Archive | Heresies

Heretics – Why I Love (Some) of Them

I Love (Some) HereticsI 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.
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Let this Strange Firestorm be a Lesson

Controversy is like a social hemorrhoid that will flare up on a regular basis & need to be cooled and soothed (I almost used the term strange anal fire but I thought better of it).  Some controversies are uglier than others. The worst kind of ugly controversy is the kind that might have been avoided because it wasn’t entirely necessary. Usually the culprit is misunderstanding, failure to define terms, or generally sloppy reactionism. When the internet was set ablaze with the anointing flame of controversy last week over the “Strange Fire” Conference in So-Cal, I had to wonder if this had the makings of one of those misunderstandings and failures to make responsible distinctions.

And in large measure I fear that this was just the case. As the smoke from the temple clears, I think there is a lesson to learn from this. The controversy was not just a quiet charismatic-cessationist stare-down. It was at times noisy and contentious. Names were dropped, reputations put on the line, and personal feelings bruised. Unfortunately there will likely remain some rifts between prominent persons and between prominent churches over the affair. And it may have been avoidable.

The biblical and theological debate about the gifts aside, wisdom demands something from us when it comes to a big public cyber-spat like this one. In this case I humbly submit that discernment requires distinctions. Some distinctions were not made that should have been made. Going forward, here are three things that must be clarified and made distinct on this subject.

 

1. The meaning of “charismatic”

Quick word association: I say “charismatic” you say …

Maybe you think of Robert Tilton with eyes shut tightly and hand raised, asking viewers who need a financial miracle to place their hands on their TV screens. Is that what we mean by that word? For some people it’s anyone who ever lifted a hand during worship. Maybe it’s belief in Holy Spirit baptism (aka “Second Blessing”). Or is it merely non-cessationism?

One thing is for sure, you’d better make clear the meaning you have in mind, and if you’re debating someone about it, you’d better agree between the two of you what precisely you both mean when you use the term. It has been painfully obvious to me in the brief eruption of attention on this issue that people are using the term differently. Some of them mean merely those whose theological position is not cessationism. Others seem to mean Todd Bentley, Kenneth Copeland, and people spending hours “Holy Ghost glued” to the floor.

Often usage determines meaning, and common or shared usage of a word can alter how we perceive it. Since this word is biblical, it seems most appropriate to recapture, as best we can, its early etymology as at least a starting place for defining it properly. As first year Greek students learn and as footnotes in your Bible may tell you, the word is essentially the word “grace” (“charis”) used in such a way (charisma or charismata) as to denote gracious acts or gifts. The specific use of the word to describe spiritual gifts (mostly in I Cor. 12 and Eph. 4) – and particularly the more extraordinary and supernatural gifts, like miracles, healings, tongues, prophetic words – is responsible for it being used to describe Christians who emphasize those kinds of supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

So far so good, but this still doesn’t help me know whether or not I should use the word only to describe those who believe that the supernatural gifts did not cease (as opposed to “cessationists” who believe that those gifts were for the messianic and apostolic eras and not normative for the church all-time), or whether I should use the word to include things like the prosperity movement, the strange semi-Eastern doctrines about how your words create spiritual realities (the so-called “Word of Faith” movement), and the outlandish “outpourings” that have people spending hours gyrating, fainting, laughing then growling, freezing and seizing.

Like many people, I have seen both the good and the utterly bizarre under this umbrella of “charismatic.” I have attended churches and have known ministers (even in my own family) who are charismatic by identification, of whom I would never say the sorts of things I say about certain televangelists. I’ve met old-school Southern Baptists overseas serving as missionaries who, though they were raised in a non-charismatic church setting, are convinced of supernatural spiritual activity based upon years of experience.

Then again, I’ve attended a charismatic service where the so-called preacher reads one verse from Isaiah (31:4 in case you need an idea for Sunday) about how God speaks as a “roaring lion” and then proceeds to lead the congregation in 45 minutes of “roaring in the Spirit.” A simplistic approach won’t do. There are charismatic Roman Catholics whose language and church life bears little resemblance to what you would find at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (as it used to be called). When debates on cessationism broke out in the seminary classes I attended long ago, the mostly Southern Baptist students were very much split on the issue.

