Our Collective Faith and Heresies 2

Heresies.jpgWhat about Arius, the prototypical heretic? The 1st chp in B. Quash and M. Ward, Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why It Matters What Christians Believe , written by Michael B. Thompson (Anglican Vice-Principal of Ridley Hall in Cambridge and professor). This book would be a wonderful primer for college students, a Bible study group, or an adult SS class on heresies. Clarity and simplicity mark every page of this book.

In brief, Arianism denies the full deity of Christ. The issue is whether or not Christ is eternal and divine or created. Orthodoxy affirms eternality and deity, Arius believed Christ was created.

What happens to Christian theology if it denies Christ’s Deity (or humanity)? Have you (actually) seen its denial make a negative impact on someone or some church?

Arius was an educated, attractive, persuasive, and an intelligent thinker. He was shaped (too much) by NeoPlatonism’s distancing of God and by the belief that God was so distant that God could not possibly be human and still be God. God created through mediaries, and the Logos (Jesus Christ) was the mediary of creation. Hence, Arius was a dualist.



Arius.jpgArius knew his Bible and focused on passages that seemed to imply something other than the deity of Christ, passages like Matt 19:17 (“Why do you ask me about who is good?”) and John 14:28 (“The Father is greater than I”) and Luke 22:42 (“not my will”). The sum for Arius: “There was when he was not” (as stated by Socrates the theologian).

Arius was also a moral model of obedience, ascetic discipline, and he was also confident and persuasive. As Thompson says it, Arius “almost won the day” (19).

Three A’s: Arius was contested by his bishop Alexander and by a deacon Athanasius. Athanasius famously distinguished between “generation” and “creation” and made “eternal generation” an internal dimension of God. The Son was therefore…

homo-ousios, and not
homoi-ousios.

“the same substance” and not
“of similar substance.”


This framing of the relationship of Father and Son became classic orthodoxy. Arius’ beliefs were deemed heresy. Our collective faith has affirmed that the Father and the Son are of the same substance.

Does this matter?

1. The gap between God and man cannot be bridged if the Son does not reach completely in both directions. The difference thus becomes between a Son who accomplishes salvation for us and a salvation we accomplish, at least in part, by ourselves.

2. Arius denied the Fullness of God could be known and that all we know is the secondhand and indirect knowledge/revelation of the created Son.

3. Arius’ God was a distant, insulated, non-incarnate God.

4. Arius cannot explain John 1:1, 18; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-20; 2:9; Titus 2:13 and Rom 9:5.

5. Phil 2:6-11 and John 20:19-29 are briefly examined.

How do we preserve ourselves from Arianism? Thompson, a bit to my surprise, finds it (beside in the Scripture and teaching of the Church) in the experience of worship of Jesus Christ and in the personal encounter with him — “It’s hard to worship a mere man, or even a demiurge” (23).

He admits: “I can’t pretend that I can get my mind fully around that doctrine. If I did, I guess I’d be God. But I believe it.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Mike M

    “How do we preserve ourselves from Arianism?” Is the only answer Nicea?
    If yes, then the only response to criticism (critical thinking)is “heresy.”
    I do like Thompson’s reticence, though, but his admission doesn’t lead to a critical response (if I read you correctly). It’s almost like the diagnosis of “fibromyalgia” in medicine: it’s not anything else so this is the only thing left.

  • http://communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    I have known two people who espouse at least something of the Arian heresy. And who were adamant in it, or at least a settled part of their convictions. Both highly intelligent. But certainly finding themselves out of the mainstream of their church community.
    I take it that they are neither listening well to God speaking through tradition, or to the texts themselves, whicb underlie this Tradition- of course the work of the Spirit.
    Simple, yet profound. They weren’t without intellectual arguments which may leave many believers silent. But believers are called that because of their/our commitment to the faith, the one faith given to us from the Triune God and through the church.

  • http://virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    Perhaps the whole problem is the assumption that “substance” definitions are an appropriate way of describing reality, let alone metaphysics. Does the Arian heresy lose it’s sting if we take platonism out of the equation?

