Friday, December 17, 2004

The "Gnostic" Vs. the Sophist: Part 2

We continue our response to TGE in part 2 of our series:

Which is why it's so odd to find adherents of this anti-culture "Gospel" so often bewailing the wicked state of the world around them. What have they done to change that, to bring it into submission to the Lord Christ? Not too terribly much.
What have “they” done? Might he be referring to the James Dobsons, the Jerry Falwells, the Gary Bauers, the Dan Quayles, and yes, the George W. Bushes of the Evangelicalism he “hates” so much (his word)? Or perhaps he is referring to those of us who believe the mission given to us by Christ himself is not to clean up the world in an external way through the establishment of some “Christian Society,” but rather to change hearts individually by “living as children of light” in the dark world around us (Eph 4:17—5:8), to “make the most of every opportunity” to give the gospel to those in darkness (Eph 5:15-16), to stand having put on the full armor of God (Eph 6), to “conduct [ourselves] in a manner worthy of the gospel” (Phil 1:27), to “stand firm” in that gospel, “contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose [us]” (Phil 1:27-28)--for it has been granted to us not only to believe but also to “suffer for him” (Phil 1:29). And we do all this without complaining about it, so that we may become “blameless and pure” (there’s that nasty gnostic “purity” again), without fault in a “crooked and depraved generation” as we “hold out the word of life” (the gospel) to those around us (Phil 2:14-15).

All this we do as we “forget what is behind and strain forward to what is ahead” (Phil 3:13). And just what is ahead? Some earthly “Christian Society” which we ourselves set up? No; rather we press “heavenward” toward the goal of Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14). Perhaps this is just Paul’s way of accommodating those backwoods evangelicals?—“All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” What of those who take a different view? “Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:19-21). And why do we “eagerly await” that day? “He will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (there’s that gnostic-dualistic disparagement of “yucky matter” again).

And so, our mission on earth is not to improve society; it is to call home the elect of God by means of the gospel, and to “give an answer to everyone who asks about the hope within you.” Many of us have devoted our entire lives and every last drop of energy and time into doing just that, in the time we spend evangelizing our neighbors, writing and distributing books and other materials, unceasingly teaching Bible studies, and speaking about it on radio and at conferences. That’s what we have done as a remedy to our “bewailing” of the surrounding culture.

The much bigger question is, what has TGE done to bring society into submission to the Lord Christ—besides writing exceedingly long blogs condemning everyone else for not doing the very same thing toward which he has accomplished absolutely nothing? Oh, that’s right. His goal is to build a cathedral in the main square of Moscow ID in which he and the other ten people who share his views can gather to speak koine Greek to each other. That is sure to usher in the reign of Christ!
For of course, it's hard to do much of anything constructive when you deliberately confine yourself to the cultural ghetto and engage in little more than prophetically throwing rocks at those out there getting their hands dirty in all that icky, corrupting material stuff.
Again I ask, what has Timothy G. Enloe accomplished for the kingdom of God, besides the dubious contribution of convincing people they need to forsake their confidence in the Scriptures and rely instead on TGE’s “objective” understanding of the medieval church and the influence of the Enlightenment on the poor, befuddled Evangelical masses? TGE introduces an interlocutor at this point:

"Why do you read all that culture stuff, Tim? Why isn't there more Biblical Exegesis on your blog?"
Indeed, that is a good question. How does TGE answer it?
It seems that it's better to be "faithful" by simply handing the yucky matter over to the world, the flesh, and the devil, where it all truly belongs, and wait for the Great Escape into a world of Pure Spirit, a flight out of the body and into the Gnostic Hellenism of "the immortality of the soul".
In other words, “I’ll see your perfectly valid question, and I’ll raise you an irrelevant red herring.” Does anyone see in TGE’s response an answer to why he shies away from Scripture and exegesis? He doesn’t provide the specific reason here, but his next statement betrays it:

As one advocate of this viewpoint once tellingly said, he wished he didn't have to waste so much of his time doing mundane things like cleaning his pool, because then he'd have more time for "the things of eternal value". This is Plutarch, not Paul.
Where, again, is that in Paul? Is this the same Paul who proclaimed that he counts all things as dung for the sake of knowing Christ? Is this the same Paul who proclaimed that to live is Christ and to die is gain? Is this the same Paul who instructed the married Corinthians to live as though they were unmarried? Is this the same Paul who espoused the value of freeing ourselves from as many earthly concerns (“things of this world”) as possible so that we may devote “undivided” attention to “pleasing the Lord”?—oops; there goes that gnostic-dualist Paul again. There is a very good reason TGE shies away from citing Scripture in general and engaging in exegesis in particular. He doesn’t know how to do it. He doesn’t know how to handle the Scriptures. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and apply that statement to most of the “Reformed Catholic” camp. They don't have an exegetical leg to stand on, and I think deep down most of them know it. More to the point, they seem to fear that which is, for them, unknown and out of reach. Hence, most of them fear Scripture--not in a healthy way, but in a way that causes them to avoid it like the plague.

