On heresy — taking it more, and less, seriously

hereticMany of us are too serious about “heresy.” Others are too lax. That’s often because we misunderstand what heresy is.

When we’re too serious about “heresy”

I sometimes hear preachers fret that they may accidentally preach heresy. They worry even more that someone else may preach or teach it in their congregation.

A proper definition might calm some nerves. Heresy is about obstinacy. Heresy happens when someone spurns the church’s historic faith. There is no accidental heresy.1

Now you may say something that’s theologically debatable, different from what your tradition teaches, or even flat-out incorrect. At some point, you will. It’s inevitable. But you haven’t committed heresy. Not unless you know that your teaching is a contradiction of the apostolic faith and you keep teaching it anyway.

We need to take that kind of “heresy” a bit less seriously. For one, it’s not heresy.2 For two, we’re going too far when we get ourselves that worked up about theological misspeak. (See “A note on bad theology.”)3

When we’re too lax on heresy

Then there’s the real kind of heresy. The kind that spurns the historic Christian faith while masquerading as “Christianity.” The person who teaches that Jesus didn’t physically rise from the dead—that person doesn’t have “different opinions,” he’s a classic heretic.

Because some people have over-reacted to any theological differences, others have over-reacted in the opposite direction. They want to minimize classic heresy and just call it a different opinion. Their mantra: “Let’s all just get along! If they love Jesus and you love Jesus, that’s enough.”

I accept and affirm that for true theological differences. One person believes in infant baptism, another in belivers’ baptism? One is a Calvinist, another an Arminian? Protestant and Roman Catholic? We can live with all of these differences.

But we can’t live with legitimate heresy. When someone spurns the core beliefs of the historic Christian faith, and when they do it in the name of Christianity, we can’t turn a blind eye or shrug it off. The early Church got it right to respond with rebuke and excommunication.

Does one of these describe you more than the other? The person who gets too worked up about theological misspeak risks legalism—truth takes precedence over grace. The one who shrugs off legitimate heresy risks relativism—grace takes precedence over truth. Any time grace and truth go out of balance, we’re misrepresenting the Christian faith.

Let’s loosen up about that which is not real heresy. And let’s treat real heresy with the severity it merits.

—————

I think of this especially as articles about Rob Bell are swirling. Some people want to claim he’s a heretic deserving excommunication—“Farewell, Rob Bell.” Others don’t understand why people get so worked up—“So he has different opinions. He’s still a Christian…” 

The issue with Bell is a bit complicated. For as much as Bell influenced me (and I’m not ashamed to say it), I wouldn’t call him a representative of the Christian faith anymore. The things he’s saying, and not saying, go past “different opinions” within Christianity. For all I can tell, he’s a preacher of New Age religion who uses the Bible for source material. I’m not quite sure I’d call him a heretic, but I can no longer call him a Christian preacher. I’ll explain that in more detail later.

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  1. The word comes from a Greek word for choice—making the choice to prefer your own interpretation of Scripture over the church’s historical consensus. This, by the way, may put Evangelicals at greatest risk of heresy. We’re the ones most likely to preference our own interpretations over the historical consensus.
  2. You can actually teach something that’s “heretical” (e.g. Jesus was a human who later became divine) without committing heresy. The same as you can say something false without lying. Intent makes a big difference. We’ve all misspoken at times, but if we thought we were telling the truth, it was an error not a lie. Same for heresy.
  3. In the case of both heresy and lying, we should aim to speak truthfully, but not be so paralyzed by fear of misspeaking that we say nothing.

16 thoughts on “On heresy — taking it more, and less, seriously

  1. I honestly haven’t read any of Bell’s stuff since Love Wins (which I liked). I did see the interview he did with Oprah, and wasn’t that impressed (I also wondered how much of it was 1. edited, and 2. Rob trying to discern in given moments how to discern where there was truth in what she was saying and affirm *that* even when everthing else she was saying was mistaken. In other words, I was trying to look at it in the best light possible, even though there were parts that seemed sketchy.) 

