Published by Worldview Publications
May/June 2004 

“We Will All Be Changed”1

Our world today is in profound crisis. There is the remote but real threat of global asteroid collisions, massive volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters that could destroy much of the life on our planet. Changes in global weather patterns already are seriously affecting the existing environment.2 Pollution, depletion and destruction of the environment are threatening the survival of an untold number of plant and animal species as well as the health and well-being of humanity itself.3 Uncontrolled diseases, such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, are taking an enormous toll on human life.4 Fraud, criminality, terrorism and other forms of violence are disrupting life throughout the world. Even more disturbing are huge stockpiles of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons waiting to be dispersed upon innocent and unsuspecting populations.

Yet all this pales before a global religious fundamentalism that would reduce the created order to ashes and thus return the “spiritual ones” to their original cosmic oneness. As the British scholar, Karen Armstrong, recently declared, “At the root of fundamentalism are nihilism [“the belief that everything deserves to perish”], hopelessness, and despair.”5, 6 It is therefore essential to examine the historic mindset of religious fundamentalism with its pseudo-apocalyptic perspective — a frightening worldview that is exemplified in American fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism

“To properly investigate the nature of Christian fundamentalism, one must begin with an investigation of Gnosticism, because . . . Christian fundamentalism is actually a special case of Gnosticism with . . . added features thrown in for political effect. Basically, Gnosticism is the belief that the world, and man, was created by a lesser, capricious god, . . . called the ‘demiurge,’ and is utterly corrupt and irredeemable. However, a few human beings have a divine spark of the highest god. This spark is trapped in utterly corrupt human flesh, and can only be reunited, at death, with the highest god, through the acquisition of special knowledge handed down from teacher to disciple.”7

“Much is currently being written on the question of the origins of Gnosticism and the relationship of Gnosticism to Judaism. . . . [F]or the purpose of further discussion, [it is useful] to exhume from the dust of many decades some interesting and provocative ideas set forth by Moritz Friedlander, whose theses did not meet with the approval of his contemporaries, but which may very well be taken more seriously now. In a book entitled Der vorchristliche judische Gnosticismus, Friedlander put forth the thesis that Gnosticism is a pre-Christian phenomenon which originated in antinomian circles in the Jewish community of Alexandria. This Gnosticism, against which Philo polemicizes, came early to Palestine; and the rabbinic polemics against the Minim are directed specifically at such Gnostics. Christian Gnosticism is simply a secondary version of the older Gnosticism which attached itself to the emergent Christian sect and appropriated for itself the figure of Jesus Christ. . . .

“Friedlander . . . set forth the daring hypothesis that such ‘Christian’ heresies as those of the Ophites, the Cainites, and the Sethians, as well as the Melchizedekians, are the progeny of the radical antinomians against whom Philo had polemicized. According to the oldest patristic accounts, the Ophites — who according to some accounts are closely associated with the Sethians — were antinomian and venerated the serpent as the revealer of gnosis and as an incarnation of the divine Wisdom. Reflected in these ideas is the Alexandrian-Jewish doctrine of the divine dynamis [power]. Philo and other Alexandrian Jews regarded Sophia as a divine dynamis. The Ophites simply took up this doctrine and interpreted it in a heretical fashion. . . .

“Judaism, as a religion that takes history seriously, and that also has a marked tendency in the direction of messianism, provides ipso facto a context in which, given the critical circumstances of history, an attitude of revolt could easily develop. There is a strong case to be made for the view that ancient Gnosticism developed, in large part, from a disappointed messianism, or rather as a transmuted messianism.”8

Gnosticism gradually infiltrated the great world religions. Early in the Christian era, Gnosticism assumed a variety of forms within the Christian world and thus persisted for more than a millennium.9

“[Then came the Protestant Reformation.] The most unfortunate feature of the Reformation was its reintroduction of the notion of the Elect. . . . [T]his notion . . . falls dangerously close to the original Gnostic heresy — that only a few human beings have a divine spark. It is in this heresy that modern Christian fundamentalism flourishes.

