The Gospel Truth
Why some old books are stirring up a new debate about the meaning of Jesus
Yet it is that looseness and flexibility when it comes to interpreting sacred texts that drives the orthodox so crazy. "A vision that embraces the truth of all traditions is the mark of the Gnostic," writes Johnson. "It follows that traditional Christianity is false insofar as it is exclusive and is improved to the degree that it is elevated to a more universal view."
Theological comfort zone. But can there really be any reconciliation of those who believe that salvation comes from the outside, through the redemptive act of a divine savior, with those who believe that it comes through self-knowledge? Such a difference, Johnson, Wright, and other traditionalists argue, cannot be explained away by scholars like Pagels as merely politically motivated differences. The distinctions reflect profound theological and anthropological convictions about human nature and its relation to the divine.
The core Christian teaching is wrong, Wright insists, if the Gnostics are right. "In other words," he says, "you are not the spark of light; you are part of the problem. And if you look deep within your heart, and you are true to what's deep within your heart, then you will actually mislead yourself and others that you drag down with you."
The Gnostic perspective is unlikely to wither even under such forceful attacks. Its defenders, past and present, inevitably intellectuals like those second-century, Greek-speaking eggheads, are always ready with a quick "Yes, but." "This is an exciting time to be a scholar," says Marvin Meyer. "There are now so many new approaches and possibilities and ways of putting things together that they allow people to find out where their theological comfort zone is." The Gnostic claim that the truth lies within fuels an argument so deep and old-and indeed so fundamental to who we think we are-that it is hardly surprising that it finds expression in our contemporary culture wars. And unlikely that it will cease doing so in the culture wars to come.