The second worldview that contrasts with the Biblical view of reality is as ancient and slippery as Naturalism appears to be modern and matter-of-fact. It is Gnosticism. Whereas Naturalism is too materialistic to be compatible with Christianity, Gnosticism is too spiritual.
That may sound odd. How can anything be too spiritual? Here is how. The original Gnostics – the ones who came onto the world scene in the second century, believed that reality is made up of two very different and hostile things. One of those things is matter and the other is spirit. Everything wrong with the world can be attributed to the first – things like sickness, ignorance, and death. On the other hand everything that is good can be attributed to the spirit – life, love and beauty and so forth. Wait, you may say, don’t we know about those things through the material world? Yes and no, the Gnostics said. While it is true that those two things are mingled in our world, the knowledge we have of spiritual things is muddied by their association with material reality. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, the Gnostics said, to know spiritual things without having all that dirty matter in the way? It can be done, they said, but is very difficult. There is a personal and spiritual way of knowing. One must turn inward, away from the world of matter is one is to acquire an inner, spiritual knowledge. It is this promise of spiritual knowledge that earned the Gnostics their name. Gnostic means “knower”.
It seems reasonable to think that Gnosticism would be rare in an age as materialistic as ours. But the reverse is true. Gnosticism flourishes in materialistic ages. It does so because it provides a clear alternative to materialism. It can concede a great deal of ground to materialism without doing any harm to itself. A materialistic account of human origins such as Darwin’s actually encourages Gnosticism. Extreme Darwinists – the sort who maintain that natural selection explains all aspects of human nature – drive people to Gnostic spiritualities. Since people long for values of a higher order than Darwinism can provide many take a Gnostic turn away from the world. This is clearly what is happening with the surge of interest in eastern religions like Buddhism. Why don’t people turn to Christianity? Because, as the “material girl” Madonna once said, “Christianity is too materialistic.”(ref). By that she meant Christianity looks for spiritual truths in the material world. Christians believe that public knowledge of spiritual things can be gleaned from a study of material things. More about that later.
Why Gnosticism is relevant at this point is because people can confuse Gnosticism with a Biblical worldview. There are at least two reasons for this. First, people assume that a system of thought that is directed toward spiritual things must in some sense be Christian or at least compatible with Christianity. This is naïve. There are as much nonChristian spirituality as there are flavors of ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s. But more insidious is the fact that Gnosticism often comes to us wearing the clothes of Christianity. It can use Christian lingo without blinking and you will even find it taught by ordained ministers in historically Christian churches.
The two indicators that you are dealing with a Gnosticized Christianity are and over-emphasis on the private and inward dimensions of spiritual life at the expense of the public and social life of the church and a sort of other-worldliness that either neglects the material aspects of this world — like conservation of natural resources or the common good — or shows outright contempt for them. A relish for the end of the world in fiery destruction is a manifestation of this view. Last days millennialism that stresses the destruction of the physical world instead of the destruction of evil smacks of Gnosticism. Just because you use a Bible to make your point does not mean you represent the Biblical view of the end of the world.
This book will contrast a genuinely Biblical view of the world with both the materialism of the Naturalists and the spirituality of the Gnostics.