  • Scott M

    Arius. I’ve spent a pretty fair amount of time looking at this very complex time in the history of the tradition I’ve been trying to join. I assume the bullet list of points comes from the book. The fourth point is not a correct statement. It is true that we don’t know the details of the way Arius interpreted those (and other) scriptures because most copies of his works were destroyed after what is now considered the second ecumenical council (the first in no way settled this issue). However, from accounts of the council and other meetings and discussions, it is clear that Arius was thoroughly questioned on scripture and he had an alternative interpretation for everything on which he was questioned. If that were not the case, there would not have been a decades long struggle over this issue. He was not ultimately refuted on the basis of scripture, but rather on the basis of the interpretation of scripture and understanding of Jesus that was the tradition of the church.
    The way this is presented also seems to make it appear that this was a novel idea with Arius and that it was settled in what is now called the first ecumenical council. Neither is true. Although it was Arius that fully developed the idea, it had strong roots in Origen and was in one form or another an idea which had spread pretty far even before Arius.
    Shortly after the council in which Athanasius was a deacon, he succeeded Alexander as Bishop of Alexandria. There was then another council in the mid 30s that decided in favor of Arius and Athanasius was deposed and exiled. Constantine’s son briefly recalled him, but exiled him again after another council dominated by Arian bishops. All told, I believe Athanasius was deposed something like five times before eventually gaining sufficient traction in the empire by, among other things, working with the Cappadocian fathers, who had not understood the language used in the first council in the way it had been intended. There was also the additional question about the personhood and divinity of the Holy Spirit. The creed we call “Nicene” about the Father and the Son is actually the product of the second council at Constantinople, not the one from the first council. And it was affirmed to be complete by what we now call the third council.
    This is important for several critical reasons. First and perhaps foremost, if the Son is created and is a separate (and lesser) divine being, then we do not worship one God. We worship at least two and the door is open for more. If the Son was not fully one with God, was not wholly of the same substance and nature, then we cannot become with God, have not seen God, and do not know the fullness of God. In proper Christian thought, I don’t think I agree that there is a ‘gap’ between us and God. Our God, unlike the God of Arius, is never distant or far from his creation or from us. But we do need to be healed. We need the grace and power to stop seeking non-existence and seek life instead.
    Both LDS and Jehovah’s Witnesses today would fit somewhere within Arius’ perspective of Jesus as a divine being, but created by God. There is also a more extreme perspective along the edges of what is labeled ‘liberal’ Christianity that would almost entirely deny any divinity in Jesus beyond whatever we all might share as human beings, that would reduce him to, essentially, just a man.
    In either case, it amounts to a radically different God. I’m not sure I know how to fit the idea of ‘harm’ into that fact. Worship will, I believe, shape you into the image of that which you worship. If, as Christians claim, we see the fullness of the true God in Jesus, and only by giving our believing allegiance, falling down, and worshiping him can we be truly human, then to worship a different God is to try to shape ourselves into something other than a human being. That does not appeal to me.

  • Scot McKnight

    Scott M,
    You suggest at least two things that have to be imported in: (1) that this was novel with Arius — not suggested in my summary of the chp; (2) that it was all settled at Nicea — not suggested in the summary either.
    Agreed: I’ve stated #4 firmly. Our collective faith doesn’t think he understands those verses properly.

  • joanne

    does the teaching that Christ is eternally subordinated to the Father have arian overtones? I hear this discussed and wonder if there are places of comparison. It just seems off and diminishes God the Son.

  • Scott M

    It’s probably just the nature of summaries, then. In summarizing some things, others get short shrift and leave the summary open to misinterpretation. Sorry about that. I did say ‘seem’ since it’s always hard to be sure, but that was the impression the summary left with me. Perhaps some of that impression was imported from comments on the earlier thread which seemed to associate what we call the Nicene Creed today with the first council.
    If I understood the author’s statement correctly about finding it hard to worship a demiurge, I don’t think I share that difficulty. It’s probably the influence of Eastern influences, but between the Hindu idea of devas and avatars and the Shinto intermingling of ancestor worship and kami, the idea doesn’t bother me in and of itself. I just don’t believe the Arian perspective reflects the reality of Jesus of Nazareth or the fullness of God.

  • Scott M

    Yes joanne. It absolutely does. Arius and his followers were clearly subordinationists. And the modern adopters of eternal subordination of the Son by those who defend subordination on the basis of gender seem to recognize that fact, at least to judge by the lengths to which they go to defend themselves against the charge of Arianism.

