You Might Be a “Heretic” if…

You Might Be a “Heretic” if… March 5, 2013

In June of 2011, I posted an article called “You Might Be and Evangelical Reject If…” Honestly, it shocked me to learn about how many readers resonated with being an Evangelical Reject. Many of us, who would still like to cling to the good things about evangelicalism (without some of the fundamentalist baggage of the past) often find ourselves ostracized because we challenge the cultural mold of conservative Christianity.

Those of us who might identify as “evangelical rejects” love evangelicalism and refuse to reject our sisters and brothers in the faith. We whole-heartedly affirm the following four markers of evangelical Christianity:

Biblicism—being Bible-centered, which would include the belief that the Bible is the Divinely inspired authority for life and faith; it is trustworthy and sufficient.
Conversionism—being conversion-centered, which would include the need for being converted to Jesus Christ.
Crucicentrism—being cross-centered, which would include emphasizing the death of Jesus for salvation.
Activism—being activist-centered, which would include living the Christian life, evangelizing, and helping those in need.[1]

All four of these characteristics shape my faith in various ways. I believe that the whole bible is God’s inspired word to us. I know conversion because I have been and am still being converted to Jesus Christ. The cross matters for in it salvation was unleashed for all who will believe. And activism is central to living in partnership with God’s mission to God world. Those four convictions historically make-or-break one’s own evangelical identity.

Unfortunately, there is an unspoken (or, often overly spoken) code of theological, cultural, and political beliefs that many within evangelical churches often champion as “TRUTH.” Rather than admitting that we all need to be humble in these matters, some are quick to drop the “heretic” bomb (just read the comments section of any blog about the work of Rob Bell 🙂 ). The link between “heresy” (well, some folks’ definition of that word) and evangelical rejects is sad and obvious. Many faithful disciples of Jesus find themselves in situations where they are labeled a “heretic” because their views don’t line up with the status quo.

Sometimes, if I’m honest, I’m tempted to pull the lever on a reverse heretical bomb. I’d love to give some people a taste of their own medicine. So, l when I’m accused of not fitting some sort of unspoken code or litmus test, I often think that demonstrating the fallacy of such thinking and labeling it as “heresy” might be a fun reversal of fortunes. I think of saying: O, so you believe that the world was created in 7 literal days… Well, you know, that reading the bible in its proper genre, historical, and theological context renders your view as heretical. What if some of these issues that get us deemed “heretics” were labeled as the new “conservative” viewpoint, and we started calling various forms of fundamentalism the new “liberalism?” But then, that thought quickly fades as I remember how it feels to be labeled a heretic and thereby become an evangelical reject. Such a reversal would lead to more infighting, which should not be our goal. I long to be part of a movement of reconciliation – on every level.

My personal view is that outside of the Apostle’s Creed and the four convictions of evangelicalism, that we do well not question the sincerity of anyone’s commitment to evangelical Christian faith. I would say that the four convictions may not be necessary for those expressions of faith that have not historically claimed such a label. The movement of Jesus is diverse and we should have a “big tent” that allows for multiple voices. Sure, there is tons of value in identifying with a specific tribe (Anabaptist, Pietism, Roman Catholic, Wesleyan, Reformed, Orthodox, Anglican, etc.), but within those traditions and as they interact with each other, wouldn’t we do well to not drop the “heresy” bomb every time someone has a view that diverges from one’s own?

Do you ever experience rejection from evangelical culture? Perhaps you know what it’s like to have “heresy” bombs tossed in your general direction. I’ve decided that I’m okay with being labeled a “heretic” – in quotes – because ultimately I’m convinced that this sort of heresy isn’t heresy at all. Sure, none of us will get every part of our belief system absolutely perfect. But if “heresy” in quotes helps us partner in the mission of God, then I’m convinced that being a “heretic” of this sort isn’t so bad after all.

If you were to complete the following sentence, how would you do so to share your experiences?

“You might be a “heretic” if…”


[1] David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), preface.

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  • arnpriorhick

    You might be a heretic if you like Moltmann, Tony Jones, Rob Bell, etc. Also, if you reject creationism, dualism, capitalism, ecological exploitation, or Left Behind, or if you accept homosexuals or treat women as equals. Yes, I have been cast a heretic for all of these things.

