Saturday, March 05, 2005

Why Gnosticism is unconvincing

As for the authentic interpretation of Christ's teachings contra later revisionist claims, like Gnosticism, let me give you a C.S. Lewis analogy...

C.S. Lewis wrote many works. Let's say that hypothetically, he didn't pen these texts himself, but instead he delivered them orally and lectured on it to his friends and family. He gave his own "historical-criticism" of his own lectures, described the public events that influenced him, described in detail what his source information was, what other teachings influenced him, and what his overall intention was. In other words, he taught the content of his teachings as well as all the background information in order to rightly understand the true authorial intent of his teachings.

Then let's say C.S. Lewis asked his friends and family to teach others what he taught them, building up the community of "Lewisians" in every nation.

Let's also say the original Lewisians, those who were eyewitnesses to Lewis' teachings, penned the teachings of C.S. Lewis in the language of their day, in several books decades after Lewis' death. Yet, in each book, the author tailored Lewis' teachings to their specific audience for better understanding, synthesized some things, reordered some others, maybe even placing some things within a different context, using varying literary genres here and there, but the writers (in some miraculous way) never diverged from faithfully preserving the inerrant sense, the truth of what C.S. Lewis taught to them directly. They certainly were not intending to write everything Lewis ever uttered, as this would be rather impractical and unnecessary, as the Lewisians intended to continue their authoritative oral teachings for many other audiences, tailoring it to their needs as well. Nor did they intend to merely echo a biographical history of their interactions with Lewis, nor to echo the "science" of Lewis, but were intent upon teaching the truth that Lewis taught, in order to fulfill Lewis' charge to teach Lewisianism to all nations. Morevover, they distributed their written Lewisian works penned by the original Lewisians to various audiences, because they also found them useful in authentically describing Lewis' teachings to other audiences. This was useful, but not intended as a self-study text. The Lewisians intended that these texts never be interpreted apart from their Lewisian interpretation of these texts.

During the lifetime of the original apostle's of Lewis, that is, those that were the eyewitnesses to C.S. Lewis' teaching, Lewisian teachings were faithfully handed on both in oral and written form and the Lewisian community grew larger and larger all throughout the world despite severe persecution. All other false claims to Lewisian teaching were obviously specious, as such claims did not come from the eyewitnesses, so they were easily found unconvincing. The authenticity of Lewisian teaching was dependent upon the authority of those Lewis charged with continuing his teaching. If Lewisian teaching did not come from the real Lewisians, that historic group of folks who knew Lewis, then it was rejected as being non-authentically from C.S. Lewis. One could tell the real Lewisians, because these first eyewitnesses were well known, historically speaking. Yet, during this time, others who never really new Lewis personally, began to join the Lewisian group, trained directly by the original Lewisian apostles, by the direct eyewitnesses of C.S. Lewis, these new disciples of Lewis helped the Lewisians spread Lewis' teachings through the community.

Fast forward decades later, many of the original Lewisians have died, and the bulk of the Lewisian effort was taught by those who learned Lewisianism from the eyewitnesses of C.S. Lewis. Again, there popped up divergent claims as to what Lewis taught. These claims were specious, and easily identified as such because the real Lewisians could trace their teachings as that which was taught through the preceding decades by the Lewisians. The real Lewisians, although they did not know Lewis personally, could point to the eyewitnesses whom they did know and learned from. These Lewisians were charged by the original eyewitnesses to continue their mission, to teach authentic Lewisian truth to all the nations. Also, at least one or two of the original eyewitnesses that were still living, and they could vouch for true orthodox Lewisian doctrine as opposed to novel claims that were heterodox.

Now, I've read somewhere about a study of how legends develop. The study showed that it takes about 100 years or more before legends can develop about an influential person. This is because such legends must wait until all the eyewitnesses and perhaps even those who knew the eyewitnesses are dead before fanciful notions about a person could have any hope of being believed. Otherwise, the eyewitnesses could simply debunk such fanciful notions, and the legend never takes root.

I bring up this point to emphasize that in my hypothetical history of Lewisianism, the evidence of history shows that the Lewisian "Bible" was written within this 100-year time span, and as such, can be confidently regarded as non-legendary.

Now in our scenario, let's fast forward about 100 years or more, when all the eyewitnesses of Lewis, his apostles, have been dead for decades, and many of those that personally knew the Lewisian apostles and were taught by them are also dead. Yet some, although very few, are still alive.

