Reflecting on the post I wrote a few weeks back about the historic creeds, I wanted to throw an additional thought out into the blogosphere, just for kicks.
The tendency today, and in recent history, is for people to equate heresy with saying the “wrong” things about God… in other words, getting our theological facts wrong. We say that what the old school heretics (Arius, Apollinarius, Marcion, Abelard, etc.) all had in common was that they “got it wrong;” they taught something about God that didn’t fit with the rest of the story, somehow.
That is partially true… but anyone who’s studied the heretics, as well as those in the modern era (post 1500) that have been accused of heresy, knows that oftentimes, the goal of the so-called “heretic” was not to dissuade people from orthodoxy— it was to explain an existing problem of theology that had not yet been adequately explained.
That’s why every major theological development in church history always had a heretic or two attached to it. In an important sense, the so-called heretic, demonized for their insolence, was actually necessary for theology to develop properly.
(catch the rest, along with some gratuitous basketball references, post-jump.)
To be a heretic, is to be theologically engaged, in a sense. To push one’s theology in order to see if it matters in the real world, if it “works,” if it sticks to the wall.
The fact is that, even out of those that avoided the dubious title of “heretic,” there are very few theologians, if any, that we would today say got everything perfectly “right”– either ethically (Augustine’s views of sexuality, Luther’s view of Jews, etc.) or theologically (Who got “free will” and/or “grace” right, Wesley or the Council of Dort? Who got sacraments right, Zwingli, Calvin, Luther, or Council of Trent? Etc. etc. etc. etc.).
We all have our own theological “teams” that we play for…..
That doesn’t make one team inherently good, or better than another.
Well, unless you pulled for this guy last night. Then you’re just wrong.
What a PEE-Unk.
Of course, nowadays especially, with so many people who are considered heretics by some are actually revered by others, at various points in history (e.g., Origen and Tertullian— or, and ALL Protestants at one point), and if we realize that so much of what is considered untouchable in our beliefs is culturally conditioned (e.g., The Bible was used in the past to defend slavery, and now nearly all Christians condemn slavery as evil.)….
…taking all of that together, we’d be hard-pressed to not consider EVERY SINGLE PERSON a heretic, including ourselves, if our definition is about “getting our doctrines right.”
Or, if being a heretic is about pushing and challenging theology— then maybe we’re NOT all heretics…. but perhaps we should be, at least in part.
Actually, I think this comes back to my overarching discussion-topic lately— the need to reclaim the mysterious, relational and dynamic aspects of faith and to free it from the flattening definitions of "making a faith statement” or “believing the right things about God/Jesus.”
Googling "heresy” for images yields a bunch of scary pictures. You never see the word “heresy” written with bubble letters, for instance. So weird. I wonder why not…
If the word “heresy” is troubling to people (it certainly communicates a lack of unity) then perhaps we should redefine “heresy.” We shouldn’t use the term at all, probably…certainly not to summarily dismiss someone who thinks differently (or even innovatively) about theology, because we need to continuously “do” theology, and attempt to work through theological problems—-otherwise we are constantly confirming our own beliefs, never challenging ourselves to look deeper or to see where we have manipulated theology to our own benefit.
When we get into trouble, I think, is whenever we HOLD ONTO certain doctrinal positions, and CLAIM them as THE way to interpret the scriptures and/or our faith-experiences.
When we go too far trying to contemplate an aspect of God… and then hold onto it too hard, for too long, out of fear.
When we as pastors/teachers teach theology from ONE perspective.
And perhaps saddest of all… when that ONE perspective… must be defended against all others… but our actions, our compassion, our service… are not challenged to grow with that same fervor.
Maybe THAT is what we should call “heresy.”
And again, if we’re honest, I think, this still makes us all heretics, in some ways, because we all favor one viewpoint or another. So we need to have some grace with each other. [E.g., Calvin, I think, went too far in trying to explain predestination…. but that doesn’t invalidate everything else he says. Similarly, TULIP Calvinists pushed Calvin’s theology itself to the brink of understanding, and thus (I think) oversteps its bounds of speaking of God, but that doesn’t mean I cannot learn anything from the Canons of Dort.]
Doing theology is not “painting by the numbers.” It’s not coloring in the right colors, in the right places, perfectly within the lines, so that everyone ends up with the same picture.
Theology is like sculpting a statue using a model. The model is Christ…and the story of God as reflected in Scripture. Theology chips away at our block bit by bit, eliminating some possibilities but creating others. Chipping away too much can ruin the statue; leave too little and you’re unlikely to be able to tell what or who the block of marble is attempting to represent at all. But instead, bit by bit, as it is said, the sculptor frees the image from the rock.
For all our bitter doctrinal disputes…. and our all-too-easy accusations of others saying “wrong” things about God….
If your theology doesn’t help you to look more like Christ—
–then what good is it?
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? –Matthew 7:3
“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; or they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.” —James 1:22-25
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” –Romans 8:29