  • Rick

    Scott M #4-
    Always appreciate your insights.
    You wrote:
    “All told, I believe Athanasius was deposed something like five times before eventually gaining sufficient traction…”
    You are correct:
    “During his 45-year reign as bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, the champion of Nicene orthodoxy, was exiled five times by five emperors, for a total of 17 years. Though his views on Christ’s deity were to become the official teaching of the church, when he died, it was still not clear his views would prevail.”
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1996/issue51/5102.html
    Scot asked:
    “What happens to Christian theology if it denies Christ’s Deity (or humanity)?”
    Let’s hear it from Athanasius himself:
    “What was God to do in face of the dehumanizing of humankind, this universal hiding of the knowledge of himself by the wiles of evil spirits? What else could he possibly do but renew his image in humankind, so that through it people might once more come to know him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very image himself, our Savior Jesus Christ? Human beings could not have done it, for they are only made after the image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in his own person, because it was he alone, the image of the Father, who could recreate human beings made after the image.”
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1996/issue51/5116.html

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    “What happens to Christian theology if it denies Christ’s Deity?”
    If Jesus was not God, then God had an innocent party killed for our sins (which I think includes subst atonement, ransom and Christus victor). That calls into question the justice of God. To avoid that, Jesus cannot have died for sins (and any scriptures suggesting otherwise are mis-interpreted or simply reflect the primitive worldview of the authors). His death then becomes purely symbolic (that is, empty) or something God didn’t intend (open theism).
    But what do we do with sin, then? God must simply forgive, wiping it away no matter what we’ve done, turning sin into no big deal — something that disappoints God or doesn’t align with His greater purpose, but nothing fatal. The necessity for personal holiness is lost.
    “What happens to Christian theology if it denies Christ’s humanity?”
    The broken image cannot be repaired if Christ wasn’t human, nor can Adams failure be undone. We do not have a high priest who can sympathize with us but a God who sits in judgement of our flaws without empathizing.

  • Scott M

    ChrisB, neither recapitulation nor ransom (both theories under the Christus Victor umbrella) would hold that God had Jesus killed for our sins. Statements like that are a major part of what turns me off in the later developing penal substitution theory.

  • joanne

    scott M. I think that God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit could be considered eternally united with one another and that Christ’s obedience could be thought of as an obedience born of his union with God the Father and God the Son.
    Union presents a different picture. Subordination implies diminishment in authority and diety as well as a sense that Christ might have been at odds with God the Father’s plans and purpose but obeyed anyway. Union offers a picture in which God the Son in union with God the Father and God the Spirit enters our world to participate with God the Father and God the Son in accomplishing salvation of all humanity.
    We are invited through the Spirit into that unity… not as God but as those who are united with Christ through faith. Our obedience too is born of union… being connected to Christ the source of life, transformation, christian vocation etc.
    Then Christ really is filling the gap and salvation really is amazing.

  • Karl

    A few years ago when our Episcopal priest was on vacation, we had a fill-in priest who spent 3 consecutive Sundays preaching Arianism and various other heresies from our pulpit. Among the things we were told:
    -Jesus was created – he was “A” son of God, not “The Son” of God.
    -The Christ-spirit was very strong in Jesus.
    -The Christ-spirit that was in Jesus is wisdom, as pictured in Proverbs calling out in the street.
    -We can all have the Christ spirit just like Jesus; indeed it’s latent in all of us.
    -All other major religions point people to develop this same Christ spirit.
    -Thus it is arrogant and unnecessary to try to convert devout followers of other religions to Christianity.
    -Jesus didn’t really rise bodily from the dead. Instead Jesus’ followers missed him so much and were so impacted by his life, his teaching and his love for them that after he died it “seemed” like he was still with them and they became strong in the Christ-spirit too, and therefore wrote as if he had come back to them.
    -We lose nothing from Christianity by rejecting the notion of Jesus’ divinity and resurrection. Fighting over those things is a distraction to the church – if one wants to believe in them it’s fine but not at all necessary because “mission” (defined solely as social action, + promoting tolerance and diversity) is what matters and you can do all those things without a divine or resurrected Jesus, just like all the other major religions and even good non-religious people do.
    Then after preaching those things each week, he stood up with the rest of us and recited the Nicene Creed.
    Our local bishop did nothing to discipline this priest or even to correct him. I learned that as a retired priest it was this guy’s job to fill pulpits when other priests went on vacation and he frequently took the opportunity to so educate the various congregations in the diocese. Evangelicalism has its problems, for sure. But a several-year stay in the mainline cured me of thinking that only Evangelicalism has problems.