At this time, legends begin to develop about C.S. Lewis and his teachings. A guy we'll call Marcion began to question the authenticity of the Lewisian Bible. He rejected many biblical books as spurious and re-wrote some others as he saw fit. Many other people wrote Gnostic books at this time, which they claimed to have come from the "secret doctrines" passed onto them by the apostles of Lewis.

The true Lewisians are beginning to have greater difficulty refuting these legends and contary claims about Lewis, which attempt to distort historic Lewisianism. It's more difficult because the memory of the historic Lewis is fading, except within the true community of Lewisianism. Almost all Lewisians never met Lewis, but relied solely upon what the apostles of Lewis, now dead, said about Lewis and his teachings. But still, even at this time the most compelling argument refuting skeptics and Gnostics came from those few folks who actually were known to have been taught directly by the eyewitnesses to Lewis. Those who were persecuted and continued to be persecuted by their faithfulness to Lewisian teachings, many even martyred. The eyewitnesses to the apostles were in communion with a certain authentic "school of thought" about Lewisianism, and this school of thought prevailed despite the contrary doctrines of Marcion or the "secret doctrines" now revealed by the Gnostics.

This apostolic Lewisian community were taught by the eyewitnesses themselves, and where given like authority to teach others. They did not have to merely rely upon the authentic writings of the apostles, many of which were being interpreted rather heretically. Nor did they have any doubt about the heretical nature of the "secret doctrines" of the Gnostic legends. The authentic Lewisian community were taught by the guys who wrote the Lewisian Bible, so they knew the true context and interpretation of these books, all other claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Furthermore, the true community of Lewisians at this time could confidently trace their lineage to the eyewitnesses with little difficulty, as this was still recent history that was well-documented. It was clear to any reasonable seeker of Lewisian teachings that the very recent historical evidence discounted the novel claims of the revisionists and the Gnostic legend-makers. The true Lewisian teaching continued to come authentically and authoritatively from those who had historic succession from the apostles of Lewis. The of authenticity of Lewis' teaching continued to be guaranteed by this historic succession, and for anyone who looked, the true Lewisian teaching could be plainly seen either explicitly or implicitly taught in the preceding century, by the apostolical men taught by the apostles. The Gnostics had to pretend that their doctrines were handed on secretly from Lewis, as it was quite evident that in no other decade prior were their doctrines taught by Lewisianism. Because of Marcion's unique Bible and the Gnostic writings that they were attempting to pass off as authentic, the Lewisian community began to draw up lists of the true Lewisian Bible. Some of those lists varied from community to community, but they all rejected the Gnostic and Marcionite writings. The varying lists became rather evident within the Lewisian community, so the community met in council and declared a canon of the Lewisian Bible to be used by the universal Lewisian community. This canon became accepted throughout the Lewisian community throughout the world, immediately in some places, and more slowly in others. Gnostic claims grew more and more unconvincing compared to the evidence of history, and Gnosticism slowly faded from Lewisian history. As Gnosticism faded, the need for a standardized canon in every location became less important.

A century or two later, other groups began to teach contrary to what was historically understood to be Lewisianism. A guy named Arius, while holding to the authentic canon of the Lewisian Bible, began teaching a novel interpretation of that Bible that was contrary to historical Lewisianism. The Lewisians in other geographic communities didn't teach anything like what Arius was teaching. The guy just seemed to make it up. The person in charge of the Lewisian community where Arius lived refuted Arius' teachings as heretical. But Arius was clever and politically well-connected. He didn't use the Gnostic method of pretending to have secret doctrines passed to him, but instead said that the Lewisian Bible taught what he was teaching, and that we ought to go by the Lewisian Bible alone, as it is the only source that can be trusted as authentically apostolic. Then, a great defender of orthodox Lewisianism, a guy named Athanasius, refuted Arius by describing the orthodox sense of the passages of the Lewisian Bible that Arius was citing. Arius and his growing number of followers remained unconvinced by Athanasius' argument and continued to teach contrary to historical Lewisianism, despite being told not to by Arius' Lewisian leadership. Arius went elsewhere to attempt to convince other Lewisian leaders of his view, and many were persuaded to favor Arius' interpretation. Finally, the leaders of all the Lewisian communities gathered together to resolve the dispute. They decided in favor of Athanasius, because it was this teaching that was found through the past centuries to have been at the orthodox sense believed by the fathers of Lewisianism. The Arians did not like the nonBiblical word to describe the orthodox sense, and continued to linger for centuries until they too faded from the common teaching of Lewisianism.

