reading of Genesis 1:6-7 and Isaiah 48:13 would clearly indicate otherwise. Indeed, any form of knowledge other than their special interpretation of God's direct, unmediated self-revelation (i.e., this inconsistently applied ‘plain’ reading of scripture) is ultimately untrustworthy because it has been tainted by “evil minds of the material world.” Science, because it is practiced by those who are “trapped within a physical body within this world of materiality, ignorance and evil” is properly an enterprise of the secular world of unbelievers and their petty, sinful ways.

Are these the kinds of things we find many Christians today affirming about the world, about science, and about divine revelation? Are there Christians who believe that science cannot be trusted because of both the irreparable fallenness of the world and the extent to which nearly all those who practice science have been corrupted by sin (except, of course, for the chosen few who possess special gnosis and who therefore are able to do ‘science’ correctly)? I believe the answer to this, sadly, is yes.

There are three things in particular that I wish to identify as problematic here: (1) that scripture can and should only be read ‘plainly’, (2) that scripture is the only way that we can learn the truth about God's creation, and (3) that the findings of mainstream science are at odds with Christian faith and scripture. Rather, I want to claim, in agreement with both scripture and Christian tradition, that we find God's truth revealed through all of God's works, including both scripture and creation, and that science is a tool given to us by God to help us understand His creation. This is one of the main reasons why, as a Christian, I reject the sharp distinction between science and faith: science, properly understood, is a powerful way for us to hear the Word of God spoken through creation!

The early church typically spoke of this view in terms of 'two books' that need to be read together in order to understand the fullness of God's truth. The two books are the Book of Scripture--the Bible, of course--and the Book of Nature--creation itself, viewed and understood through the distinctive lens of Christian faith. l will now focus on explaining why I think this 'two book' model provides a better alternative to thinking about the relationship between science and Christian faith than either the ephemeral Gnosticism, a trap into which many of us have fallen, or the “science-is-an-essentially-secular-enterprise” trap, into which others have slipped.

First, allow me to modify the two-book model a bit. In the modern era, the term 'nature' has come to connote something that I find highly problematic as a Christian. That is, it tends to speak of the world and its processes as if they exist purely in and of themselves, as with 'natural law' or 'natural selection'. Indeed, even to speak of the universe as ‘nature’ is in some sense to have already bought into the bifurcation that I have sought to critique from the beginning, to suggest that understanding the world is ultimately a secular enterprise because it exists somehow completely separate from God. Since, as a Christian, I affirm that the world only exists at all and as it does because of God, I wish instead to call the second book the Book of Creation.

And this is the first reason why we should view the universe itself as a kind of book through which God speaks—God is its creator! Indeed, Genesis 1 even uses the language of speech to talk about God's creative activity in the world. God speaks and light, earth, the heavens, plants and animals come into being. We find this very point further strengthened in the great prologue to the Gospel of John (1:1-5), which speaks of Christ as the very Word (in Greek 'logos') through which God has created all things! And this affirmation is echoed in Col 1:15-17, which states that 'all things hold together' in Christ, for they were created for and through Him! To God, the world is not just some dead, inert, secular stuff. As numerous passages in scripture proclaim (see Ps 19:1-6, Ps 97:1-6, Job 38:7 just to name a few), creation itself speaks of the glory, the majesty, and even the righteousness of God!

Of course, the secular world and those who adopt Gnostic-like beliefs struggle to see this truth. This is what is meant when John 1:10 states that “[Jesus] was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” The Word of God woven into the very fabric of the universe must be seen and heard through the eyes and ears of faith in the Son of God as one who became fully human (“became flesh” says John 1:14). This is a pivotal point that is often overlooked when thinking about the ways in which God speaks to us.

Nonbelievers and secularists at best think of Jesus as a human being who provided good moral teachings. Gnostics, on the other hand, did not believe that material creation and flesh could express God's goodness and truth, and therefore rejected that Christ was fully human, but only appeared to be so. But, as we saw in the last blog, the orthodox Christian tradition has affirmed that Jesus was fully divine and fully human, and that the divine and human natures co-exist in Jesus "inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably" (Creed of Chaldecon, 353 AD). What this means is that the full divinity and self-revelation of God came into full expression within the created order in a fully physical way! This is not to equate God with the world in anyway. Rather, the implication of the doctrine of the incarnation is that the created world is a medium through which God speaks. Indeed, it is the very medium through which God has spoken decisively in the person of Jesus Christ. If God is capable of speaking His own way, truth, and life into the world through human flesh, God is certainly capable of speaking through the rest of Creation as well!

