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Against the Protestant Gnostics Paperback – August 19, 1993

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195084368 ISBN-10: 0195084365

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Lee divides his book into three sections: "Gnosticism in Conflict with the Faith," " Gnosticism in Ascendance in North America," and "Results and Reform." He first offers an analysis of the components of gnostic religion and its heretical elements within early Christianity. Then, finding the same elements within North American Protestantism, he offers a prescription for degnosticization by restoring a sense of corporate community, spiritual equality, divine grace, and commitment to a lifelong pilgrimage of faith. Lee's analysis has far-reaching implications for families, for ecumenicism among denominations, for a return to the language and imagery of the Christian tradition, and for the recovery of a sense of God as mystery. Highly recommended for seminary libraries. Carolyn M. Craft, English, Philosophy, & Modern Language Dept., Longwood Coll., Farmville, Va.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Lee asserts the ongoing relevance of the Christian story of man. In doing so, he has made the study of gnosticism crucial to the ongoing debate about the future of American culture."--The Christian Science Monitor

"Lee deserves all praise for seeing clearly what is indeed there to be seen, though concealed in the multiple masks of supposed Protestantism."--Harold Bloom, in The American Religion (1992)

"Lee's description of Gnosticism is not a historical sketch. Rather, it is an attempt to map the tendencies and characteristic forms of the Gnostic mindset. The resulting summary is one of the most readable and insightful treatments of Gnosticism presently available."--The Thomist

"This is a thought-provoking, readable work, argued by means of numerous examples....It will prove valuable especially to those who teach North America's religious history and Protestant theologies."--Horizons

"This is 'must' reading for every member of the cloth."--Virginia Episcopalian


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (August 19, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195084365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195084368
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,411,101 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By rodboomboom HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on April 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
Inspired by Irenaeus' "Against the Heretics" Lee delivers a stinging review of today's gnostics, the enthusiasts of our day who say they have higher,mystical revelations that the rest of us earthly ones have no access to.
Especially disconcerting to Lee is the increasing rate of radical individualism as opposed to the biblical corporateness of the body.
Modern ears are ripe to be deceived by these first century gnostic lies. While boldy proclaiming they are about the Word, these modern day gnostics in America do not let God's Word have the preeminence that God intends. Lee even acknowledges that Lutheran doctrine is anti-individual and pro-the action of God in the midst of His people.
Our world today seems only willing to accept a church that will let them have their "me and my Jesus" beliefs and practices, which in turn tickle so many other worldly ears who think they become spiritual on their terms.
One neat tie that he makes between Irenaeus and today is: "it is accepted that a born again Christian is a Protestant who has had an experience of some sort and who takes his or her religion seriously, unlike the ordinary folk who have merely been baptized, attend Sunday services and call themselves Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans or Baptists. ... "They call us," said Irenaeus, "'unspiritual,' 'common,' and 'ecclesiastic.'"
Worthy read and library addition.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 5, 1997
Format: Paperback
Lee demonstrates how American forms of Proetstantism do not reflect the ethos of Calvin or Luthur and how American Protestant individualism etc, and much evangelicalism and the charismatic movement are an embodiment of the Gnostic religions of the first few centures of the Common Era. A real eye opener: well researched, passionately argued, and convincing.
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58 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
Canadian Presbyterian pastor Phillip. J. Lee uses the ancient heresy of Gnosticism as an archetype by which to gage contemporary strands of Protestantism in North America. Contrasts are drawn between "Gnostic" and "Orthodox" trends in contemporary Christianity with the Orthodox end of the spectrum made to look considerably more true and desirable than the Gnostic. Gnosticism relies on salvation through the attainment of secret "knowledge" that can only be accomplished by a spiritually developed elite. The primary problematic characteristics of Gnosticism, according to Lee, are that it is elitist and that it is dualistic; in other words, it views the created world as inherently evil and the gifts of creation as objects to be avoided. Earthly life, then, is not to be lived, but to be escaped. This results in spiritual-elitism, separation of the holy from the "impure" and an obsessive focus on individual salvation among Conservative-evangelical groups. On the left, Gnostic tendencies lead to individualistic religion, personalized and subjective "spirituality" and the happiness of the individual as life's ultimate goal.
Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, is more concerned with the salvation of the Church as an organic body, rather than with particular individuals, and preaches a Christ who cannot be known through private spirituality, but only by participation in the life of the Church. Orthodoxy teaches readily accessible revealed truth, rather than mysterious and esoteric "knowledge". Who are the contemporary Gnostics? Any group that does not fit into the author's understanding of orthodoxy. It is a strategy that is highly effective, even though disingenuous.
Lee is extremely though provoking and he is equally critical of both liberal and conservative trends in American Protestantism.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Gerard Reed on March 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
Probing the past for perspectives on the present, a Presbyterian pastor in Saint John, New Brunswick, Philip J. Lee, brings to trial North American Evangelicals in Against the Protestant Gnostics (NY: Oxford University Press, 1987). As one might guess from the title, Lee takes for his mentor St. Irenaeus of Lyons, whose second century treatise, Against Heresies, sought to defend the orthodox faith from various gnostic perversions. "For the gnostic Christian, ancient or modern," Lee says, "simple faith (pistis) is not sufficient. Instead, there must be knowledge (gnosis)" (p.3).
Almost always, Gnostics have these characteristics: 1) a deep sense of metaphysical alienation; 2) a proposed scheme of knowledge to overcome alienation; 3) a world-denying, escapist stance which often disdains material things; 4) an exclusivist, aristocratic elitism, promising real salvation to the enlightened few; 5) a syncretistic compulsion to compound diverse strands of theories and perspectives. Given these identifying marks, much of what follows entails Lee's analysis of how Gnostic notions have flourished, been condemned, or slipped silently into the darker niches of Christendom. As Lee shows, the main tenets of Gnosticism have almost routinely, across the centuries, been condemned by the Church, though nothing seems to prevent its weed-like re-surfacings.
Rooted in the biblical teaching that creation is good, Christians have never rightly tolerated those who would disparage it. Given the inevitable Docetism of most Gnostics, Christians have insisted on the down-to-earth materiality of the Incarnate Christ. Salvation is revealed to Christians primarily through God's historic dealings with His people and thus to the highly visible (if not always highly edifying) believing community.
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