Gnosticism was at the heart of much of the New Testament writers’ objections. At its root, Gnosticism argued that the material world was bad, and the spiritual world, or realm, was good. The majority of Gnostics, then, practiced a mix of asceticism and even philanthropy as they tried to divest themselves of material goods in an attempt to pursue knowledge through the spiritual world. The New Testament writers wrote in detail about the danger of Gnosticism, and we consistently affirm their objections, but when it comes to the underlying theology in Gnostic thought, I wonder if the church isn’t guilty of embracing its premise?
Since I was a small child, I have been taught that our time here on earth was limited. All of history points to the return of Jesus Christ when he would call his children home to his eternal kingdom. Earth, then, is a temporary holding place—a place for us to live in such a way so we honor God, but a temporary home, none-the-less. Popular songs have been written for decades now celebrating this truth. The chorus of the old Southern Gospel song, “The Old Gospel Ship” seems to embrace that philosophy.
I’m a gonna take a trip
In the good old gospel ship
I’m goin’ far beyond the sky
I’m a gonna shout and sing
Until all the Heavens ring
When I bid this old world goodbye
I’m not trying to pick on musicians, but the church has been celebrating both the badness of this world and the goodness of some other, better, world for a long time now. We like the spiritual world off in the distance, and we diminish, or even discredit, this world—this physical world. Fundamentally, though, when I look at scripture I see a couple of things pointing to this being a thoroughly Gnostic — and thoroughly non-Christian — approach.
THIS WORLD IS NOT OUR HOME?
First, any theology viewing this world as bad and abandoned by God, conflicts with Scripture’s testimony that the world was created before the existence of sin. God declared of his created world, “It is good.” The created world is God’s good plan intended for our good and his glory. When we dismiss this world as temporary, we do violence to the biblical text. Scripture teaches God’s plan involved this good creation from the beginning.
Secondly, viewing the world as inherently bad and soon to be destroyed or abandoned is to ignore Romans 8 and its thoughts about God’s future plans for his creation.
For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. — Romans 8:19-21
Note creation itself is groaning for Christ’s return because it will be set free into the same kind of freedom that God’s children will experience. The point of the text is God moves toward the resurrection/restoration of his creation, in the same way he moves towards the resurrection/restoration of his children. When we treat this world as if it’s temporary we treat it in a way God himself doesn’t treat it.