  • joanne

    Correction…”Union offers a picture in which God the Son in union with God the Father and God the Spirit enters our world to participate with God the Father and God the Spirit in accomplishing salvation of all humanity.”

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com Joey

    Scott asked:
    What happens to Christian theology if it denies Christ’s Deity (or humanity)? Have you (actually) seen its denial make a negative impact on someone or some church?
    This has had a negative impact on me. Though I was taught many orthodox things growing up it wasn’t until I experienced Christ as fully divine and fully human that I was able to start that oh so painful and beautiful process of dieing to myself.
    There are implications to our theology if Jesus is not fully divine or fully human.
    First, if Jesus is not God, then idolatry becomes an issue. Even the faith tradition in which I was raised couldn’t deny Jesus’ teachings that he was the “way” and that nobody could get to the father “except through” him. This means that salvation comes from something other than God. Idolatry. As Thompson alluded to, worshiping a man doesn’t get you much.
    Second, and this is admittedly simplistic, if Jesus isn’t God then he is either a liar or a lunatic (thanks Clive!). Scripture teaches the divinity of Jesus, and in more places than bullet point #4 says. Check out Hebrews 1:5-8.
    Third, and I believe ChrisB pointed this out, if Jesus isn’t God then what the heck happened on the cross?
    Conversely if Jesus wasn’t fully human, what happened on the cross? What would two pieces of wood and a few nails do to a god that isn’t fully human? It makes the entire passion quite futile.
    I’m sure there are more implications. I believe that God’s grace covers much of our misunderstanding. But I also know that worshiping anything other than God, the triune lover, is as good as worshiping my cup of tea which will eventually be consumed and then cease to be a cup of tea.

  • Scott Eaton

    ChrisB #10: Jesus himself was an “innocent party.” This makes his death and resurrection all the more amazing.

  • Scott M

    I considered just letting this lie. Judging by the number of gentle corrections I’ve received from Scot the past few days, it seems like the way my mind processes and responds to things is not really in tune anymore with the direction he desires here. And if true, that’s OK. But I decided to try to delve into what I perceive while we’re discussing Arius.
    I don’t think it was clear in what I said earlier, but I don’t think that the deepest problem with Arianism is simply the idea that the Son is a created or lesser or even subordinate being. The deep problem is that it breaks the essential oneness of our God. We must affirm that each of the members of the Trinity are distinct persons, but they are so unified in nature or essence that they together form a singular God of community. Anything that breaks that oneness can devolve into some form of polytheism and eliminates the possibility of our union with God and with each other. It changes the God we worship and it changes how we see what it means to be a human being.
    And in a pluralistic culture, what it means to be a human being is a big question. Honestly, I think that many shaped by some form of modern Christian culture miss that aspect to one degree or another.
    Rather than the modern outright Arianism, I think the strains that deteriorate the picture of internal divine unity among the three persons of the Trinity within modern ‘orthodox’ Christianity are a more subtle eroding agent of the faith. Here is where I irritate people. I have not heard many outworkings or application of either the satisfaction or the penal substitution theories of atonement that do not ascribe a problem to God and then have the Son on the Cross acting to resolve the Father’s problem. In satisfaction, the problem is the stain on his infinite honor. In penal substitution, the problem is that God cannot forgive without payment of some sort. However, by having the Son resolve a problem of the Father, we break the oneness of the Trinity in subtle ways. The common evangelical statement that the Father and the Spirit had to ‘turn away’ from Jesus on the Cross while Jesus made payment or restitution to the Father for our sins is a natural outworking of this idea.
    If it is possible for the Father and the Spirit to turn away from the Son, then we do not have one God.
    God does not have a problem of any sort in Christus Victor theories. It’s clear that we have the problem. And God is acting in concert, Father, Son, and Spirit to resolve our problem. Yes, we acknowledge Jesus as the one who physically was incarnated, died, and is resurrected. But the fullness of the Godhead was in him. The Trinity is our redeemer, not specifically Jesus. And death could not hold the fullness of God. Every act of God, creation, redemption, sanctification or deification is an act of the unified Trinity, not any one person of the Trinity. They are distinct in their personhood, but always unified and one in their actions. And they cannot be separated or divided. Eternally mutually indwelling and interpenetrating.
    It’s that God who wants us to be one with him through Jesus without losing any of our own unique personhood. That’s important to me.
    Origen and Arius went too far supporting the separate personhood whereas those like Sabellius went too far in the direction of oneness. It seems to me that we have both strains today, but an awful lot of Christianity is falling more toward the separate side. And doesn’t perceive that as a problem or concern.
    OK. I’ll go back to my corner now and shut up.

