Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Heresies

Re-posted from Friday, March 20, 2009 because I recently revisited it, liked it, and thought others might be interested.

My introduction to the distinction between Christian orthodoxy and heresy came when, still a teenager, I came across Modern Heresies: A Guide to Straight Thinking About Religion by John M. Krumm in the Milton College Library where I worked part time. I read it, then bought it, and it has been in my personal library ever since [the image is of my copy]. Krumm, later an Episcopal bishop, was at the time [1961] chaplain at Columbia University. He stated his purpose in the preface:
...Modern Heresies sounds as if we purposed to pillory by name the major perversions of Christianity which flourish today as modern cults and to denounce them roundly and warn the faithful against their perils. That has not been the intention, and the author apologizes for any betrayal of the readers' hopes. Our aim has been rather to justify the fundamental notion of orthodoxy and heresy and to show why some such distinction is inevitable if one is to speak and think about Christianity in a way that does not do violence to the fundamental Christian experience of salvation in Christ. To make orthodoxy reasonable and to show the basic inconsistency involved in the major heresies of the faith, especially as they appear in our own time, has been the author's ambition. ....
It was a good primer for me at that point in my life. Some of the excerpts used on the dustcover give a sense of why it was as enjoyable to read as it was informative:
  • Perhaps our experience with democracy has misled us into thinking that God is not so much the eternal King of creation as just a candidate seeking that office.
  • The heresy which lurks behind the otherwise welcome revival of Christian healing is the unwillingness to accept the inevitability of death.
  • Isn't Deism in its image of an uncommunicative and withdrawn God open to the charge of imagining God as a Person fit only for radical psychoanalysis?
  • A friend of mine once compared the modern world's attitude toward God to the kind of deference which a parish priest pays to a rector emeritus—it is pleasant to have the old fellow about, and on ceremonial occasions he graces the head table.
I still enjoy dipping into it.

Today Scott McKnight has begun blogging his way through a recent book, Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why It Matters What Christians Believe. He describes the book as:
...an edited collection of readable, brief, and incisive chapters on various heresies: Arianism, Docetism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism, Adoptionism, Theopaschitism, Marcionism, Donatism, Pelagianism, Gnosticism, Free Spirit, and the book closes with a study of Bibical Trinitarianism and the purpose of being orthodox. ....

One of the editors of this fine book is Ben Quash, an Anglican priest, a professor at King's in London, and the canon theologian at Coventry. The other editor is Michael Ward, an Anglican priest and writer and former chaplain at the coolest college in Cambridge: Peterhouse. Quash wrote the Prologue.

He opens with a definition: "A heretic is is a baptized person who obstinately denies or doubts a truth which the Church teaches must be believed because it is part of the one, divinely revealed, and catholic (that is, universally valid) Christian faith"....
Sounds interesting for some of the same reasons Modern Heresies was—I've ordered it.

I belong to a denomination that doesn't hunt heretics. We are "non-creedal." Our Statement of Belief is intended to be descriptive of what most of us actually believe rather than prescriptive. When our last doctrinal statements were adopted about a generation ago, I recall having a conversation with a pastor who was upset that the statement on God was trinitarian. He said we were "reading him out of the denomination." I assured him that we were not—that, in fact it was up to him to decide whether he wanted to associate with a bunch of people with whom he fundamentally disagreed. He wouldn't [couldn't] be kicked out. Orthodoxy is important—whether enforced by some central authority or not. I am pleased that our Statement falls within those boundaries. I would be as uncomfortable among a people who could not affirm the faith as he apparently was among those who could.

Our Collective Faith and Heresies 1 - Jesus Creed