    • Brian Hoyer

      I think you mean “corporatism” not capitalism. That’s the only philosophical inconsistency I see in what you said. The rest is good and I happen to agree. 🙂

  • Stephen

    … if you think that people who aren’t inerrantists aren’t therefore heretics.

  • I appreciate this post Kurt (no surprise there), as I’ve often worn the “heretic” label myself (no surprise there either). I would push back a bit (still no surprise) on your third point of crucicentrism. While I think you and I probably interpret it pretty much the same way, I see a stream in Evangelicalism that puts so much emphasis on Jesus’ death that the resurrection seems almost an afterthought … a happy ending, as it were, to the “necessary” story of Jesus’ substitutionary death. St. Paul saw it differently … he it was who said if the dead are not raised, our faith is futile. So I would say that resurrection-centrism is far more vital than a focus on the cross.

    I know you saw this, but my own take on the minimal criteria for being labeled a Christian (admittedly a broader net than “evangelical”) may be of interest to some of your readers. And on the accusation of heresy, Evangelical Heretic is my attempt to explain some of why I find myself earning the “heretic” label.

  • Keith Rowley

    I no longer see much value in connecting with a “tribe”. A local community yes, but tribalism even theological tribalism just leads to violence.

    • livingmartyrs

      The concept of tribe works if you keep in mind that ultimately there is only one tribe. 🙂

      In my own experience, without that perspective, a local community doesn’t necessarily escape the violence you’re getting at, either.

  • At some point, Kurt, you’re going to have to deal with the issue of “Sola Scriptura” up front.

    The concept of heresy cannot exist in Protestantism because there is no principled or consistent way to declare someone to be a heretic.

    In Protestantism all that exists by way of authority is ones interpretation of the Bible over another persons. There must be an ecclesial authority outside of the Bible in order to declare what is true in the Bible. This is the Church’s role and always has been, which is why he had councils. This is why the Church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.”

    But Protestantism offers no such thing and never will until they come into full communion with the Church that Christ gave to the world and has preserved for 2,000 years.

    • Keith Rowley

      I see no value in the concept of heresy. Since the council of Nicea the “church” has persecuted so called heretics in the most unchristian ways imaginable. I for one am glad that Protestants really don’t have any

      • Keith Rowley

        good basis for calling someone a heretic. That concept has brought nothing but evil with it since it entered the church.

      • You see no value in it because it is valueless in Protestantism. Even if the some people in the Church persecuted others in an unchristian manner, it does not follow that the mechanism of excommunication or the concept of heresy is unchristian.

        Since the council of Nicea much of Christian tradition has been preserved and in the council of Nicea tradition was preserved using the mechanism of excommunication and declaring dogma.

        Protestants CAN’T have any because under Protestantism is a highly fragmented set of beliefs that is determined by ones interpretation of the Bible and not dependent upon anything else.

  • I’ll say it: I deny Original Guilt (that is the idea that babies inherit guilt from their parents prior to doing anything). It’s just not in the bible and the whole incarnation (especially as Hebrews lays it out) really makes it hard to reconcile with everything else, particularly in a non-Dortian Calvinist reading. Augustine was just grasping for paedo-baptismal-supporting straws on that one.

  • How about rejection within Anabaptist culture? 😉 Sometimes, it’s rough being “abnormal”…

  • I also take this tack sometimes. I claim that “Inerrancy” is too LIBERAL for me and then gets people upset. Liberal b/c it assumes a scientific mindset that places scientific reason as the guardian of Biblical Truth, something the inerrantists are often loathe to do in every other situation.

    • mjk

      In this light, I think everybody should read Prodigal Christianity by Geoff and David Fitch, who gave me very deeply appreciated language for some of my struggles with Evangelicalism and also a something of a pathway for thinking forward. Thank you, Geoff. I loved it.

      • Thanks. We appreciate it.

  • casey b

    You might be a heretic if you love everyone, no matter their sexuality or beliefs. You might be a heretic if you realize “God bless america” isn’t in the bible, lol