  • ChrisB

    Scott M: “neither recapitulation nor ransom … would hold that God had Jesus killed for our sins.”
    Then why, pray tell, did we need to be ransomed?
    “by having the Son resolve a problem of the Father, we break the oneness of the Trinity in subtle ways”
    I never describe it that way for that reason. God became man to pay the debt we owed God. Sometimes referring to the different persons of the Trinity is helpful; sometimes it clouds issues.
    Scott E: Jesus himself was an “innocent party.”
    In one sense, yes, but in the biggest sense, He was the offended party. By “innocent” I meant a third party in this situation — like if I pulled some random guy off the street to pay your debt.

  • Scott M

    Ransomed from death and from the hold evil had over us through the power of death, ChrisB. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand the ransom theory.
    The way you put it makes it sound like you believe God became man in order to ransom us from God by paying the blood debt we owed God. In other words, we’re back to a God who can’t forgive without payment, without having his honor satisfied.
    And that’s not the God in the narrative of Scripture, the God of Jesus. The God we see there is a God unconcerned with his honor, as exemplified in the prophet Hosea and the parable of the man with two sons. We see a God overflowing with forgiveness. We see a God who is long-suffering and kind (1 Cor 13). If our problem was merely that we needed forgiveness, I’m not sure the Incarnation would have been necessary. We needed life. We needed to have the source or font of our being changed from a font of death (Adam) to life (Christ). That’s recapitulation. Jesus becomes the new head of all mankind. And we needed to be ransomed from the power of death and evil through death. That’s ransom. Together, they form Christus Victor. Through the power of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection and the continuing power and grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have the capacity to be human beings.
    Now that’s a story worth inhabiting.

  • ChrisB

    Scott, when you said, “Here is where I irritate people,” the above comment was probably what you had in mind: “If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand the ransom theory.”
    No one is more annoying than the one who thinks you disagree simply because you don’t understand.
    “Ransomed from death”
    Where did death come from? Sin.
    “you believe God became man in order to ransom us from God”
    No, I don’t believe in ransom. I believe the Bible describes a holy God who requires sins to be punished. I also believe in a merciful God who was willing to take that punishment on Himself rather than destroy us.
    Yes, the forgiveness of God is all over the Bible. So is justice, punishment, propitiation, and atonement.
    I’m happy to grant that subst atonement isn’t the whole of the Cross, but I won’t give it up.

  • Scot McKnight

    ChrisB,
    Let me jump in on this one. Ransom theory, as developed in the early church, was about “enslavement” and being “liberated” from that enslavement. It so happens that both Paul and the early Eastern thinkers (esp) saw the primary form of enslavement to be death, the precise implication of sin for Adam and Eve. So, death becomes prominent in Romans and that means the solution (what we are ransomed unto) is life (Romans again). The ransom theorists were huge on mortality and immortality, on death and life, so that is why Scott M used death.
    The other elements of enslavement were to death, sin, Satan. Ransom theory stuff in the early church did not (very often, if ever) use the language of “punishment” and “satisfaction” and “propitiation” (which, by the way, is a rare concept in the NT, and sometimes at least means “expiation”; we’re talking about the ilasm- word group).
    One more point: substitutionary atonement can’t be equated with “satisfaction” theory or with “penal substitution.” Those are two kinds of substitution but some accept substitution without getting into either of those subgroups.