One may of course argue that we are inhibited from hearing God's Word spoken in and through the Book of Creation because of sin, and its effects on both creation and humanity. And it is true that scripture speaks of creation as fallen and subject to sin (see esp. Gen 3:17 and Rom 8:18-23). But this does not mean that creation has completely lost the capacity to express the truth of God, as those who hold Gnostic-like beliefs seem too affirm. Rather, a better way to understand the affliction of sin upon creation is to look at it in terms of the ways that human beings have failed to fulfill our call to exhibit proper dominion in creation by caring for it as God cares for it. This would be the clear implication of Rom 8:20-22, which ties both human sin and salvation to the sin and salvation of creation by declaring that creation's bondage to decay and futility is coming to an end through the redemption provided in Christ. This same promise is reiterated in 2 Cor 5:17, which announces that Christ's coming has initiated a NEW creation, and Col 1:20, which declares that the blood of Christ on the cross has initiated the redemption of ALL things!

Contrary to Gnostic teachings, from the beginning of time God has revealed his Word through the Book of Creation, a process come to full fruition in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Indeed, while our ability to hear God's Word in creation might have been inhibited because of sin, the power of sin has been decisively overcome by the death and resurrection of Christ, and Christians may once again read the Book of Creation in confidence that it can reveal to us truth about God and God's handiwork. What I have yet to show, in my desire to reclaim science as a distinctly Christian enterprise, is how science might be considered a tool for reading the Book of Creation, and how we might consider ways in which the Books of Creation and Scripture may be shown to work together for us to understand the fullness of God's Word. This is the task of our next blog.

Mark H. Mann is the director of the Wesleyan Center, Point Loma Press, and Honors Program at Point Loma Nazarene University. Mark received his bachelor's degree from Eastern Nazarene College and went on to earn both an M.Div. and a Ph.D. in Religious and Theological Studies (2004) from Boston University. Mann previously served at Colgate University where he was both chaplain and professor. Mann has previous experience in editing, student development and staff ministry at the local church level.

< Previous post in series Next post in series >

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Page 1 of 1   1
Roger A. Sawtelle - #66355

December 1st 2011

As I have said before, Gnosticism is not a good model for Creationism, Arianism is better.  However behind all this is Western dualism. 

We need a new intellectual model for reality.  Mark takes a great step in this direction by pointing to the Logos as the basis of a new model of reality doing away with the artificial traditional dualism/monism dichotomy. 

HornSpiel - #66358

December 1st 2011

I once heard Henry Morris speak to an adoring crowd, making all sorts of jokes about ignorant scientists. It was a bit too much for me. So when he started taking questions, I asked him something about all the evidence that science had for the age of the earth. I do not remember the details of my question. I do remember the stunned silence from the crowd that I could ask such a question. I also do remember this from his answer (paraphrased): “I really don’t care how much evidence there is that the earth is old, I will always trust the Word of God over the word of men.”

I am struggling to understand some of Mann’s points and wonder if this is an example of the kind of Gnosticism that he is talking about.

Another example, closely related, is the argument that God could have made the earth and the universe with an appearance of age. That seems to be denying the validity of the “book of nature” in preference to a “plain” reading of scripture.

One final example, from a recent blog-post conversation elsewhere on this site, reads “methodological naturalism means believing in design, but working on the assumption that the design is only an illusion of design.” The individual was describing how the perspective that a God-believing scientist needs to hold together two contradictory views to do  science. This is particularly intriguing to me since I to relate to that conversation on  ID.

I am wondering if Mann would consider ID a manifestation of contemporary gnosticism. I am thinking actually not since, I would argue, ID is really a movement to reintroduce teleological cause into science, something that is not really gnostic in character.

In fact, one could argue, that it is in fact the TE Christians who are more in danger of falling into Gnosticism, as the above quote illustrates.It seems to me that happens if one considers any of the laws of nature, including the probabilistic ones, as somehow independent of God. Rather, I would argue, when a people apprehend design in nature, it is not an illusion, but neither is it a scientific fact. It is something heartfelt and not limited to Christians. However, as Christians we know by faith and by Scripture that God is the designer. It is the appearance that God is not in control that is the illusion.

Now is that gnostic?

James R - #66361

December 2nd 2011


You’ve said some good things here.  I can’t speak for Mann, but I will give you my views. 

