04 March 2017

Gnosticism through a Dominionist Lens Part 2

Varieties of Contra Mundum

At around the thirteen minute mark, Reeves probes into the matter of Dualism, the question of matter vs. spirit. This is the common motif associated with Gnosticism and Dominionists and modern Transformationalists of every stripe will whip out the label and use it against everything from legalistic prohibitions of alcohol and tobacco to a reticence to participate in politics. In every case (they argue) a Gnostic tendency is at work and some form of matter/spirit dualism has been embraced.
In a few cases this can be verified but in most occasions the legalism of Fundamentalist and Holiness groups stems not from dualism but rather from flawed cultural metanarratives. As is usually the case the Dominionist 'Worldview' analysis is completely flawed.
In the case of other groups that oppose the Dominionist paradigm their reasons for embracing duality (as opposed to an absolute dualism) are rooted in the New Testament itself.
Once again it must be said that the appeal of Gnostic thought was often due to its similarity with New Testament Christianity. This will not be the last time this is mentioned.
The New Testament teaches an ethic of world-rejection, not the affirmation someone like Reeves advocates. Christ told his followers to not worry about power, money, possessions and even to go so far as to put out an eye if it caused you to stumble. While some of the language is undoubtedly hyperbolic the Dominionist tendency is to all but explain it away.
Their concepts of stewardship and the celebration of Creation actually hint more of a Pantheistic mindset and a worship of the created order. In many cases one gets the impression they are echoing a Pantheistic and Platonic tendency to reify the Ideal on Earth, to make the Kingdom 'concrete' through their actions.
The Biblical teaching is to use this world's things, even marriage itself, as that which is passing away. Creation was created good and yet sin corrupted it. Reeves echoes his teachers is saying that creation is good and that sin does not change that reality. This is the only way they can retain the Cultural Mandate of Genesis 1 and try to apply it across the board.
On the contrary the Scriptures place this world (this age) under curse. Satan is referenced as its god. The creation groans, our hope is not here but in heaven. We must put to death the deeds of the body. While flesh (sarx) often refers to the sinful nature, a careful reading of the well known Romans 8 passage (and others) indicates that the soma, the corporeal body (skin and bones) is also under this curse. This extends beyond the reality of physical death. These concepts are not rooted in Gnostic narrative regarding the evils of matter or a world created by the Demiurge, but in an understanding of the curse resulting from The Fall. Like Gnosticism, the Apostolic teaching looks to the transcendent as the realm of truth and the ideal. This world, due to the curse of The Fall is relegated to that which is temporary and yes, even futile as the Scriptures teach. How contrary is the teaching of Romans 8 to the Judaizing-Dominionist model! It cannot be overstated.
The Gnostics pursue the ideal through either asceticism or in some cases libertinistic indifference as a form of conquering or mastering Creation.
The Judaizers seek to transform the Creation into the Eschatological reality. This Earth becomes heaven. This is the vision of the Christ/Heavenly Kingdom rejecting Jews and their 'Christianised' descendants who beset the pages of the New Testament and plague the work of the Apostles.
The Scriptures teach this sin-corrupted Earth is burned up and that we will have a New Heavens and New Earth. Our problem is not with matter or creation but with this Earth and corrupted creation. Our hope is in the Resurrection and the Age to Come. This is why the cares of this world are secondary to us. While Reeves decries the New Testament teaching as Gnostic once again it can be said that Scripture's teaching sounds a little like the Gnostic understanding when viewed superficially.
The answer to Gnosticism is not to embrace a Hellenised Judaistic view of creation and/or a vision of the Kingdom of God that makes this world absolute and divine.
The New Testament condemns legalistic asceticism which is rooted in either false doctrinal assumptions or in extra-Scriptural obligations or as a form of salvation by works.
But contrary to Reeves and his ilk, the New Testament absolutely teaches otherworldliness, and teaches the transcendent Spirit-wrought nature of knowledge as the source of the Christian Life.
This again points to both the similarities and the dangerous potential confusion with Gnostic thought. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 can praise the idea of a Christian singlehood and celibate life and uphold it as the ideal and yet at the same time in 1 Timothy 4 condemn as demonic the notion of marriage being forbidden.
Reeves so clearly doesn't grasp this as is established later in the lecture. He refers to students who in their youthful but zealous impetuosity declare they don't want to marry because they want to be devoted to Christ as stupid or 'bozos'. A typical academic, Reeves is caught up in his theoretical world and demonstrates that he's actually unfamiliar with Biblical content, let alone its concepts. The Apostle Paul is not a 'bozo', a 'clown' and yet clearly the ideas he expresses in 1 Corinthians are out of bounds for the concepts Reeves has embraced.
I'm afraid that if someone were to come to him expressing the ideas and concepts Christ laid out in the Sermon on the Mount, Reeves would probably also label them as having Gnostic tendencies. I continue to marvel when hearing Dominionist preachers and teachers wrestle with the Sermon on the Mount. It is little more than one great 'problem passage' for them. The usual method is to put forward a point and then spend the majority of the lesson backtracking and dismantling it, burying it under dozens of exceptions. In many cases I've heard teachers quite literally invert the teaching of the verse or passage. By the time they're done they've made it say the opposite of what Christ was literally teaching. Turn the other cheek is transformed into a duty to strike back, giving up one's cloak becomes a sinful example of bad stewardship and the facilitation of sin.