    But other than that, what specifically are you referring to that Bell has said/done to exclude him from the fold of Christianity?

    Also, I was quite impressed with the article someone did on him a few weeks ago when they asked him if it bothered him that he’s out of the fold. He replied, “I’ve never given a single thought to whether I was in or out.” I truly wish I was humble enough to make such a statement. I get depressed when a sermon doesn’t go over well. 🙂

    • I bet you’ve already seen the Sarah Pulliam Bailey article. If you haven’t, it captures well my misgivings with Rob Bell now.

      He won’t talk about the cross, or sin, or the idea that marriage represents Jesus and his bride or God and Israel.”

      So then I went to his tumblr to see if it’s all overblown, because he talks about the Bible and Jesus a lot there. But it’s only more disconcerting — maybe especially the post on “The Question That Keeps Coming Up.” The bottom-line takeaway: the Bible is written by people who had real experiences, and now this is them trying to work out what those experiences mean (in ways that have much more to do with progressive human understanding of reality—not God’s divine action in Christ.)

      Some people are asking if Bell is just being provocative, or getting us to think. He used to be provocative because he was always deconstructing. (A friend of mine from Grand Rapids said it well: Mars Hill was a great place to go to deconstruct, but then you needed to go somewhere else to re-construct something.) 

      The problem is he’s not just deconstructing anymore. Now he’s making constructive statements (e.g. trying to answer the question “What is the Bible?”) And what he’s constructing isn’t just different language for Christianity, it’s in contradiction to historic Christian belief. He was helpful for deconstructing a lot of 100 year-old evangelical notions of what Christianity is. But I think he kept going and deconstructed away some of the core pieces of the historic faith (e.g. the Bible is divinely inspired—not just people working out their experiences). Now that he’s actually trying to construct, I think he’s doing it without some key pieces that he already discarded.

      I’d love him to prove me wrong — he was a really influential person in my life and faith. I’m just afraid that what he’s representing now is much closer to moral therapeutic Th/Deism than Christianity. That’s a real disappointment.

      The note on humility and not caring whether we’re “in or out” is something I’d love to keep exploring. Did Arius care whether he was “out of the fold”? Should he have? Aren’t there times that it’s actually quite arrogant to not listen to other people’s cautions and rebukes?

        • John — he sounds a lot like Spong to me. The sad thing to me is that I listened to every one of Bell’s sermons for years, and I remember the ones where he insisted on Easter as an historical event—the event at the heart of our faith. Perhaps he still believes it happened, though I agree with you that it sounds like he’s leaving plenty of room to call it a fiction. Either way, it’s hard to believe he would call it the event at the heart of our faith now, given the ways he ignores and minimizes it.

      • Again, I have no idea what Rob’s been doing. All I know is that Evangelicals have long characterized this guy in unhelpful ways. So while your assessment may be right on, I hardly trust most people’s opinions on Bell. I trust you because you’re often fair and gracious. But I have other colleagues I trust, too, who have continued to read and enjoy Bell’s work (while acknowledging there are things they disagree with). In other words, I’m not getting a firm grasp on the guy.

        With that said, the quote you pulled out from the Pullium article is her own citation for Jason Hood’s satirical piece from Books & Culture. Personally, I found the piece to be unhelpful and dismissive, but, then, it was satire so I don’t hold anything against Jason, who I know, nor do I expect anything else from such an article. 

        But the fact is, that’s where that quote came from, and therefore it can hardly be a fair reflection of Bell. In fact, Hood’s full quote actually went on to insinuate — or at least imply — that a specific view of male/female complimentary is necessary for the Christian faith. He would have to further unpack what he means there, but as an Egalitarian, I’m quite skeptical when Complimentarians use such language. I’m pretty sure Jason and I don’t mean the same things by those words. All that to say, the satirical piece is probably not a fair reflection of Bell, nor does it exactly represent what all Christians should believe. 

