Sunday, May 14, 2006

Gnostics and History

Eugene H. Peterson on the formation of the Bible.
Not everybody agreed on what was done: the vote was not unanimous. There were factions that wanted nothing to do with the old Hebrew scrools. They argued that the God inevidence in those old books was not even remotely connected with the God in revealed and preached by Jesus. And there were other factions (various groups of gnostics) who wen to the other extreame - they wanted to include anything that looked good, that promised an "inside" message, from amonght the many spiritual texts being written. "Insider" and "uplift" spiritualities were as popular then as they are now. But bit by bit the Christian community sifted ot the sensational and the silly and were bold to designate their consensus as God's word.

p 25 Eat This Book.

In high school a friend loaned me The Gnostic Gospels, as she thought it would challenge my traditional beliefs. While an interesting read, it wasn't much of a challenge as the book freely admits the gnostics were not interested in history, nor was the author of the book. The Gnostic s are hot again with National Geographic doing a big feature on the 'Gospel of Judas' and Davinci Code Movie being released. So I apreciated reading the above section in Eat This Book as I haven't looked into the Gnostics since high school and I was wondering if my assement had been off. The material I read on the 'Gospel of Judas' seemed to fit with my earlier understanding, but it had been many years ago. It's nice to have someone you respect and trust come along and say something you were thinking.

- Peace


Richard said...

I followed the link to the Amazon listing of Eat this book and read one of the reviews...

Throughout the book Peterson suggests that lectio divina is a biblical practice and one that has been practiced since the dawn of the church. This is not strictly true, as it is the product of a particular form of Christianity: Catholic mysticism. The way Peterson presents it is quite innocuous, almost as if he is deliberately avoiding the deeper practices and even potential problems associated with it... Peterson does little to help the reader understand that this is a practice more associated with Catholic mysticism than with Protestantism.

To think Eugene was so irresponsible as to present a spiritual discipline that might direct one towards or appreciate the Catholic Church. (I think that reviewer's warning label may have had, in my case, the opposite of the intended effect).

The reviewer goes on to expose more of Peterson's heresies...

The Christian community is as concerned with how we read the Bible as that we read it. It is not sufficient to place a Bible in a person's hands with the command, 'Read it.' That is as foolish as putting a set of car keys in an adolescent's hands, giving him a Honda, and saying, 'Drive it.' And just as dangerous. The danger is that in having our hands on a piece of technology, we will use it ignorantly, endangering our lives and the lives of those around us; or that, intoxicated with the power that the technology gives us, we will use it ruthlessly and violently" (page 81)

Eugene sounds more and more Catholic every time I read pieces of him. The priests told me the exact same thing about the Bible and I refused to listen to them.

At times like this, I wonder if the "sola scriptura" division between "Catholicism" and "Protestantism" is smaller than the divisions that exist within those two communities...

Dave King said...

Can you explain why that sounds Catholic to you?

- Peace

kris said...

At the risk of stereotyping and oversimplifying I can add why this sounds Catholic to me.

The Protestant position seems to be that everyone can read and interpret the Bible for themselves and their interpretations are as valid as anyone else's. Thus, we have thousands of denominations who have split from each other because of differences of interpretation.

Catholics, on the other hand, seem to believe that the Church holds the correct intepretation of the Bible and it's members would benefit from learning and believing in their interpretation rather than trying to come up with something on their own.

Personally, I've seen, heard, and can imagine the harm that can be done when someone w/o any knowledge of the context (historical or literal) of Bible passages interprets them for themselves and then passes that interpretation on as the Truth.

Obviously there are also dangers in not allowing people to study the Bible for themselves and challenging the establishment's interpretation.

I have to admit, there are so many challenges in understanding what the Bible is actually saying that I can understand why people would be wary of handing out Bible to everyone and encouraging them to read it and make up their own mind about what it says "to them".

On the other hand, I also believe that God can communicate to people very simply even through such a complicated medium.

Richard said...


You said it better than I could.

When I was in my "formative" (i.e. before I got set in my ways) Christian years, Catholics told me that the Bible must be studied with guidance from the Catholic Church but Protestants told me that the Bible must be studied WITHOUT guidance from any interpretive body.

Catholics told me it was irresponsible to read the Bible without guidance because it was impossible to understand the Scriptures without guidance (for example, the eunuch realizes he needs Phillip to explain it to him just as Phillip and the other disciples needed Jesus to explain it to them).

Protestants told me that scripture stands on its own, speaks for itself, interprets itself, and that anyone with an open heart can read it and interpret it correctly relying solely on the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. To rely on an interpretive body was to pollute the word of God with the traditions of man.

For Peterson to say something like that and to still command respect in the Protestant community makes me wonder if Peterson's understanding of "sola scriptura" is very different from the understanding of his detractors.