  • Cam R

    One of my friends on staff at my former church doesn’t believe Jesus was God. He apparently had studied it thoroughly in seminary–his Masters thesis was on refuting John 1 as evidence for deity of Christ. He didn’t think that NT taught deity of Christ and his persuasiveness influenced much of the staff and leadership.
    Not thinking Jesus was God affected lot of the theology that was taught. Jesus was seen as an example on how to live and a good teacher. Atonement was about living like Jesus—we are saved through following in his example of self giving love. Jesus’ death was reduced to an example of that loving lifestyle.
    Without the deity of Christ many parts of Christianity didn’t make sense: Jesus dying for our sins seemed barbaric, being in relationship or union with Christ is idolatrous, communion and baptism lost their meanings, and the gospel ultimately became try harder, be more self giving, love people more, do more and that is loving to God. One of our pastors described his main role as cracking the whip so people would do more, give of themselves and try to live like Jesus.
    I guess the “harm” in many of the church leaders not believing that Jesus was God led us to lose our way, depart from the orthodox Christian tradition and to teach a different gospel to our community.

  • Scott M

    I keep saying I will be quiet. And I mean it each time. So much for good intentions.
    Thank you, Scot. I absolutely embrace substitutionary atonement. I just do so in terms of ransom.
    I first read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” when I was about eleven years old. My formative background was so pluralistic this may be hard to understand, but on some level I knew this was associated with Jesus and this became the lens through which I first really began to understand Christ. Later I had other experiences which turned me against Christianity and toward other facets of my spiritual formation for many years.
    But I never forgot Narnia.
    I even read them to my children.
    Before I was Christian.
    I understand substitution. God, I understand it. I just reject penal substitution. Nor do I believe in a God who can’t forgive, but requires payment instead.
    I do believe in a God who would risk everything to rescue his beloved creation without ever raping the freedom of his eikon to choose the other. That’s what the Trinity did in the Incarnation. God risked everything for us.
    And won.

  • Mike M

    Cam (#22): Don’t be stressed (peace be with you). The NT does teach on the divinity of Christ but in an unexpected place: John 20:28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
    There is no play on words here; there is no resort to translational errors.
    But then again, and this is heresy, there is no need for a Nicene Creed and a reliance on the Western Catholic Church for its authority.

  • Cam R

    Mike M,
    Thanks for the peace. It hasn’t been very long since I resigned and moved on. I guess some of stress and past frustration came through in my note.
    I do think the NT teaches the divinity of Christ. Jesus accepting worship is a big one.
    A big question for our church leadership, as a non-denominational church, was what do we base orthodoxy on? Appealing to the creeds didn’t work–many of our community thought the church got it wrong early on. Trying to address orthodoxy with such diversity in the community and leadership was going to mean some pastors losing their jobs. Our elders didn’t go for that.
    For us, we ended up with a relativistic approach–”right belief” was relative to what “worked” for the individual. Orthodoxy didn’t need to be addressed. It was a direction that I couldn’t support.
    Peace,
    Cam

  • http://www.deityofchrist.com Ed Komoszewski

    Cam R:
    I can’t imagine how difficult that situation was for you. But you made a Christ-exalting choice. Kudos!

  • Doug Allen

    Reading the scholarly discussion here and especially the points discussed by Scott M, Chris B, and Scot makes my head swim. Often I spend up to an hour or more searching the web for definitions and background in order to maybe understand the arguments. Too little time today. Since I have some interest in Christian theology and greater knowledge than the typical church member, I wonder how all this theological sophistication affects the typical “good folks and gentle people” whose beliefs are not schooled enough to be orthodox. Most of these typical Christians, from my experience of 50+ years, despite what they might have heard in church, believe all sorts of heretical things without knowing they are heretics.
    The most common, heretical belief might be that these theological distinctions don’t matter, and that good people will be loved by and accepted into God’s Kingdom whatever their religion. Even here in the Bible belt, I find that belief pretty common among Baptists and others. In fact, civil religion seems especially strong here. In other parts of the country where I’ve lived and where there were many more members of non-Christian religions, most Christians, even the politically conservative who were my friends, believed these non-Christians were preying to the same God and with the same results as Christians. Although many other heretical beliefs, including the common belied in astrology, numerology, and such things, characterizes many of these “good folks and gentle people” (perhaps you have to be as old as I am to know the next several verses of the song?), my question is: are these folks heretics or are they correct in believing that the distinctions debated here don’t really matter.
    Doug

