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heresy

This tag is associated with 11 posts

I’m a Christian and I (still) Read Books by Men

Tim Challies, author of the post this one parodies. Image Source: https://s3.amazonaws.com/bg3-blog/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/18092519/TimChallies.jpg

[Note: this post is a close parody of Tim Challies’s article, “I’m a Complementarian and I Read Books By Women.” Challies’s self-congratulatory attitude towards himself for deigning to read books by 50% of the human species touched a nerve, and that kind of nonsense needs to be called out.]

I wonder if you have ever noticed that heresies in Christianity have tended to be authored by men and spread by men, while very few historical heresies are named after women. Heresies tend to be invented by men, while women have tended to be the first preachers of the Gospel (like Mary). In general, heresies have tended to be from the voices and pens of men, while women’s voices have tended to be silenced by those men.

I am Christian. I believe God created the world and made man and woman in the image of God, like the Bible says. I also believe that the historical heresies have been rightly condemned, and these are almost entirely the inventions of men. Yet I gladly read books written by men. This is true whether the books are written specifically for Christians, or whether they are for a general audience. In every case, I am glad to read the and to learn from them.

For some Christians, this is obvious and unremarkable. Yet it probably should come as something of a shock. After all, historically, so many heresies have come from men, while women’s voices were silenced or ignored. Someone, looking in from the outside, might say it may be worth just telling men to stop writing about doctrine for a while. To the contrary, I believe we can and must encourage men to write non-heretical books and that all Christians can gladly and confidently read them for the benefit of their own souls.

As far as I can tell, there are few heresies exclusively reserved for men or women. Though it is true that men throughout the history of Christianity have worked to silence women, despite the biblical call for sons and daughters to prophesy (Acts 2:17), the appearance of women in roles of leadership (eg. Junia in Romans 16:7), and the clear biblical teaching that in the body of Christ there is “no male and female” (Galatians 3:28), men still can have good things to say.

Men and women are equal in gifts and equal in ability. They are also equal in wisdom. Both men and women are able to learn, to understand, to interpret, to apply. Both men and women can know the facts of the Christian faith, both can have a deep knowledge of Scripture, both can have insight that allows them to apply this knowledge to life’s circumstances. Women can be theologians in the same sense that men can be theologians—they can have a deep knowledge of God, his Word, his will, his ways. In fact, when the book of Proverbs personifies wisdom it does so in the character of Lady Wisdom, not Sir Wisdom. [Block quoted- direct quote from Challies’s article.]

Men have taught, capably spread, and filled others’ minds with heresy. Despite this, God is able to overcome these heresies with the Truth of Christ. God gifts women to teach, makes them capable, and fills them with wisdom. Though this is all true, we should not reject reading books by men entirely, because God has called both men and women to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. There is no indication that God goes against God’s own words about men and women prophesying together, or that writers in the Bible thought God was wrong when God made both men and women in God’s image, or when God revealed that there is no male and female in Christ.

So I encourage Christian men to write and to do so with confidence that this is an affirmation, not a denial, of Christianity, so long as they avoid the heresies made by men. I encourage Christian men and their publishers not to restrict themselves to men’s versions of books on important subjects. They can write to all of us. We don’t need to let historic fear of heresy silence  voices of men in the church.

Links

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This post is a parody of Tim Challies’s original, subtly misogynist, self-congratulatory post about how he actually reads books by women which I have linked here. I parody it under fair use.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

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Constantine’s Faith and the Myth of “Constantine’s Takeover”

Constantine-1There is a narrative within some branches of Christianity (and some… “offshoots”) regarding church history. It is a narrative in which Constantine is seen as the great evil (whether intentionally or not) which corrupted Christianity. The narrative basically goes like this: Constantine rose to power, then everything went wrong in Christianity. He made Christianity the state religion, which introduced scores of nominal Christians into the church. He made service in the church a well-paying position, which corrupted the office of the ministry. He himself was probably not even a Christian!