One characteristic of Gnosticism is its sharp division between “the world” and “the spiritual things.”  We can learn literally nothing of the spiritual things from “the world.”  Not even the orderly patterns in nature have any value, purpose or meaning.  Truth, wisdom, goodness, all lie beyond nature.  Our goal is to get out of this dreary material world and into the world of pure spirit, where salvation lies.

Now, fast-forward to the early 20th century, and partly secularize the Gnostic teaching in a Protestant context.  “The world” of matter in motion can be studied by science.  But it can teach us nothing, absolutely nothing, about God.  All questions about God can be answered only by revelation, which comes from beyond the world of matter, from the realm of spirit.  We cannot even know of God’s intelligence and power, or even of his bare existence, without revelation.  There is a complete disconnection between the world and God, an absolute dualism.  This translates into, among other things, a complete rejection of natural theology.   We see this in Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian who has unfortunately been so influential in Protestant circles.

It is no accident, I believe, that many TEs, including some columnists here (I’m not speaking of the current columnist, whose views on this question I can’t discern yet), have implicitly or explicitly attacked natural theology, with arguments similar to those employed by the Barthians.  Many of the TE arguments imply a dualistic view of things, with two alien kinds of knowledge (science and theology) which deal with two incommensurable realities (the world and God).  And TEs, including some here, have argued that it is bad or wrong to try to learn anything about God from natural reason alone, because that would bypass the need for faith and revelation. 
As you rightly point out, the separation between God and world, and between the two kinds of knowledge, is not absolute for ID proponents.  We can have some knowledge of God by inferring things from the world he has created.  Not the knowledge of Jesus Christ, to be sure; not salvific knowledge, but knowledge that there is some mind or designing intelligence behind the world.  Thus, the world of matter and energy points beyond itself to the spiritual world.  The dualism is not absolute.

I am not of course accusing TEs of endorsing ancient Gnosticism.  Nor am I saying that their views are identical with those of the ancient Gnostics.  But we can see in some TE arguments and positions, as we can see in Barth, a secularized version of the ancient Gnosticism.  ID people, with their strong sense that the hand of God leaves visible traces in the world, are outside of this trend.  

One can of course criticize ID arguments.  One can criticize their scientific basis, or the soundness of the teleological reasoning.  But one cannot accuse ID people of modern Gnosticism.  You’ve hit that bang-on.

I won’t here get into any lengthy argument about which position, the “dualistic” notion of knowledge of many TEs, or the more integrated notion of the ID people, is more “Biblical” or more “orthodox.”  I would merely direct the reader to Psalm 19, Romans 1, and many other parts of the Psalms, and Job, and to the statement of Calvin on the subject in the Institutes, and to Aquinas’s Five Ways.  In light of such things, I think that the extreme position— that we can know nothing all about God except through revelation, and that natural theology is bad because it tries to replace revelation — is highly questionable.  I think that a good number of TEs have not thought this matter out with anywhere near the textual and historical discipline that is required.

PNG - #66376

December 2nd 2011

What I hear from the ID people is not just that design can be intuitively seen in nature, (which I think is a Biblical idea), but that that intuition can be made a part of science. Inherent in that is the desire to have an undeniable scientific argument for the existence of a Designer, and everyone knows who that is supposed to be. I don’t see any gnosticism there, but I don’t think they have succeeded in their quest.

It might be more plausible to accuse YECs of something like gnosticism, but a literal interpretation of the Bible is not exactly a hidden truth, although the pseudoscientific explanations might be regarded as gnostic. The desire for affirmation from science is more like the scientific side of Greek culture than the neo-Platonic spiritual side.

I have seen a book (can’t remember the authors’ names) that really was modern gnosticism - they had secret spiritual interpretations of a lot of Biblical passages that they claimed were only known to them and a handful of their friends. I guess they needed money so they wrote a book to divulge the secret truth to the rest of us.

James R - #66381

December 2nd 2011


Regarding the good point you make in your first paragraph:

I think the ID people would see modern, science-based inferences from the details of nature to a designer as something different in degree, rather than different in kind, from the perception of order and arrangement that the Biblical passages express.  Thus, while a passage in Job or the Psalms might express admiration for the order of the heavens or the marvelous structure of a human or animal body, ID goes all the way to the microscopic level in showing just how intricate that order is.

The reasoning is something like this:  if it is a sound inference from the arrangement of a few visible parts of an animal’s limbs that animals did not arise by chance but through divine planning, the inference is all the stronger if we see that not just a few mechanical parts, but hundreds or even thousands of physiological and biochemical systems, have to be working in a tightly integrated fashion in order for that hummingbird to hover in one spot or that horse to gallop across the steppes.   

