Prime Time Gnosticism: Why MacGyver doesn't always know the answer
I don’t know how old I was when I first saw him. But I was fascinated by him. Here was a man who could do almost anything, who could fix it all, and who didn’t need a lot to do it. It made me think that I could do anything too! With that wavy mullet and cool name he was all I wanted to be as a little kid in the 80’s. MacGyver was the best thing on television as far as I was concerned. I already loved taking things apart, it was the putting them back together that proved to be a little more difficult. What MacGyver showed me was that you needed was a little knowledge and you could build the most amazing things. I had all those things he used around my house. All I was lacking was knowledge.
MacGyver was the epitome of knowledge is power. He constantly fought off the bad guys using only the knowledge in his brain, and that trusty swiss army knife. I was convinced that I could do the same thing, with a little knowledge like him. My parents were quick to tell me that I couldn’t go around taking things apart to make a trap for my brother. But they did promote me learning as much as I could about the world around me.
Knowledge is a powerful thing. If a doctor with the right knowledge cuts you open, you are grateful. A man without knowledge who cuts you is considered a madman. It’s the knowledge that make a person a doctor, a mechanic, or a butcher. I’ve got scalpels, wrenches, and cleavers, but without the right knowledge of how to use them I’m only dangerous.
I’m not breaking new ground talking about knowledge. The recorded history of mankind is the history of man seeking knowledge where ever we could find it. Those who are experts in their fields are the ones with the most knowledge, no matter if it is science, math, language, religion, or whatever. We hold in high regard those who have mastered something, who know it backwards and forwards. After all, knowledge is power, the saying goes. We go to school to get more knowledge, to learn how the world works, to become experts in our field. With that knowledge we can bend the world around to work in ways that benefit us. Science allows for water filtration and preserving food and curing disease and so much more.
There is something about gaining and acquiring knowledge that feels powerful, no matter how old you get. When they rebooted MacGyver a few years ago I immediately set my DVR to record. All those feelings came back watching this new iteration make short work of the bad guys.
I now know that most of those hacks probably won’t work, and aren’t as simple as they are made out to be for TV. Now as pastor I don’t need to know how to escape a building using my socks, unless a hospital visit goes terribly wrong. But there is a part of MacGyver that I carry with me still today. All I need is a little bit more knowledge and I will always be in control.
As a father and pastor I’m always looking for new ways to lead my family and church. And this world is all too happy to tell me that they have just the new idea I need. I am inundated with messages that tell me that if I will just follow these simple steps then my church will grow, my kids will be perfect, and my wife and I will have that life we always wanted. The idea is that all I am missing is the right idea, and I’m lucky enough that it is explained in the latest conference or book.
The early church fathers fought this same battle, only then it was called Gnosticism. It was the idea that there was a secret knowledge out there, to be had by a select few. Depending on where or how it was taught, it sometimes said that Jesus gave this special knowledge to just a few, leaving the disciples the stuff that was for the public. These special Gnostic teachers had this knowledge of course, and it can be yours if you wanted it too. Salvation was to be found in this special knowledge, and without you were doomed to live an average and ordinary life.
This is not that much different from the current day milieu of conferences, books, podcasts, and blogs. All of them claim to have that missing key that is going to unlock “salvation” for my church, my family, or my personal life. If I don’t find this secret program/lifestyle/vision then my church will be average, my family boring, and my walk with God pedestrian. They are the Macgyver's of the spiritual world, the ones who know how to take what I have on hand and turn it into something amazing. But I have to go to the one who has this knowledge.
I have to admit, I like this idea. The prime time Gnosticism of MacGyver has bled into all areas of my life. Have a problem teaching a toddler to potty train? The answer is out there. Problems with a dog, a job, a yard, a car? The answer is out there on the internet. There’s a large part of me that wants this to all be true. My office is littered with books, and each time I read a new book I think in the back of my head that this will be the book that finally turns me around and gets me to where I want to be. Some of them help of course, and knowledge really is power. When I first came to pastor my church I thought I had all the answers, and these people could rejoice as I was finally here. Now I know I don’t have the answer, but my inner Gnostic still thinks there is that answer out there I can find that will change it all.
But I have to understand that the answer is not “out there” in some other book, podcast, or sermon. The answer for my church, my family, and myself can only be found in Christ. How do we fight prime time Gnosticism? We realize that our identity is found in Christ, not in what we know or can do. There is no secret to growth in Christ. It only takes a man or woman who is willing to give up their life to follow after Christ. The secret to church growth is getting a group of people to do the same.
Paul urges the church at Colossae to not be taken captive by empty philosophy or foolish thought. (Colossians 2:8) JB Phillips called it intellectualism and high sounding nonsense. Those ideas never promote Christ but themselves. There are ideas about discipleship and church growth that promote Christ, as well they should. The ideas Paul warns about might sound right in our ears, but are only built on the ways that man thinks the world works. The way to fight this creeping intellectualism is to cling to Christ, and to follow only those who do the same.
I’m not sure I’ve seen all the episodes, but I know MacGyver never pastored a church. But he sure did make life look easy on TV. Life is never that easy of course, but all that we need to know for the Christian life can be found in Christ.. We learn from others, are blessed by their experiences, and by their discipleship of us. But Christ revealed in human flesh gives us the greatest knowledge possible. Stop looking for other ideas and you will soon find that in Christ, you already have all you need.