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Against the Protestant Gnostics Paperback – 1 Aug 1993

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (1 Aug. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195084365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195084368
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.4 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,467,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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`Opposed to the "liberal theology", that ... gives people only "minor, vapid" reasons for going to church, Lee asserts the ongoing relevance of the Christian story of man. In doing so, he has made the study of gnosticism crucial to the ongoing debate about the future of American culture.'The Christian Science Monitor

`Lee deserves all praise for seeing clearly what is indeed there to be seen, though concealed, in the multiple masks of supposed Protestantism.'Harold Bloom in The American Religion

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FOR the gnostic Christian, ancient or modern, the simple faith (pistis) of the believe is not sufficient. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Nov. 1997
Format: Paperback
Lee demonstrates how American forms of Proetstantism do not reflect the ethos of Calvin or Luthur and how American Protestant individualism etc, and much evangelicalism and the charismatic movement are an embodiment of the Gnostic religions of the first few centures of the Common Era. A real eye opener: well researched, passionately argued, and convincing.
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By Dan on 4 Jan. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A thoughtful and timely work which focus attention onto the developed and developing heresies that risk undermining the very gospel those affected are trying to proclaim. Its even handed approach allows a good understandingof how good intentions have gone a little awry and finally made sense to me of the Americana attitude that damages anything associated with it both domestically and in the worldwide sphere.. Some fantastic quotes and good bilbe scholarship, alongside solid understanding of tradition and chrch history.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
The Gnostic Motifs of American Protestantism 12 April 2001
By rodboomboom - Published on
Format: Paperback
Inspired by Irenaeus' "Against the Heretics" Lee delivers a stinging review of today's gnostics, the enthusiasts of our day who say they have higher,mystical revelations that the rest of us earthly ones have no access to.
Especially disconcerting to Lee is the increasing rate of radical individualism as opposed to the biblical corporateness of the body.
Modern ears are ripe to be deceived by these first century gnostic lies. While boldy proclaiming they are about the Word, these modern day gnostics in America do not let God's Word have the preeminence that God intends. Lee even acknowledges that Lutheran doctrine is anti-individual and pro-the action of God in the midst of His people.
Our world today seems only willing to accept a church that will let them have their "me and my Jesus" beliefs and practices, which in turn tickle so many other worldly ears who think they become spiritual on their terms.
One neat tie that he makes between Irenaeus and today is: "it is accepted that a born again Christian is a Protestant who has had an experience of some sort and who takes his or her religion seriously, unlike the ordinary folk who have merely been baptized, attend Sunday services and call themselves Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans or Baptists. ... "They call us," said Irenaeus, "'unspiritual,' 'common,' and 'ecclesiastic.'"
Worthy read and library addition.
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Excellent book on "gnostic" aspects of Amercan Protestnatism 5 Nov. 1997
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Lee demonstrates how American forms of Proetstantism do not reflect the ethos of Calvin or Luthur and how American Protestant individualism etc, and much evangelicalism and the charismatic movement are an embodiment of the Gnostic religions of the first few centures of the Common Era. A real eye opener: well researched, passionately argued, and convincing.
58 of 69 people found the following review helpful
Pure polemic 19 Jun. 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Canadian Presbyterian pastor Phillip. J. Lee uses the ancient heresy of Gnosticism as an archetype by which to gage contemporary strands of Protestantism in North America. Contrasts are drawn between "Gnostic" and "Orthodox" trends in contemporary Christianity with the Orthodox end of the spectrum made to look considerably more true and desirable than the Gnostic. Gnosticism relies on salvation through the attainment of secret "knowledge" that can only be accomplished by a spiritually developed elite. The primary problematic characteristics of Gnosticism, according to Lee, are that it is elitist and that it is dualistic; in other words, it views the created world as inherently evil and the gifts of creation as objects to be avoided. Earthly life, then, is not to be lived, but to be escaped. This results in spiritual-elitism, separation of the holy from the "impure" and an obsessive focus on individual salvation among Conservative-evangelical groups. On the left, Gnostic tendencies lead to individualistic religion, personalized and subjective "spirituality" and the happiness of the individual as life's ultimate goal.
Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, is more concerned with the salvation of the Church as an organic body, rather than with particular individuals, and preaches a Christ who cannot be known through private spirituality, but only by participation in the life of the Church. Orthodoxy teaches readily accessible revealed truth, rather than mysterious and esoteric "knowledge". Who are the contemporary Gnostics? Any group that does not fit into the author's understanding of orthodoxy. It is a strategy that is highly effective, even though disingenuous.
Lee is extremely though provoking and he is equally critical of both liberal and conservative trends in American Protestantism. There is plenty of material to make everybody from Southern Baptists and Unitarians take offense. Regarding its readability, this book might be intimidating to readers not familiar with theology, but in general is very well written.
However, Lee's rhetoric comes with some glaring problems in logic. The first problem is that he never answers the question: "Who's Orthodoxy". Lee sees himself as preaching the message of early Calvinism and assigns the status of orthodoxy accordingly. But he never wrestles with the fact that his orthodoxy is heresy by Roman or Eastern-Orthodox standards. He regards Rome and the East as "sister churches" but never acknowledges that the feeling is less than mutual. He scoffs at the notion of religious "choice" but fails to acknowledge that religious freedom is a reality, whether for better or for worse. Decisions as to who is Gnostic are highly subjective. Lee admits that ancient Gnosticism has influenced even orthodox Christianity; Gnostic trends are to be found in the gospel of John, for example. Calvin himself, according to the author, comes "dangerously close" to Gnosticism at times.
But the biggest problem is that Lee shows no inclination to grapple with the checkered history of Christianity. He readily points out the bizarre practice of castration by the Bogomil-heretical sect, but doesn't mention the merciless slaughter of the Bogomil in the name of "orthodoxy". Criticism of Calvin and Calvinism are facilely dismissed as "simplistic". The sad reality is that this is a thinker with the intellect, the insight and the eloquence to write a balanced critique of the whole of the Christian tradition -- one that highlights the truths of orthodoxy without sweeping inconvenient historical facts under the rug. Instead he writes a one-sided polemic that tears down the faith of many in the one Western first-world nation that still attends Church, but provides no arguments for an alternative that will convince those who are not already convinced.
Despite is shortcomings, "Against the Protestant Gnostics" is thoughtful, challenging, and at times witty, and I truly feel that all theologically-inclined Christians could benefit by reading this book if they do so in a spirit of humility and self-criticism.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Protestant Gnostics 9 Mar. 2009
By Gerard Reed - Published on
Format: Paperback
Probing the past for perspectives on the present, a Presbyterian pastor in Saint John, New Brunswick, Philip J. Lee, brings to trial North American Evangelicals in Against the Protestant Gnostics (NY: Oxford University Press, 1987). As one might guess from the title, Lee takes for his mentor St. Irenaeus of Lyons, whose second century treatise, Against Heresies, sought to defend the orthodox faith from various gnostic perversions. "For the gnostic Christian, ancient or modern," Lee says, "simple faith (pistis) is not sufficient. Instead, there must be knowledge (gnosis)" (p.3).
Almost always, Gnostics have these characteristics: 1) a deep sense of metaphysical alienation; 2) a proposed scheme of knowledge to overcome alienation; 3) a world-denying, escapist stance which often disdains material things; 4) an exclusivist, aristocratic elitism, promising real salvation to the enlightened few; 5) a syncretistic compulsion to compound diverse strands of theories and perspectives. Given these identifying marks, much of what follows entails Lee's analysis of how Gnostic notions have flourished, been condemned, or slipped silently into the darker niches of Christendom. As Lee shows, the main tenets of Gnosticism have almost routinely, across the centuries, been condemned by the Church, though nothing seems to prevent its weed-like re-surfacings.
