Kicking the Gnostic Habit: Supplement

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David Wagschal

Three Pillars of the Old Order: Part Three, Supplement

I thought it might be useful to flesh-out my field-guide indicators of “Knowledge Christianity” with counter-points from my “Trust Christianity”.  So here they are.

Knowledge Christianities Trust Christianities
  • the mind is the highest faculty of the human person; either literally or by implication, it is often understood as divine, and/or the point of contact with the divine
  • the body and mind have equal rank; the mind is not more divine or spiritual than anything else – it’s entirely physical, created and as embroiled in sin as anything else
  • salvation is characterized as an ascent, which is accomplished through a series of realizations or insights, and through broadening of one’s horizons
  • salvation is a punctiliar, one-off, self-contained event, effected completely by Christ. Bang! Done. Any language of “ascent” is optional, and entirely a human matter – appropriate for some, not for others.
  • the paradigm of the teacher/student is fundamental, and the church is understood as a school
  • the paradigm of preacher/hearer is fundamental, and the church is understood as a forum for the continuous, mutual sharing of a simple message: the Gospel
  • there are usually different “levels” of Christians, as there is an intellectual elite that must guide those of lesser knowledge
  • any stratification is entirely functional – and it is generally discouraged and minimalized because of the egalitarian nature of the Gospel
  • wisdom literature is prominent (wise sayings, maxims)
  • wisdom literature is secondary; some people may find it useful, others may not – that’s fine
  • sermons and pastoral discourse are dominated by the language of contemplation, reflection, attentiveness and truth
  • sermons and pastoral discourse are dominated by the language of faith, trust, grace and “letting go”
  • intellectual struggle with certain doctrines is a key component of the spiritual life
  • intellectual struggles with doctrine are taken with a grain of salt
  • the value of a developed, sophisticated and usually technical (i.e. you need special training) philosophical theology is considered self-evident
  • technical philosophical theology is rare, and apologetic in purpose; normally, theology is simple and almost always homiletic
  • the relationship between faith and philosophy/ science is an extremely important problem
  • <meh>
  • there is a pronounced concern for a developed, formal ethics
  • the focus is on constantly re-asserting a core ethical imperative: radical self-sacrifice, no-strings-attached giving, strength through weakness. Further elaboration is more a human, “civic” matter.
  • there is usually an elaborate analysis of the human soul and the means of its improvement
  • as pertains to salvation, the only thing you need to know about the human soul is that it is sinful and in need of radical grace: so any improvement, while important in terms of our ongoing attempts to live out the Gospel here and now, is ultimately a matter of this world — and so doesn’t require elaborate theolgoical analysis
  • ironically, the idea of paradox and mystery are central – these represent both the limit but also the ultimate end of gnosis
  • you can use the language of “paradox” and “mystery” to describe the radicality and bizarreness of God’s gift of salvation, but it’s not very common since the emphasis is not on our contemplation of this gift as much as our trust in this gift
  • the highest levels of knowledge may be understood as secret/occult
  • the highest knowledge is the Gospel message itself – so even the simplest Christian starts with the highest knowledge, and this knowledge is totally open and transparent to all. There is nothing “beyond” the basic Gospel. All other knowledge is lesser


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