Anti-intellectualism, Gnosticism & Shortcuts to Spiritual Growth
by Nathan W. Bingham on May 12, 2009
Anti-intellectualism, Gnosticism & Shortcuts to Spiritual Growth
“It isn’t a too distant memory for me, that I was involved in what many would label mainstream, contemporary, Pentecostal Christianity. It’s therefore not too long ago that I was surrounded by many people who promoted anti-intellectualism, held many anti-biblical philosophies that reflected much of Gnostic teaching, and promoted enthusiasm or spiritual zeal as shortcuts to true spiritual growth. Therefore, it brings me much grief to see how far these unhelpful sentiments have infiltrated the church, and even those who are are happy to take the historic label ‘Reformed’ or ‘Calvinist.’ This is a large subject, and something I know there are more qualified people who could provide insightful commentary; however, I ask you to consider some short reflections on the subject of Anti-intellectualism, Gnosticism & Shortcuts to Spiritual Growth.
Consider this simple line of thought for a moment. God has revealed Himself in His Word. Therefore, if you want to know God, you need to know His Word. If you want to know His Word, then you need to read His Word, and there are no shortcuts to this. If you want to know His Word it will take discipline, time, study, meditation, and reflection. Furthermore, to grow in your understanding of the Word, and to make sure you’re not heading off into some heretical fancy that may have already been dealt with in the history of God’s people, then it will also take time reading the works of godly men who have gone before you, and whom God has used to bless and strengthen His Church. Again, there are no shortcuts here. What is rampant today is anti-intellectualism, which sounds so much like the Gnostic error that anything physical is bad, whereas anything spiritual is good. This dichotomy is false and is not biblical. God made all things, including things physical, and it was “very good.” (Genesis 1:31) In our sinfulness, we are so easily tempted to seek after anything that glistens, or has the scent of being ’spiritual,’ yet God has clearly and objectively laid out all all things necessary for faith and life within His Word.
Why is it then, that there remain people who actively encourage and promote such ideas as heading off into the wilderness for 21 days, or 40 days, fasting and ’seeking’ God, promising that one will have an encounter with God, returning with an anointing or a blessing that either directly or indirectly can replace years of diligent study, humble submission to the Word of God within a local church, and growth through the trials in a Christians life, etc. This line of thought is not the instruction that the Scriptures give men desiring the office of teacher within the church. Spend some time considering Paul’s letter to Timothy in 2 Timothy, and ask yourself, is the advice my mentors are giving me in line with what the apostle Paul gave young Timothy.
Don’t be deceived; there are no shortcuts to knowing God through His Word. It will take you time, but God will use your efforts to grow you more than you could know. As far as systems to encourage reading the Scriptures, there are many available, but have you considered the bible reading system written by Professor Grant Horner? But whatever you do, don’t go and seek God outside of His Word. It is rather ironic that one of the verses frequently cited to prove that we don’t need to use the objective and ordinary means of studying God’s Word to grow in truth is 1 John 2:27, a verse written in opposition to early gnostic thought that one had to find a man who was enlightened with secret knowledge about spiritual things (which was invariably outside of of God’s revealed Word) in order to know truth. It is true as John says that we have the Spirit who teaches us; yet, it is also true that this same Spirit inspired the Scriptures which are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is foolishness to think John is teaching His readers to despise being taught through diligent study, or to have a low view of the written Word of God (as opposed to some more spiritual form of revelation); especially when John himself is giving this instruction in written form to his readers. That kind of thinking is Gnostic and is not Christian.
If you’re tempted to close your books and head out into the wilderness to fast-track seminary, or to excuse the daily discipline of studying God’s Word; please consider these insightful comments by Charles H. Spurgeon in a sermon on 2 Timothy 4:13 where Paul says to Timothy, “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.”
C. H. Spurgeon
“We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them. Even an apostle must read. Some of our very ultra Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains—oh! that is the preacher. How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.” The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, ‘Bring the books’—join in the cry.””