What storied worldview are you living into? Part 1: Gnosticism - a subtle infection

Updated: Feb 27, 2020

A worldview is essentially a narrative of the origins, meaning and final destination of all things. Everyone has some form of narrative like this that becomes a lens through which we look at everything. It helps us navigate the complexities of human life and it shapes our thinking and affections regarding what we value and care about.


Worldviews are always 'storied'. I don't mean they're always false, but rather that they are always in the form of a grand story about reality. And the story we believe, truly, deeply, in our heart, is the story that shapes how we live. We naturally, without consciously working at it 'act' as a character within the our storied vision of reality. We 'inhabit' the world according to our subconscious, storied perception of the world.


Theologian Derek Morphew once declared Gnosticism as the biggest threat to Christianity. Honestly, at the time I thought he was being a little sensational. But over time, I'm finding myself agree with him more and more. Gnosticism is a worldview that is different from the story of the Bible, but is close enough to it to subtly, unconsciously hijack the hearts, minds and imaginations of Christians such that we see things according to a skewed, distorted reality. It's like wearing glasses with the wrong prescription that affects how we see the world. It affects what we care about - our affections - and it determines the story we inhabit - how we live.


Regardless of whether you’re familiar with this term - gnosticism - you might recognise elements of this way of viewing the world. In this storied view of the world, the creator of the world is not loving or faithful to creation, and the physical, created world is viewed as imperfect or evil. Humans are considered to have a divine ‘spark’ within us that is trapped within the evil material body, and this divine spark wants to escape this material world and return to the realm of the ‘spirit’.


Thankfully, wise Christian theologians debunked this Gnostic worldview all the way back in the 2nd century AD, but unfortunately it has had an enduring effect on the world – particularly in the West.


When Christianity is infected with Gnosticism, what we see as important are only the things that overtly connect with the immaterial, ‘spiritual realm’. So, in Gnostic-shaped Christianity, we see explicitly ‘religious’ activities – like church ministries, prayer meetings, worship gatherings and reading the Bible – as ‘spiritual’ and therefore valuable and important. Gnostic Christianity sees the ultimate aim and purpose of human life as one day leaving this evil material world and having an immaterial element of us (souls or spirits) escape into the ‘spiritual’ realm. In this Gnostic way of viewing the world the mandate or task for human beings is reduced down to simply recruiting others to be included in the escaping this evil material world.


Everything else is just fluff and filler while we wait.


Schools and vineyards and sculptures and cuisine and cranes and iPads and comedians and fashion and eagles and typography… All irrelevant at best and, at worst, evils to be avoided within the framework of Gnostic Christianity.


This leads us into viewing the world dualistically: in two separate parts. With any sphere of life, if we can link it with the immaterial ‘spiritual’ realm, if it is connected with one day escaping this world, then we see that as ‘good’. If it's about recruiting people into this group that will one day make it out of this earthly place, and into an ethereal, 'other', 'good place', then we (who are infected by gnosticism) deem it as 'spiritual' and important. We call that the ‘sacred’ stuff. Everything else goes into our ‘secular’ category, and we think of this stuff as ultimately worthless, bad or negligible. We might not say it this way, but the subtle belief is that it's just not the main thing. Just filler and fluff.


If a chart-topping Country ballad is not about Jesus or ‘spiritual’ things, then this music is put in our ‘secular’ bucket. It might be fun to sing along to in your car on your way to pick up the kids, but it isn’t really ultimately important within Gnostic Christianity – it’s just fluff – not part of the important stuff of human life.


If a new start-up business is not expressly aimed at getting people to church or making profits going to charity, then this work is ‘secular’, and so it isn’t a huge priority in the bigger picture of things – it’s just filler…


This is how the Gnostic worldview trains us to see and assess everything in our lives: Two separate buckets, sacred and secular, and never the twain shall meet.


To truly assess how much this Gnostic worldview has infected our thinking, it's helpful to contrast Gnostic dualism (separation of sacred important stuff and secular fluff and filler) with the Biblical story, which I'll do in a follow up blog post.


All Christians would be wise to grapple with the Gnostic version of reality and become really good at auditing our own thoughts, theology, preaching, songs etc... and investigating which story we're propagating.