I am a heretic and I talk to my cat, Gustavo — It’s on the internet, so it must be true

Usually, I do not respond to folks who engage name-calling. When folks attach words like “apostate,” “heresy”  or “theological celebrity” to me, especially when left by people named “guest” or “anonymous,” my guess is that they are NOT interested in having meaningful conversations. Also, I know that there is no way I can respond with, “I know you are, but what am I” with any modicum of graciousness.

Yesterday, though, I received an alert from Wikipedia that someone had just made some edits to the article about me. The word “Heretical” caught my attention.

It was corrected pretty quickly by a friend on mine who I will now refer to as Wiksignor Landon Whitsitt. But oh yeah, I screenshot it before it could be corrected.

The first change was in the description of what KIND of minister I am:

And the second was describing the kind of heretical work I am involved in and why.

And then this morning, yet another change was made. This one is one more absurd than the first two; while I may talk to my dog, I am allergic to cats ;-)

Now I have no idea who is doing this. All that he article history says is that these updates are being posted by an anonymous user with the ip address: 151.201.12.39. My guess is that the person probably knows me or has some connection to me. I am not that well-known, so I also bet that it is a member of my own denominational family . . . though that would make me very sad.

In any case, I lift this up not because I want folks to defend my honor. Heck, I DID work on a controversial collection sacred texts. Plus, I’m working on another new book project, so this is buzz-creation with which I have no issue. I just wish somewhere he/she included some reference to a past affair with a troubled movie star or told of the time that I risked my life and ignored my allergies to save my grandmother’s kitten from a burning building.

Oh a boy can dream.

Anyhoo . . . I lift this up because I think whoever this is missed a prime opportunity to actually lift up the fact that some may indeed believe that my work is controversial, even heretical. You see, wikipedia is NOT about trying to win or lose, but about a group of people doing their best to get as close as they can to the objective truth about any particular subject. I have edited my own article to correct or add information, others have approved or rejected those changes and in the end there is a decent view of me.

So 151.201.12.39 , if that is indeed your real name, you could have put something like:

Bruce was part of a church council who has compiled a controversial group of ancient texts titled “A New New Testament” by Hall Taussig. These texts and his involvement have been characterized as heretical by some and welcomed by others.

There could be links back to other wikipedia or published articles on the publication, the author and/or the word “heretical” — all helping the reader to discern the truth about this person named Bruce Reyes-Chow. In some contexts, passive-aggressiveness and mean-spirited snark are the norm and might persuade, but on wikipedia, 151.201.12.39 has probably undercut any chance to actually convince people that I am indeed a heretic, which I assume was the hope all along.

So if you want to leave snarky comments and call me names on my blog, I have no problem leaving up them for people to see, but that kind of of unsourced opinion does not play on Wikipedia. Conflict and disagreement are not bad and I do not believe that I am above any of it, but the kind of arguing and discourse that goes on in most places on the internet is simply not part of the wikipedia experience . . . and I wish the rest of life.

Again, I am not looking for people to defend my honor with colleagues or pile on the trolls. What I hope for is that, even in times when we disagree with one another so deeply on issues of the Christian faith, we can do so always knowing, believing and living the challenge that it is to be the Body of Christ. This is my prayer and I’m sticking to it.

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  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Andy – Fair enough and thank you for your honesty and willingness to keep coming back. At some point, if we have not already, will look forward to meeting you in person. And neither do I hold any ill-will towards you. – Bruce

  • Andy Scott

    My apologies for using “progressive/evangelical” tags in cavalier fashion. I suppose I meant it as a kind of shorthand for “standard theological debate that doesn’t go so far as to destroy fellowship.” Adiaphora. Stuff you can disagree about, but live with. You don’t think it’s a big deal. You’re wrong, not only subjectively, but objectively. It is a big deal. It’s the biggest deal. In a ho-hum, non-committal way, you’re denying the foundations of the Christian faith, and lending your name – and by extension, the office of moderator which you held – to cheap, sensationalist heresy.

    I really don’t think you’ve thought this whole business through. Epistemologically speaking, your feet are planted firmly in mid-air. You ask whether the life, death and resurrection of Christ might not be enough for life together. I ask why those three things? Gnostics like the Nag Hammadi community denied all of them, at least in any recognizably Christian sense.

    I don’t mean to go round and round in circles, so this will be my last response: You’re just making stuff up. You’re indulging in a Marcionite approach to Scripture and dabbling in gnosticism, all the while lamenting that others can’t “forbear” with you, and musing about the “tensions” in the PC(USA). The tensions exist because of garbage like this. You simply cannot make the Gospel and your ordination vows mean whatever you want them to mean, and expect others to be cool with it. I expect that in person we’d probably get along just fine. I hold no animus against you, but at the same time I can’t recognize you as a fellow minister of the Gospel, let alone a fellow Presbyterian. I’m very sorry to have to say that, but it’s true.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Thanks andy, that is helpful actually because as I do engage with folks who are actually interested in engaging – is NOT trolls – I try not to avoid assumptions the other person. I suppose we might have to simple disagree on the magnitude of this and purpose of the new book. We also have different understandings of the vows that we both have taken and assume see ourselves being faithful to.

    And herein lies the greatest tention for us as a denomination; what to do when there are such significantly different worldviews held. Is a common belief in the life, death and resurrection not enough? Sadly, it does not seem like it is from folks on all sides. Or . . . do we all continue to live in forbearance with one another as we all do at all times with some part of our denominational life?

    I would be interested to see where I have made is just progressive/evangelical as I never use those as opposite. I went back and look through my responses to you and couldn’t find it. Prob another thread but I do not see the two as mutually exclusive.

