It seems that most of my facebook newsfeed these days consists of quizzes. Quizzes that will determine my IQ, personality, knowledge of 90s television shows, the Jane Austen heroine I most resemble… So, it is most appropriate when we look at a book which has the tag line, “The gospel in a world of cultural confusion”, that we should begin with a quiz. We’ll call it, ‘Are you a Gnostic?’
Question 1. Do you think that Christians should be able to speak about their views on an issue in the public arena?
Question 2. Do you think Christians should be interested in ecology?
Question 3. Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead?
Question 4. Do you think that God will bring about his kingdom here on earth?
Well, if you are a Christian and answered ‘no’ to any of those questions, it’s more than likely you are on the ‘Gnostic spectrum’.
Tom Wright does not equivocate in the first chapter of his book Creation, Power and Truth. He outlines the ways Gnosticism has pervaded both Western society in general and, more specifically, the church. He identifies two main types of Gnostics in the 21st Century. The “functional atheism” (9) of the libertine, where “the world is irrelevant to God and to our spiritual agendas, so we can do what we like with it.” (9). And the ascetic, who, in not letting their “spirituality get entangled with the real world of space, time and (particularly) matter” (8), has separated that same spirituality from “politics and public life” (8).
Wright identifies both the ancient sources of Gnosticism, and the Enlightenment and Modernist philosophies which underpin much of present day Gnosticism. Notably, he identifies “the cult of self-discovery”, the search for knowledge (gnosis), not externally but from within. And we see this, don’t we, in various guises? Reflecting on this chapter this week, I’ve seen elements of Gnosticism all over the place. From the overt shouts from the pulpit of the prosperity Gospel to the pernicious attempts to slide Christianity into our culture, conforming to culture rather than being shaped by the Gospel. Where being “cool” moves from being a means to reach the lost into a way to avoid difference. Worship of the Creator is secondary to licentious enjoyment of his creation. We do not need to fear persecution or estrangement from society, as there is no discernible difference from it. Christianity becomes the escape pod, to blast us out of danger if and when it should ever present itself. It is the wide path of the libertine that endangers many of us.
After astutely identifying Gnosticism in society, Wright proceeds to examine the biblical sources for arguments against Gnosticism, looking particularly at John’s Gospel and Paul’s epistles, but also going back to Genesis 1 and 2. This section is essential if we are to have a developed theology of creation and new creation, and whilst I will make a gloss of it here, take the time to read it carefully, and to read the Bible passages Wright mentions, as well. Wright ends this section with an examination of Revelation and Romans 8, emphasising creation, resurrection and judgment as the foundation for our theology as “the triple biblical witnesses against Gnosticisms of all sorts” (28). Wright shows from these passages that it is Jesus who is “the one who rescues creation itself, and us with it.” (29), displacing any notion of a Gnostic Jesus who rescues us from the world he created.
This chapter has caused me to reflect on the rising interest, particularly amongst younger generations of Christians, in ecology. I have been encouraged and personally challenged over the past few years in the development of Christian thinking on the issue, particularly as society as a whole is becoming more aware of the cataclysmic effects of human-induced climate change. I have been impressed by various movements which are seeking to bring about not only a change in thought (gnosis) but also in action (praxis), campaigning for churches to divest from investment in fossil fuels, educating Christians not only on the small things we can be doing but the big things too. And doing all this with a biblical theology of creation and new creation.