The issue between ID and the Darwinists (and not just most atheists, but most of the prominent TEs, are Darwinists) is that the Darwinists don’t agree that the design inference is sound.  It follows that the Darwinists, even the Christian Darwinists, can’t possibly agree with the apparent authorial intention of the Biblical passages you are alluding to.  A Christian Darwinist would have to say that the Biblical writer got carried away, by the pious desire to praise God, into unwisely endorsing an inference which is unsound, since we now know (since evolution is a fact, not a theory, and Darwinism is as certain as the physics of Newton or Einstein, etc.) that no design at all was needed to produce the complex, integrated harmonies of any living creature.  All you need is the first cell, random mutations, and natural selection.  In other words, the Christian Darwinist has to say or imply that at least some Biblical passages teach something that is false.  

This would not be a problem if the Christian Darwinists would be forthright about it.  They could say, for example, that the Bible is right about Jesus but sometimes wrong about creation.  The problem is that the majority of them also insist that they regard all of the Bible as inspired, authoritative, and true.  Not literally true in all the detailed descriptions of nature (e.g., there are no waters above the heavens), but true in all that it is trying to teach.  But the teaching of certain passages of the Bible appears to be that we can infer a designer from the works of nature.  At that point, those TEs must either show that the passage has been misinterpreted, or declare that on that particular teaching, the Bible is wrong.  There is no intellectually honest alternative.

Jon Garvey - #66366

December 2nd 2011

In this second article, my suspicions are confirmed that the connections Mark is making are rather strained. I endorse what Hornspiel, and particularly James, have said, but really would question the validity of equating gnosticism with even the most fundamentalist YEC position.

As far as I recall from my studies, the gnostics were by no means selectively literalistic, but entirely away with the fairies in Biblical interpretation. They regarded the world not as fallen, like most YECs, but as creatively flawed (brings us back to that common TE position about defective design).

Creationists generally don’t think the world, or science, is intrinsically bad - they think that some of science is intrinsically mistaken about it, which has no parallel with the Gnostic agenda. They are no doubt wrong in many cases, but that’s not the same as being heretical. Neither do Creationists deal in hidden knowledge but claim (loudly) that the meaning of Scripture is plain for everyone to see (as opposed to their their antagonists, who always tell them they don’t understand the secrets of evolution!).

I’m unhappy with the way he slips in point 3: “that the findings of mainstream science are at odds with Christian faith and scripture,” under the banner of the two book theory. Science and nature are different, and as a matter of historical fact science has been at odds with Christian faith at various times in its history (eg in its former frequent reliance on astrology and magic, its claim that the universe was infinite and eternal etc), eventually to be brought back closer to both the book of nature and the book of scripture.

In short, I think his whole reasoning is off-beam and therefore would not, unfortunately, expect his conclusions to be reliable.

penman - #66371

December 2nd 2011

I hate to dissent but I think there IS a flavor of Gnosticism in at least some kinds of young earth creationism. I’ve certainly encountered YECs who on principle refuse to attribute “unpleasant” aspects of creation to God - eg predatory activity. These, they say, must be attributed to the Fall, not to God. But the position is unsatisfactory. Who designed the efficient predatory carnivores that populate our world? If it wasn’t God, was it Satan? Some seem to think so. I recollect an incident recounted by Hugh Miller in his “Testimony of the Rocks”, where a Victorian YEC castigated Isaac Watts for saying in one of his children’s hymns

Let dogs delight
To bark and bite
For God hath made them so.

What Watts should have written, the YEC said, was:

Let dogs delight
To bark and bite,
Satan hath made them so.

Satanic teleology… I suppose an alternative is that God unleashed chance into the world after the world, & chance created the carnivores. However, any refusal to attribute them to divine design leaves us in a Gnostic position whereby something other than God is responsible for the structures of creation. For Gnostics it was the Demiurge. For some YECs it seems to be Satan or a sort of personalized “The Fall”. Here is a YEC version of the Demiurge.

However, I agree that similar patterns of thinking can be found in some ECs/TEs who also want to “absolve” God from the “unpleasant” aspects of creation. For them the Demiurge is Evolution. Not for the first time, some YECs & some ECs/TEs meet at the back door…

For me, as a Reformed EC/TE, there is no Demiurge of any kind, & God is responsible for creation, eg for carnivores like lions (celebrated as a magnificent example of God’s creative wisdom in Psalm 104:30-34). There’s a good treatment of the question in Mark Whorton’s “Peril in Paradise” (AuthenticMedia 2005).