It may well be that we cannot presume to know what another person hears in the word “charismatic”, which means that we have to make the minimal effort of finding out and negotiating a definition that we can all understand. Even if I and an opponent agree to define the word differently, each of us will at least know what the other person is meaning when he or she uses the word.

2. “Charismatic” vs. the Prosperity and/or Word-Faith & Otherwise Whack-job Televangelists

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Can Heretics Be Saved? Or “Aren’t We All Saved Heretics?”

I remember in seminary, sitting under Dr. John Hannah. He was out of this world (although some would say, “No, Michael, you mean ‘out to lunch’!”). Students would purchase a special “Hannah quote book” just to write down the “Hannahisms.” There were so many. The things he would say… The paradigms he would cause you to question… The language he would use! Let’s just say this: everything was unexpected. One day during class, we were talking about a certain heretic in church history. As a green student of theology, all I knew was that I hated heretics. Whoever was the “heretic” of the day, he was the anti-hero. The self-righteous theologian in me was glad that he was burning in hell. However, Hannah said something that did not fit in my puzzle. He suggested (even implied?) that this certain heretic would be in heaven. A heretic in heaven? He said that this heretic was “just doing the best he could.” He said he loved Jesus! What? Quickly, the students raised their hands. “Ummm…do you mean that this heretic was saved?”

Believe it or not, I have been called a heretic many times. The charges vary. One time it was simply because I did not believe someone else was a heretic! (In this case, I think it was Rick Warren). Don’t worry too much. I have about twelve more layers of skin than I used to have. Whether it has been my view of Bible, the Trinity, my stance on Roman Catholics and their eternal destiny, or my understanding of Christian freedom, I get in trouble with someone. To someone, I am always a heretic. Don’t get smug. So are you! Sometimes it will be because people think you are too liberal. Sometimes they will think you are too conservative. I have even had my orthodoxy questioned because of my sympathy for those who doubt their faith. There are always going to be people to the left of you and to the right of you. There are always going to be those people who think your beliefs and teachings are destructive. There are always going to be people who believe you are doing more harm than good. There are always going to be people who think you are a heretic.

But here is my question today: How does one determine if someone is a heretic? What is a heretic anyway? And, most importantly, can a heretic be saved?

The word “heretic” comes from the Greek hairetikos. It speaks of causing divisions. It is used in Titus 3:10 for those who divisively fracture the church. Throughout church history, it became a word used to describe those who divided the church due to doctrinal departures.

Here is a definition of heretic/heresy that I have used elsewhere: “A taught opinion, belief, or doctrine that is in variance to an established cardinal Christian belief. In Christianity, a heresy can have a historic value (more serious) or traditional value (less serious). In other words, a belief can be considered heretical to Baptists (e.g. paedeobaptism), but it is not heretical in the historic sense. To be a historic heresy, it would have to be in variance to that which has been believed by the majority of Christians of all places and all times and touch on a cardinal issue (e.g. the deity of Christ).”

And a heresy is not just an error. It is more serious than that. The puritan writer Thomas Adams distinguishes between mere error and heresy: Continue Reading →

Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part Two: The New Testament and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation

This is the second installment in my series responding to Dan Peterson’s recent article, “Joseph Smith’s restoration of ‘theosis’ was miracle, not scandal.” To understand the issues addressed here and my treatment of them, it is more or less mandatory to read the first part of this series. In this second part, I will address the question of whether Joseph Smith’s doctrine was a restoration of truths attested in the New Testament. Continue Reading →

Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part One: The Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation

A recent article in the Mormon newspaper Deseret News (August 3, 2011) by Brigham Young University professor and Mormon apologist Daniel C. Peterson carries the provocative title, “Joseph Smith’s restoration of ‘theosis’ was miracle, not scandal.” The term theosis is a Greek term used in the Eastern Orthodox theological tradition referring to its doctrine that through the Incarnation (the union of divine nature and human nature in the person of Jesus Christ) human beings may become united with God and in some sense like God. This Orthodox doctrine is rooted in the doctrine of several early church fathers (mostly writing in Greek) who spoke of the redeemed in Christ becoming “gods” (Greek, theoi) through the union with God that he put into effect in the Incarnation. According to Peterson, the doctrine of “exaltation” taught by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon movement, was a miraculous “restoration” of “an authentically ancient Judeo-Christian doctrine,” the doctrine of theosis.

