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If you want to get a picture of how some Christians understand the nature of their Christian walk, it’s what we are experiencing being cut off from the world while others take control of our lives and we are content to be helpless to do anything about it or should do anything about it.

Christians should “let go and let God.” This is not the biblical view.

Not long ago, I received an email from a woman who asked me if I could direct her to some information that refutes Gnosticism. She wrote that a friend of hers “claims to be on an extraordinarily intense spiritual ‘pilgrimage’ of ‘really pressing in to know God intimately’—but this guy has in effect divorced himself from the material world and from all relationships (including his wife and 10 children) which he views as a hindrance to his spiritual growth.”

Gnostics claim to have special knowledge (gnosis is the Greek word for “knowledge”) on how to live the Christian life that is not revealed to “ordinary Christians.” God’s revelation in Scripture is not enough to give direction on how to live the Christian life. Of course, this refutes what the Bible says when it states that Scripture is “adequate” to equip the Christian “for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).

This does not mean that the Bible is going to teach you math, physics, or how to do brain surgery. The point of the adequacy statement is to establish God’s revelation as the basis for living, learning, and working in His creation. The world makes sense given the fact that God created it and established the laws by which it operates.

Cultures that believe spirits inhabit trees, rocks, and animals made very little progress culturally and scientifically because they never knew what the spirits might do from one day to another. There was never a guarantee that what people did one day could be repeated on another day. They were at the mercy of what they believed were impersonal forces controlled by capricious gods who were always changing the rules.

Stanley Jaki coined the phrase “the stillbirths of science.” While ancient cultures discovered this thing and that thing and manufactured this or that, science as a discipline never flourished. Why is that? Because these ancient cultures did not believe in a rational God. Jaki pointed out that “biblical revelation is not only germane to science—it made the only viable birth of science possible.” [1]

The Bible depicts God as personal, immanent, rational, and consistent in the way He created and ordered the world. Compare these divine attributes with the gods and spirits of the pagans:

Pagan religions are typically animistic or pantheistic, treating the natural world either as the abode of the divine or as an emanation of God’s own essence. The most familiar form of animism holds that spirits or gods reside in nature. In the words of Harvey Cox, a Baptist theologian, pagan man “lives in an enchanted forest.” Glens and groves, rocks and streams are alive with spirits, sprites, demons. Nature teems with sun gods, river goddesses, astral deities. [2]

The belief in the reliability of nature is a fundamental premise of a biblical worldview that contributed to the rise of modern science. A person does not have to be a Christian to acknowledge this historic truth. Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Melvin Calvin (1911–1997) made this point:

As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science. [3]

Earlier than Calvin, Alfred North Whitehead made a similar declaration that “modern science must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God…. In Asia, the conceptions of God were of a being who was either too arbitrary or too impersonal for such ideas to have much effect on instinctive habits of mind. Any definite occurrence might be due to the fiat of an irrational despot, or might issue from some impersonal, inscrutable origin of things. There was not the same confidence as in the intelligible rationality of a personal being.” [4]

C.S. Lewis said something similar in summarizing Whitehead’s observation: “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a Legislator.” [5]

Not only is the nature of God important, but so is the nature of the created order. The claim that nature in and of itself is corrupt and evil is in opposition to what God describes as a “very good” creation (Gen. 1:311 Tim 4:4–5).

Christian belief in the goodness and integrity of the physical universe … played an incalculable part in transforming the ancient worldview. It destroyed the Platonic and Aristotelian idea that matter is, if not evil, the raw material of corruption and unreality and the source of disorder in the universe, and it also ruled entirely out of consideration the pessimistic views of nature that emanated from the dualist sects such as the Manicheans and Gnostics, thereby anticipating the material reality of the universe for serious scientific attention. [6]

The emailer went on to say that this friend, a farmer, “was putting up hay recently and needed to get it in as they were expecting rain. Before he finished, he remembered that he had scheduled a Bible study, so he left his hay in order to keep the ‘spiritual’ duty. The rain came and the hay was lost, but he felt justified that he had chosen the higher calling.”

