The cruelty of heresy

The Anglican Fitzsimmons Allison wrote a beautifully-titled book, The Cruelty of Heresy. I haven’t read it, but the title is bewitching. It captures the moral character of heresy as well as its deleterious on true faith.

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We tend to think of heresy as simply “unconventional beliefs” or “incorrect beliefs.” For others, heresy is simply about power. They write books about the documents the church kept from you or the hidden story of Jesus and his wife. Something is heresy–in this view–principally because the establishment looked down on it rather than that it is erroneous.

Heresy is more than simply wrong belief. It’s something other than establishment-quashed beliefs.

Heresy is a belief or perspective that does not accord with God’s self-disclosure in the Scripture and in the church’s theological reflection on that revelation. So, in a sense, you cannot have heresy without orthodoxy just as you cannot have a counterfeit without an original.

Heresy isn’t dangerous because its an intellectual failing. It’s dangerous because it does not comport with reality, with God himself. We have to acknowledge that all theology and all that we think about God is limited.

We don’t know God as He is in himself. We can’t climb into God’s head and know how he experiences the day. Of course, we cannot even know our wives or husbands to that extent yet we all would claim to know them.

At the same time, we do have the Bible. And we can affirm that it is contains all that is necessary to life and godliness. It contains all that we need to know about God in order to believe.

Michael Horton–one of my favorite contemporary theologians–writes  in the Wash Po about how we evangelicals should be troubled by the celebrity pastors President-Elect Trump has chosen for his inauguration:

Inaugurations are always curious rituals of American civil religion. It would not be surprising to see a non-Christian religious leader participating. But what’s problematic for me as an evangelical is how Trump’s ceremony is helping to mainstream this heretical movement.

The prosperity gospel — the idea that God dispenses material wealth and health based on what we “decree” — is not just fluff. It’s also not just another branch of Pentecostalism, a tradition that emphasizes the continuation of the gifts of healing, prophecy and tongues. It’s another religion.

Americans are optimistic. As such we can be a people who naturally gravitate to snake oil salesmen, cheerleaders who will gloss over our troubles and sin, and accentuate the positive. 

We’re happy with motivational speakers who masquerade as preachers even though God is a negotiable part of their system:

One gets the impression that God isn’t necessary at all in the system. God set up these spiritual laws and if you know the secrets, you’re in charge of your destiny. You “release wealth,” as they often put it, by commanding it to come to you. “Anyone who tells you to deny yourself is from Satan,” White told a television TBN audience in 2007. Oops. It was Jesus who said “anyone who would come after me” must “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

At the end of the day, the duty of the church and of her ministers is to proclaim faithfully and accurately the body of divinity (theology) that derives from Scripture. Yes, we lead. Yes, we encourage. Yes, we counsel. Yet all of these things have to be firmly rooted in and faithful to the Scriptures in order to be effective.