Dating the Gnostics

In recent posts on Gnosticism, I have been tracing possible linkages with older Jewish movements. To understand some of these connections, it helps to have a chronology of Gnostic ideas and movements, something which is not as straightforward as we might think. And if we don’t know when these ideas arose, then it is very difficult to say too much about how and why they originated.Through rhetorical necessity, Gnostics had to present their religious systems as at least as authoritative as t … [Read More...]

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A Thief in the Night

Today, as part of a course on religion and film, I had the opportunity to discuss the 1972 film A Thief in the Night with a group of religious diverse undergraduate students.My church -- a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation that straddled the worlds of evangelical and mainline Protestantism -- did not screen the film when I was a teenager. We were encouraged to make a personal decision to follow Jesus Christ, but not because the world was about to end or because we might be left … [Read More...]

The Hare with Amber Eyes

Before reading this book, I had never heard of netsuke, which are intricate miniature ornaments, usually carved from wood or ivory and representing people, animals, the professions, mythical creatures, and sexual acts. Worn to hang items from a kimono (which have no pockets), they reflect the rich … [Read More...]

What Motivates Jihadists?

Over at The Atlantic, Graeme Wood has a fascinating but disturbing piece on the theological foundations of ISIS. It is worth reading the whole article, but this is the critical passage: The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure se … [Read More...]

Philo’s Answer

Greek philosophy made it all but impossible to reconcile the transcendence of God with a deity who created and ruled the world, with a deity like that portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. During the Second Temple era, that clash of visions was deeply troubling for Jews who wished to integrate into the … [Read More...]

Asking the Wrong Question

I have been puzzling over the origins of Gnosticism, and we can certainly find some plausible answers to that issue. Jewish, Greek and Christian, (and possibly Persian), the building blocks were all clearly there. Perhaps, though, I have been asking the wrong question all along. Instead of asking … [Read More...]

Gnostics and Platonists

Although the origins of Gnostic thought are controversial, many of the core themes and terms undoubtedly stemmed from Greek philosophical thought, especially Platonism. That did not necessarily mean that early Gnostics were taking these ideas directly from Greek thinkers or schools, rather that they … [Read More...]

Americans Incarcerate

Americans incarcerate. So begins and ends Jennifer Graber's The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons & Religion in Antebellum America.Americans incarcerate. One of out every hundred American adults is behind bars. One would rather not think about the economic, emotional, and spiritual cost of this … [Read More...]

Putin-Loving Evangelicals

Despite some recent reports that the second ceasefire in the war in Ukraine is “generally holding,” there is not much reason for hope. The Ukrainian military says that pro-Russian rebels has attacked 112 times since early Sunday morning. Kiev says that it won’t remove heavy weapons from the front lin … [Read More...]

Which Is Better: Small Church or Big Church?

A reader of last week's post took exception to my comparison of large churches in Texas and small churches in Scotland, saying in effect "I'll take a small church full of committed saints over your nominal Texas megachurches any day." A bit of a broad brush, no doubt, but this does raise an … [Read More...]

Gordon Wood on Bernard Bailyn

When the great American historian Gordon Wood has a long-form essay on the equally-great Bernard Bailyn (at The Weekly Standard), one takes notice. Reviewing Bailyn's latest book, Wood says"Although Bernard Bailyn is one of the most distinguished historians in the Western world, he is not as … [Read More...]

Athens, Jerusalem and Nag Hammadi

Through the celebrated discovery of many alternative gospels and scriptures, the word Gnostic has entered popular discourse almost as synonymous with bold or experimental religious thinking. Of course, the term Gnostic has a specific meaning as a movement, and one about which we now have a … [Read More...]

The Beginning of Wisdom

I have been posting on the subject of Gnosticism and its origins.By the early second century AD, Gnosticism was clearly in evidence as part the early Christian movement, but its history before that date is obscure. Undoubtedly it drew from multiple sources and influences, including Greek … [Read More...]

The Promises and Perils of Denominational History

Today’s guest post is by Nathan A. Finn, who serves as associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also directs the Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality. You can follow him on Twitter​.Near the end of … [Read More...]

American Evangelicals’ Global Vision Began in Korea

From the Archive. Originally posted March 14, 2013. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:27[1] The global vision of American evangelicalism began in an improbable … [Read More...]

Secularization and Scotland’s Christian Heritage

One of the most immediate differences from America one notices in the U.K. is how secularized the society is (especially compared to Texas!). Polls in Scotland suggest that even nominal adherence to Christianity, and Christian orthodoxy, is in massive decline. Although opinion data is often … [Read More...]

Those Who Know

Ever since my undergraduate years, I have been interested in early Christian history and Gnosticism. In the next few posts, I will talk about some of the things I have learned about Gnosticism, why it is so important, and some of the areas I am still trying to explore in my present book project. … [Read More...]

Shapur’s Great Persecution

I posted on the topic of early Christian martyrdom, arguing that the phenomenon was as widespread as Christian writers claimed, and that it truly was driven by religious motives. That was especially true in the Persian Empire.One of the great church historians of antiquity was Sozomen, who was … [Read More...]

The Reality of Persecution

Rome was not the only empire in antiquity, nor the only one with a sizable Christian population.I stress that repeatedly because of the number of times we read about Christian engagement with the secular world, which seems to be defined as the Roman Empire. In fact, the Persian Empire also had … [Read More...]

Jesus Delayed

Christians have no good reason to believe Jesus is coming soon.Okay, in the final chapter of John's Apocalypse, Jesus himself says, "See, I am coming soon" (I prefer the King James Version's "Behold, I come quickly"). But let's face it, "soon" and "quickly" do not usually mean after two … [Read More...]


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