Another feature of Gnosticism is the belief that there are two separate realms, “one spiritual, the other material. The spiritual realm, created by God, [is] all good; the material realm, created by the demiurge, all evil. Man [needs] to be saved, not from Original Sin, but from enslavement to matter.” [7]

A further manifestation of Gnosticism was expressed by someone who “doesn’t believe in voting because that is a ‘worldly affair,’ and he wants only to be engaged in truly spiritual activities.” For the Gnostic, the material world is on a lower plane. Only “spiritual things” are useful and profitable. A Gnostic-like belief might forbid marriage while advocating “abstaining from foods” even though “God has created these things “to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3).

Godliness for the Gnostic is defined as a retreat from the world and despising the things of the world.

[The Gnostics] devised a dualistic cosmology to set against the teachings of the early Christian Church, which, they claimed, were only common deceptions, unsuited for the wise. The truth was esoteric. Only the properly initiated could appreciate it. It belonged to a secret tradition which had come down through certain mystery schools. The truth was, God could never become man. The Gnostic secret is that the spirit is trapped in matter, and to free it, the world must be rejected. [8]

For the Gnostic, life “must be escaped at any cost.” [9] But if there can be no immediate material escape, then a spiritual escape is a good enough substitute. The Gnostic escapes from the responsibilities of history. But for the Christian, history is the realm of decision making, and, therefore, is anti-Gnostic.

If we are not responsible for history, then we are not responsible for decision making. Even a casual reading of the Bible will show that our faith is to be lived out in the world so that “fruit”— good works in the here and how — are manifested for the world to see and for Christians to judge (Matt. 7:15–23). No restrictions are placed on where this fruit is to mature.

One of the central issues that divided gnostics and orthodox Christians in the early Church was their understanding of the relationship between religion and politics. The Church Fathers accepted the political worldliness of the Jewish faith, contending that religion and politics are interconnected and inseparable. The early Puritans and even Jonathan Edwards, following classical Calvinism, would have been clearly orthodox in this regard. The world of politics, of human institutions, was for them an essential locus of God’s redemptive work. [10]

What is contemporary Gnosticism like? While it might not manifest itself in ascetic practices like pole sitting, it does reveal itself in institutional escape, something that is not in the Protestant tradition. Our nation’s earliest Christian citizens did not view escape, eschatologically, ascetically, or institutionally, as being biblical. Education, publishing, law, science, medicine, and politics, to take just some areas, were to be governed by the Word of God as were ecclesiastical affairs.

Modern-day Gnosticism thrives in a climate of escapism which means retreat from this world and responsibility to do anything to change any part of it. If this world means nothing, then I am not responsible for any evil that arises.

  1. Stanley L. Jaki, “The Biblical Basis of Modern Science,” Crisis Magazine (Oct. 1, 1997).[]
  2. Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 23–24.[]
  3. Chemical Evolution: Molecular Evolution Towards the Origin of Living Systems on the Earth and Elsewhere (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 258.[]
  4. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 18–19.[]
  5. Lewis, Miracles, 169.[]
  6. Thomas Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 67. Quoted in Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of Science, 250, note 13.[]
  7. Dusty Sklar, The Nazis and the Occult (New York: Dorset Press, [1977] 1989), 140–141.[]
  8. Sklar, The Nazis and the Occult, 147.[]
  9. Philip Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 122.[]
  10. Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics, 123–124.[]

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Gary DeMar

Author: Gary DeMar

Gary—who served as President of American Vision for thirty-five years—is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. Author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, he has been featured by nearly every major news media outlet. Gary also has hosted The Gary DeMar Show, History Unwrapped, and the Gary DeMar’s Vantage Point Webshow and is a regular contributor to AmericanVision.org. Gary has lived in the Atlanta area since 1979 with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and are enjoying being grandparents. Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).