  • Mike M

    Doug (#27): the 3 people you mention are thoughtful and sensitive. If theology is anything like medicine, the “definitions” you need help with should be quick ways to summarize longer trains of thought (for example, it’s easier for me to say and understand “arthroplasty” than “he had surgery to replace one or more joints with artificial devices.”). They don’t mean to make you feel unqualified: it’s just “Godspeak!”
    Your observations and questions are more than valid and refer back to an original question about heresy: does what we really believe (in this case orthodoxy) change our relationship to God and others? You mention what my mom’s Lutheran pastor calls “secular theology.” This is, briefly, the common belief system that if you are a good person (whatever that means: depends on who is doing the defining), and believe in Jesus (whatever THAT means!), your disembodied soul will go to a place called Heaven when you die. There, like the other good people you have loved, you will be an angel (think “It’s a Wonderful Life”) for eternity. Now add elements from other religions (like numerology and astrology and yes, I’ve even heard reincarnation) depending on your inclinations, and as long as those beliefs don’t interfere with the basic secular theology, they are fine.
    Because I’m a heretic by others’ definitions, I can’t say whether it is heresy or not (part of the tautology) but my mom’s pastor thinks so.

  • Scott M

    Doug, I read your comment yesterday and have been pondering whether or not it is possible to even begin to do the questions you posed justice in a comment. They are more the fodder for a lengthy discussion. Still, they are important questions and I thought I would try to say a few things, at least.
    First, I do want to point out that I’m not a scholar. I’ve not had an ounce of formal biblical or theological education, unlike many who post here. Because of the paths my life has taken, I’ve been on the 20+ year bachelor of science (computer science) degree plan. (Right now I think I’m down to needing a few upper division humanities credits to complete it – which I might do one day.) I do come from a family with a broad array of scientists, artists, and other specialized professions. So I guess I grew up constantly picking up specialized language just to carry on meaningful conversations. I suppose I do the same thing here those times times I use or abuse the language of theological discussion.
    I hardly know where to start, but I think I’ll back into it by touching on your last question first. Yes, these explorations and discussions matter. However, they don’t matter in the sense that it’s important to construct the right set of beliefs or that we are somehow judged by the correctness of our framework. Rather, it matters because worship matters. I’ve been a spiritual vagabond in my life. But one truth I saw early on is that the way and manner in which we direct our spirit shapes our identity and colors every aspect of our reality. I like the way N.T. Wright puts it. We become like what we worship.
    In Christianity that’s particularly true. We even explicitly say, from our Scriptures, that our goal in worshiping Christ is to become like Christ. Union with God is the whole point. But Christianity is also distinct here in that Jesus of Nazareth was and is an actual historical person. In fact, we would insist that each member of the Trinity is a ‘real’ person. So if we are to know Christ, if we are to truly know God, it’s important that we begin to know and to worship the reality of the person. Wrong ideas about who and what Jesus and God are interfere with that process. You can’t really know someone if your concept of them sharply diverges from the reality of that person. Your false image of that person will form a barrier in your attempts to relate rather than facilitating them. If that’s true with our own relationships with each other, how much truer must if be of our efforts to know God?
    That’s the real danger of heresy. Even the roots of the word itself indicate this. Heterodox is other or different worship. With that said, I would be slow to call anyone ‘heretic’ today. The label implies a deliberate step toward the ‘other’. But in order to make such an intentional step, you would first have to have some idea what it is from which you are being different. In the utterly fragmented and deconstructed Christian world today, embedded in a pluralistic culture, I’m unsurprised at the confusion. How could there be anything else in the midst of the chaos we’ve created? We live within a Christianity which presents a vast array of conflicting and often completely contradictory pictures and images of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this modern Christian pluralism is embedded within a larger cultural context of radical pluralism.
    The amazing thing is not that people have ‘other’ beliefs and worship. I’ve been there and done that more thoroughly and intentionally than many. The amazing thing is that God remains able to find ways to relate to people, to draw them to him, to bring them to begin to know him, even in the midst of the confusion. We have a God who wants us to know him, even when the only avenue is to become like us. That’s the beautiful wonder of the Incarnation.
    Ultimately, the question is not whether or not we crossed some magic threshold of correct or right beliefs about God. God never seems greatly concerned with that, which is good because I’m certain a significant portion of what we all believe about God is wrong. We just don’t know at any given moment what part. The question is have we known God? Through the grace and power which flows to us in and through the work of the Trinity have we become enough of a human being to stand in the fire of the unveiled love of God? What we believe about God and the manner in which we worship can either help or hinder that process.

