I continue in a series of writings about the modern Christian heresy of Antinomianism. I contend that not only do Christians face Antinomianism in its strict historical and popular sense today, but that the modern climate has increased the level of this heresy to devastating proportions. This modern climate has produced an inclination for the otherwise orthodox Christian to follow the deadly Antinomian path. The climate includes, among other things, an incipient Gnosticism, and of course just good old fashioned America/Western materialism.
In the last post, and the comments, I tried to summarize ancient Gnosticism. That process is sort of like catching water with a colander; Gnosticism was such a widely varied phenomenon. But I laid it out best as I could.
Since the Gnostic disapproved of the low level “creator God” otherwise known as the “demiuruge,” he also disapproved of the demiuruge’s creation. In addition, given the scorn the Gnostic had for this ghastly reject of a god, he also rebelled against the “laws” or “rules” imposed by this lesser expression of deity. But how could the Gnostic know how he or she was to live, or how the true One behind it all desired to be sought? If the very public information in the Mosaic or Christian revelation was of so little good, where could truth be found?
This is where Gnostics drove thinking people and the orthodox Christian church crazy. Such knowledge was “given” to a few, to those whom the One behind it all, through various agents, had chosen to give it. These secrets of access to “real” spiritual truth were handed out selectively to this or that person, who would then gather disciples, disciples who themselves would then be in on the secret knowledge of finding spiritual fullness. No need for the regular church.
For so called Christian Gnostics, this meant many and varied versions of Jesus floating about, and thus the several wildly different Gnostic gospels, each of which provided its own secret but “true” take on savior figure, called Jesus, some of which even associating this savior figure with the Jesus of the traditional Gospels to varying degrees.
There was no “received” tradition. Therefore, access to the inner ring (made up of those who rightly understood this savior figure who would free us from bondage to the demiurge and open up access to the true spiritual reality) was therefore crucial.
For many Gnostic sects, the spiritual journey took them inward. Despite the very bad work of the creator god, the true One behind it all had deposited droplets of His reality here and there for enlightened people to engage. The “here and there” was in the spiritual being or essence of a person, or specific chosen persons. Thus, as is often the case in Gnostic writings, the search for God above was rather a search for the light within. God was not, after all, a personal being, as was YHWH, the God of creation, but rather, more like in Eastern religions, the infinite ground of being, the subconscious reality underneath everything. That can be found as well by going inward and by looking outward.
Well, I could go on and on. Is it not obvious how our day and time would be vulnerable to the spirit of Gnosticism? Culturally we too have rejected the creator God and his laws. Yet there is this nagging sense that there is a spiritual reality somewhere. But what is it? How does one tap into it? There is a void. If “God” as understood in the Judeo/Christian tradition is to be rejected, and his laws are to be rejected, then where does one go to fill the void?
One can go within of course, and find one’s own truth. One can find solace in that effort by the Gnostic Gospels themselves, which is one reason for their current popularity today. Or one can read and discover as many possible Jesuses as one wants in through the many so called scholars positing Jesus as this and Jesus as that, there being as many Jesuses as there are Jesus scholars. One can join a spiritual club that promotes spirituality however it is manifested (unless it is manifested in a Judeo/Christian manner of course). And since the authority of that mean old Judeo/Christian God is to be rejected, then His laws are to be rejected. Gnosticism is inherently Antinomian – anti-law. Such is the spirit of our day as well. People are free to define for themselves what is right and wrong, what God is or isn’t like, having access to that truth either through some personal spiritual guru, or just through one’s own personal feelings and emotions on the matter.
Of course Western appropriation of ancient Gnosticism has taken away all the latter’s vigor and rigor just as Western appropriation of Eastern religion in the 60’s took away the latter’s deeper teachings.
This is where we find the spirit of Gnosticism running up against, and converging with, the spirit of modern Western materialism. It cannot be better put than Francis Schaeffer put it – in the modern West we are after two realities that are opposite sides of the same coin – affluence and personal peace. These are the unspoken idols we live for and worship and arrange our lives around. Affluence is perhaps better understood. What goes with it is the deep inner need for a life that is free from pain, obligation, duty, discomfort, and “waves.” Whatever will upset our fragile emotional balance cannot be right or true. Aligned with popular psychology, this pursuit of personal peace has meant that each person again is free to define truth as befits his or her emotional balance and need. If there is an available undemanding spiritual guru around to help in the process, great.
Add to this one final piece – consumerism. Consumerism trains the mind and heart to make decisions based upon an inner sense of what will bring the most pleasure, satisfaction, or peace to one’s life. The spirit of consumerism is destroying the Evangelical church.
So, in all cases the authority of the Scripture as handed down has been rejected. One must find truth for oneself. One must do what one feels right in one’s heart to do.
This modern gnosticism and consumerism intersect dangerously with Antinomianism in Evangelical Christian Churches. People who come to Jesus are full of all this cultural baggage, but the remain untaught as to what or how to deal with it. Evangelicals may espouse the Apostles’ Creed, which might suggest very many things in terms of “how they should then live,” but their psyche is driven by consumerism, the pursuit of affluence and personal peace. Their lips may say such and such, but they are driven by these needs. And churches, desperate for their money to fill their pews, oblige as much as possible.
How many churches have you heard of that have been started with Jesus’ words in the forefront – “repent and believe because the kingdom of God is near!” Repent? Are you kidding? Nobody would come and lay down their dough if repentance were required. Well, that’s what we fear. How wrong we are!
Before I jump next time into a further analysis of modern Antinomianism (not that I think I can outdo Packer, but I can go into further detail, and I can add a couple of lesser manifestations), I want to mention just very briefly “the emerging church.”
Young people have a spiritual hunger. They desire and need forgiveness. They want something more than the shallow offerings of our culture, including the shallow Christian subculture of their baby boomer parents. They are drawn to the words and teachings of Jesus. But they have been sucking at the nipples of the postmodern pig, and it is very hard for them to accept the idea of a real objective truth outside of themselves. They sense the shallowness and morally tepid nature of the baby boomer church, and there is a longing for more. They are drawn to the ancient rites, to liturgy, to hymns, to some sort of pre-denominational reality. They sense that there is something back there in those ancient rites, in those hints of ancient community. But what really? Well that is the catch. They honor the traditions with their emotions, but don’t accept them with their minds. They are anti-intellectual, being postmodern and all, so there is no true embrace of revealed truth. It’s more just a feign in that direction. At first glance one senses hope; at second glance it’s just the same old elevation of the self as arbiter of truth and morality. In the end the emerging church is but a phantom, a creation of book sellers and publicists. There is nothing new and emerging under the sun.
So, along with more classic theological errors, Antinomianism has hitched a ride with modern Gnosticism, consumerism, the pursuit of affluence and personal peace, and the bogus hope of the emerging church, to find itself well entrenched, running the show, appearing for the moment it seems, to have won the day.
But I am not done yet.