        Of course, I’m not denying the words ‘sin’ or ‘the cross’ or whatever. But if Bell’s Zimzum book is, as he says, a work for non-Christians, then I don’t know that I’d expect those words. I’m not trying to let him off easy here — I’m saying that maybe he’s trying to start with people where they are, outside of Christ, and work with the practicalities (such as marriage) of aligning themselves with wisdom. You and I may not prefer to start there, but there may be some intentionality on his part — some reliance on prevenient grace. I don’t often use the word ‘sin’ without taking great pains to define it precisely because the word is foreign to our culture. Maybe Rob works with the idea and not the word, itself. 

        As for his references to what scripture is, I saw an interview he did with Pete Enns. Pete argued something similar (though he said it more theologically) *without* denying that scripture has its source in the Holy Spirit. You and I spoke briefly about this at the NR Conference — Enns argued that the Canaanite Genocides didn’t happen and that these were the reflections of a tribal, warfare society trying to figure out the character of God. That sounds like a theological and text-based way of saying, “the Bible is written by people who had real experiences, and now this is them trying to work out what those experiences mean.” 

        Again, all that to say, I am neither claiming to be a Bell fan, nor a Bell detractor. After Love Wins broke, I quickly came to distrust almost anything the conservative Evangelical tribe said about him — and that’s why I appreciated your article a year or so ago. I trust you, Teddy, and I’m grateful that you’re not a reactionary jerk like so many others. And I don’t think you’re being one in this article, either. I just may need to read some of his latest stuff to catch up. The problem is, I would rather be reading other things. In end the end, I won’t recommend anything I haven’t read, but I will continue to recommend Love Wins, Sex God, and Velvit Elvis for people. 

        Wow. That was long. Sorry.

  2. Oops…just saw you posted a link to that Tumblr. Read it. 

    A few thoughts…

    1) I think he is speaking to non-Christians or very baby Christians.
    2) I think he is rhetorically (over?) reacting to Koran-like views of biblical inspiration. He may be overreacting intentionally or otherwise, I’m not sure. I’d have to read more.
    3) Contra Hood’s article, he does talk about the cross and resurrection. For theologians, they’re not going to like his dismissiveness of theories, but there’s some value in it, I think.
    4) I didn’t feel comfortable with everything he said or the way he said it. I felt like he was a bit stretching in places (inspiration). But none of that makes me question his Christianity, any more than I would someone like Billy Graham, who also had a truncated (albeit conservative) view of the gospel. Rob’s is just leaning the other way.

    • Hey Tom,

      Thanks for all these comments. You’re right that the quote I used from the Pulliam article is from a satire piece. Sadly to me, based on what I’ve seen, what it said was true. So that’s why I used it.

      I think/hope that maybe the reason I’m different from some of the evangelical “jerks” you reference is that I really don’t want to think less of Rob Bell. He was a hero to me. My dog is named after him. I defended him against others’ criticisms, and he positively influenced a lot of my life and ministry. So I’m not so much piling on as lamenting a loss. Rob showed me a deeper, richer understanding of the Christian faith. It would be different if he were Joel Osteen and I realized there’s more than the bland thing he’s selling. My frustration is that Rob began to show me the more, and now it seems like he’s reverted to selling bland spirituality.

      My simplest definition of Christian preaching comes from Paul, when he says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor 15:14). Like you, I haven’t seen everything—even most of it—that Bell has said recently. But I’ve seen several things, and I’ve struggled to find anything he has said that depends on, or even acknowledges, a resurrected Christ. If he talked about resurrection now, everything else he’s doing makes me think he’d refer to it more as metaphor (see discussion about Spong above) than as actual, cosmos-altering event. Maybe you’d say that all his weak language and avoidance of core Christian doctrine is due to his audience—new or non-Christians. But I can’t get past the fact that without those core doctrines, it’s not Christian speech. It’s bland spiritualisms that could be equally uttered by preachers of many faiths. The Christian faith, though, is a particular faith. We believe particular things. Things that other faiths reject. And we believe those things are essential, not incidental. Important enough to proclaim even to new or non-Christians, even when they may be more likely rejected than bland spiritualisms.