  • Doug Allen

    Mike M (28)
    Thanks for your reply Mike. Yes, I’ve learned a lot during the three years I’ve been a visitor here. If my memory were better, I’d have remembered those definitions! The terms have been used here before, and I appreciate your comment about the shorthand. Like you I guess, I’m a heretic based on Scot’s 4 points (and for other reasons)despite Scott M’s generous comment (#29). I found the blog after reading Scot’s “The Jesus Creed…” and have found the blog educational, enlightening, and disappointing. I’ve found that these emerging E’s are not so bad after all! My exposure to E’s was more on the political level and with some fundamentalist types. So, as as outsider looking in, I’m so very excited that the fastest growing (maybe now the slowest declining?)part of Christianity has so many great people like Scot and many others trying to shape it. I’m disappointed because “the Jesus Creed,” which is my tie-in, gets lost in the theological discussions (and opinions offered as certainties and boundaries) about things which are mostly, I think, beyond human knowing and understanding.
    Doug

  • Doug Allen

    Scott M (29)
    It’s so kind of you to respond with such thoughtful comments as you’ve done many times in the past to me and others. Your words about heresy seem more accurate and charitable than anything else I’ve seen here. I find your story particularly interesting because your spiritual journey is not so dissimilar to some of my friends and acquaintances (mine too a little bit), but with a different result. Many make the journey and eventually become cynical about all religions (and perhaps agnostics or atheists). Cynics are disillusioned idealists, and there’s a part of me there. Some take the journey and become mystics finding God outside the doctrines and institutions of religion or in some religious corner where they’re left alone. Some make the journey and respond positively to many aspects of many religions and find God in personal and/or devotional and/or caring/loving relationships as vocation or advocation. I’m sure there are other ways and combinations of these ways, but you Scott seem to have actually done what few others in my experience have done which is actually find one religious expression which represents ultimate truth to you.
    My background is pretty atypical, parents and grandparents (I lived with both about 50% of the time) who neither went to church nor spoke about religion, but who never spoke ill of religion or their fellow man. I was closest to my grandmother, and I remember my grandfather saying to me and my wife that he had never heard her ever say anything unkind about another human being. It rang true. I thought a lot about that then and still do.
    Even before college I was interested in philosophy and religion, and took several courses in both though I was an English major. After my master’s work in American Studies, I taught high school English and social studies including “the Bible as Literature.” From even before college, I was repulsed by aspects of Christianity (its history, anthropomorphic OT God, doctrines that de-emphasized Jesus’ teachings, etc.) and the Bible as much as I was attracted to Jesus. I would spell this out, but it’s more than likely that this blog topic, like all the others that are several days old, will not be looked at again, and I am writing to myself. That’s OK, and I’m pretty much alone here anyway. I did feel a spiritual kinship with Julie Clawson when she was here, but now she’s pretty much moved on.
    Think I’ll catch up on tonight’s baseball.
    Cheers,
    Doug

  • Mike M

    Doug: hey, I looked at your response! I’m with you in many ways, like coming to this blog after reading “The Jesus Creed” (how great is that?!) and being repulsed by many aspects of Christianity that are, in my opinion, not Biblically based. BUT then I get branded as a heretic since I question those aspects. THEN I’m told I cannot define what a heretic is (and conversely what orthodoxy is) because I’m a heretic! But it’s still an exciting ride and usually civil (unlike when I took Ambien and sleep-blogged).
    Still, in the end, the real question is two-fold: how do we honor God and love others? The answers define and divide Christianity. Everything else, as my wife says, is not our concern.

  • Scott M

    Even though there is not an RSS comments feed here at beliefnet, if I have some significant interaction on a post I usually keep an eye on it manually until I’m sure it has died out. So did see what you wrote. Thanks. As I said, to flesh out any of the ideas or even to explain how I seem to have found myself where I am is a much longer conversation. Grace and peace.


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