Tuesday, July 11, 2006

On Gnosticism and Evangelical Spirituality

The Next Wave e-zine has an interesting article by Steve Lewis titled "On Becoming Post-Gnostic." The article represents some refreshing and honest self-criticism for the Emerging Church. Lewis wonders whether the frequent notion that EC advocates "get it" in terms of what needs to be done by the church in postmodernity whereas other expressions of the church do not, might be a form of evangelical neo-Gnosticism. Lewis writes:
However, to be honest, I've also observed (in myself and others) a kind of smugness within the emerging church circles. While it is true that we have been awakened to a lot of the broken ways of thinking that modernity and mainstream evangelicalism have brought about, I believe we need to be careful here. When I have conversations with emerging types about the state of the church in North America, it seems that we tend to fancy ourselves as those who have figured stuff out to the degree that we've arrived at some higher state of spiritual awareness. Of course, we'd never state it in those terms, but I have to wonder if there's not some of that going on just below the surface. Is that not a gnostic way of thinking?
This criticism of the EC, and questioning as whether this represents a form of Gnosticism might also be asked about other segments of evangelicalism. I was reminded of this during one of my recent seminars at Cornerstone Festival when a question came from the audience that articulated a spiritual vs. cultural sphere for Christian "battle" and ministry. Although I did not have time to respond as I should have, I spoke with author David Dark who was also in the audience, and we shared our mutual concern for this kind of Gnostic spiritual vs. material dichotomy. Coming from a broader perspective beyond the EC, and writing about apocalyptic in its biblical sense of an epiphany, unvealing or revelation, Dark writes in his book Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons and Other Pop Culture Icons (Brazos Press, 2002):
Our ability to recognize apocalyptic is, in our day, often most hindered by the popular, best-selling misunderstandings of biblical witness. Confusing the death-dealing forces that enslave, exploit, and crucify (what our biblical translations sometimes render "the world") for the created world itself, such so-called "apocalyptic" is a negation of this-worldly experience. It tends to view the physical as only fit for burning. In a kind of Gnostic-style propaganda, creation is deemed a sort of waiting room, irredeemable and best discarded. Confusing redemption for escape, real injustice - political and personal - goes mostly unengaged, and the actual, everyday world gets left behind. (page 11)
While some evangelical theological systems lend themselves more to such Gnostic-style views than others, it is interesting to me that in all the evangelical fuming over neo-Gnostic interest in the Gospel of Judas and The Da Vinci Code, we seem to have missed our own Gnostic tendencies. While we rightly respond to those outside the church, perhaps its time to look more closely within our own communities. If we do the result might be not only corrected theologies, but greater missional and cultural engagement in our own backyards.

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