Gnostic dualism

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Mark 12:30

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

When asked what the greatest commandment is Jesus responds that it is to love the Lord your God with your whole being. It was a holistic view of humanity that Jesus had. We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and body.

Likewise, when the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about sanctification, he expresses a holistic view of humanity. The process of sanctification, where the Holy Spirit transforms us into Christ-likeness, is supposed to happen in our spirit, soul, and body. We are whole people that need transformation in every part of us. We are spirit, soul (mind, will, emotions) and body.

In the early years of Christianity a heresy started to creep into the church called gnosticism. Gnosticism didn’t have a holistic view of humanity and instead was a kind of dualism. The idea was that our spirit is what mattered but that our body was disposable. So whether you used your body to sin or treated your body poorly didn’t really matter as long as your spirit was connected to God. As long as you began to discover the secret knowledge of spiritual enlightenment, that is what made you spiritual. Your body was just a shell to carry your spirit and the knowledge of the secret mysteries. This philosophy was denounced as a heresy in the church because it did not express the biblical understanding of humanity or God.

This kind of gnostic dualism is still creeping into the church today.

In more conservative evangelical wings of the church, it looks like an emphasis on “getting souls saved” or “winning people to Christ” while forgetting to care for people’s physical needs. There can be a tendency to downplay the importance of caring for the poor and helping people with material needs in favor of getting someone to confess Jesus as Lord. In some evangelical churches, working for a more just society and care for the marginalized is totally rejected. This is residue of gnostic dualism. A holistic and biblical approach to humanity and the gospel would emphasize the importance of both salvation and meeting people’s physical needs.

In more progressive and mainline Protestant wings of the church, this dualism looks like an emphasis on caring for people’s emotional needs while forgetting that Jesus wants to heal people’s physical body. There can be a tendency to downplay the reality that God still wants to heal people’s physical illnesses in favor of only caring about people’s emotional healing. In many progressive churches, the idea that God still supernaturally heals bodies from illness and injury is completely rejected. Healing in the church is exclusively an emotional category while physical care is left up to the medical community. This rejection of healing ministry for the body is rife with gnostic dualism. A holistic and biblical approach to humanity and the gospel would emphasize the importance of both physical and emotional healing.

And in typical fashion, progressives often point out the dualism of conservatives and can’t see their own. Likewise, conservatives often point out the dualism of progressives and can’t see their own. This lack of self-awareness mixed with a myopic view of others is how the enemy defeats the church.

Gnostic dualism in any form is not the true gospel. It is not how Jesus viewed humanity nor how the apostle Paul viewed humanity. The gospel addresses the whole person. The gospel sets us free from sin, heals our heart, and offers healing for the body. The Kingdom of God is interested in bringing new life, redemption, and restoration to the whole person, not just part of a person.