“Modern Christian fundamentalism traces . . . [its] roots to the preaching of John Nelson Darby, a 19th Century British preacher, who . . . played a key role in shaping world history. Britain in the 19th Century was in the process of rapidly expanding its Empire, principally through the projection of naval power into the East. At the same time, the Ottoman Empire was collapsing, and leaving key territory vulnerable to foreign control. One such territory was the strategically located Palestine. Whoever controlled Palestine controlled the land-route from Africa to Eurasia, as well as the shortest potential sea-route from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, and beyond. It is no wonder that the French, the Russians, and most especially, the British coveted Palestine. . . .

“In 1840, Antony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftsbury, published a work entitled [The State and Prospects for the Jews] . . . Shaftsbury wrote that the Jews . . . should be encouraged to emigrate to Palestine, because Palestine was ‘a country without a nation,’ and the Jews were ‘a nation without a country.’ The same year, John Nelson Darby published a work entitled The Hopes of the Church of God in Connexion with the Destiny of the Jews and the Nations as Revealed in Prophesy. Darby argued that the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine was part of a divine plan. The issue comes clearly into focus when one considers an 1845 British Colonial Office report which bluntly stated that, ‘the establishment of the Jewish nation in Palestine, as a protected state under the guardianship of Great Britain, would place us in a commanding position in the Levant from whence to check the process of encroachment, to overawe our enemies, and if necessary, repel their advances’. . . .

“The competition was stiff, especially from the Russians, who commanded a large naval fleet based in the Black Sea, and had significant influence in the remains of the Ottoman Empire. In order to control Palestine, the British would need to beat back the Russians. War was inevitable.

“The key propagandist for the war-drive was none other than John Nelson Darby. His numerous sermons went approximately like this: Russia is the source of mankind’s greatest evil. The return of the Jews to Palestine is essential as a precondition for the return of Jesus. True believers who support the creation of a Jewish state would soon be ‘raptured’ into heaven, thereby escaping a ‘Great Tribulation’ brought on by the ‘Antichrist.’ The Great Tribulation would conclude when Jesus destroys the evil Russian army at the ‘Battle of Armageddon.’ Jesus would then establish a kingdom with the few surviving true believers, who would all live together in paradise for 1000 years.

“Darby’s message worked quite well. Soon he imported it to the United States, where it also became quite popular, particularly the demonization of Russia, which had been an American ally. With the United States spellbound by Darbyism, Britain had a free hand to defeat Russia in the Crimean war [1853-1856]. . . . By 1865, British hegemony in Palestine was complete. . . .

“John Nelson Darby, spreading his poison, toured the United States six times between 1859 and 1877, and trained many disciples. One of his disciples, Dwight L. Moody, set up the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago as the publishing house and command center of strict Darbyism in America. Among Moody’s recruits was Cyrus Scofield, a former . . . soldier, [an] embezzler and forger, who converted to Darbyism in prison. Scofield’s reference Bible, first published in 1909, is the standard for fundamentalists to this day. . . .

“Yet another strict Darbyite institution is the Dallas Theological Seminary, whose chancellor from 1952 to 1986, John F. Walvoord, wrote Armageddon Oil and the Middle East. . . . One of Walvoord’s students, Hal Lindsay, authored The Late Great Planet Earth, which became one of the top bestsellers ever, and insured that Darbyism, which is now known as Christian fundamentalism, would dominate mainstream Protestantism in the United States and beyond.

“As a result of the Darbyite phenomenon exploding on the stage of world history, it is not necessary to cite the book and page number that expounds the fundamentalist belief structure; one only needs to question their neighbor, or the man or the woman on the street. Fundamentalists are everywhere, especially in the United States.