So the story goes. Is it accurate?

From Narrative to History

The question of Constantine is one of history. Too often, people have subjected Constantine to psychoanalysis, analyzing an ancient historical figure’s mental state to determine his motives. Historical study may indeed speculate about such things, but to suggest, as some do, that one may uncover some nefarious ancient plot to take over Christianity and lead it into heresy is to engage in writing historical fiction. So what may we actually learn from the historical accounts? Peter Leithart’s work, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom directly addresses this question to pursue the “real” Constantine.

Leithart notes that it seems clear that Constantine actually paid much deference to Christianity (Leithart, 93; 121ff; 128-129; 326-328, etc., cite below). He was keen to prevent major divisions within the Church which could have resulted, for example, from the Arian controversy. Hence, he called a council at Nicaea which would define Christian orthodoxy for centuries to come. Constantine himself likely favored the view of Arius, but when the Nicene Council ultimately came against Arianism, Constantine submitted to the defining of orthodoxy.

Constantine’s life appears to be one not of a plot to take Christianity over for political gain, but rather as a life lived struggling with newfound faith and attempting to integrate that faith into public policy. Alister McGrath notes that Constantine’s faith led him to legalize Christianity and sanction it, with some interesting and perhaps unforeseen side-effects:

The new imperial status of Christianity meant that its unity and polity were now matters of significance to the state. (McGrath, 139, cited below)

The much-discussed question of why, if Constatine’s faith were genuine, he would have waited until his deathbed to get baptized is easily answered by his belief that he should wait until the last possible moment to gain the purifying from sins which baptism would provide (Leithart, 299-300).

Frankly, the more one reads about Constantine, the more difficult it becomes to imagine him as someone whose faith was not genuine. Like any Christian, he had his faults–he was a sinner-saint–but he also worked through his position to try to spread and unite Christianity. Leithart notes that many of Constantine’s laws were “more often Christian in effect than in intent” (304). What he means by this is that many laws he made spring from a Christian worldview, though not being explicitly Christian themselves. For example, he outlawed gladiator shows–hardly something which can be said to be explicitly Christian–and this demonstrated Constantine’s genuine concern for human life and the “image of God” in humanity which was noted in yet another law he made (303-304).

In another work, a collection of essays on  Apologetics in the Roman EmpireMark Edwards, having traced various lines of thought in Oration to the Saints (and arguing that it was a work by Constantine), notes:

[The work] reveals an emperor who was able to give more substance to his faith than many clerics, and an apologist whose breadth of view and fertile innovations make it possible to mark him with the more eminent theologians of his age (275).

It’s time to set aside the notion that Constantine was somehow “faking it.”

dc-leithartConstantine’s Takeover?

The “narrative” of Constantine has, unfortunately, often dipped into the notion that he was indeed a Pagan who overthrew traditional Christianity and condemned Christianity to political power-plays for centuries after his death. This notion simply does not line up with historical reality. Although Constantine’s enriching of the church’s coffers did lead to church positions becoming a political gain, it also provided a counter-balance to Imperial authority (Leithart, 304).

Moreover, Leithart argues that the notion that Constantine himself brought about so many wrongs to the church is historically fictitious: “[T]here was a brief, ambiguous ‘Constantinian moment’ in the early fourth century, and there have been many tragic ‘Constantinian moments’ since. There was no permanent, epochal ‘Constantinian shift'” (287). Indeed, the notion of church and state was something found seeded in Augustine’s writings (286) and although Constantine did bring about some monumental changes, the effects they had could only take place over vast amounts of time. It would be impossible to argue that the Catholic Church of the Medieval Period was directly the same or even the exact result of Constantine’s policy.

Finally, Constantine’s policies and actions “Baptized Rome” (Leithart, 301ff). He built churches, empowered bishops, called for unity, and deferred to church teaching. His laws, as noted above, were rooted in a genuinely Christian worldview and sprung from faith.