Jon Garvey - #66372

December 2nd 2011

Fair dos, Penman. But then we have to attribute that kind of Gnosticism to pretty much the whole Protestant church, at least, for it’s rare to find people (even those with no interest in the origins debate) who don‘t put the wild ways of nature down to the Fall (if they believe in it) or evolution-apart-from-God (if they don’t).

As you know I did a whole series of blog posts on this starting at http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2011/07/18/on-theodicy-and-humility/ At th.e time it didn’t occur to me to say the whole church was awash with Gnosticism!

penman - #66374

December 2nd 2011

Hi Jon

Well, you’ve caught me out - I have indeed for some years now attributed a quasi-Gnosticism to the great majority of Evangelicals, partly for the reasons you highlight. So I’ll have to plead guilty to making that charge! The whole Evangelical sector of the church is in some ways awash with Gnosticism or something like it…. I suppose it’s because I virtually always meet it in its YEC form that THAT is foremost in my consciousness. In my circles, you don’t meet liberal ECs/TEs at all, only conservative Reformed ones, delightful in their freedom from Demiurges.

A book I found stimulating was “Against the Protestant Gnostics” by Philip Lee.

James R - #66378

December 2nd 2011

penman, jon garvey:

A good discussion you are having.  I have enjoyed your solid contributions in various places here.

penman, if I could play the unaccustomed role of defender of the YECs, just for the sake of argument:

I agree with you that if the YEC in question meant literally that Satan, not God, directly created all the nasty aspects of existence, that would be a modern equivalent of, or perhaps derivative of, Gnosticism; but is it possible that the YEC in question was just expressing himself in a sort of shorthand?  Perhaps the meaning was:  Satan, that evil serpent, instigated the Fall, and the Fall brought about the rupture of nature which led to all these nasty things; but all things were originally created good by God, and in any case, while Satan was the instigator, he couldn’t have had any effect without human co-operation, so the cause of the evil is really man, whose free will is again the creation of God.  If the latter is what the YEC meant, then really that is just standard Fall doctrine, isn’t it, rather than Gnosticism?

Your parallel between the Demiurge and evolution is shrewd, and is one I have entertained for some time.  At least a few of the more celebrated TEs have in fact explicitly used “evolution” as a way of distancing the good God from evil, though of course they have not admitted (if they even realize) that evolution plays a Demiurgic function in their theodicy.

I’m inclined to agree with your interpretation of Genesis 1, i.e., that God created the creatures that we know, just as they are, i.e., some carnivorous, some microbes rather nasty from a human point of view, etc.  That is, God created some things that are “evil,” though we have to bear in mind that this would not be evil due to malice, or evil because God was not powerful enough to create everything good, but a limited set of evils logically required by the sort of world God wanted to create.  In other words, I think that what is called “natural evil” is not a product of the Fall, but was in the cards from the beginning.  

Again, to argue the opposite case out of fairness, the YECs do have one plausible textual argument against this, Genesis 1.30, which taken with rigid literalness seems to imply that humans and animals were all originally vegetarian.  Thus, the rise of animal carnivory (if there is such a word) would be a product of the Fall (human carnivory being permitted after the Flood).  And there is a tradition of a general “fall of nature” which could plausibly be pinned to this verse.  So I suppose the YEC argument needn’t be motivated by a kind of Gnostic aversion to attributing evil to God.  It could be motivated by a desire to be true to the text and to a certain strand in the tradition.

On the other hand, in at least some cases, that interpretation of the text might be adopted precisely because of the Gnostic sentiments you are talking about.

In any case, I think there are legitimate ways of reading Genesis 1.30 that don’t yield the conclusion of pre-Fall vegetarianism, but this is not the place to go into the argument, which I’m sure people can find in many places in books and online.

I would argue that not the whole Protestant tradition, but a significant streak within it, is tempted to a quasi-Gnosticism.  I think this is caused by a certain overemphasis on the Fall and an underemphasis on the Creation.  I think it does not take seriously enough, among other things, the refrain “And God saw that it was good” which is the leitmotif of Genesis 1.  I think this same overemphasis is probably responsible for the failure of many TEs to notice the order, intentional arrangement, and even (gasp!) design of nature depicted in Genesis 1, the Psalms, Job, etc.