      So when I say I don’t consider Rob a Christian preacher any longer, it’s not due to a truncated gospel, but because I’m not hearing the thing that’s at the very heart of the Christian gospel–“if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” That’s both an exclusive message—one that Jews, Muslims, and New Agers would reject—and the core of the Christian message. 

      I don’t mean to say Bell’s not a Christian. Please don’t hear that. Perhaps he still believes all these things himself. But the message I’m hearing isn’t the particular Christian message. It’s a general theistic message about a loving God and existential self-actualization. It’s Joel Osteen with source material from Jewish mystics. In fact, Osteen may be a good comparison. He doesn’t talk about sin or the cross, either. I don’t think he could say, “If Christ has not been raised, my preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (Maybe he [or at least we] could say that’s actually true, even if it’s not said. But his preaching doesn’t acknowledge that truth.) And even if Osteen is speaking to new or non-Christians, I’d still urge people to find someone else to listen to, because he’s not preaching the Christian faith, but a weak imitation.

      ** Two things that provide glimmers of hope for me:
      — Rob still says “the trinitarian love of God” — I don’t see it expanded, but at least there’s quick lip-service to the Trinity.
      — This video clip from Rob’s new show. He talks about the cross! He even says Jesus died on it, and it’s the channel through which God’s hope flows to everyone. He jumps pretty quickly from there to therapeutic self-actualization rather than any reconciliation to God, but it’s still something substantial. I’ll want to see the surrounding context on the show, but this is the most encouraging thing I’ve seen—the only thing I’ve seen in the last 3–4 years—to suggest that Rob will actually proclaim the particular Christian faith.

      I would still say that it shouldn’t be this difficult to sift through the work of someone who’s supposed to be proclaiming the Christian gospel to find an occasional nugget of particular Christian doctrine.

      Okay — that’s long enough for now. You and I need to write our “Two Views on Preaching” posts. Mine is the exclusivist thesis: if it doesn’t contain _____ (you know how I’ll fill in the blank), it’s not Christian preaching. Yours is the inclusivist thesis: if it’s true speech that points toward God, it qualifies. (Or perhaps you’d add a qualification about the larger context — which right now Bell can’t claim, as part of the Oprah pantheon).

  3. I feel like I sound like I’m trying to defend something/someone I’m not really trying to defend. 

    I’ve had similar conversations with my pro-Bell friends where I’ve espoused contrary opinions on his recent theological forays. 

    I apologize if I’m rambling. 🙂

  4. I like the distinction you’re trying to make here, Teddy, regarding intentionality (heresy proper) and non-intentionality (mistake). Obviously, we all (at some point or another) have slipped-up and uttered “heresy” at some point or another. This is, as you note, inevitable and doesn’t necessarily render us “heretics,” that is, anathematized from the Church. I was wondering, though: Given your distinction, is there room for actually calling out a specific idea itself as heresy, regardless of intent? In other words (and to use your example above), if a priest/minister spoke about Jesus becoming God (the heresy of Adoptionism) from the pulpit, would there be room to say, “Hey, this priest isn’t really a heretic. This was obviously spoken by accident. The teaching/belief itself, however, is technically a heresy.” I guess I really like your distinction, but I think I might also want to make it between heretic (as applied to a person uttering heresy with intent) and heresy (a teaching which contradicts the apostolic faith, regardless of the utterer’s intent). Do you think this would work, or do you think it might undermine the distinction you’re trying to make?

