The Heretic Hunter Strikes Again

I’ve told you my book club is reading Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You, right? I mentioned how interesting the conversation was likely to be given our group’s differing political viewpoints.

What I didn’t realize was how interesting the discussion would end up being due to our shared religious viewpoint.

And how Tolstoy is clearly a heretic.

We had hints that Tolstoy’s beliefs might be less than orthodox from the very beginning–but none of us would have guessed at the revelation that would be unfolded in chapter 3.

Tolstoy denies the inspiration of the Old Testament.

“The man who believes in the inspiration of the Old Testament and the sacred character of David, who commanded on his deathbed the murder of an old man who had cursed him…and similar atrocities of which the Old Testament is full, cannot believe in the holy love of Christ.”

Tolstoy denies the Nicene Creed.

“The Sermon on the Mount, or the Creed. One cannot believe in both….The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed–the one excludes the other.”

He denies that the basic doctrines of Christianity have any utility for men nowadays.

“Truly, we need only imagine ourselves in the position of any grown-up man…who has picked up the ideas…of geology, physics, chemistry…when he…consciously compares them with the articles of belief instilled into him in childhood, and maintained by the churches–that God created the world in six days, and light before the sun; that Noah shut up all the animals in his ark, and so on; that Jesus is also God the Son, who created all before time was; that this God came down upon earth to atone for Adam’s sin; that he rose again, ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and will come in the clouds to judge the world, and so on. All these propositions, elaborated by men of the fourth century, had a certain meaning for men of that time, but for men of today they have no meaning whatever.

Tolstoy consider the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith to be a profane doctrine.

“And what is most important of all–the man who believes in salvation through faith in the redemption or the sacraments cannot devote all his powers to realizing Christ’s moral teaching in his life. The man who has been instructed by the church in the profane doctrine that a man cannot be saved by his own powers, but that there is another means of salvation, will infallibly rely upon this means and not on his own powers, which, they assure him, it is sinful to trust in.”

In short, Tolstoy is a heretic.

One of those within our discussion posed the question, “Is Tolstoy even a Christian?” My answer was, “No. He’s not. He has denied every essential doctrine of the orthodox Christian faith. He is not a Christian. He’s a heretic.”

Am I too harsh? I think not.

Then comes the dilemma we faced last night. Should we continue to read the work of a clearly heretical man? Is it worth our time or glorifying to God that we read and discuss Tolstoy’s ideas on nonresistance to evil by force as articulated in the Sermon on the Mount, knowing that Tolstoy rejects the divinity of Christ and every other central tenet of the Christian faith?

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Thankful Thursday: Book Club

Today I’m thankful…

…for whichever friend it was who “liked” MIQRA’s Facebook Page, making it show up on my newsfeed

…for God’s providence that had me “like” MIQRA despite my general abhorrence for “liking” things (on Facebook)

…that I saw the book club announcement and “just happened” to save it

…that Evan directed me to the videos that convinced me to go

…that the Barnes and Noble in Omaha had a copy of the book–which I drove up to buy, which then locked me in to attending even when I was tired and starting to second guess my decision the first evening.

…for Jake’s familiar face that first night

…for Chad’s affirmation of my contributions (and of my writing)

…for Brian and Emily’s concern that I get to my car safely, walking me there or giving me a ride

…for walking and talking with Julie about homeschooling

…for Randy asking me about the week I missed book club

…for Nate’s passionate articulateness–so different and so similar to my own

…for Tom’s thoughtful observations and carefully reasoned comments

…for Jason’s baby :-) and a wee bit of fellowship with a real-life blogger (I’m the only really regular blogger of my “real-life” acquaintances until Jason)

…for the comfort of knowing that I wasn’t the only one who had a hard time wrestling with Christian involvement in the military–thanks so much, Jason H, for sharing

…for the others whose names aren’t coming to mind now, but who welcomed me, engaged my mind, and didn’t roll their eyes when I opened my mouth yet one more time.

…for the book itself, The Myth of a Christian Nation, which challenged and stretched me–and expanded my vision of the kingdom of God

…for the curly headed barista who prepared my Italian Soda, no cream, every Monday night

…for the discussions that brought me from bad mood to good

…for the genuine acceptance, questions, and offers of help that so many extended when I shared about “off-topic” parts of my life

…for the amazing God who has allowed me, at least for this season, to know Him with such marvelous comrades.

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Impromptu Pleasures

Several weeks ago, a general announcement of an upcoming book club showed up on my Facebook news feed. I read through the announcement, and while I was not a particular invitee, the book looked interesting and the announcement stated that anyone was welcome–so I clicked the “maybe attending” button.

I nearly forgot all about it in the intervening weeks, what with preparing for Tim’s graduation and Debbie’s bachelorette party, and working on my thesis and the like.

But on Sunday night, the book club made its way onto my “coming events” sidebar and I realized I had to make a decision. I read through the announcement again and decided that yes, I really did want to attend this book club.

Problem was, it was much too late to try to purchase the book online.

So I searched around all of Lincoln’s stores, trying to find the book. The next morning, I searched again. No luck. None of Lincoln’s booksellers had a copy of Gregory Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation.

When I searched at Barnes and Noble, however, I discovered that there was a copy at one of the Omaha stores.

And thus began my wild hare.

“Rebekah Menter is contemplating driving to Omaha today to pick up a book. Am I crazy?” my Facebook status read.

A friend directed me to a discussion of Evangelical politics featuring three panelists, including Greg Boyd.

I watched a few clips of the event and decided that I was DEFINITELY interested in reading this book.

My next Facebook status? “Rebekah Menter is taking a spur-of-the-moment trip to Omaha. (What I will do for a book…)”

My trip was uneventful, quiet, nice. I got the book and returned home.

What turned this into an impromptu pleasure was that, having spent an extra couple of hours of my day tracking down the book, I HAD to go to the book discussion.

And so I did.

I didn’t know anyone who was going to be there (at least I didn’t think I knew anyone)–so I wasn’t really sure how I was going to find the group in the midst of one of Lincoln’s busiest coffee shops. Thankfully, someone had the book out, so I was able to introduce myself.

“I don’t know anyone here,” I said, “but I’m here for the book club.”

At which the fellow facing away from me looked up and gave a “What are you talking about?” expression.

I guess I was wrong. I did know someone.

“Sorry, Jake. I didn’t realize you were here.”

It turned out to be a wonderful night. I enjoyed meeting new people, getting bit of an intro to the book. But most of all, I enjoyed the passionate discussion that I found myself embroiled in after the “formal” book club portion ended.

It’s been so long since I had a real, honest-to-goodness, face-to-face passionate discussion about the issues of our day. It was refreshing, energizing, invigorating (let’s see how many more synonyms I can come up with :-P).

Needless to say, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I’m so glad I made that impromptu decision to lock myself into going.