Conclusion: Defending Constantine

Was Constantine a perfect human? Obviously not. But was Constantine a Pagan who dramatically undermined Christianity; was he a usurper of the Church’s authority who did incalculable damage to Christianity? It does not seem so. Whatever your views on the matters, one must contend with strong historical evidence for the genuineness of Constantine’s faith.  His policies indeed may have (and at points certainly did) damage the church, but was that his intent? Again, psychoanalysis of ancient figures is dubious, but the actions Constantine took were those of someone with genuine concern for the stability of Christianity. Most telling, perhaps, were his actions that were not explicitly stamped with Christianity but reflective of his background beliefs: by seeking to end violence, help alleviate poverty, and the like, he demonstrated his faith.

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!

Sources

Peter Leithart, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom

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

Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 1999).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

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.

Really Recommended Posts 5/30/14- the Cross, Arminianism, “banned” evangelicals, and more!

postThe Really Recommended Posts this week have some mixed in that are sure to get your noodle going. Can a doctrinal system which emphasizes free human choice in salvation affirm total depravity? Is the Big Bang model wrong? Would evangelicalism label some of its “favorites” heretics? Do skeptics dehumanize Christianity? These, and more, are questions for you to ponder with this week’s reading choices. Let me know what you thought, and if you liked them, be sure to leave them a comment as well. That’s a major reason why we write–to get your feedback!

Skeptics Dehumanizing Christianity– Does the “New Atheism” affirm equality across lines of religion, culture, and the like? How do some skeptics talk about people of faith in ways which may dehumanize them? Check out this thought-provoking article to read some insights on these and other topics.

Do Arminians Believe in Total Depravity?– One constant point of contention between Arminians and Calvinists (and others like Lutherans) is the notion of “total depravity” and the charge that Arminianism denies it. According to this article (following Roger Olson), Arminius himself affirmed the doctrine. It was an interesting read, but I wonder how consistent it would be with the consequences of Arminianism after all. What are your thoughts?

One Very Misleading Article About Six “Heretics” Who Should Be Banned from Evangelicalism– Recently, I saw an article being passed around on how some prominent figures within Christianity often cited by evangelicals would allegedly be labeled as heretics by contemporary evangelicalism for some of their beliefs. I thought it was interesting, but also clearly mistaken on some of the figures mentioned therein. This article took the time I did not by outlining numerous errors in the argument about “consistency” and evangelicalism.

More Than a Piece of Jewelry (Comic)– The cross is more than a piece of jewelry to hang around your neck. Check out this poignant comment which puts that into perspective.

Selection Bias– The universe isn’t expanding after all! So said a lot of headlines around the web of late. Is that really the case? Check out this article from an astrophysicist explaining some difficulties with this supposed problem with Big Bang Cosmology.

Sunday Quote: Do we need to agree with past thinkers?

readinggenesis1-2-CharlesEvery 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!

Do we need to agree with past thinkers?

I recently read through Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversationwhich has given me a lot to reflect upon. One quote that struck me was from Jud Davis:

A beloved teacher once said, “If you cannot find at least one ancient, one medieval, and one modern commentator who shares your view, it probably means you are wrong.” Over the years, I have thought long and hard about this statement, and I believe it is exactly right because if you could not find such examples, you would be forced to say, “Everyone before missed it until me.” (215)

I thought this was an interesting quote because it says much about how one approaches theological issues. First, there is some concern regarding this passage for me because it seems that some truths are indeed missed by everyone until someone discovers (or rediscovers) them. Second, there is a real concern for whether one innovates in doctrine and thus becomes a heretic. That is, innovation in theology is often divergence from established truths. These established truths are often established exactly because they follow from the text. Thus, an innovation which says, for example, that Jesus is not God is rightly denounced as heretical.