    • Hi Kalev,

      I think you’re exactly right here. I started trying to draw out that distinction and decided to not complicate things in the original post. “Heresy” has many definitions, and I agree with how you’re seeing them. So the odd thing is you can speak heresy (e.g. “Jesus became divine at his baptism”) without committing heresy, which is the way I’m using it above.

      So if a priest spoke something that’s heresy without knowing better, I’d want to find a way to correct it and acknowledge that’s it’s classic heresy. I’d also want to treat it gently, not severely, so long as it truly came out of ignorance/accident, not obstinacy. Now if that priest refused to change his/her teaching after that, then I’d say they were committing heresy.

  5. Rob Bell is interesting, and like both of you, I was influenced by him early in my journey. Further, I consider this a rather positive experience. I haven’t kept up-to-date with him recently nor have I read any of his works other than Velvet Elvis (which seems years ago). Of course, I got wind of the evangelical outrage concerning his Love Wins book, but this seemed rather hysterical and unhelpful (as Tom noted).

    That being admitted, his Tumbler post is interesting. He seems to mostly regurgitate Rene Girard’s theories, namely the universalizing of the scapegoat mechanism coupled with mimetic desire (though the latter is not mentioned explicitly). This seems far from heretical, per se, and leaving aside a critique of Girard (which would also apply to Bell), there does seem to be other worrying spots with his article.

    First, I am slightly troubled given the primacy of Bell’s category of “death.” Death is simply not the principle of Life nor does it give life as he quite explicitly states. It is, rather, quite the opposite. Death is parasitic upon Life (and NEVER gives life). It is a perversion of Life. This may seem like a trite linguistic complaint, but it carries with it far-reaching theological consequences. Bell’s logic is actually a contradiction of the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Life/Creation does not come from death. It is created ex nihilo by God as gift. Death is a consequence of sin and perversion of this gift.

    Once again, this may be considered an innocent enough mistake, but it actually pushes Bell into larger, ontological dilemmas, namely ontological dualism (his notions of the “death and life rhythm,” for instance, sound strangely reminiscent of the Freudian agnon between the Libido and Thanatos drives) or ontological materialism. Given Bell’s penchant against dualism, he definitely leans more toward ontological materialism. Take his read of Scripture, for instance, which has created the greatest stir here. Given his univocal metaphysic (God and creation both fall within the ontic category of ‘being’), he is forced to grapple with the question of the inspiration of Scripture: Did God write it, or did humanity write it? If God and humanity both fall within the same ontic category, however, then their respective volitions will, by default, be exclusionary as they fall within the same causal (finite) plane. Bell is forced with the same either/or dilemma here, and he (as mentioned above) seems to resolve it by siding with materialism — in this instance, the human-construction of Scripture. “The Bible is written by people … It wasn’t written by a third party somewhere in the sky.” It remains a narrative of “human accounts, human perspectives, and people making sense of their experiences.” The Bible, in other words, “is a reflection of growing and expanding human consciousness.” The Bible can only be thought of as “authoritative,” then, not because “if something is in the Bible [then] it is true,” but “because the Bible writers were witnessing to truths larger than any one book … the story [is] a reflection of things human beings have acknowledged are true for a long, long time.” Interestingly enough, most early and medieval Christians wouldn’t admit (or even understand) the distinction Bell is trying to make here (e.g., the dichotomy between divine or human authorship?). Regardless, Scripture, in Bell’s rendition here, does seem slightly deprived of any notion of divine authority, revelation or transcendent inspiration. It becomes a materialist book of universalizing, sociological truth-experiences … a progressive “human consciousness.”