Rooted in the biblical teaching that creation is good, Christians have never rightly tolerated those who would disparage it. Given the inevitable Docetism of most Gnostics, Christians have insisted on the down-to-earth materiality of the Incarnate Christ. Salvation is revealed to Christians primarily through God's historic dealings with His people and thus to the highly visible (if not always highly edifying) believing community. Salvation comes not, as Gnostics assert, through elusive inward workings which bring enlightenment and deliverance for individuals. The typical Gnostic strategies for "self-realization" and personal well being (staples of TV prosperity gospel preaching) has routinely been labeled "sin" by the Church.
Another important distinction involves the sacraments. Whereas Gnostics tend to downgrade, if not dismiss them, the orthodox from the early centuries through the classic Reformers have tenaciously clung to the worth, indeed the soteriological centrality, of at least Baptism and Eucharist. In North America, however, and especially from beachheads within those Puritan communities which focused unduly "on self" and tended to view "humanity from an elitist perspective" (74), Gnosticism wormed its way into the nation's religious life. Those sectarian movements (cultivating what Ernst Troeltsch called an "individualistic Protestantism of active-holiness") which permanently dyed the religious life of America's faithful seemed especially vulnerable to Gnostic notions.
Consequently, Lee titles the second part of his study "Gnosticism in Ascendance in North America." The ancient Gnostic traits typify many churches, especially those rooted in the Calvinist tradition. Unwilling to celebrate the full range of biblical revelation, North American Protestants, Evangelicals included, have embraced Marcion's notion that the only religious truth worth proclaiming is that of the Redeemer-God, who in Christ saves us. Alienated from creation, lacking roots in the historic faith-community, there's little to celebrate but a here-and-now of forgiveness with the added expectation of by-and-by personal bliss.
Too often, North American Protestants have replaced remembrance of the "holy events" celebrated in Scripture with "private illumination," what Jonathan Edwards described as "a Divine and Supernatural Light, immediately imparted to the soul by the spirit of God" (103). This nicely suited the emergent Enlightenment ethos of the 18th century and led, Lee thinks, to an "inversion of Calvinism" (p.104). Thus, in our time, as Charles Glock and Robert Bellah observe: "Immediate experience rather than doctrinal belief continues to be central along all the religious movements, including the Jesus movements, and in the human-potential movement as well. Knowledge in the sense of direct first-hand encounter has so much higher standing than abstract argument based on logic that one could almost speak of anti-intellectualism in many groups" (p.113).
Evangelicals emphasizing the need to be "born again," Lee argues, frequently fall into various forms of escapism, yet another Gnostic trait. We would like to reach a spiritual peak which frees us from nature--from the body and its sexuality, from time, history and politics. Seeking such still obsesses many evangelicals, Lee thinks. "The history of American revivalism has often featured vigorous attacks against the flesh, flesh interpreted as body. Dancing, theater, the plastic arts were all forbidden or discouraged because they were correctly perceived as making a connection between the human spirit and the human body" (p.132). In a chapter entitled "Narcissism: From the Sacred Community to the Inner Self," Lee links the ancient Gnostic fixation on self-realization with modern religious self-help movements. Such a tendency surfaced in the First Great Awakening, when a follower of Jonathan Edwards, Ebenezer Frothingham, could say: "If we rightly consider the Nature of Practice in Religion, or Obedience to God, we shall see an absolute Necessity for every Person to act singly, as in the sight of God only; . . . to bring the Saints all to worship God sociably, and yet have no dependence upon another" (p.145).
Two centuries later, this narcissistic individualism would hallmark the self-adoration disguised with slogans such as "self-expression" and "self-fulfillment." Such are now elevated to unquestioned "rights" by millions of Americans, and churchly concerns--the ancient Christian notion that one is saved within the Church, Calvin's teaching that apart from the Church there is no truth--virtually disappeared. Especially within American Methodism, H. Richard Niebuhr insisted, there appeared "that great revolutionary movement of the eighteenth century that placed the individual at the center of things and so profoundly modified all existing institutions" (p.156). (Here let me argue a bit with Niebuhr and Lee: both illustrate a condescending distaste for America's typically democratic, people-shaped denominations. Historians rooted in European churches, and Easterners displeased with the populism of America's frontier, often treat Methodists et al. unfairly!)