Based upon these conflicting concerns, I think it is permissible to say there is some tension within the practice of historical theology and exegesis. We must be careful to avoid the pitfalls of either ignoring the voices of the past or being too cautious to reconsider the evidence for certain positions. Going to either extreme would be dangerous. The most prominent danger, in my opinion, is the danger of using a passage like this to squelch debate or exploration. Ultimately, the text is the arbiter of truth, not established interpretations. If someone comes up with a “new” look at a text, it is important to consider it on its own terms rather than reject it because it is new. The weight of unanimity in the past should be seen to increase the standard of proof for those who disagree, but it should not be used to silence those who seek truth.

What are your thoughts on the balance between historical scholarship and new interpretations?

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!

Source

Jud Davis, “Unresolved Major Questions: Evangelicals and Genesis1-2” in Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation edited J. Daryl Charles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013).

Really Recommended Posts 2/28/14

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneKids Say the Darnedest Heresies– How should we react when kids don’t understand essentials of Christian doctrine? Jason Wisdom offers some interesting advice for how to deal with the situation… and it’s not just to laugh it off! I’d be curious to see what parents think of this post!

A Critical Review of Myron Penner’s “The End of Apologetics”– “The End of Apologetics” recently received some acclaim from Christianity Today, which I find a bit shocking, to be honest. Rather than declaring the “end” of Apologetics, we should be encouraging its bolstering and spread. I very highly recommend this post for some looks into the issues Penner’s book raised.

Kevin Lewis: Sharing the Gospel with Atheists (VIDEO)- One of my professors from Biola University, Kevin Lewis, here shares his thoughts on how to share the Gospel with atheists. Kevin Lewis is a witty, awesome lecturer, and I think you’ll enjoy this as much as I did!

Option (COMIC)- A fun way to look at the rather famous “trilemma” from C.S. Lewis. Here, it is presented in comic form.

A Smart Movie that Questions Evolution (Yes It’s Possible!)– There’s a movie coming called “I Origins” which explores intelligent design and the New Atheism through… yes! a storyline! Check out this look into the flick. It’s apparently out already but I can’t seem to track it down anywhere. Have you seen it? What are your thoughts?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular interest in his theological views and how he argues for those views.  I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. This week, I look at Chapter 4: “Does God Get what God Wants?”

Chapter 4

Outline

Bell starts the chapter by surveying a number of statements from church’s web sites regarding hell. These statements range from the unsaved being separated from God forever to eternal conscious torment. He seems to be pointing readers towards a kind of discontinuity between these statements and the statements about God’s power and love:

I point out these parallel claims: that God is mighty, powerful, and “in control” and that millions of people will spend forever apart from this God… even though it’s written in the Bible that “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4- seems to be NIV]

…How great is God? Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do… but in this, the fate of billions of people, not totally great. Sort of great. A little great. (97-98)

Bell asks a poignant question: “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants?” (98). He then goes through a number of verses focused around God’s love. He notes the parables in Luke 15 about people pursuing their desires and concludes, “The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever” (101).

Bell turns to the reason that many people think God may fail in his desire to save everyone. From the perspective of those who advocate the views he outlined at the beginning of the chapter, “love, by its very nature, is freedom… God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end” (103). However, Bell argues that “We aren’t fixed, static beings–we change and morph as life unfolds.”

Tied into this notion of the unfixed nature of our lives, he seems to hold that it is possible that people can choose to come to Christ after they die. He asks, “why limit that chance [the chance to come to Christ] to a one-off immediately after death? And so they expand the possibilities… [The chance is given for] as long as it takes, in other words” (106-107).

Bell then traces this notion through Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Eusebius. He goes so far as to cite Augustine saying “‘very many’ believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God” (108).

He argues that “central to their trust that all would be reconciled was the belief that untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory” (ibid). Moreover, he argues that “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever…” (109). He notes that “serious, orthodox followers of Jesus have answered these questions [about hell and salvation] in a number of ways” (ibid).

Next, Bell turns to an analysis of the book of Revelation. he notes that the book ends with notion that the gates of the city “never shut” and infers that “gates are for keeping people in and keeping people out. If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go” (114-115).