“What is most alarming about what fundamentalists believe is that man . . . can only be redeemed if he is privy to special knowledge; that is, he must know the right ‘prayer.’ This, again, is Gnosticism. The end is nigh for the non-believer, and the believers will be ‘raptured,’ so who cares if the world goes to hell? It’s utterly corrupt anyway. Gnosticism! As this miserable world is destroyed under the rain of God’s mechanically pre-determined and presently prophesied fire of vengeance, my soul, my ‘divine spark,’ will be reunited with Jesus, in Paradise. Gnosticism! Gnosticism!” 10

This global resurgence of Gnosticism under the guise of “fundamentalism” jeopardizes the created order. Not only is humanity armed with the means for destroying our world, but Gnostic fundamentalism also is now determined to trigger the destruction of the earth in order to return “believers” to their original divinity! In this situation the question is whether “unbelievers” have any way to escape the wrath of fundamentalism? Deism is not a solution to this threat. Deism believes that the God of Creation “abandoned it, assumed no control over life, exerted no influence on natural phenomena, and gave no supernatural revelation.”11 Neither is pantheism a solution. Pantheism believes that the created order is God. Therefore, the destruction of Creation would destroy the pantheistic god. Nor is panentheism a viable solution. Panentheism believes that God is in every created thing and every created thing is in God. Thus, the annihilation of Creation would simply remove the panentheistic god’s created possession, restoring him to his cosmic isolation.

The Only Solution

There is only one solution to the threatened destruction of the created order by a nihilistic postmodern fundamentalism. That solution is the One-and-Only Supreme God, who created, sustains and will shortly transform the entire created order. This God alone — who became the God-man as Jesus Christ and, by this once-and-for-all act, became manifest as both covenantal parties — constitutes the covenant for and with mankind. He alone became the Designer, Creator and Archetypal Pattern for all Creation. Thus, the created order is not the product of a fallen demiurge. Nor is the created order predestined for oblivion. Rather, like the covenant itself — fulfilled between God and man as Jesus Christ — the created order is an eternal and irrevocable gift. As Lucien Richard beautifully stated, “Creation is . . . a gift. Creation as such, then, is covenantal, emerging from a faithful and free God. As God’s free act, creation is revelatory and inspires men and women to glorify it.”12

Confronted with emerging Gnostic fundamentalism over 2,000 years ago, God quickly acted as the God-man, Jesus Christ, to inaugurally fulfill his covenant, thus assuring the irrevocable, noncontingent and ultimately inviolable integrity of the created order. God acted by becoming incarnate in his First Coming/Advent. Through his own human embodiment — from conception to birth, from birth to adulthood, and from adulthood to death — God recapitulated the entire history of Creation. A controversial scientific hypothesis declares, “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”13 Likewise, the history of the God-man repeats and extends the history of Creation. As Jesus Christ, God is not only the Designer and Creator of all reality; God also is the ultimate Archetype for the New Creation.

However, as the ultimate Archetype, Jesus Christ is no deistic, pantheistic or panentheistic god. He is not some ultimate essence, substance or (Greek) ousia that possessively dwells in us. Nor do we dwell in him by possessing or being possessed by such an essence, substance or ousia. Rather, Jesus Christ is Ultimate Relationality. He is relationally to us, for us and with us. “ . . . I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, NRSV [italics supplied]). This covenantal relationality of God as Jesus Christ is the foundation and destined purpose of all Creation. Although neither a party to the covenant (because, as the Corporate Person, the God-man, Jesus Christ, constitutes both parties) nor the covenantal creator, mankind is called to be an authentic witness to God himself as the Covenant (between God and man) and to his “fillment” of the covenant as Jesus Christ. Very simply, mankind is called to acknowledge God’s own inauguration of a new, transformed Creation through the human embodiment, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If mankind will representatively witness to God’s covenantal and creative actions — apart from deceptive insinuations of ourselves as instituting either the covenant or creation — God will act to “finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness” (Romans 9:28). God will appear to transform Creation and to eternally abide with us.

