American Protestant Gnosticism

I’ve been revisiting Philip J. Lee’s incisive study Against the Protestant Gnostics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987) in anticipation of lecturing on the life and work of the second century Church Father Irenaeus.  Lee’s diagnosis of Protestant Gnosticism seems just as apt in 2019 as when he first published the book some thirty years ago.  Here’s a few quotes from a chapter entitled, “Results of a Gnosticized Protestantism” that caught my attention.

“American liberalism requires a secret gnosis to understand the workings of a nebulous, disconnected-from-Jesus Spirit.  Evangelicalism also requires secret gnosis because, despite all its repetition of the Lord’s name, the content of the evangelical Christ remains undisclosed.  One is to be converted to Christ, to come to Christ, to love Christ, to bring others to Christ, but the purpose of this Christ in the world is a mystery, except perhaps to those who have been born again.”  (192)

“Whether the first priority for the new evangelical right is to maintain Christianity as a religion of pure escapism or to sustain capitalism as the sole spiritual guide to the temporal order is an open question.  What is certain is that both items are on the agenda.”  (196)

“The escapism of American Protestantism has been aided by an anti-intellectualism unfriendly to biblical preaching, serious theological dialogue, or liturgical practice that does not coincide with the zeitgeist.  Thus in Sydney Mead’s words, ‘the American denominations have successively lent themselves to the sanctification of current existing expressions of the American way of life.’”  (196)

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