Bell ends the chapter with what seems like a poetic inference. He goes into prose and concludes that: “[Love] always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins” (119).

Analysis

There is much to discuss in this chapter. First, it is important to note that Bell has done much to cause reflection upon the subject of hell. It is something that we as a group of believers need to be thinking on. Too often, the subject is cast aside. Bell has done admirably in bringing the topic to the table.

Moreover, Bell is correct to note that confusion can be caused by simply throwing statements on hell “out there” in a void. It is important to contextualize statements about heaven and hell and make clear what is meant by the phrases that are used in the discussion.

Bell seemingly just assumes that there will be more chances to “accept Christ” in the afterlife. His discussion of the possibility of people changing after death implies this perspective, but he has done nothing to establish it. Perhaps he will do so in a later chapter, at which point we will evaluate his argument for that perspective. Indeed, thus far his argument seems to be a kind of straw man: he asserts the notion that people are changeable beings even in the afterlife as a counterpoint to those who hold that people will continue to choose evil in the hereafter as though this choice is the reason people hold to the eternal hell view. Yet this is not the case; many who hold this position do argue that people will continue to choose evil, but the reason that people are condemned to hell is because they rejected the God, whose existence and power are obvious (Romans 1) in their lives. No one has an excuse (Romans 1:20).

Bell’s utilization of church fathers is problematic. I can’t help but think there is a subtle twisting of some of their views to fit his position. In particular, he cites Augustine as “acknowledging” that “very many” believed in “ultimate reconciliation of all people” (107-108). Yet Augustine himself categorically denies and denounces this position. In fact, almost the entirety of Book XXI of The City of God argues explicitly against this tradition, including Augustine’s arguments against Origen, whom Bell cites in the same breath as Augustine. I hope Bell was merely being sloppy here, but the impression I get is really that the uninformed reader would see this and assume that Augustine is at least in the same realm as Origen, which is very, very mistaken.

I hate to beat a dead horse here, but let’s look what Augustine says (The City of God Book XXI, Chapter 17):

Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels. But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors…

So we see that Augustine, far from being anywhere near Origen’s view on the topic, endorses the Church’s condemnation of Origen as a heretic in this regard. Yet where does Bell reveal this? Where does Bell interact with historical theology? No, he seems perfectly content to throw out a bunch of names out of context together and let readers make their own assumptions. I realize this is a popular level book, but I can’t help but be very worried about Bell’s style here. It is very misleading. Maybe he does note later in the book that Origen was condemned as a heretic for this view, and that Augustine endorses this condemnation, but considering Bell seemingly endorses Origen’s view, I very much doubt that he will reveal that it was condemned by the Church.

More damning is the fact that Bell is able to, seemingly seriously, say that “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever…” (109). I admit that I agree in one sense–there have been many universalists throughout church history. However, that view was condemned as heretical. Augustine upholds that condemnation in The City of God. One can hardly believe that Bell is capable of saying that this view is “At the center of the Christian tradition.” No, the church at large does not condemn this view as specifically heretical; but Bell is placing the view in a context in which it was condemned as heresy and then saying that it was the “center” of that tradition. That is  a stretch, to say the least.

Here again we see one of Bell’s biggest methodological problems: he simply introduces a notion, argues that there are diverse views, and then assumes that they are all equally legitimate. but this is simply mistaken. Multiplication of viewpoints does not mean they are equally valid. Furthermore, Bell’s lack of interaction with historical theology on this point, when he himself is the one who introduces several of the church fathers, is questionable at best. Moreover, he says these teachers were “orthodox” when in fact Origen specifically was far from orthodox in his beliefs, as even a cursory study of Origen would reveal. Origen lived at a time before certain views were made explicit, yes, so he in a sense gets a pass in that his theology was intentionally exploratory. However, many of his views were later condemned, including the one Bell endorses. For Bell to turn around and use Origen to support his diversity of orthodox views on the topic is seemingly dishonest.