    This exact same dilemma and shift can be seen in Bell’s Christology as well. And here is where things get pretty dicey. I’d have to side more with Teddy on this: Bell does seem, at the very least, to imitate Borg. First, given Bell’s univocal metaphysic, he is left with either espousing a Nestorian or Monophysite Christology. Once again, given his penchant against dualism, he unsurprisingly sides with monophysitism. But even here he has two choices: a more docetic or a more Arian Christology. Bell, in another very unsurprising move, chooses a more Arian route as this aligns more with ontological materialism. His Jesus, in other words, seems to be comprised of one nature: a human one. In answering the question of why Jesus died, for instance, he merely responds that he was simply killed by other humans. This is true to some extent, but it is heavily one-sided, a necessary collapsing of Jesus’ two natures into one. Actually, Jesus himself prohibits such an interpretation of his death: “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father” (Jn. 10:18). Being without sin, Jesus could not naturally die. Rather, he had to lay his life down voluntarily, as part of his kenotic descent and gift to humanity for its salvation/deification. He could only do this as God, however, as the passage above makes clear. Bell obfuscates this, reading Jesus’ death solely as a consequence of external, human factors and volition … a historical contingency, if you will.

    I could continue on about his Christology, but my comment is grossly long already.

    Rob Bell writes causally, and his article is really just a blog post. It is probably unfair to analyze it too much or to view it as Rob Bell’s complete, systematic theology. I think this is Tom’s main concern when he emphasizes that the article has a specific context and audience and shouldn’t be read in isolation of this. I agree. That being said, the actual things Bell says in it do carry heavy theological weight without further theological clarification (which Bell may give elsewhere; I don’t know) … some of the ideas might even be pretty dangerous. If left by itself, it’s hard not for me to see more Borg-ian contours at work (both in biblical hermeneutic and Christology), and so, I probably side more with Teddy on this point.

    Peace.

    • Hey Tom,

      This article and the clip I linked above are encouraging to me. Surprising, frankly. (And again, I’m not trying to find reasons to be upset with Bell. I’d love for him to remain one of my heroes.) I’d love to see the whole show so I could judge for myself. Have you seen it streamed anywhere?

  6. While I agree with a lot of what was said in the post, the responses/comments reflect, for me, the problem with the whole heresy-defining issue. The vast majority of responses focus on whether the writings and teachings of one person qualifies as heresy. And there it is. We all have our “lists” of non-negotiables, and we spend our time pointing out those who don’t agree completely, and in the same way, with them. The direction for the comments is found in the post. You mention one of your non-negotiables: Jesus didn’t physically rise from the dead. You have a very clear picture of what that means, and proceed to judge Bell and others on that picture. I can make a case from a variety of scriptures that Jesus’ resurrection was a spiritual/physical event. Jesus’ physicality is most certainly involved but it goes beyond the simple resuscitation of a body.
    This deciding who is in/out from afar is tiresome. I read this from this person, and based on what I read, this is what I have decided. Yes, I take heresy seriously but I think there is much more room for discussion about even core beliefs/doctrines.

    • Hi Gary,

      I’d be interested in what you mean about “room for discussion about even core beliefs/doctrines.” I take from your comment that you think I’ve developed a list of non-negotiables. That’s not my intent here. More properly, I think we’ve received some things that no longer allow room for discussion under the umbrella of the Christian faith.

      My intent is to hold up the proper definition of heresy—when someone spurns the church’s historic teaching and faith and prefers their own interpretation. Yes, we can make a case from a variety of scriptures for a lot of things. Pelagius made a case from scripture against original sin. Arius made a case from scripture that Christ was a subordinate entity to God the Father.

      The question behind all this is the very definition of Christianity. Our faith is *received* — a part of a 2,000-year tradition, which does include some already-defined core beliefs and doctrines. This means there’s not room for discussion about certain things within the Christian faith. Not because of a closed-mindedness, but because it’s no longer the *Christian* faith once we go outside of those things.

      A simple and imperfect example… Baseball involves a bat, ball, and bases. You may discuss whether the bat can be metal or wood, how far apart the bases may be, etc. But if you open the discussion about whether a bat and a ball are necessaries, I would say that by definition, you’re no longer talking about baseball. You can certainly open up the discussion about the Trinity, original sin, whether Christ rose from the dead, etc. But if you come up with your own answers to any of these, you’re no longer talking about Christianity. You’re talking about a new religion you’ve created from your own interpretation of the Bible.

