I like rebels. Let me rephrase… I like some rebels. They go against the grain, refusing to be bound by tradition. In movies, they’re the heroes. They’re the ones who don’t “fit the mold”. They’re the ones musicians write songs about.
But they gain our respect and confidence anyway. They are the heretics.
What Is Heresy?
Being labeled a heretic, in any context, isn’t considered a good thing. A heresy is a departure from an essential bedrock doctrine; for example, denying the deity of Christ or His bodily resurrection. And while heretics claim to be part of the Christian tradition they’re not true converts. Converts believe the essentials. Heretics don’t.
What Is Heterodoxy?
Heterodoxy is the milder cousin of heresy. It’s a departure from, or denial of, a non-essential doctrine; for example, denial of the canonical status of Second Peter. While this departs from traditional Christian belief, it is not something that would cause Christianity to fall apart. When most people use the word heresy or heretic, they actually mean heterodoxy. That’s how I’m using it in this article.
Essentialism is the difference between heresy and heterodoxy.
I Want To Be A Little Heretical
Part of me wants to be just a little heretical. But I’m not. I’m not even close to being a heretic. I’m a traditional evangelical. I toe the line on every issue. If a heretic is double-chocolate rocky road cookie dough ice cream, I’m a vanilla shake. I believe the basic evangelical confessions of faith:
- The Trinity
- The inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible
- The sixty-six book canon
- A future second coming
- That Moses wrote the Pentateuch
I don’t depart much from my tradition. Yet, I almost wish I could. I wish there was some minor doctrine that caused me to be a bit rebellious. Why? Because rebels often get more cred than traditionalists.
Rebels often get more “cred” than traditionalists.
People seem to find it easier to believe someone’s being intellectually honest when they subscribe to some minor heresy (or heterodoxy). Sometimes I even feel this way. After all, it’s not hard to go along with the crowd, but it takes “guts” to be a heretic.
Exhibit #1 – Greg Boyd
I absolutely love Greg Boyd. His writings really encourage me. His talk about doubt that I listened to the other day made him seem real. However, Boyd is an open theist. An open theist doesn’t believe that God knows the future or is timeless. Boyd is wrong.
His belief isn’t something that destroys the essence of Christianity. It does, however, depart from important Christian doctrine. Because he’s had to fight for it, Boyd’s heterodoxy makes his defense of the faith stronger.
Boyd’s heresy is barely a stanza. The gospel is his chorus.
Please don’t think I want anyone to be an open theist. I don’t. But there’s part of me that’s glad that Boyd is.
Boyd rarely talks about open theism. The central elements of the gospel form the core of his teaching. To borrow a musical metaphor, Christ crucified is Boyd’s chorus. Open theism is merely a stanza.
Exhibit #2 – C.S. Lewis
I love and trust C.S. Lewis. I’m sad that he departed from traditional Christianity. At the same time, I’m glad for his “heretical rebellion”. It makes his testimony more trustworthy.
If Lewis can believe the gospel despite his heterodoxy, how much more should we, who are orthodox, be settled in our faith?
Heresy for Heresy’s Sake
Dwight Pentecost used to say that we’re all entitled to one pet heresy. I think he meant that when we get to heaven we’ll all have some doctrinal surprises.
We’re all entitled to one pet heresy.
However, when I say I love some heretics, I don’t mean those who identify themselves (and everything they teach) with their heresy.
There are many on heretical trajectories, not because they’re dealing honestly with the evidence, but because they have rebellious hearts. They’re so consumed with the attention their heresy earns them, it eventually becomes their identity.
Their heresy eventually becomes their identity.
Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em?
Let’s get down to brass tacks. I don’t want anyone to be wrong or to depart from Christian doctrine in even the smallest way. This article is not meant as an encouragement to rebels who find in theology another channel to express themselves.
That being said, none of us has perfect doctrine, belief, or understanding. And there’s something to be admired about those who go against the grain, take the punches, yet continue to preach the core tenants of Christianity; Christ crucified and risen.