So, in the final analysis, it was historic Lewisianism that prevailed. The historic succession of teachers from the apostles was the surest norm of orthodody. The frequency of Lewisian teaching and the authority of its teachers came to be fundamental as to what the true doctrines of Lewis was. It was not sufficient to show that an interpretation of the Lewisian Bible may be plausible, as Arius had done, but it was fundamentally important to show that the interpretation of Lewisianism was in accord with past interpretations. That a current doctrine was either an implicit or explicit part of the common teachings of Lewisianism since apostolic times. And the final arbiter of what was to be considered Lewisianism rested with the decision making teaching authority of the historic Lewisian governing hierarchy, not any private interpretation of the Lewisian Bible.

For centuries, the Arian example would be repeated over and over again, as well as Gnostic claims. Yet, the true teachings of Lewisianism prevailed. It was only this true universal Lewisian community that could point to the historical succession of their teaching authority since apostolic times. It was only this community that could provide convincing evidence from history, from historic Lewisianism that their doctrines were at least implicitly taught, but most often explicitly taught by the early fathers of Lewisiansim.

In modern times, an "authority of experts" of modern Lewisian theology asks that we give up what the Lewisian community commonly believed for the past 2000 years and adhere instead to their novel theories, based solely upon their new-fangled interpretation of the Lewisian Bible alone and/or a novel revision of Lewisian history. Yet, orthodox Lewisians continued to prevail despite 2000 years of heretical attacks, adhering to the same understanding of Lewisian authority and epistemology that has been a part of historic Lewisianism from the very start.

Whose testimony about C.S. Lewis would be more convincing? Who would you believe? Those who depart from historical Lewisianism, having no traceable lineage of successorship from the original Lewisian community, but relying upon "secret gnosis" theories to account for the lack of historical evidence to their novel doctrines? Or those who maintained the authentic Lewisian governing hierarchy, holding fast to Lewis' teachings presented publically in every age, in every region, adhering to the Lewisian notion of authority and epistemology shown in the evidence of history since apostolic times?


Blogger Wray Davis said...

Here's an abridged competitive analogy that may put Gnosticism (and other heresies) in a more favorable light:

CS Lewis was a great apologist and theologian. As you might suspect, he did not arrive from a vacuum; rather there were any number of apologists and theologians dissemenating their ideas throughout the land that Lewis lived in and throughout the English-speaking world. That's not to say that Lewis' ideas weren't novel or uniquely inspired, but they did occur within a genre filled with as many ideologies as you'd like to count.

So we'd be right to suspect that when Lewis selected his key followers, they might already have some ideas of their own, including personal paradigms which they would use to assign meaning to Lewis' teachings. In other words, one might be more concerned with how Lewis' teachings affected them as an Anglican, another might might be interested in Lewis' thoughts on spiritual warfare as an allegory and justification to battle the Nazis. Yet another of his followers might be strictly interested in the academic points of his theology, while another might be drawn to his teachings on love. Lewis had scores of scores of willing followers, but he selected those he wanted for his own reasons, flawed as those followers were. There is every indication that these followers represented a variety of the interests and backgrounds among Lewis' followers; like any group of humans, they had their share of disagreements.

This is important, because once Lewis had gone from them and they were fully convinced he really wasn't coming right back, they set off in different directions to carry on Lewis' mission of spreading his ideas, just as he'd asked them. While at first they may have stayed grouped together for solace and protection from the Anti-Lewisians, as time went on they all went their own way. Once these chosen students of Lewis were on their own, their re-iteration of his message focused on what they believed to be most important, that is, the aspects of his message that matched their paradigm. Moreover, by their own reckoning, Lewis did not always have all of his chosen students with him, so they heard different parts of his teachings. It seems even that he chose to tell them what they were best suited to hear.

As the schools started by each of these students spread and began to overlap their territories, the differences in their messages became more obvious. In some cases, these differences were minor and could be overlooked. In other cases, the differences were major. Each school would appeal to their direct line back to Lewis, but different memories and different focuses could not be reconciled, and reason had to win out. In one memorable and well-documented case, the school of a chosen student of Lewis had a serious disagreement with the school of a man who had never met Lewis during his life, but claimed to have gained a special understanding of his message later - they were debating whether Lewis' teachings on Theology implied that one must become an Anglican, but reason rightly won out in favor of the newcomer.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Wray Davis said...