I thank you both for your traditional British intellectual balance.  It is greatly needed in evangelical theology on this side of the Atlantic.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #66375

December 2nd 2011

There are three basic mistakes that sopme early and modern believers made.  One is making the Father superior to the Son, which is Arianism, which results in Legalism in its many forms.  Two is making the Son - Logos superior to the Father, which is Gnosticism, which often leads to antinomialism.  The Gnostics claimed to put Jesus first, but really they were placing their philosophical views first, and this is stillo very much a problem today.  Three was placing the Holy Spirit first, which is Montanism.  The claim that the Bible is absolutely true because it is the Holy Spirit inspired Word of God a Montanist claim.

The early Fathers of the Church determined that none of the Persons of the Trinity is superior, all are equal, so none of these early heresies is true, however it is very easy to fall into the mistake of overemphazing one or the other.  Everyone does it.  Conservatives tend to put the OT God first.  Liberals tend to put the Logos first.  Anti-theologs put the Holy Spirit first. 

The task is to understand the Trinity so we can put the Three Persons in proper relationship and create some order out of today’s confused intellectual mess. 


Jon Garvey - #66377

December 2nd 2011

“The claim that the Bible is absolutely true because it is the Holy Spirit inspired Word of God a Montanist claim.”

Non sequitur, Roger. It would be more just to argue that the claim that the Bible is not absolutely true, although inspired by the Holy Spirit, makes the Spirit inferior to the Father, the God of Truth.

In any case, the real Montanists got into trouble because, unlike the Catholics who believed the Bible was absolutely true, they claimed that the Holy Spirit also spoke absolute truth through Maximilla and Priscilla and their other prophets.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #66380

December 2nd 2011


The point is that the Montanists claimed that the only Source of Truth was the Holy Spirit, not the Holy Spirit acting in concert with the Father and the Son. 

If you make the Bible the Absolute Word of God because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, in addition to going far beyond what the Bible itself claims, you are saying that the work of the Father through Creation and the Son through Salvation must be over-ridden by the literal statements found in the Bible.

If the Bible is Absolute, then the Son cannot establish a New Covenant to replace the Mosaic Covenant.

Jon Garvey - #66386

December 2nd 2011


Both Eastern and Western churches agreed many centuries ago agreed that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, because Jesus said so expressly. They also agree that the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and that that Spirit of Christ was the inspiration of the Old Testament prophets (1 Pet 1.11). The references to the Spirit of God (read Father or Son, as preferred) as the source of the OT Scriptures are too numerous to cite. None of it alters the fact that the statement that the Spirit inspires Scripture is a Trinitarian truth claim, whatever the Montanists might have said.

“Absolute” isn’t my word, and I won’t get into discussion about it because you always use it in way standard neither to philosophy nor theology.

Neither does it make sense to compartmentalise (and absolutise!) the members of the Trinity into mutually incompatible functions. The Father creates through the Son (for whom and by whom everything exists) and the Spirit is the creative agent of both even in Genesis 1.2, even if his creative agency weren’t also mentioned in Job 33, Psalm 104 etc. The Son saves by his death and resurrection (the latter wrought by the Father through the power of the Eternal Spirit) but the Father saves (through the preaching of the word) in 1 Cor 1, and is the “only Saviour” in Isaiah  (though that’s an occult Trinitarian statement). But it is also the Spirit who convicts of sin, righteousness and judgement, who makes us alive, who baptises us into one body, who sanctifies us.

If the Bible is true, rather than whatever you mean by “Absolute”, then the Son can set aside an obsolete Covenant without in anyway denying the truth (for its own time and purpose) and divine origin of what it replaces: “In the past God spoke to us through the prophets…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Same Trinitarian God of truth speaking - but doing a new thing.

“You are saying that the work of the Father through Creation and the
Son through Salvation must be over-ridden by the literal statements
found in the Bible.” Think about what you’re saying, Roger. Why would the Spirit teaching us about the Father’s creation and the Son’s salvation override anything? Any more than a love-letter overrides a relationship.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #66391

December 2nd 2011


Absolute in this context means true forever without any qualification.  In other words something is true now and forever independent of any circumstances.  If the Bible says, It is forbidden to eat meat from a pig,  and that is God’s Word, then how can God change and say it is alright to eat pork? 

This issue is much the same as asking how could God reveal in Genesis that the universe was created in 6 days when nature indicates it took X billion years.  God reveals Godself in various ways through various means though the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be relational and the universe to be relational, not absolute.

The only thing that I am saying is that God is Trinity and we can misunderstand Who God is and how God works when we focus our attention on one or may be two Persons of the Trinity to the exclusion of others.  It has happened repeatedly in the history of the Church.  This is just one basic example.  


Page 1 of 1   1