Moreover, one must wonder about Bell’s analysis of the meaning of the gates of heaven as open. Instead of looking at this passage in context, in which the notion of a city with open gates would imply a city unthreatened by outsiders because all enemies were defeated (which fits much better into the book of Revelation), Bell states explicitly “If gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go” (115). Think on this for a moment. What Bell has stated here undermines the notion of security of salvation. Now I do not hold to the doctrine of eternal security; however, I do affirm that once people are saved and in the New Creation in heaven, they are not about to change their status. They aren’t “going” anywhere. Bell’s view here undermines the assurance of salvation. His view of “love winning” also serves to illustrate this point, for if there is “always room for the other to decide” we must ask: is there always room to choose hell? Can “love win” by letting us walk away from the eternal salvation we are promised in Christ?*

Conclusion

I admit I have been highly critical in this chapter. I have tried throughout so far to find positive things to say about Bell’s work, and as I noted, Bell does well in this chapter to center discussion around the hard questions.

However, there are numerous problems with Bell’s work in this chapter. His use of the church fathers is highly problematic. I won’t rehearse the arguments again (see above). Oddly, his view also seems to imply that we have absolute autonomy and the ability to simply walk out of heaven whenever we wish. That in itself is another great difficulty, for it undermines the assurance of salvation we have in Christ: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Bell continues to use the method of argumentation in which he simply notes diverse views on a topic and concludes that all are somehow equally at the table or equally valid.

Next week, we will look at Chapter 5: Dying to Live.

*My thanks to my wife for this point.

Links

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1– I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique– I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?– a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

Saint Nicholas- A Christian life lived, a story told

It has been remarked, with much truth, that all of us lead double lives, a life of our fancy, in a world of things as they should be, or as we should like them to be, and a life in a world of things as they really are. And this is as it should be. We can lift the level of real existence by thinking of things as we should like them to be. It is well not to walk with one’s eyes always fixed on the ground. (McKnight, cited below, Kindle location 401)

It is easy to hear the “real story” of Santa Claus, but few investigate further than looking it up to see the parallels between the Bishop of Myra’s life and that of the story of Santa Claus. There is so much more to his story–and indeed to stories in general–than that.

Saint Nicholas (270-343 AD) was a valiant man who fought prostitution, abortion, and poverty. He attended the council at Nicaea, from which we received the Nicene Creed. At that council, he defended vigorously the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. He was an exemplar of Christian teaching put into practice. Not only that, but the legend which has grown up around his life has inspired and enthralled untold numbers of people through the Christian era.

It is important to note the intertwining of legend and truth in the stories about St. Nicholas, and the impact that has had upon innumerable people. George McKnight, writing in the early 1900s, explored a number of issues related to the mingling of fact and fiction in the life of St. Nicholas. The quote highlighted above touches on many of these topics.

First, there is power in narrative. A story which is told well is one which can effect change. We are impacted by fantasy in ways which cause us to reflect upon reality with new–perhaps better trained–eyes. Second, we, as spirited people in a world which we so often see only as the physical, are called to heights of reality by fiction. As McKnight noted, “It is well not to walk with one’s eyes always fixed on the ground.” Our eyes are driven upwards and outwards by the stories we hear–they cause us to interact with others in new ways, and they also cause us to think about topics which perhaps we had not even considered before.

The story of St. Nicholas is no different. Yes, legend has crept into the accounts of this godly man, but what is the purpose of that legend? Not only that, but is it possible to separate out the fiction?, McKnight also commented upon the nature of radical skeptical history being done in his time (about 100 years ago). He bemoaned the fact that nearly every facet of Nicholas’ life is thrown into question with the arrival of critical scholarship. But of course to focus merely upon what is historical fact or fiction is to miss the entire point of the life of St. Nicholas. McKnight goes on:

The story of St. Nicholas consists almost entirely of a series of beneficent deeds, of aid afforded to humanity in distress, accomplished either by St. Nicholas… or through his intervention… The conception of St. Nicholas, then, is almost that of beneficence incarnate. (Kindle Location 469-481).