Part II:

Other disagreements, however, could not be be reconciled, and lines were drawn both geographically and ideologically. This division was not unique to the Lewisians - most other philosophical groups went through the same fracturing before and after Lewis, and we see the same things happening today in such divergent groups as Open Source advocates (where the practice is known as "forking") and the rank and file of large corporations (where the practice is known as "politics" or "empire building".) Eventually there were some three or four of these major schools, each with lineage traced through a different handful of Lewis' original students, and each centered in a different part of the UK.

Even after the death of Lewis' chosen students, the Lewisian schools remained at relative peace with eachother, despite their ideological battles. By this time, thousands of writings were available, and though most claimed to be authored by the chosen students or their favorite students, in most cases their authorship was understood to be dubious or false, and the writings were either accepted as convention or discredited, depending on their claims. Even still, scores of documents were attributed to the chosen students, and while they did not often directly disagree on Lewis' theology, they did paint different pictures of which of his students were the favorites, and which had received the core truth of his teachings. In many cases, the focuses of the theology reflected entirely different aspects of Lewis' teachings.

Though many theologians and philosophers after Lewis claimed to have new insights into his teachings, they were largely assimilated and forgotten or ostracized and recorded so that none of the faithful followers of the chosen students would be led astray. The practice of arranging formal arguments against these heretics led to formal arguments between the major schools, which led to greater hostilities and more outspoken conflict between them.

We would not be surprised to learn that these arguments between Lewisian schools was not limited to the theological sphere - economics and politics began to play a large part as well, especially as major players in England's Parliament and Bank Street became devotees of Lewis. The result of this was that the school based out of London and Southwest England gained greater theological influence as they used their economic and political influence to place and fund professors and satellite schools in the areas traditionally held by the other schools. Wales and Cornwall, poor and stubborn as they were, stuck hard to their beliefs and the unique teachings of their lineage, but the schools in Scotland and Ireland were either dismissed, overwhelmed, or swallowed by Presbyterianism, Methodism, and other non-Lewisian theologies.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Wray Davis said...

Part III:

But then a new Prime Minister from a new party was raised, and he converted to Lewisianism, for reasons fully known only to him. Suddenly everyone was a Lewisian, but this served to emphasize the major schisms in Lewis' schools, and caused countless problems as political rivalries only exacerbated the theological schisms. What was a vibrant Prime Minister to do but to get to the bottom of these differences?

Representatives from all over England were called to a special conference, and it was not surprising that the school of London was especially well represented, nor was it surprising that when this PM said no-one could leave until a decision was reached, that the school of London won out on nearly all points. In fact, the ideas of the Cornish/Welsh schools were so poorly represented that they barely needed mention in the minutes of the conference.

Since politics had called the conference, politics carried out the repercussions of the decisions reached. Documents were destroyed, not a copy left for posterity, lest posterity stray from the decisions reached at the conference. There was little malice if any in this plan - it was simply political expedience. Legends arise almost instantaneously, as we see all the time (Link), and people's memories change with the fashion of the times. The western schools hold onto their theologies longer than their documents (though a few of them do manage to hide away some of their more important teachings), but eventually they are swept over by the tide of the London school, which gains the momentum of their political allies.

It's not so very long before the only record of the western schools is the formal arguments of the London school against them, and as we might guess, these do not portray their teachings in an unbiased light. It is not hard to undermine the linkages between Lewis and those Western schools - especially once your history of Lewis' life and teachings is limited to the three or four chosen students who founded the London Church. Especially when to disagree with the new official Lewisian Church of England could mean death.

10:40 PM  
Blogger itsjustdave1988 said...


Thanks for the comments. I've been away from my computer, but will read through them as soon as I can.

God bless,


10:40 AM  
Blogger itsjustdave1988 said...


Your comments seem to suggest that unity of command is necessary for unit cohesion and unity of purpose. This is why we have one guy in charge of the Church on earth, just as it was in NT times. See my new blog on this sacerdotal unity and how it is indeed biblical.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Wray Davis said...


You said:
"Your comments seem to suggest that unity of command is necessary for unit cohesion and unity of purpose."

I'm not too sure where you got this from. While I did suggest that Constantine (under the guise of the British PM) desired unity in the Church, and each school of Christian thought desired to consolidate their supporters and eliminate competitors, I did not mean to imply that this was necessarily a good thing. I certainly neither implied nor think that unity is of greater importance than truth. I'd rather be right and alone than wrong and part of a crowd.

7:40 PM  

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