But the second form of criticism is also an inherently anti-social paradigm, as is quite frequently demonstrated by the behavior of many of its advocates. One only has to go to the NTRMin Discussion Board to see on the very first page an open advocacy of an essentially gnostic-dualist worldview in the fact that the board is divided into a "fleshly" world ("The Areopagus") and a "spiritual" world ("The Heavenly Realm")--the latter of which you can access only by having the proper "spiritual" passwords (interestingly, a major feature of ancient Gnosticism proper).
Here we go again. This is what prompted me to respond to the entire article. Interestingly enough, TGE didn’t raise any of these objections when he himself was a member of the HR. Why not? Why did he think it was acceptable then, but not now? Was he—is he?—a latent Gnostic-dualist? Further, we have yet another example of just how far removed TGE really is from the language of Scripture. The “heavenly realm” is taken directly from Ephesians 1 and 2. God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places [realm] in Christ” (Eph 1:3). He has “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places [realm], in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). The point of Paul in both places is to show that our position in “the heavenly realm” is a secured reality, not merely some fuzzy future prospect. The “heavenly realm” is where we, the elect, truly are in the eyes of God—and it is not a place for those who only pretend to be Christians (the “Christian Society”).

And that truth is presented to us as the motivation to live as a changed creature; one whose mind is no longer set on the "things of this world," but on the heavenly reality. As a result, we are to “walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, and excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart” (Eph 4:17-18—“futility of mind,” “darkness of understanding,” “excluded from life”—oh, there’s that nasty radical, sectarian gnostic-dualism again!).
Now as has happened several times, to myself and at least one other Presbyterian I know, it is apparently possible to fool the system for a while--that is, to have access to the "spiritual" dimension of life on the basis of (provisional) trust by the Leadership in your affirmations that yes, you do intellectually agree with them on "the Gospel". I say "fool the system" to indicate that it's possible for professing Reformed people to completely talk past each other--to use the same words ("the solas", "the Gospel", "the sacraments", etc.) but to actually mean, without realizing it at first, radically different things. The system gets "fooled" because no one at first understands that there are deep contradictions buried beneath the superficial "agreement on the Gospel".

Note that Tim here concedes he pretended to be one of us--we did not pretend to be what he now is. That is significant because after he left NTRMin, he made all kinds of claims that he had not changed his views on anything--that he had always held them and proclaimed them--we just weren't listening. I'm glad to know he now recognizes that explanation as a farce.

My real concern here is not only his candid admission, but also the amazing ease with which he disregards Scripture and trades it in for a lifeless religious shell called “Christian Society.” He himself openly states he has a vastly different understanding of what the “gospel” really is. He abided us for a while, but now he frankly concedes that the reason he went out from us is because he was never of us.

Now given the basic denial of the board owner that Christians are called to form a "Christian society", . . .

Just to be very clear, Christians are called to form a Christian "society”; it’s called the “church.” What I deny is that we are to include in that “society” those who openly repudiate the biblical gospel and proclaim a false one. These are the people whom TGE would like to include in his “Christian society.” Hence, let's not lose sight of the fact that what I wrote in my previous article regarding "Christian society" was targeted toward TGE's 13th-century-immoral-and-heretical-Roman-Catholic-popes-are-my-brother "Christian society."

. . . it's significant that the entire point of his message board is to portray to the watching world that very thing: a Christian society.

Significant, perhaps; but in no way inconsistent.

But what kind of society is presented? The answer is a radically pure one . . .

One must ask, Why does TGE see it necessary to introduce the term “radical” here to modify the word “pure”? If he’s using the term radical in it’s strict sense of “at the root” (read “biblical roots”), then who could argue against the effort to seek purity in its “radical” (read “biblical”) sense? There can be no objection to seeking a society that is biblically pure; that is, pure in a biblical sense. That should be the goal of any and every individual and group that names the name of Christ, bar none.

But what I suspect TGE means by “radical” is something like a wild-eyed, hair-brained, on-the-fringe, cockamamie, insurgent-minded, half-baked plan to “rescue” the gospel from all those perverse gospel-denying heretics. He, of course, won’t—actually, “can’t” is a better word—cite Scripture to support his contention that we should take a more “live and let live” approach toward those who proclaim a gospel that is at odds with the apostolic gospel. Why not? Because when he opens Scripture he finds (much to his chagrin) that Paul held the same "radical purity" attitude as we do toward those who pervert the gospel of Christ—only with much more intensity and fervor! To criticize us is, a fortiori, to criticize the apostles themselves.