It also makes me wonder if an understanding like Peterson's is compatible with my own. Pope John Paul II worked with Lutherans to achieve a mutually acceptable understanding of "sola fide". I wonder if something similar could be done with "sola scriptura".

~m said...

at the risk of sounding horrible,
anyone who believes that sola scriptura implies a divorce from tradition and guidance is operating out of a lack of understanding.

first, and as peterson mentioned in the initial quote, the Bible was formed through a process, and is a product of tradition. so we can't very well separate the two.

second, j.p. moreland has argued that when people justify avoiding study on the basis of "you do not need anyone to teach you" (1 john 2:27), they are neglecting that john himself is teaching through his letter. of course, john is actually warning against false teachers. as has already been mentioned, Scripture itself establishes the tradition of teaching and expositing.

third, luther, calvin, and the other protestant "fathers" all published multi-volume works of biblical exegesis. (one of which, by the way, was being read when john wesley "felt his heart strangely warmed" - luther on romans) so, sola scriptura CANNOT mean "stick me in a room with the Bible and the Holy Spirit and i'll figure it all out."

fourth, i think there is a protestant trend toward making the Bible the fourth member of the trinity. but i won't elaborate on that now . . . :)

fifth, so so sick of that protestant fear of anything that sounds remotely Catholic.

sixth, the truth: we desperately need good teachers and an appetite for learning about God.


Richard said...


now you sound more Catholic than me :)

Dave King said...

Richard: I don't think the warning sounds Catholic but just Christian. I clearly remember being warned that we have to let scripture interpret scripture - a point Peterson makes earlier in the book. He also talks about us letting the text teach us to read it. I think you've jumped from the warning to Catholic, as did Kris and the guy on Amazon. Yes we all agree it's dangerous, but it's how you deal with the danger that varies.

BTW Mara doesn't sound Catholic, she sounds like a Salvationist who knows her history.

Mara: John, Paul, Luther, Peterson teach others to read/pray/think/eat for themselves. Peterson talks about the scriptures training us to hold what preachers and experts say lightly (Run With the Horses). He's clearly not against teaching, he does a fair bit of it himself. I think it's safe to say he's against it being a replacement for spending time alone with the Bible and the Holy Spirit, or even it coming before.

He spends time on the Reformers' idea of perspicuity of scripture, that we don't need Pope, clerics, or academics to read it for us. He quotes Hans Urs von Balthasar "God's word is simple and clear, and no-one should let himself be turned from a direct uninhibited contact with the word, or allow his contact with it to be dimmed and dulled, by problems and mental reservations aroused by the thought that scholars interpret a text quite differently and more accurately than he can."

Just to add to the mix Hans Urs von Balthasar is identified by Peterson as a Chatholic Scholar who has joined with the Reformers on the Perspicuity Scripture.

I hope that adds some context to the quote from Amazon. BTW if any of you want to borrow the book when I'm done let me know, though you should start with Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, the first in the serries.

- Peace

~m said...

unsurprisingly, this seems to come down to balance.

those i admire most - whether i have met them in Scripture, in history books, or in person - are in passionate pursuit of first-hand revelation, as well as devoted to the study of great teaching.

of course, in the final analysis, engaging with God is not something we can do by proxy.

p.s. i'm not sure if i sound catholic. perhaps it is that most evangelicals don't sound so much protestant as anti-catholic. remember that most reformers (with a small r) never wanted to leave behind the old - they wanted to change it. Jesus was a jew, luther was a catholic (for a while), wesley was an anglican. their followers were the ones who made it something new and apart.

p.p.s. hey, i wonder if anyone has ever successfully changed the status quo without instigating secession.

Dave King said...

Well said Mara.

- Peace

Dave King said...

Mara: read this in Eat This Book just after reading your last post, I think it sums up how Peterson balances things. "Appreciate the learned Scripture scholars, but don't be intimidated by them". May not be an exact quote as I don't have the book in front of me, but its very close.

- Peace

Richard said...

Okay, now he sounds like a Medieval Catholic. More to the point, he seems to be promoting precisely the attitude that I thought Luther despised.

Of course, my understanding of Protestantism may be seriously flawed. When I left the Roman Catholic Church, I believed I was following in Luther's footsteps - though perhaps I wasn't.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if Peterson's attitude towards scripture is "acceptable to Protestants" in the sense that he hasn't perverted the gospels, then the two sides may be closer than I thought and there may have been little point in me leaving in the first place.

~m said...

i promised myself this would be only two sentences long:

evangelicals (not to be confused with protestants in general) tend to focus so much on scripture as the sole authority and guide for faith and practice.


Dave King said...

Mara: Tradition.

Richard said...

I was always told 1 Tim 3:16