Christianity is not just true in a religious sense …; rather, when we say that Christianity is true we mean that it is the right understanding for all of reality.
(Robin Phillips, Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic) And that, in a nutshell, is why a Christian must never set aside his or her Christianity when judging, legislating, or executing laws: doing so would set aside a right understanding to make room for some supposedly secular or neutral understanding that is at best less right.
A Christian who claims that, for instance, “dogma and law are two different things,” and totally separable, is (1) a poorly-formed Christian, (2) willing to set aside the best understanding of reality available while going about legal work, or (3) prevaricating.
The law may constrain a Christian judge, for instance, to do what she thinks a gimlet-eyed view of reality rejects, but a Christian judge in a lower court may critique binding precedent but then submit (or recuse).
I have had the pleasure of watching Robin Phillips, a Christian scholar and writer who I’ve never met, walk his unique path into Orthodox Christianity over a period of maybe a decade or so. Along the way, he taught me much of what I now know about Gnosticism, toward which he recently turned his keyboard again:
Gnostic-type ideas about the physical world, [N.T. Wright] explained, are alive and well within the heart of evangelical Christianity. Wright even gave some examples of familiar hymns he refused to sing because they were illustrative of “eighteenth-century Gnosticism.” If we were interested in knowing more about this, Wright urged, we should go away and read Philip Lee’s book Against the Protestant Gnostics.
Returning from the conference, I bought a copy of Lee’s classic work, which is a discussion of the theological themes that dominated America’s formation.Lee suggested that the “familiar presence of Gnosticism, is as close at hand as the reality we call Protestantism,”and argued that the gnostic spirit entered the American experience with the colonial Puritans.
Puritans thinkers like Jonathan Edwards had became gnosticized to the degree that they retained covenantal categories of Calvinist theology but restructured them in individualistic terms. The preference of the private over the public, the invisible over the physical, and a hostility to acts of piety embedded in materiality, were all signs of the Gnostic spirit at work in American religious life—a spirit that has continued down to the present day.
… I wondered whether there might be an “implicit theology” of Gnosticism lurking beneath the surface of much Protestant Christianity, tincturing how believers think about their bodies, the purpose of salvation, the material world, and resurrection. I remembered my own pessimistic views about the physical world: although I would always have repudiated any association with the heresy Gnosticism, could we still meaningfully say that I had succumbed to an implicit or operational Gnosticism? And if I had unwittingly embraced an implicit Gnosticism, was this an unusual anomaly, or part of a larger trend with the broader Christian community?
… In February 26, 2008, ABC news ran a story claiming that Wright’s idea that “God will literally remake our physical bodies” was “a radical departure from traditional belief.” Although the Nicene Creed contains the statement “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”, and although the Apostles’ Creed professed belief in “the resurrection of the body”, the wider public appeared to assume that this is no longer part of traditional Christian belief. The widespread assumption seemed to be that eternal disembodiment is the orthodox Christian hope. For example, in his compendium of information about what happens after death, Biochemical researcher Brian Innes observed in Death and the Afterlife that “current orthodox Christianity no longer holds to the belief in physical resurrection, preferring the concept of the eternal existence of the soul, although some creeds still cling to the old ideas.” The fact that the media treated Bishop Wright as a novelty for simply articulating the doctrine of physical resurrection, convinced me that I needed to take more seriously the phenomenon of implicit Gnosticism. If N.T. Wright was correct that much popular Christianity tends to “wander off unthinkingly in the direction of Gnosticism”, where had these Gnostic impulses come from and how did they get such a foothold in Anglo-American religious thinking? Was “implicit Gnosticism” a specifically American thing, or a wider transatlantic problem throughout the world of English-speaking Christianity?
(Robin Phillips, Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic)
That last paragraph almost leaves me breathless. Is orthodox Christianity now so utterly supplanted that gnosticism can be described as “current orthodox Christianity”? I know journalists sometimes don’t get religion, but is this one of the times they did get it?
Phillips feels he has much work yet to do in studying the implicit theology of gnosticism, but he has published a number of articles that, at least at a popular level, are quite instructive:
- Glorious Flesh: How Dorothy Sayers Taught Me the Meaning of the Resurrection
- Salvation as Escape from the Body (Gnosticism and Evangelicalism, part 1)
- Resurrection and the Sanctification of Matter (Gnosticism and Evangelicalism, part 2)
- Raised a Spiritual Body (Gnosticism and Evangelicalism, part 3)
- Building for God’s Kingdom (Gnosticism and Evangelicalism, part 4)
- Your Day Job is Your Ministry (Gnosticism and Evangelicalism, part 5)
- Gnosticism in the Work Place (Gnosticism and Evangelicalism, part 6)
- Gratitude During Times of Suffering
- Gnostic Trends in the Local Church
- Alarming Survey on Bodily Resurrection
- Podcast: Saints and Scoundrels with Robin Phillips
If you’re a 21st Century American Christian, this really matters.
As I see it, the issue comes down to the question: Who decides? We can debate the morality of abortion forever . . . but at the end of the day, who decides whether a woman gets or stays pregnant? …
(Hillary Clinton, What Happened?, quoted by Alexandra DeSanctis, emphasis added)
What’s with “gets”? Does Hillary think the Handmaid’s Tale is real?
DeSanctis fell pretty flat on this, by the way.
Deplorable as they may be, sunk in job loss, anomie, opiate addiction, obesity, and tattoo collecting, the Trumpsters have a legitimate case that they’ve been shoved out of work and livelihoods by immigrants both legal and illegal, and nobody should be surprised at the animus this generates. It’s right and proper that congress should resolve the fate of the DACA kids by legislation, and that they should actively address reform of the 1965 immigration act, too. Things have changed. This isn’t your great-grandad’s America of burgeoning factories beckoning to the downtrodden abroad. This is a sunset industrial economy not really knowing where its headed, but indulging in grandiose fantasies of perpetual robotic leisure where actual work is obsolete but somehow everybody gets rich.
Andrew Sullivan has some choice words about one almost-fellow at Harvard, surnamed Manning, who he refers to by pseudonym and purloined pronouns. See the second section here. What I was tempted to say doesn’t meeting my new blogging criteria so I’ll leave it at that.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)
There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)