We have observed that, confronted with emerging Gnostic fundamentalism over 2,000 years ago, God quickly acted as the God-man, Jesus Christ, to fulfill his covenant between God and man and thus assure the integrity of the created order. Likewise, the global efforts of today’s religious fundamentalism to trigger the destruction of the earth are a critical precursor to another epochal action of God. The good God, who covenantally created all things and who became incarnate as Jesus Christ, is now ready to make his final appearance to openly redeem and transform Creation — a redemption and transformation already inaugurated in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, God will shortly overturn the presuppositions of global Gnosticism by bringing Creation to its Edenic beginning — not to the end of its demonic existence, as Gnostics believe.

If, at this moment of unprecedented crisis, we are willing to witness to God’s gift of covenantal relationality and to his inaugural New Creation as Jesus Christ, we soon shall also witness the Parousia (Second Coming/Advent) and our transformation into his own human likeness. “We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52, NRSV).

Notes and References

  1. 1 Corinthians 15:52, NRSV. The notes, references and quotations herein do not imply that Outlook necessarily supports or agrees with all the diverse sources, their missions or their programs. (go back)
  2. See Natural Disaster Reference Database (NDRD), and search for “global weather patterns,” at ndrd.gsfc.nasa.gov/. (go back)
  3. See United Nations Systems-Wide Earthwatch, and search for “emerging issues,” at earthwatch.unep.net/health/. (go back)
  4. See World Health Organization, and search for “global disease patterns,” at www.who.int/en/. (go back)
  5. Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose, Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age (Forestville, CA: Fr. Seraphim Rose Foundation, 1994), p. 31. (go back)
  6. Karen Armstrong, “Reader’s Guide,” in The Battle for God (New York: Ballantine Books, 2000). (go back)
  7. Thomas Rooney, “Fundamentalism,” at www.geocities.com/thomas_rooney2001/Fundamentalism.html. (go back)
  8. Birger Pearson, “Friedlander Revisited: Alexandrian Judaism and Gnostic Origins,” in Gnosticism, Judaism and Egyptian Christianity (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1980), at www.dhushara.com/book/consum/gnos/jgnos.htm. (go back)
  9. Ancient Gnosticism included the systems of Basilides, Valentinius, Saturnius, Marcion and Mani. All held the belief that matter is evil while the human soul is godlike. Salvation comes through appropriate knowledge. See Kevin Davidson, “A Field Guide to Heresies,” at kevin.davnet.org/articles/heresy.html. (go back)
  10. Rooney, “Fundamentalism.” The return of the Jews to Palestine should be seen from different perspectives. The political desire to return the Jews to Palestine was generated by European imperial powers in the nineteenth century in order to wrest control of the Middle East from the Ottoman Turks. The religiously motivated return of the Jews, pursued by American fundamentalism, was designed to provoke the Battle of Armageddon in order to liberate true believers (“Gnostics”) by the rapture, to consign the Jews to death as “psychics,” and to obliterate all others as “apostates”! Meanwhile, Jewish Zionism longed for the return of the Jews from their age-long exile, from the pogroms, from the Holocaust, and to their safe settlement in the Promised Land (see Encyclopaedia Judaica, CD-ROM ed. [1997], s.v. “Zionism”). (go back)
  11. See The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “deism.” (go back)
  12. Lucien Richard, Christ: The Self-Emptying of God (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), p. 123. Also, Michael J. Sandel has stated, “ . . . [T]hat promise of mastery [over the world] is flawed. It threatens to banish our appreciation of life as a gift, and to leave us with nothing to affirm or behold outside our own will” (Michael J. Sandel, “The Case Against Perfection,” Atlantic 293, no. 3 [April 2004]: 50-62). (go back)
  13. Ontogeny refers to the development of an individual organism, while philogeny refers to the development of any species of plant or animal. See Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977). (go back)

 

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