heresy: a history of defending the truth

This tag is associated with 3 posts

Sunday Quote!- The Heartbeat and Delight of Christianity

h-mcgrathEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The Heartbeat and Delight of Christianity

I re-read Alister McGrath’s Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth recently and found it to be just as thought-provoking and engaging as when I read it the first time. One beautiful line was about the core of Christianity:

If there is a heartbeat of the Christian faith, it lies in the sheer intellectual delight and excitement caused by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Here is the one whom the church finds to be intellectually luminous, spiritually persuasive, and infinitely satisfying, both communally and individually. (17, cited below)

I found this passage quite powerful. Jesus is the heartbeat of Christianity, and our delight. Without Christ, there is no faith. Without our Lord, there is no salvation. But McGrath goes beyond that: Jesus of Nazareth is an intellectually compelling person, which drives us to seek out formulations to explain who He is; Christ is satisfaction and communal unity.

Have you thought about Jesus in these ways? How has Jesus spurred your intellect? In what ways have you recently delighted in the person of Jesus Christ?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Book Review: “Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth” by Alister McGrath– Check out my review of McGrath’s book.

Source

Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

SDG.

Sunday Quote!- Heresy as the Historical Loser?

h-mcgrath Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Heresy as the Historical Loser?

Alister McGrath’s book, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth was a great read when I read it around two years ago, so I decided to reread it and get my notes in computer form. Almost immediately I began to discover reasons I enjoyed it so much. For example, McGrath notes that heresy has garnered much excitement and interest of late. Many see ancient heresies as something worth reconsidering, perhaps in light of losing by chance. He writes:

In this view, the distinction between heresy and orthodoxy is arbitrary, a matter of historical accident. Orthodoxy designates ideas that won, heresy those that lost. (3, cited below)

The rest of the book is dedicated to the history of heresy and how it interacted with orthodoxy. What do you think, though, of this notion that the distinction between heresy and orthodoxy is arbitrary? Could it be that orthodoxy is merely a historical accident? McGrath, of course, argues that it is not.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Book Review: “Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth” by Alister McGrath– Check out my review of McGrath’s book.

Source

Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

SDG.

Book Review: “Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth” by Alister McGrath

There is a trend today to see heresy as a forbidden fruit. What is heresy?; Who says these views are wrong?; Aren’t heresies just the losers in a power struggle?–these are but a few examples of the questions being asked about heresy. Alister McGrath’s book,Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth seeks to explore many of these issues while providing a historical background for those looking into the topic.

A heresy,” states McGrath, “is a doctrine that ultimately destroys, destabilizes, or distorts a mystery rather than preserving it… A heresy is a failed attempt at orthodoxy, whose fault lies not in its willingness to explore possibilities or press conceptual boundaries, but in its unwillingness to accept that it has in fact failed.” (31, emphasis his).

One might wonder why McGrath utilizes this view of heresy, and it is important to see that his definition stands between two misunderstandings of the historical context of the development of heresy. McGrath argues that there are two positions about the history of heresy which are extremely popular but also highly anachronistic. The first is that heresy is something from outside of the church which was able to somehow “get into” the church and corrupt it (34); the second erroneous view is that “What determines whether a set of ideas is heretical or not is whether those ideas are approved and adopted by those who happen to be in power. Orthodoxy is simply the set of ideas that won out, heresies are losers” (81). Both positions suffer from an anachronistic view of the history of heresy and tend to over-emphasize certain aspects of that development.

The notion that heresy is some kind of “Trojan horse” smuggled into Christianity from without is historically untenable (34). Furthermore, this view generally holds that “Heresy was a later deviation from [the] original pure doctrine” (65). Instead, “heretics were insiders who threatened to subvert and disrupt [the church]….” (35). However, the fact is that the notion of early Christianity holding to the best orthodoxy is a purely fictional historical concept. Rather, doctrine developed as new challenged were presented to the Christian faith or new truths were explored (66-67). Heresy was part of this development. Heresies were ideas that failed to take hold within Christianity because it was deemed to undermine the strength of the Christian faith as a whole (83).

Therefore, McGrath argues, it can be seen that the second view of the development of heresy is also historically mistaken. There was an orthodox core from which doctrine developed, and heresies were seen as defective (81ff). “The process of marginalization or neglect of these ‘lost Christianities’ generally has more to do with an emerging consensus within the church that they are inadequate than with any attempt to impose an unpopular orthodoxy on an unwilling body of believers” (81-82). Heresy was “an intellectually defective vision” of Christianity (83), rejected because it could not stand up to the theological challenges raised against it (83ff).

McGrath provides more development of the concept of heresy, and then turns from his analysis of the rise and rejection of heresy to a historical account of several early heresies. His analysis of these early heresies (ebionitism, docetism, valentinism, arianism, donatism, and pelagianism) provides significant historical support for his thesis that heresies are ultimately insufficient accounts of Christian theology and were rejected thereby. Against the thesis of Walter Bauer, who held that orthodoxy was an “ideological accident,” it is rather the case that “The relative weakness of institutional ecclesiastical structures at this time, including those at Rome, suggest that the quality of the ideas themselves played a significant role in their evaluation…” (133).

It is also important to note that heresies are not necessarily tools aimed to destroy Christianity from within. McGrath is particularly  concerned with the contextualization of heresies. These were often developed within a context of a question, like “What is the nature of Christ?” (Ebionitism). “The problem [of heresy] lay not with the motivations of [heretics], but rather with the outcomes of their voyages of theological exploration” (171).

McGrath ends Heresy with an exploration of the origins and development of heresy. Heresy, he argues, develops through 5 major strands, each of which usually involves turning theology towards: cultural norms, rational norms, social identity, religious accomodation, and ethical concerns (180ff). Heresies will continue to emerge as Christianity faces new challenges. Furthermore, orthodoxy is itself a process of ongoing development (221).

McGrath concludes with a vision for orthodoxy: “If Christ is indeed the ‘Lord of the Imagination’… the real challenge is for the churches to demonstrate that orthodoxy is imaginatively compelling, emotionally engaging, aesthetically enhancing, and personally liberating. We await this development with eager anticipation” (234).

Heresy is indeed something which has caught the popular imagination. McGrath’s book offers a reasonable, sound defense of Christian orthodoxy in an era wherein heresy is often portrayed as an unfairly suppressed system which should be resurrected. By providing a significant investigation of the historical background and development of heresy, McGrath avoids the two ahistorical extreme views of heresy: that it was entirely a plague from outside the church or that it was merely one of many competing ideas that happened to lose.

Christians would do well to have knowledge of the development of Christian doctrine. As more challenges are raised to the Christian faith, orthodoxy will have to continue to respond. Without a historical grounding firmly in place, Christianity is liable to change with the winds. Heresies repeat themselves (232), and Christians need to be ready to respond to these alterations of the faith. Heresies have historically been rejected not due to an internal power struggle, but rather due to their insufficient intellectual bases.

Alister McGrath’s Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth is one of those books Christians should have within reach on their shelf in order to readily access it as challenges arise. He provides an enormously useful historical evaluation of heresy which allows readers to avoid the pitfalls of ahistorical views. Furthermore, McGrath convincingly demonstrates the reasoning behind labeling a position as heretical follows from a corruption of Christianity which makes it less theologically or intellectaully viable. By providing Christians with a vision of orthodoxy and heresy that is both aware of its past and looking towards the future, McGrath has written an invaluable source.

Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,653 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason