Why “Christ Is All I Need” Is Gnosticism in Disguise
Every Monday, the president of our college spoke to the student body in the chapel service. Most Mondays, at the end of his talk, he’d raise his arm and start singing, and everyone would join him in four part harmony (I think we sang harmony to avoid being completely bored out of our minds with the monotonous song).
Christ is all I need. Christ is all I need. He’s all I need.
He was crucified. For me he died. He’s all I need.
Then we’d take off for our next class, lunch, or to our dorms for a nap because we needed food, education, and sleep.
I thought of this song the other day, when a friend asked me how to hold onto what I know about God when the Bible itself is in question. I wrote the following in reply:
The first thing that comes to mind is that phrase in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
The inerrantists forget or discount that God has given truth to us via multiple means. We can believe based on what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, based on what is all around us, not just in the Bible. The Bible provides framework or explanations or context in the form of stories and such, but God reveals truths in people, in nature, in the discoveries we make about the world, and so much more.
It’s very similar to the “we don’t need anything but God” idea. In one sense, I suppose that is true, but we are physical beings in a physical world, and we need physical nourishment. We are also connected beings, designed for relationships. We are not supposed to be independent of each other. God intends for us to live in community and for us to be God’s hands and feet. So you cannot take “Christ is all I need” to its logical end.
I’ve heard this claim many times, that our only actual need is to be reconciled to God. While I appreciate the sentiment to a certain degree, (Jesus did teach that we ought to hold loosely to our possessions and be generous, and in the West we place too much stock in things and not enough stock in character and relationships) the idea unsettles me. I’m thinking out loud here, but I think that glorifying the spiritual in this way erodes our view of our God-given physical, emotional, and mental selves. A low view of the physical underlies many of the errors made by people of faith, such as gnosticism (which holds that matter is evil).
I think someone concocted the idea that we only need God in an attempt to explain how “God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory (Phil 4:19)” can be true for a Christian who dies from starvation, exposure, or lack of water. They thought that by denying the significance, value, and goodness of our physical self by rejecting it as contaminated by sin, it could explain how suffering still fits into the Christian life.
The problem is that this idea that matter is evil simply is not true. We are both physical and spiritual beings. Genesis teaches that God created matter and declared it good. God created people. With bodies. And God declared our physical bodies to be very good. This means that our bodies’ need for food and water is legitimate and God-given. This means that somehow, our mental, physical, and emotional selves bear God’s image too, not just our spiritual selves. And all of this means that our need for shelter from excessive cold, heat, sun, wind, and from disease-bearing insects are legitimate.
We also need each other. We require relationships to be whole and healthy. The story of Adam and Eve shows that God recognizes our need for relationship as healthy and important, and even more important, God gave and blessed relationships as also reflecting God’s image. This is the heart of the doctrine of the Trinity — somehow, in a mysterious way we cannot explain or fully comprehend, God is in eternal relationship, too. To be healthy and whole people, we need affirmation and encouragement, physical affection, unconditional love.
So while saying that Christ is all we need sounds very spiritual and admirable, it actually denies the work of God and image of God in us. We are physical, emotional, mental, AND spiritual beings, with needs in all four of those areas. When the church refuses to provide nourishment in any of these parts of our humanity, it not only hurts us and stunts our growth, but it disputes what God has done in making us so beautifully complex and interconnected.
What do you think? I’m still working out my thoughts on this and would love to hear your ideas. Also, why does no one make art depicting a happy Adam and Eve? I spent a good half hour searching for images of them before “the Fall” to no avail.