. . . that requires the constant maintenance of a gross inability to recognize its own flaws ("At least we're not as bad as those lepers over there!") combined with a gross hermeneutic of suspicion toward others ("What do you mean the Lutheran Confessions teach 'baptismal regeneration'? By the power of Objective Exegesis, which only my tradition-less self possesses in sufficient purity, I believe I smell the Judaizer heresy! You must not be honestly representing your belief in sola fide!")

Well, we now know what TGE’s attitude is toward attempts to add works to the gospel. He thinks we should take a more charitable and accepting approach, and reserve judgment on it and let others believe it if they want to. What, in contrast, is Paul’s view on this? “Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 2:8-9). I know how much TGE despises this passage (he constantly refers to it in a mocking way)—nevertheless, there it is in all its glory.

Like the now classic observation by Schweitzer that "quests for the historical Jesus" tell us more about the scholars involved in the quests than about the historical Jesus himself, such statements of "True Gospel Belief" reveal far more about the spiritual states of those who make them than they do about those to whom they are directed. And what is revealed is not at all flattering. Phariseeism isn't made any prettier, or any more acceptable to God, because it Gets Justification Right.

What is truly ironic here is that TGE alludes to Albert Schweitzer’s comments regarding scholars who were (still are) involved in “seeking the historical Jesus.” He made that statement against liberal scholars who were attempting to reconstruct “Jesus,” not based on the biblical record, but rather on what form-critical methodology allowed them to aduce what ultimately turned out to be a truly unhistorical Jesus. TGE does a similar thing as those Schweitzer criticized--not with the "historical Jesus" but with the biblical statements regarding the gospel itself! And he’s right—it does indeed reveal much about him.

Furthermore, if you continue to press your "unbiblical" and "irrational" claims in the "worldly" sphere (The Areopagus) you are also ejected from it, banished to the outer dark fringes of "Christian cultists" who are insufficiently "spiritual" to avoid the egregious error of "disagreeing with Jesus and Paul".

Doesn’t this contradict Tim’s earlier charge that we purposely set up the HR as the realm of light where “purity” dwells and the Areopagus as the realm of darkness where gospel deniers dwell? If that holds true then there should be no banishment from the Areopagus whatever. Tim’s characterization doesn’t reflect reality at all. There are “Christian cultists” who are members of the Areopagus; there are Christians (yes, even of the evangelical "Babtist” variety) in the Areopagus who are not members of the HR; and there are RCs who are members of the HR. What will Tim’s theory do with all this “gnostic” inconsistency?

Just to be clear; The reason Tim was ejected first from the HR and then from the Areopagus was not due to some gnostic-dualistic “light vs. darkness” conflict. The reason he was expelled from both forums was due to his bad behavior, period. He wasn’t able to demonstrate that he could communicate with us by sticking to the point, avoiding sophistry, and ceasing from ad hominem. That was the only reason he is no longer a member.

It is bad enough to get ejected from The Heavenly Realm, but worse still, failure to keep a Real Clear dividing line between Absolute Light and Absolute Darkness (an element of the ancient heresy of Manichaeanism in the "Real Clear Theology") in the public realm too, means that you have surrendered all claims to even being a "rational" human being. The situation that prevails in this Evangelical Star Chamber is thus, what one author has described as "the dark side of absolute truth"--namely, the surreptitious identification of "Truth Itself" with someone's highly mediated Absolute: their Jealous Jahweh, their righteous Allah, their infallible church, their absolute Geist that inevitably speaks German [or "Evangelical"?]. In the name of the Unmediated we are buried in an avalanche of mediations, and sometimes just buried, period. Somehow this absolute always ends up with a particular attachment to some historical, natural language, a particular nation, a particular religion. . . .

Yada, yada, yada. Yet more “flowery metaphors” from the sophist. No such complex explanation is necessary here. The simpler explanation (in keeping with Ockham’s razor) is that Tim simply misbehaved—and he did that badly (who is anti-social again? I keep forgetting). He was a bad addition to our community. We did what any reasonable person who is interested in maintaining a modicum of décor and dignity in the social sanctity of his own living room would do if interrupted by a loud, drunken, boisterous neighbor who quickly overstayed his welcome—we showed him the door. In the view of TGE, the average family man who closes his door on someone intending to pummel his invited guests is nothing more than a “gnostic” who is bent on radical “light/darkness” distinctions and avoiding “yucky matter.” And if TGE would come down from his philosophizing spaceship for just one minute he might see that.