  7. Gary,

    I’m wondering if you may have misinterpreted the comments above. No one involved in the conversation has, to my knowledge, accused Rob Bell of being a heretic or “committing heresy.” Some of us were concerned with his rhetoric and theological statements (and some of us weren’t), but no one was throwing stones at him or using the “H” word (“heretic”) in regard to his person. No one was deciding if Bell was “in or out.” This would be a rather presumptuous undertaking as you noted. If anything, Teddy’s original article was a caution against doing such.

    Also, I cannot speak for others, but I do not even recognize the modern distinction between “non-negotiables” and “negotiables” which I perceive to be a rather crude bifurcation of Christian beliefs/practices/liturgies into reductionistic categories. There are certainly beliefs/practices/liturgies which are historically “more essential” to Christianity than others, but everything would seem to lie on a continuum between the two rather than falling into one polarity or the other. As St. Paul would say, we only see through a glass darkly. Nothing is absolute. That being said, and this is the corollary: There is no belief/practice which is simply “non-essential” either. Just because we see through a glass darkly does not mean that we see nothing at all. Rather, everything is related to everything else (hence, the Russian notion of “sobornost” or Western notion of “catholic”), and to piece and parcel everything into either “the essence” of Christianity (essential, non-negotiable, content, etc.) or adiaphora (non-essential, negotiable, form, etc.) would be grossly reductionistic. I certainly hope I didn’t come across as doing such in my comments.

    The liberal and conservative cat-fights that have erupted between designations of “negotiable” and “non-negotiable” might even lend itself to an epistemological relativism of sorts, but this is only if one presupposes every individual gets to decide for themselves what constitutes heresy and what does not. This seems to be what you imply when you write: “We all have our ‘lists’ of non-negotiables, and we spend our time pointing out those who don’t agree completely … with them.” And I take it that this is your “problem with the whole heresy-defining issue.”

    Once we move beyond these reductionisms, however, I’m not sure if defining ancient heresies is nearly as “problematic” as you suppose. I’ll use Monophysitism as an example since I alluded to it in my comment above. This was a heresy condemned by the Church at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 which promulgated the doctrine of two natures in the one person, Jesus Christ. One could argue otherwise, I suppose, and claim that Monophysitism and Orthodoxy are equally permissible belief-systems, but to do so would be to ignore 450 years of extensive, ecclesial argumentation about this issue and ignore another 1500 years of church belief, practice, and liturgy. To narrate the Christian tradition in this alternative way would require a quite drastic redaction and re-narration. I guess there may be a possibility this could be done, but I can’t imagine it being convincingly accomplished. In other words, to argue the Fourth Ecumenical Council is merely “non-essential” to Christianity AND hasn’t historically been viewed within Christendom as authoritative would be quite hard and nearly absurd. Thus, contrary to your statement, I wouldn’t necessarily say I have defined Monophysitism and placed it on my personal list of heresies (though I have personally accepted it as such). It was defined, historically, in 451, and it has continued to be promulgated by the church until now.

    I am all for opening up discussion on “core” beliefs/doctrines (which I think is drastically needed), especially how such beliefs/doctrines might lay underneath our contemporary theological constructions. If your statement’s intent, on the other hand, was the dislodging of ancient Christian doctrines and dogmas as such (as if Christ having two natures was rather incidental to Christian faith, practice, and liturgy), then I’m not really interested in regurgitating 5th century Christian debates in an attempt to overthrow the conclusions drawn at ecumenical councils held authoritative for 1500 years by all of Christendom. This isn’t because I don’t think the issues are worth discussing. (I certainly do!) It is, rather, that I don’t think my personal and subjective acceptance or rejection of the council ultimately nullifies the much-more objective fact that this doctrine has been historically considered pretty essential to the Christian faith.

    Peace to you … and Merry Christmas.

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