Tuesday, July 12, 2016

New-Old Gnosticism

When I was very young, Brian McDuff and I were invited to preach mini-sermons at a Canadian Presbyterian Church youth event. I took the time to share the story of my own conversion.  McDuff’s response to me later was that he could understand Scripture because he was going to seminary, but I couldn’t because I wasn’t being trained in seminary.”  

That is not an uncommon attitude in some circles.  Some years later I attended his seminary.  Its professors were expert at demythologizing Scripture but had no apparent heart for its meaning.  Their application of the Wellhausen approach to the Old Testament left you with a pile of clippings instead of a workable document.

I recently received the same put down from an old friend who is quite a scholar.  In essence his view is a form of gnosticism; the claim to superior knowledge on the basis of much study and insight.  Solomon warns us, “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.  The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:12-13).  It is true that much study may give you “special knowledge” but there is also a danger.  If you think that special knowledge can lead you to safely contradict the plain teaching of Scripture and Tradition, you are not only wrong, but you are also foolish.

The truth of Scripture must remain plain and simple so that “he who runs may read it,” understand it, and be called to the challenge of surrender to the voice of God speaking truth through the words of Scripture.  Once you resort to an ingenious “deeper knowledge” of Scripture to defend current changes in morality, you are running against rocks of Charybdis and the dangerous whirlpool of contemporaneity will pull you under.

McDuff is always with us with his new-old Gnosticism.  “I have special knowledge and you don’t, so Scripture doesn’t mean what you and most of the Church thinks that it means.”  That is not only spiritually dangerous, but it also is arrogant.

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