That is, the story of St. Nicholas, and the legends that surround him, turn him into a type of Christ–one who is deeply concerned for humanity and showing Christian love for God and neighbor.

Yet this is not all there is to the life of the Saint. Although difficult to sift from the legends, there is a historical core to the life of St. Nicholas which is just as profoundly Christian as the legends which have grown up around him. With that said, we turn to the story of St. Nicholas, with an eye toward how his life is one of a Christian lived as well as a story told.

Nicholas is well-attested to have attended the council of Nicaea. There is a possibly apocryphal story about his st nicholas-heretics-presentsattendance there wherein he confronted the heretic Arias himself and slapped him in the face. The story continues, telling of how Nicholas was initially exiled for his act but later allowed to return after Arianism had been thoroughly acknowledged as heresy. Although it is nearly impossible to know whether this story is historically accurate, there is at least some truth behind the story in that Nicholas was known to vehemently defend the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

Nicholas actively opposed prostitution. However, instead of simply condemning the practice, he also gave money to young women in need to keep them from turning to prostitution to feed themselves. Again, this truth served as the basis for a possibly historic legend in which Nicholas learned of three women who were about to turn to prostitution (or be sold into slavery, depending on the account) because they couldn’t pay their dowries in order to be wed. Nicholas is said to have thrown a bag of gold for each young woman through their window so that they could be married instead of sell their bodies. Again, this legend may not be true–but it points to the truth about Nicholas’ life–he gave to those in need and fought against the evils of prostitution. It also points beyond itself towards an ideal.

Nicholas fought against the Pagan practices, which led to his persecution and imprisonment by those angered by his preaching against false idols. Furthermore, his opposition to paganism included working against a number of practices in the pagan world, including abortion. Roman Catholics have continued to spearhead St. Nicholas’ commitment to helping children. A search for “Nicholas of Myra” turns up adoption agencies one after another. Christians have used Nicholas’ example as a call to end human trafficking and slavery. One can see throughout these historical kernels how myth and legend could grow up around this figure–fighting heresy, giving to those in need, and having utmost concern for the innocent were all aspects of St. Nicholas’ life. We don’t necessarily know the extent of his actions in these areas, but we know enough to be inspired.

Therefore, we turn to another part of McKnight’s thought-provoking quote at the beginning of this post:

…all of us lead double lives, a life of our fancy, in a world of things as they should be, or as we should like them to be, and a life in a world of things as they really are. And this is as it should be. We can lift the level of real existence by thinking of things as we should like them to be.

Take a moment to consider what McKnight is saying here: we know there is a realm of absolutes–a way that things should be. We also have a way that we should like things to be. But the way the world “really is” does not often reflect that. Yet we can enact change upon our realm of existence–we can “lift it up”–by focusing on the way that things should be, and living our lives differently because of that. St. Nicholas enacted this in his life, working towards the ideal while living in an imperfect world. The legends of St. Nicholas inspire us to do the same. We are not to focus so much on the critical challenge–which stories are true and which are “only” legends. Instead, we are to focus on St. Nicholas as a story–one which inspires us to change the world around us.

Nicholas’ life was one which fought against poverty, paganism, heresy, prostitution, and idolatry. He incorporated sound doctrine into his life and then lived it. There can hardly be a better example of a Christian life lived than that of St. Nicholas. Yet that is not all there is to the story of the “real” saint. No, his life is one of calling us to live a life for Christ as well. His life is action. It is a life incarnate with truth and the beneficence that comes from the Christian worldview. It is a call to follow Christ.

Sources

James Parker III, “My Kind of Santa Claus.”

Robert Ellsberg, “St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.”

George Harley McKnight, St. Nicholas (New York: G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1917). This book is available legally free of charge in a number of digital formats through Open Library.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) 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.

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.

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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.

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