Chapter 3, “Nasty Suspicions, Conspiracy Theories, and the Return of Gnosticism” pp. 55-78.
In recent years detractors of historic Christianity have gained ground. Long observes that doubts about the reality of Christianity are appearing among the faithful churchgoing people (Long 2009, 55). The man in the pew is more likely now to question the presuppositions of the faith than in prior generations (Long 2009, 56). Long’s description of the questioning seems to presuppose an acceptance of higher critical methods, as he illustrates on pp. 56-57. One common way of answering these questions is to assume some sort of conspiracy in which powerful people suppressed information so as to create a credible story (Long 2009, 58). Long addresses some of the popular conspiracy theories briefly before dismissing them. A second way of answering questions is to fall into a self-mediated alternative spirituality which embraces challenges and contradictions (Long 2009, 61). An unfortunate but likely accurate observation is that pastors are ill-equipped to help their parishoners find the historic Gospel strength which applies to their everyday lives (Long 2009, 62).
Long moves on to analyze the new spirituality as a modern move toward Gnostic thought (Long 2009, 64). Though it is not the same as the Gnostic thought of long ago, there are similar tendencies toward some special secret knowledge and enlightenment (Long 2009, 65). Long, however, observes that the term is both overused and inflammatory (Long 2009, 66). The Bible certainly has knowledge and many clear answers. Yet there is understanding which defies our understanding (Long 2009, 67). Long suggests two ways to view the early Gnostics which may help us analyze our gnostic impulse. First, we may consider the Gnostics as people whose views were valid but who were rejected (Long 2009, 68). This leads us down the path of Pagels and Ehrman, who deny the truth of historic orthodoxy. Alternatively, we can consider that the Gnostics really did attempt to understand Jesus but failed in the animated engagement with biblical doful practice (Long 2009, 70). The views did not hold up and the documents were gradually discarded.
Long concludes the chapter by unpacking four themes in the gnostic teaching. First, “humanity is ‘saved’ by gnosis” (Long 2009, 72). Second, it devalues the bodily and incarnate (Long 2009, 72). Third, there is a strong focus on the inner life as what truly matters (Long 2009, 74). Finally, there is a strong emphasis on present spirituality as opposed to God’s plan for eternity (Long 2009, 76).