Gnostic + Orthodox + Development = Integral Christian?

Forgive me for the following set of mismatched ideas that landed on me while drowsing this morning that I just wanted to get out.

I’ve been reading more (and in a very undisciplined, eclectic way) about Christian theology over the last two millennia without any particular preference for which of the various traditions I focus on. The consequence is that I’m swimming around in a kind of [mash-up](http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=mash-up) of the Eurasian traditions – the outcome you might imagine of mixing an Anglican background with a little [Nag Hammadi](http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html) and [Valentinus](http://www.gnosis.org/library/valentinus/Brief_Summary_Theology.htm), a little “Jesus Sutras“, a little + Fr. [Spong](http://www.dioceseofnewark.org/jsspong/) and the kind of odd, five-spice and rosemary concoction that is [AQAL](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AQAL)…

One thing I’ve found myself wondering about is the peculiar lover’s dance that the gnostic and orthodox (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant) traditions have been doing around each other the whole time. The mystic religious ([John of the Cross](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_of_the_Cross), [Teresa of Avila](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_%C3%81vila) and so on) seem (in hindsight) to retain a much less hostile air towards the gnostic thread and vice versa – almost as if they’re representing the same thing. But the esoteric and the exoteric, the parish and the monastery, the gnostic and the orthodox, the mystical and hierarchical – like dubious lovers, unwilling to acknowledge the relationship a lot of the time but unable to let go…

It makes me wonder if rather than thinking of gnostic and orthodox as distinct traditions, it makes more sense to see them each as as threads that only make sense in a larger cloth, so that if either takes hold too long, the other bubbles up to match it. The history of orthodoxy and heresy obviously only seems to make sense in reference to each other.

To draw in a bit of framing, the gnostics emphasize the personal relationship with the Divine, the mystic initiation, epiphany to gnosis while the orthodox put greater emphasis on belief, community, family, conformity… agency versus communion. One could look at that polarity as Freedom (acquainting oneself first-hand with the Ground, with the sound of [Bythos](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bythos)) versus Fullness (stepping forward into life and discovering what the meaning of the Gospel is for “the householder” as [Gautama](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tathagata) might have said).

And look, I’m not saying there’s no contemplation in the orthodox traditions (there certainly is) and I’m not saying Gnostics don’t love their families :)… I’m just noticing emphases that are only apparent when you see the dance and you watch the difference in the steps taken.

Gnosticism adds handy stuff to orthodox theologies, it gives us the notion of the [Demiurge](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demiurge#Gnosticism) – the chief Archon who rules over the world he created and who desires that we never notice that we are trapped. The Fullness, the Pleroma, Bythos are all names for the indescribable, unknowable Suchness of the Divine from whom emanated all things, including (via a fairly complex path) the Demiurge and to whom we long to return.

Any of us raised in orthodox traditions are familiar with hearing the G-d is unknowable, yet we spend most of our time in religion hearing all about Him, His various wishes and desires, His laws, His actions. We end up feeling we have a pretty good idea who G-d is – but a Gnostic might argue that what we’ve ended up only making friends with the Demiurge.

If we take the basic developmental sequence popularized by [Spiral Dynamics](http://www.spiraldynamics.com/) and [Wilber’s](http://www.kenwilber.com/) notion (from [Whitehead](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Process_philosophy#Whitehead.27s_Process_and_Reality)) of the “creative advance into novelty” might we notice that what, at one point in history, might manifest as almost unspeakable, ecstatic freedom from the iron prison of the current conditions (the rule of The Law overcoming the horror of endless conflict, for example), might seem later to be itself an iron prison (the stultifying rulebook of The Law holding back individual creativity based in rational ethics)?

Is the Christos a child who grows up to be a grumpy old Demiurge?

And what of [Her](http://egina2.blogspot.com/2006/10/shhhh.html)? It doesn’t seem to matter how much the orthodoxy tries to leave Her out or reduce Her role, She [keeps](http://www.magdalene.org/) [knocking](http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0382625/) at the [the door](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nmFg7hZRv4).

What might the Christian tradition look like if we took the orthodox and the gnostic freely as paired gifts of our history and reflected (via scripture if you’d like, via history if you’d rather, via introspection if you’re able) on that very history and the emergence of higher, freer, fuller notions of who we are to be together and of how we are to see and hear G-d?

Why it just might look like something a little less embarrassing than most of what passes for the Christian tradition now. Something useful and gorgeous and true.

But like I said. Just some drowsy ideas borne of undisciplined reading… your mileage may vary, exercise due caution.

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4 responses to “Gnostic + Orthodox + Development = Integral Christian?

  1. Lovely post, Tim! I’ve picked up a lot of the same pieces along the way – bits of esoteric and exoteric christian thought and practice, as well as Wilber’s AQAL/Integral framework. And I keep myself entertained trying to tape it all together….

  2. Lovely post, Tim! I’ve picked up a lot of the same pieces along the way – bits of esoteric and exoteric christian thought and practice, as well as Wilber’s AQAL/Integral framework. And I keep myself entertained trying to tape it all together….

  3. Thanks Fr John . I hadn’t re-read that post after I posted it. A lot of what I imagined when I wrote that, I think I’m finding in the AJC. It seems like a vision of Christianity worth working towards.

  4. Thanks Fr John . I hadn’t re-read that post after I posted it. A lot of what I imagined when I wrote that, I think I’m finding in the AJC. It seems like a vision of Christianity worth working towards.

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