Pristine Grace

The Insidious Rise of High Grace Predestinarian Neo-Gnosticism
by Brandan Kraft
The Insidious Rise of High Grace Predestinarian Neo-Gnosticism

    The Gospel as it is expressed in the doctrines of Sovereign Grace, otherwise known as TULIP or "Calvinism" has brought such joy to my heart, there are times that I find myself barely able to contain myself.  To have assurance that I am one of those precious elect for which Christ shed His blood, and that there is a love that has been shed abroad in my heart (Rom 5:5), it brings me much needed peace. There have been many ups and downs in my spiritual journey.  And most of them have been ups!  The highs have been unimaginably high.  And yes, the lows have been exceedingly low.  And this article is about one of those lows.  This low is a continuing sadness that has accompanied me and some of my fellow travellers since I began my pilgrimage to the Celestial City.  And that sadness has been brought on by witnessing the rise and popularity of what I deem to be high grace predestinarian neo-gnosticism or simply carpenterism for short as it was popularized by Marc Carpenter of the outside the camp website many years ago.

    I briefly touched on this neo-gnositicsm in two of my previous articles:  Are You Just Pretending? and The Insidious Rise of the Internet Heresy Hunter.  Those two articles deal primarily with the problem of unbelieving "pretenders" and "gospel crusaders" that are amongst us.  The rise and increased use of the Internet has brought them and their vitriol into our midst.  Most of these neo-gnostics usually have no interest in actually attending worship services and enjoying face to face fellowship with other believers, so if you're not on the internet a lot, you probably won't run into them.  But the Internet is my realm!  It's one place outside of the few assemblies I associate with where I meet and interact with other believers.  And the fellowship I've maintained online is not unlike that which I find within our churches.  Some of my very dearest and closest friends are those I've met online, and to this day I maintain daily contact with them through texting, e-mails, and phone calls.  Although we aren't meeting for face to face fellowship, the closeness I have with some of them far exceeds that of most that I know in my offline life.

    It is my experience and my opinion that both the pretenders and the heresy hunters usually go hand in hand with neo-gnosticism.   One of the errors of historical gnosticism was the love of obtaining knowledge so much that they actually worshipped the knowledge which they attained.  And this is the error of today's neo-gnosticism.  Folks have substituted love for God with the love for knowledge.  And I admittedly love knowledge as well.  The knowledge of God, His Gospel, His way of saving sinners, this is all well and good!  The Gospel is contained in definite propositions of truth, and therefore is absolutely confessional.  So I am not anti-intellectual.  I am not anti-knowledge.  Knowledge is necessary!  And today's neo-gnostics certainly are good at presenting the Gospel as they are good at repeating and confessing these propositions.   Their guilt is not in confessing the Gospel, their guilt is in adding to the Gospel.   So let me attempt to explain.

    High grace predestinarian neo-gnosticism is the most insidious form of works righteousness that I've encountered!  It's insidious because it is mostly correct.  Most of these gnostics are good at contending for basic bible truth like imputed righteousness and the absolute satisfaction of Christ's atonement, as well as its limitation to only the elect.  They are also really good at pointing out the terrible error of freewillism and low-grace calvinism with its doctrines of common grace, well-meant offers, and an atonement that is sufficient for all.  And they excel at listening to sermons and pointing out all the errors, and then condemning the men for speaking these errors.  But it is my opinion that they do not worship Christ!  They seem to be worshippers of their knowledge and their attainment of their knowledge.  In fact, I believe they are even conditioning salvation on the attainment of knowledge in much the same way the freewiller conditions salvation on their notional work of accepting Christ.  They glory in their knowledge.  They pride themselves in the knowledge they've attained.  They can articulate the propositions of the Gospel with an exact precision, yet they do not enjoy sweet fellowship with Christ!

    For a long time I was caught up with them.  I didn't really recognize them for who they were and what they were truly teaching.  It's taken me nearly twenty years as a believer and student of the Gospel to finally see this terrible doctrine for what it is.  But after having lived amongst them, conversed with them, and even accepted amongst them, I believe I'm becoming familiar enough with their errors and can spot them out quite easily now.  Here are a some telltale signs you might be dealing with a neo-gnostic:

  1. An insistence on the exact articulation of the Gospel in all of its fullness and having the ability to recognize all of its implications is necessary in order to be "saved."  A simple child-like faith is not permissable in their scheme.  Toplady's words, "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling" would need to be amended signficantly!
  2. Constantly referring to individuals as either "saved" or "lost".  In the gnostic scheme, those are only the two possible states of an indivual.  If you're not "saved", you're "lost."  Ironically, they are still very arminian in their thinking, not recognizing that being "lost" is actually a good thing as Christ came for the lost sheep of Israel (Mat. 15:24).
  3. An emphatic denial of justification from eternity.  They would say God does not impute righteousness to an individual until they have true faith.  They of course would deny that this righteousness is based on this faith.  Some have even gone so far as to insist that belief in any eternal aspect of justification proves one is "lost." - See my article the Four Aspects of Justification.
  4. A belief in common wrath.  Common wrath is the teaching that all people are under the wrath of God, even the elect.  God's wrath stops abiding on the elect person when they believe and righteousness is imputed.
  5. An insistence that the logical implications of an error are the actual propositions one believes.  This insistence applies even to one's associations with people.  If one defends or even "speaks peace" to one who is in error, then one has indeed adopted their error as their own and hence proven to all their "lost" status. (See my article on Tolerant Calvinists.)
  6. A lack of gentleness and kindness (Titus 3:2).
  7. A lack of desire to be assembled with the saints in any capacity (Heb. 10:25).
  8. A confrontational and combative attitude (1 Timothy 6:4).
  9. Focusing all of their efforts on pointing out error instead of building up and edifying others.
  10. Glorying in their ability to point out error with internet memes, signs, and attire.  They literally will wear their religion on their sleeve.
  11. Some will even argue against love and joy, insisting that these things are not necessary consequences to belief in the Gospel (Gal. 5:22-23).  They will even mock those who insist that Christ produces fruit in His people as "navel gazers."
  12. Acquisition and apprehension of knowledge is incorrectly considered to be saving faith.  True assent is downplayed or outright ignored.  Cognition alone is the predicate of entrance into the kingdom of God.
  13. An insistence on concurrence with all their logical leaps is necessary to be considered as one of their own.

    I've come to believe that high grace predestinarian neo-gnosticism is simply warmed over arminianism.  There isn't much difference between the two systems of thought because they both condition salvation upon knowledge.  The true Gospel believer isn't looking to their knowledge in any way.  They don't believe they were saved by learning or believing the Gospel.  They simply look to Christ and rest in Him!   Our years of experience, all of our gifts, and all of our knowledge (1 Cor 13:1-3), will not benefit us at all if they only serve to lead us away from this simple child-like faith in Christ!