Was it? Continue Reading →

Hell: Across the Spectrum of History

The following are quotes, both contemporary and historic, about the doctrine of hell. It is “across the spectrum”, so it is not necessarily meant to support just one view. Some universalists, annihilationalists, and traditionalists are all represented. I hold to the traditional doctrine of hell and believe that it is an established doctrine in Christian orthodoxy, but I think it is a wonderful discussion to have.

Let’s just get this out of the way: Can a true believer deny the reality of Hell?

I have to be very careful with these type of minimalistic questions. I don’t like their implications. It is like when my depressed sister came to me and asked if she committed suicide could she still go to heaven. How do you give an honest answer to that when you believe the answer is yes? Nevertheless, here is my answer: Yes, someone could recognize their sin, call on Christ for mercy, and then have a divergent view on the punishment of the wicked. However, they would definitely fall outside the realm of historic orthodoxy on this issue.  

Across the Spectrum of History on Hell

“Let me say at the outset that I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in body and mind an outrageous doctrine, a theological and moral enormity, a bad doctrine of the tradition which needs to be changed. How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself… Surely the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is no fiend; torturing people without end is not what our God does.”

(Clark Pinnock, “The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent,” Criswell Theological Review 4/2 (1990) 246-247).

“Is it not folly to assume that eternal punishment signifies a fire lasting a long time, while believing that eternal life is life without end? For Christ, in the very same passage, included both punishment and life in one and the same sentence when he said, “So those people will go into eternal punishment, while the righteous will go into eternal life” (Matt 25:46). If both are “eternal,” it follows necessarily that either both are to be taken as long-lasting but finite, or both as endless and perpetual. The phrases “eternal punishment” and “eternal life” are parallel and it would be absurd to use them in one and the same sentence to mean: “Eternal life will be infinite, while eternal punishment will have an end.” Hence, because the eternal life of the saints will be endless, the eternal punishment also, for those condemned to it, will assuredly have no end.”

(Augustine, City of God, 21.23-24).

“But if you pay no regard to our prayers and frank explanations, we will suffer no loss. For we believe that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merits of his deed. . . . Sensation remains to all who have ever lived, and eternal punishment is laid up.”

(Justin Martyr, 160 AD, First Apology, 1.168, 169)

“The fire itself is termed “eternal” and “unquenchable,” but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed for ever, not tormented for ever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which “rises for ever and ever.”

(John Stott, Evangelical Essentials, 316).

“[O]ur expectation would be that the smoke would die out after the fire had finished its work. How could the smoke from the fire rise forever if its fuel had been consumed?”

(Robert A. Peterson Vol. 37: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 37. 1994, p. 560)

“He has prepared darkness suitable to persons who oppose the light, and He has inflicted an appropriate punishment upon those who try to avoid being subject to Him. . . He has prepared the eternal fire for the ringleader of the apostasy—the devil—and for those who revolted with him. The Lord has declared those who have been set apart by themselves on His left hand will be sent into this fire.”

(Irenaeus, 180 A.D. Against Heresies, 1.523)

” John’s use of the symbol [of the lake of fire] shows that he views it as the alternative to the city of God, the new Jerusalem (see 21:7f.). Its significance for humanity thus begins with the new creation. That it does not have the meaning of annihilation is indicated by 20:10. The lake of fire signifies not extinction in opposition to existence, but torturous existence in the society of evil in opposition to life in the society of God.”

