Posts Tagged ‘Heresy Hunter’

The Heretic Hunter Strikes Again

October 13th, 2010

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?

Heresy Hunter: A Case Study, Part 2

August 10th, 2010

Yesterday, I set up a case study for the “heresy hunter” to think through. The “heresy hunter” has read The Shack and evaluated the view of God’s love found within (universalism). He has rejected this view of God’s love on the basis of Scripture. Now, a Christian friend of his is raving about how his view of God’s love has been changed dramatically by The Shack. I discussed the role of Scripture for correction, but since Scripture is clear about not judging, I closed with a question:

“How am I to correct without judging?”

I think humility is the key. I Timothy 2:24, above, says “in humility correcting those who are in opposition.” First, we must be aware of the limits of our own knowledge and understanding of the truth, as discussed in the first”heresy hunter” post. Second, we must be aware that we are not without sin or error. We are not without sin; we have no right to be casting stones.

This leads us to the second part of correction without judgment–that is, we should speak with love in order to edify. We are not called to judge or to cast stones to tear another down–we are called to correct in order to edify and build up. We must carefully consider both our motivation and our means in order to ascertain that what we are doing accomplishes edification.

Romans 14 speaks a great deal about this, encouraging more mature believers to accept the less mature ones and not to quibble about things that are unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things….Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way…Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”
~Romans 14:1, 13, 19

We should consider first the importance of the idea or teaching. Is this something that is central to the faith or is it a periphery issue? (I would say that the idea of universalism is a central issue and therefore should be addressed.) Then we should ask how we can address this in a way that does not put a stumbling block in our brother’s way. Finally, we should seek to address the issue in a way that leads to peace and edification.

There are probably a lot of different ways this can be done. Maybe it means just bringing up your own concern in the same conversation. “The Shack was an engaging book and a lot of people seem to like it a lot. I’m concerned, though, at how it conveys the idea that everyone can be saved–without talking about how Christ is the only way to salvation.” Maybe it means encouraging further study. “You mentioned a couple of days ago that you were impressed with how The Shack talks about God’s love. I was wondering if you’d like to do a Bible study with me to explore what God’s love looks like.” Maybe it means direct confrontation. “You said you liked how The Shack portrayed God’s love, but I’m concerned that it portrays a false view of God’s love. I’m afraid that the ‘nice guy’ idea of God’s love found in The Shack might blind you to the truth of God’s love as portrayed on the cross. Could we talk about this a bit more?”

I’m certainly not perfect in this respect. Sometimes I err on the side of not bringing truth (even when falsehood is very clearly leading a brother or sister into bondage). Other times I err on the side of being an unloving bringer of truth (abrasively speaking truth in a way that tears down rather than building up.) But my heart’s desire is that somehow I could learn to walk this line: truth in love, truth in love.

Heresy Hunter: A Case Study, Part 1

August 9th, 2010

Last week, I talked about the heresy hunter and made a case for evaluating information on the basis of truth–but doing it with a humble heart, recognizing the finiteness of our human knowledge compared to God’s infinite wisdom.

I think a lot of people would be with me on this one. They agree that there is an objective standard of truth and that we should evaluate information based on truth. Few people have a problem with me personally evaluating what I hear and deciding to either accept or reject it on the basis of some objective standard of truth.

But what if I tell someone else that what they’ve heard or are believing is false?

What if I say that the concept of God’s love that they obtained from reading The Shack is false? The Shack espouses universalism, the idea that God’s love means that all people will be saved. This concept is clearly unscriptural, as it denies the necessity of Christ as a mediator of the New Covenant (In John 14:6 Jesus states that “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”), the wrath of God towards sin and sinners (Romans 2:5-9 states that those who obey unrighteousness are “treasuring up for yourself wrath”), and the existence of eternal damnation (Hebrews 6:2 places eternal judgment among the foundational principles of the faith).

I know of many people who say they were “touched” by The Shack. Others came away from reading The Shack with a “different view of God.” Perhaps they were touched, perhaps they did come away with a different view of God. And truly, The Shack presents a different view of God than that presented in the Bible. But the view The Shack presents of God is patently false.

Here, a lot more people are inclined to label me as judgmental. How dare you say that this isn’t true! It feels true to me. How dare you say otherwise! Are you saying that my feelings don’t matter?

I’m not saying that your feelings don’t matter. But regardless of your feelings, truth is truth. Your feelings are not a measure of truth. Scripture is a measure of truth. So even if you “feel good” about the view of God presented in The Shack, that view is still wrong.

