Dr. Michael Philliber opens his recent book Gnostic Trends in the Local Church by recounting how the Christian section of his local bookstore recently became bloated with books by pro-Gnostic authors like Elaine Pagels and Marvin Meyer. Around this same time, Philliber found that he was bumping into people whose idea of mature spirituality echoed the impulses of ancient Gnosticism. For example, it was becoming increasingly common for people to say to him, “I consider myself a very spiritual person, but I’m not into organized religion.”
These experiences prompted Dr. Philliber, who is a PCA minister and a good personal friend, to do a controlled survey on just how pervasive Gnostic trends have become within the contemporary church. He chose three churches in his area that were dissimilar in size, racial makeup, and theology, although they all professed to be orthodox. One of the participating churches was his own reformed Presbyterian congregation.
Philliber approached members of all three congregations with survey questions ranging everywhere from what people thought of the bogus history in The Da Vinci Code to whether they considered the body to be the soul’s prison house.
Among Philliber’s primary concerns was to discover how much of a foothold what he calls “anticosmic dualism” had made within the church. “Anticosmic dualism” refers to the Gnostic belief that the material world is a cosmic blunder, and the corollary antithesis between the physical and the spiritual realms. Although few Christians would agree that the material universe is a cosmic mistake, it is customary to find believers de-emphasizing the physical dimensions of the faith (i.e., history and the sacraments), or to accept an itinerary of salvation that ends, not with resurrection, but with eternal disembodiment.
I am excited to see Gnostic Trends in print since I had the opportunity, not only to read Dr. Philliber’s excellent Ph.D. thesis on which his book is based, but to help connect him with a publisher. But I was also interested in the book since it confirms many of the observations I have been making in my ongoing series of Perspective articles.