(G. R. Beasley-Murray, Revelation, p. 304) Continue Reading →

Of Glenn Beck and Beards

Last week I blogged here about the recent controversy over evangelical views of TV political commentator and culture warrior Glenn Beck, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). The issue there was whether and in what sense one might speak of a Mormon such as Beck as a “Christian.” As something of a follow-up to that piece—this time approaching the subject from a somewhat different angle—I would like to comment here on some particularly interesting remarks about the unbiblical theology of Beck’s religion.

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ARE MORMONS CHRISTIANS 19: Glenn Beck and that Question Again

There is an amusing scene in the 1990 film Back to the Future III in which time-traveler Marty McFly, exploring his home town in the year 2015, encounters a holographic projection of a shark as part of the marquee at a theater showing Jaws 19. At first taken by surprise, Marty recovers and comments, “The shark still looks fake.”

I must confess that I have a similar reaction to the latest “sequel” in the long-running debate over whether Mormons are or can be Christians, prompted this time around by the conservative TV talk-show host Glenn Beck. Do we really need to discuss this question again? Apparently we do, given the lack of clarity that continues to characterize much of what is said on the subject.

The Christian blogosphere recently lit up following the comments of World Magazine online columnist Andrée Seu in which she spoke of Beck not just as a Christian, but as “a new creation in Christ” who is “red hot” toward God. “I can say without hesitation that I have not heard the essentials of the gospel more clearly and boldly in any church than on his program.” Seu acknowledged that Beck is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and admitted that Mormon doctrine is problematic, but described Beck as a latter-day Apollos who needs a Priscilla and Aquila to help him with his theology.

Never Mind!

Evangelical bloggers were quick to contradict Seu. Justin Taylor, one of the most insightful Christians blogging today, commented on “Andrée Seu’s Tragic Mistake on the Gospel of Glenn Beck.” Taylor warned: “It is easy to be moved by talk of having faith in Jesus, without asking who the person understands Jesus to be…. Despite what mainline evangelicalism has taught for years, the gospel is not ‘I trusted in Jesus and he changed my life.’” Russell Moore, an astute Southern Baptist theologian, argued that evangelical enthusiasm for Beck’s religious rhetoric is a sign that American evangelicals have largely traded the gospel for American civil religion:

“It’s taken us a long time to get here, in this plummet from Francis Schaeffer to Glenn Beck. In order to be this gullible, American Christians have had to endure years of vacuous talk about undefined ‘revival’ and ‘turning America back to God’ that was less about anything uniquely Christian than about, at best, a generically theistic civil religion and, at worst, some partisan political movement.”

World Magazine acknowledged Taylor’s blog and offered a retraction, stating, “Our website editing system failed in regard to Andrée’s post about Glenn Beck.” In a separate article, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Marvin Olasky, echoed Moore’s assessment: “Beck is syncretizing Mormon and Christian understanding in the service of a civil religion, but that’s a radically unequal yoking for reasons WORLD has pointed out before.”

One thing that seems to have been overlooked up to now is that Taylor and Moore offer two fundamentally different—and possibly incompatible—diagnoses of the problem. Both argue that evangelical enthusiasm for Beck reveals a lack of discernment and a shallow understanding of the gospel among American evangelicals. Taylor worries that Beck’s evangelical supporters are under the mistaken impression that anyone who claims that Jesus changed his life has accepted the gospel. Moore contends that those same evangelicals have mistaken American civil religion for the gospel. So which is it? Does Beck represent a personal-transformation gospel focused on Jesus as life-changer or a civil-religion gospel focused on a generic theism as the foundation for a stable society? I suppose it is possible to mix the two messages, and perhaps there are elements of both in Beck, but they don’t mesh naturally.

Mormon doctrine in two minutes

The main objection to viewing Beck as an advocate for the gospel is that the theology of the LDS Church, of which Beck is a member, is radically incompatible with the biblical gospel. The divide between biblical teaching and Mormon doctrine is so wide that from an evangelical perspective Mormonism falls outside the circle of acceptable, authentic expressions of the Christian faith. The crucial problems with LDS doctrine that impinge directly on one’s view of Jesus Christ and the gospel include the following unbiblical claims:

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