What is Generational Theology?

As promised, today I’ll be going over a theology topic.  It’s not a particularly deep topic, nor is it inherently complicated, but it an important topic that I think doesn’t get addressed enough.

Merriam-Webster defines theology as

the study of religious faith, practice, and experience
especially : the study of God and of God’s relation to the world

Essentially, theology is how we view God, God’s nature, and how these views will affect the way we live our life.  While the term theology can technically refer to any religion, it usually is usually used when discussing Abrahamic religions, and when I use it will be in reference to Christianity unless I say otherwise.

In an ideal world, we (Christians), would come to our theological standpoints after extensively studying the Bible, church history/tradition, translation/canon issues, etc.  However, most Christians don’t have the time or interest to do so.  Most will be content to simply listen to sermons and/or go to Sunday school and/or do the occasional guided bible study.  This is perfectly fine.  Not everyone needs to be a theologian, and after all, it’s more important as a Christian how we live our lives than if we can complete a multiple choice test on what’s “proper theology”.  Because spoiler alert, with over 40,000 denominations worldwide, with an estimated two new ones forming every day, I can guarantee that everyone is a heretic to someone.  The danger, however, that can (and often does) stem from taking what we’re told about God at face value, is Generational Theology.

So, what is Generational Theology?  Simply put, Generational Theology is any theological belief that is relatively new but we assume has always been a Christian belief simply because it’s been believed for a couple of generations or more.  Basically, we forget that it wasn’t always an accepted belief.  Generational Theology is not an inherently “good” or “bad” thing, but it often has negative consequences.

The purpose of this post is not to tell you what to believe theologically, but rather to foster critical thinking so you will examine your beliefs and come to the conclusion of what you believe is true.  Having an informed opinion is important.  That being said, I feel I should give a clear example of Generational Theology, one that hopefully shouldn’t be too controversial.  So, here’s one: The Rapture.

That’s right, the Rapture is not a biblical concept and is quite new in Christianity, less than 200 years old in fact.  Historically, the book of Revelation has been viewed as allegorical or metaphorical, it actually wasn’t originally supposed to be in the Bible.  It is an example of the Apocalypse genre, a genre of literature that was quite popular but largely denounced among early Christianity.  When establishing the Biblical canon (which in and of itself is a complicated topic) the addition of Revelation to the canon was hugely controversial.  The majority of authorities were against it, but a vocal minority was able to just barely get it in.  Even if we were to assume the book of Revelation was to be taken literally, the term “Rapture” is never found in any form inside.  To this day the majority of Christians worldwide don’t believe in the Rapture, or the idea that believers will be taken up to Heaven at the end times and then Jesus will come back and commit torture and genocide on all unbelievers all whilst fighting the antichrist (Who by the way, was Nero Caesar.  The Antichrist has already lived and died).  The idea of the rapture originated with Puritans and was popularized by John Nelson Darby, a theologian who was frequently criticized for rejecting Christ’s nature and the message of the Gospel.  So, as much as you may think the Rapture has always been a Christian belief, it has not, and even today is not believed by the majority of Christians.

Hopefully, now you understand the importance of thinking critically.  There’s no need to become a full-blown theologian or even put in an enormous amount of effort if that doesn’t interest you, but I’ve found this mantra helpful:

If you can’t imagine Jesus doing, saying, or teaching it; it probably isn’t true.

After all, God gave us brains, we might as well use them.  Or, as the author of Proverbs more aptly put,

It is the Glory of God to conceal a matter, and the honor of Kings to discern it

Proverbs 25:2

That’s it for this post, have a good week and a Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

 

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Not Gnostism

This post is going to be dedicated to resolving a misconception that’s come up several times in multiple groups and churches I’ve been a part of/attended.  It’s going to deal with Church History, an area that’s often not taught or mistaught because frankly, it’s not of interest or even relevant to most people.  And that’s perfectly fine, but it interests me and if you’re reading my blog it must interest you or you’re very bored and have nothing better to do.  Now, let’s look at the issue at hand.

Multiple times now, from multiple groups, individuals, and churches, I’ve heard people claims the Johannes letters (1, 2, 3 John in the New Testament) are in condemnation of Gnosticism “running rampant” in the early church.  A couple of times (though not nearly as often) I’ve heard this said about a few of the Pauline Epistles as well.  This bothers me because not only does it reflect a lack of accurate knowledge of Church History it also shows a misunderstanding of what Gnosticism is in and of itself.  Here’s why:

  1. Gnosticism did not even exist at the time this letters were written: That’s right, Gnosticism truly didn’t exist until the early third century one to two hundred years after these letters were written.  You could argue that the individuals/groups being criticized held “proto-gnosticist” beliefs, but that’s an entirely different thing and difficult if not impossible to prove.
  2. Gnosticism initially coexisted with other Christian beliefs: Gnostic Christians and other Christian groups did not conflict until the end of the 4th century, when the proto-orthodox church began to determine orthodox and heterodox.  The early Christian church did not have cohesive beliefs, and many of the more predominant at the time “orthodox” beliefs are not held by most (especially western) Christians today.
  3. Paul himself was a Proto-Gnosticist: Paul was (and to a few today is) held as the “father of gnosticism”.  Now, this really is entirely accurate (as I’ll explain in the next bullet) but he definitely held proto-gnosticist beliefs.  He advocated asceticism, was (at least for the time) radically feminist, and even went so far as to testify before an early Christian court that his Christian knowledge was superior to others because Jesus came to him in a vision (aka “secret knowledge”) and he was opposed to legalism and traditional Jewish customs/regulations.  All of these (and I’m sure there’s others) were hallmark beliefs of proto-Gnosticism, and the early Gnostic Christians held Paul’s letters in high regard.  Now, this is not to say Paul was a Gnostic (he would have probably been sharply opposed to later-on Gnosticism) but it is unlikely in his letters when he rebuked false teachers and doctrine (which is ironic considering some of that comes from forged letters) he was addressing proto-gnosticists.
  4. Gnosticism isn’t inherently Christian and doesn’t represent a single belief set: While the early development of Gnosticism is closely associated with Christianity, the two are by no means mutually exclusive.  In fact mainstream Gnosticism shares more in common with Judaism and also stems from dozens of other religions and philosophies.  In addition Gnosticism is not a single religion, it’s like calling Hinduism a religion, it’s extremely misleading.  Gnosticism represented a range of beliefs, some branches of which had no connection with Christianity at all.  Back when Gnosticism was even really a thing (though I am aware there are a few Gnostics today) they didn’t call themselves Gnostics, just as the early Christians didn’t initially call themselves “Christians”.

Hopefully I’ve shed light on this issue, even if it doesn’t really bother most people (which is fine), but it bothered me so I decided to write a short rant on it.  Yes, the Pauline and Johannine epistles did feature rebukes of teachings viewed as false or heretical by their authors (though depending on the issue not necessarily the early Church) but it would literally have been impossible for it to be a refutation of Gnosticism, and at least in Paul’s case it is unlikely he would have criticized the then extant emerging ideologies of proto-Gnosticism.  If anyone knows where this misconception originated from, please let me know, because I tried googling it and found very little, so you’d make my day if you did.  That’s it for this post, so have a good rest of your day.

 

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