The Dominionist takes great exception to much of what the Apostles teach but their greatest foe and difficulty in the New Testament are the words of Christ Himself.
This world is so venerated by these teachers that they quite literally cannot understand or grasp what Christ and the Apostles teach about not only The Age to Come, but This Age itself.
The Gnostic Spectrum needs to be refuted and yet the Hellenised Judaizing theology of Dominionism and its pantheistic tendencies are not the answer!
At the 15 minute mark Reeves lays out three fundamental points he associates with Gnostic thought.
He argues a fundamental tenet of Gnosticism was the belief that the world isn't real. Again this points to Platonic influence and the idea of the real or ideal being found outside this world. Knowledge or gnosis of the real is attained through initiation, ascetic practices etc...
The Scriptures teach the world is real but cursed. This world is doomed but points to the truth of the real (eternal) world in the New Heavens and Earth. This cursed world is destined for destruction and thus is temporary, as opposed to the redeemed and holy world which is eternal and therefore 'real'. There's a big difference and yet the concepts have some similarity.
At this point we might also note that while Plato was lost and wrong, his parable of the cave can (if interpreted rightly) find some parallels in Christian concepts. We also tell of a better and true world. We have eyes to see that the lost do not possess. They are indeed chained in the dark, seeing only shadows. The shadows point to the existence of an outside, if they could understand them properly. But even then one's rationality will only go so far.
The Gospel message and proclamation indeed liberates the soul from bondage and by faith they access the Truth. They pass from death to life, from darkness to light, they are granted new spiritual senses, eyes to see and ears to hear.
There are undeniable parallels and thus Christians have long been fascinated in and influenced by Platonic thought. It's not too hard to see why Christians could be pulled in by a charismatic teacher who (unbeknownst to them) was guilty of syncretisation.
In modern terms one might experience a similar phenomenon which watching a movie like 'The Matrix'. While clearly Platonic it's sometimes confusing. It almost seems like it could be a Christian movie and yet very clearly it's not. There are parallels and sometimes they're very strong but with discernment the student of Scripture will realise there are fundamental problems with the message of the movie. And in fact, it is profoundly anti-Christian. Like Gnosticism of old, it comes close in some ways but entirely misses the mark.
That said, to wrestle with the questions is not a waste but can be a healthy and even an edifying exercise.
The Dominionist answer to the Gnostic problem with creation and matter is to turn to a Hellenistic Judaized Pantheism, a theology that affirms and transforms this world, worships power and success and represents many of the same impulses found in the Judaism of Christ's day, the same impulse that found His message and Messiahship abhorrent. Coupled with Hellenistic (or even in a broader sense Western) philosophical frameworks and means of construction, the Hellenised Judaizers have erected a complex and even coherent systematic theology. Its cohesion is based on philosophical assumptions and speculations rather than Scriptural principles. It interacts with Scripture and when necessary 'tweaks' it to conform to the paradigm. The veneration and sacralisation of creation veers dangerously close to deification. Often combined with a Calvinistic cosmology in terms of Providence, a this-worldly monistic theology strays uncomfortably close to Pantheism. From the perspective of this author, this is one of the elephants in the room when it comes to modern Evangelicalism.
Reeves insists the Gnostics believed there was no truth to be found in this world. Once again, this sentiment while flawed finds some resonance with Biblical thought. It does not find resonance with the Aristotelian tradition located within Christendom. This latter view which elevates nature and downplays the noetic effects of sin often will argue that nature and the self are the starting point in terms of spiritual knowledge. Faith is based (as it were) on empirical evidences.
Contrary to this, the Scriptures teach that while man can see enough to condemn and bring guilt, in all actuality saving faith is a mystery revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. Our earthly knowledge may be true enough (as far as it goes) but it cannot be verified and it cannot be integrated into a system without subjectivity and thus (ultimately) the formation of idolatrous intellectual and spiritual frameworks. There is truth in this world but because of sin we turn it into lies and only through the Spirit can we be given sight. Only through the revelation of divine mysteries can we hope to find Truth.
Again there's a similarity to be found with Gnostic concepts and yet they are profoundly different. The Hellenistic Judaizing tendency of modern Evangelical Christianity rests on a philosophical amalgam, a combination of both certain Hellenistic influences on Gnosticism and an anti-Kingdom/anti-New Testament impulse present within the Judaizing thought Paul was forced to combat.
While Reeves believes Gnosticism attacks 'crude matter' and overemphasises the spirit and setting it in opposition to matter we must ask what do the Scripture say?

Continue Reading Part 3