Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Gnosticism, Confessionalism, and Jewish Folly

The charge of "Gnosticism" usually follows about twelve seconds after advocates of the Two Kingdoms framework insist that cult and culture must be kept distinct. As one sixteenth-century Gnostic explained:
"Whoever knows how to distinguish between... this present fleeting life and that future eternal life will, without difficulty, know that Christ's spiritual Kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct.... It is a Jewish folly [both] to seek and to enclose Christ's Kingdom within the elements of this world...."

But the charge that confessionalism (the antidote to this-worldly pietism and the liberalism and evangelicalism it spawns) is "Gnostic" is an example of guilt by association, since holding to a dualistic position does not a Gnostic make. Gnosticism, properly understood, refers to a dualism between matter and spirit, the material and the immaterial. So all one must affirm to avoid the charge is that the new heavens and new earth will not be immaterial but physical. (Confessing belief in the bodily resurrection also does the trick.)

So ontological dualism (matter vs. spirit) is not the same as eschatological dualism (this present age vs. the age to come). The former is indeed Gnostic, while the latter is patently Pauline.

And as the "Gnostic" I quoted above correctly observed, the attempt to subsume "every square inch" of life under the umbrella of Christ's spiritual kingdom smacks more of the Old Testament Jewish theocracy than of the pilgrim ethic that characterizes the patriarchs, the Babylonian exiles, and us today.

(But what would he know? He was too busy reforming the worship of Geneva to grasp the subtle difference between postmilennialism and amilennialism.)