    I have no anwers other than we keep doing this.

  • Andy Scott

    Yeah, I’m also a TE in the PC(USA). But I don’t see what my context has to do with it – my point was that this book project is beyond the pale from the perspective of YOUR context, and from the perspective of historic, global Christianity. (Also, I can’t imagine what Heidelberg and Belhar have to do with it – assuming the retranslation of Heidelberg passes – as neither says anything about Scriptural authority or the canon.)

    I really appreciate your willingness to respond here. But it saddens me that you’re unable, or unwilling, to see that this isn’t a progressive-evangelical debate. You’re flat out denying the authority and sufficiency of canonical scripture, and supplanting it – or supplementing it – with stuff you like better. That’s not “progressive” – it’s Marcionite. By so doing you’re walking away from Christianity as it’s been understood by almost everyone, everywhere, always. The danger here is that you might find yourself – unwittingly, I grant – walking away from Christ himself, or (God forbid) leading others away from him.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Andy, are you Presbyterian? That would help me understand your context, especially about our confessions in particular recent decisions Heidelberg and Belhar.

  • Andy Scott

    You can’t have it both ways, Bruce. The ordination vows aren’t infinitely flexible; they have content. Your dismissal of the confessions as “changing” seems a little cavalier; we’re not talking about something on which there’s a variety of viewpoints. The confessions are either unanimous, or silent, about the limits of the canon. The vow concerning Scripture holds up the canononical books of the Old and New Testaments as “the unique witness” to Christ. Not “a witness,” or “the preferred witness.” The title of this book alone crosses that line.

    And that’s really the problem here. No one’s upset about the publication of a “controversial collection of sacred texts.” They’re upset about the equation of those texts with canonical Scripture. And yes, the books are themselves heretical, in the sense that they were written by “haereses,” religious or philosophical sects, that stood outside the bounds of, and in most cases were directly opposed to, orthodox Christianity. (I realized that you hedged as to whether these would “replace” the New Testament. But the title of the book doesn’t.)

    A self-appointed “Church Council” (an insanely arrogant title, btw) publishing ancient Gnostic and apocryphal writings under the title “A New New Testament” is, in fact, a “haeresis,” strictly defined. So yeah, in the strict sense that you felt free to choose (haireomai) to follow a path apart from the witness of the universal church… you’re a heretic.

    I realize that you disagree. That’s the point. Heresy depends on one’s point of view, and one man’s heresy is another man’s gospel. I’m only saying that from the point of view of the Church catholic, and our own denomination, this fits the bill. That doesn’t mean you’re a horrible man. You seem perfectly nice, and you seem to have a wonderful family. I’m glad for you. But you’ve crossed a line here.

  • Amy Merchant

    Bored college students will do crazy things sometimes!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Andy – Thanks for your note and for using your name. THIS is exactly he kind of push back and critique that I think is helpful to the debate and conversation. To your thoughts I am not quite ready to declare this book a replacement for the Bible as we know it. It is a new way to expand its expression and new ways to think about faith. Would I use it in worship maybe, but would I use these other texts as the primary scripture from which I preach, prob not . . . or at least not yet. I realize that in itself might be too much for some, but the living God part of my faith is also constantly pulling and tugging at my faith. I think it is a good tention to sit in and we all approach in different ways.

    In terms of my vows of ordination these too change as our confessions change, so while arguably not at the same level, we can see that there is spirit-led flexibility in those vows. If you were to talk with folks who know me, I am pretty hard-line when it comes to ordination I see it as a right and not a privilege so if I did ver think that I could not longer live under the standards as agreed upon my by church, I would have not problem setting it aside. This personal debate is not new to me for a variety of reasons, not all about heresy.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Yeah, I think Scott C figured that out as well. Not that big of deal for me, though i will admit that I am intrigued by what would motivate someone to expend this kind of energy.

  • Andy Scott

    Bruce, for what it’s worth I agree that the Wiki vandalism is petty in the extreme, and I’m a stickler for using my real name. (The bit about Gustavo was kind of funny. But only kind of.) I hope you didn’t regard my comment on the earlier post as “snark.” I only meant to suggest that a man can’t lend his name to ancient heresy packaged under an incendiary title like “A New New Testament” and then complain when people call him a heretic. It’s like a parricide pleading for mercy from a court because he’s an orphan. It doesn’t wash.

    That’s especially true for someone who once vowed to “accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the church universal, and God’s Word [capitalized in the original] to you?” Lending your name to “A New New Testament” seems to be skating awfully close to the edge of renouncing that vow. Some of the things you’ve written in defense of that decision seem to cross the line entirely. That’s not to mention having vowed to “receive and adopt” the essential tenets of the Reformed faith contained in the Confessions, which do, in fact, explicitly label as heretics “Artemon, the Manicheans, the Valentinians, …Cerdon, and the Marcionites, who denied that the Scriptures proceeded from the Holy Spirit, or did not accept some parts of them, or interpolated and corrupted them.” (Second Helvetic, 5.008; there are parallels elsewhere.)

    My point is not to call names. It’s simply to point out that by the standards of your own denomination, and your own ordination vows, the book is heresy. Straight up. As is your defense of the title. Does that make you a “heretical minister”? Or just a guy with poor judgment? It’s not for me to say. But you don’t get to play the “who, me?” game. Either own the label (in which case you really should renounce your ordination) or admit that the book was a bad idea. But please, don’t guffaw at the folks who are disturbed by this.

  • http://twitter.com/markrsmith Mark Smith

    BTW – the IP address appears to be from the Verizon network in the Pittsburgh area. No doubt a little more sleuthing could pin it to a neighborhood.

    Signed,
    your friend the seminary student who used to work in IT


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