Back to Lee! The fourth Gnostic trait, he lists, elitism, also characterizes some modern North American Protestants. New England Puritans self-consciously cultivated an elite corps of truly righteous believers. In Jonathan Edwards one finds a pastor who allowed only visible saints membership in visible congregations. Revivalists and revivalistic churches have often sought to clearly paint black and white differences between the "saved" and the "lost."
The fifth and final Gnostic trait Lee discerns in American religion is syncretism. Especially in the mainline, liberal churches, there has developed a genial, tolerant, eclectic spirit which often refuses to even restrict itself to clearly Christian sources and doctrines. Almost anything goes under the rubric of "faith" so long as it is sufficiently nebulous. By definition, syncretism has "an aversion to the particular. Within American Protestantism that aversion has been felt especially toward the particularity of Church and sacraments" (p.182). Consequently, the noted Church historian Winthrop S. Hudson, summing up his study of American Protestantism, found little but "the form of surviving memories and a lingering identification with the resources of historic Christianity" (p.185).
On the basis of his analysis, Lee concludes that much of American Protestantism has become gnosticized. Wallowing in anarchic individualism, anti-institutionalism and anti-sacramentalism, waffling with a spineless doctrinal pliability, it desperately needs to recover authentic Christian roots and routines. What he proposes is a "renewal of hope" through "the degnosticizing of Protestantism."
Unfortunately, whereas Lee's critical analyses frequently hit the mark, his proposals for reform, while suggestive, prove less satisfactory. Among other things, he calls for: 1) more liturgical worship services (returning the sacraments to their rightful centrality); 2) less concern for quick-fix pragmatic success criteria (certain that slow growth may be more enduring than over-night sprouts); 3) stronger discipline within the Church; 4) better biblical preaching (written in the pastor's study rather than the so-called "office"); and, 5) the displacement of the self as the center of God's saving work through the proper understanding of the Church, not the individual, as the Body of Christ.
Against the Protestant Gnostics prods one to think! It may not always accurately assess the situation. Those of us in the revivalistic wing of Evangelicalism may rightly deflect some of Lee's barbs, which at times are off the mark, Certainly he seems to propose less than satisfactory solutions to the problems he raises. But the book focuses on an important theme. And it shows, I think conclusively, why today's American churches seem so unlike the Ante-Nicene Church or that espoused by classical Protestant reformers such as Calvin.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Must Read for Any Thoughtful Protestant 29 Jun. 2010
By Scophocles - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is an extremely provocative assessment of Protestantism from a catholic-minded Presbyterian minister from Canada. He basically decries the ways in which recent Protestant expressions of Christianity have rent asunder the church and her sacraments making Christianity largely unintelligible to the Reformers of the 16th century. In noting the practical absence of communion from regular Protestant worship, Lee writes: "The irony of Protestant history is that although the sixteenth-century Reformers fought like tigers to restore the wine to the people, their descendants have now deprived the people of both bread and wine." Another quote: "As opposed to the patristic and Calvinistic picture of the Church as a mother who nurses, comforts, scolds, punishes, in short, loves her children into a healthy maturity, the present image of Church is that of an organization that cashes our checks, mails us notices and newsletters, but otherwise leaves us to our own devices." Lee shows that the Protestant Reformers would not recognize most of their modern-day evangelical offspring. He leaves the reader to wonder if, in fact, that might have something to do with the very DNA of Protestantism to begin with. If the Incarnation is true then matter matters and a gnostic rejection of the goodness of physicality - both in creation and in redemption (from sacraments to resurrection) - cannot be reconciled with Christianity.
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