This is where things start getting difficult for me. What should I do when someone says something that is unbiblical? What should I do when I recognize that someone else holds a false belief about God or about truth or whatever? How should I respond?

I’ve evaluated that teaching or belief and determined that it’s unbiblical. But how do I go about pointing that out to another person? Should I point that out to the other person?

II Timothy 3:16 states that Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” One of the roles of Scripture is to reprove and correct. And Scripture talks of the role that believers play in correcting their fellow believers:

“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”
~James 5:19-20

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”
~II Timothy 2:24-26

The correction of other believers is one means God uses to work repentance, rescue, and salvation.

Okay, but how am I to deal with the rest of Scripture, which makes clear that I am not to judge? How am I to correct without judging?

Check back tomorrow to hear my conclusions to this case study, including cautions for the “corrector” and suggestions for different ways a “corrector” might approach this particular case.

Heresy Hunter

August 5th, 2010

Yesterday, I discussed the issue of the stereotypical “Critical Calvinist”. In the article I cited, a number of commentors stated that Calvinists were quick to label something heresy. Their most common accusation was that all Arminians are actually semi-Pelagian. (I’ll admit that I’ve occasionally been wont to note the dangerous tendency of Arminian thought towards semipelagianism.) At any rate, the critical Calvinists are also derided as heresy hunters, judgmental, always trying to figure out what’s right and wrong about everything.

I can see how people get that idea. After all, Reformed thought is very interested in truth. I personally am very interested in truth. I believe that there is truth and there is falsehood–and that believers should critically evaluate information in light of truth as it is revealed in God’s word. I believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to read the Bible. I believe that we should read the Bible with the aim of discovering what God intended in Scripture rather than finding what “I get out of it.”

This insistence on truth being truth and not open to individual interpretation already opens me up to charges of judgmentalism from some.

Yet, I don’t think Scripture would agree. 2 Peter 1:20-21 speaks of Scripture saying: “…no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

So the conclusion that objective truth does indeed exist is supported by Scripture.

But I am not just interested in the premise that objective truth does exist–I am interested in knowing what that objective truth IS. I want to know and live by truth–and I want to evaluate and reject falsehood.

When I hear that a student has been told by a speaker that he/she needs to “work to be chosen by God”, I bristle.

This piece of information, this idea is clearly unbiblical. In Deuteronomy 7:6-8, God warns the Israelites against thinking that they have been chosen by any merit of their own: “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you…” Romans 9:10-13 speaks of Jacob and Esau and how God chose one over the other: “…for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls…” Jacob was not chosen because he worked for God’s choosing–he was chosen because God, in His divine sovereignty chose to choose him.

In the same way, none of us merit salvation (or any of God’s gifts). We do not receive favor from God because we have worked for it. We receive favor from God because He has sovereignly bestowed it. We don’t work to be chosen. We are chosen. Period. God chooses, we’re chosen (by no act of our own).

Truth. Falsehood. I have evaluated this information in light of truth and have rejected it. I have passed judgment on it.

Scripture is in favor of is sort of evaluation and judgment of what others say. The Bereans were praised in Acts 17 for searching out the Scripture “to find out whether these things [that Paul and Silas taught] were so.” To evaluate ideas on the basis of Scripture is a good thing.

On the other hand, I Corinthians 8:1-2 warns “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone things that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.”

The problem with the “Critical Calvinist” and the “Heresy Hunter” isn’t that he evaluates information critically based on the Word of God–it’s that he becomes puffed up with pride and uses his knowledge to tear down the body rather than building it up.

Some might read I Corinthians 8 and suggest that knowledge is a bad thing. “We need childlike faith,” they might say. “Why bother with all this thinking stuff?” Much of the church has unfortunately grabbed hold of this idea and embraced anti-intellectualism.

But I don’t think that when Paul said that knowledge puffs up, he was arguing for anti-intellectualism. Instead, he was arguing for more love and humility.

Knowledge, by itself, makes one think much of himself–and little of those around him who have less knowledge. But, as Paul points out, anybody who thinks he knows something shows that he really doesn’t know much–after all, compared to the vastness of God’s knowledge, our greatest knowledge is but the smallest subset of His infinite wisdom.

So keep thinking, Christians (or start thinking if you haven’t been already)–but consider all the while the smallness of your knowledge compared to the greatness of God’s, lest you become a puffed-up heresy hunter.

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