The subject line is just to warn you I’m about to rant and ramble. First off, how on earth does Scot McKnight do it? A couple of days ago I’m email corresponding with him about a proper definition of the word “heresy” and “heretic”, he decides to issue a blog post about it — and he’s composed an excellent overview of the subject which I highly commend — and as kismet would have it, he future-posts the thing so it pops up into the middle of the melee on the blog day when everyone’s talking about Brian McLaren clarifying his view of Hell in an Out of Ur blog post and an interview by Leif Hansen (HT on these to half of everybody but let’s single out, oh, Stephen Shields). For good measure, it’s all on the same day that Emergent US declines to issue a doctrinal statement (HT on this one to again, half of everybody but let’s single out Mike Todd this time).
Now, if all of that don’t buzz the blogosphere.
So let’s see, back to heresy, where I’ll go on record as mentioning Brian McLaren in the heresy conversation with Scot… not because I think the man deserves the moniker, but because I’ve seen it used to wrongly accuse him, based specifically on his comments about Hell. Knowing that he doesn’t exactly sink exceeding amounts of time into dealing with critics and name-callers, someone needs to point out the absurdity of the accusation. “Foul!” I cry. Wanting to check my thinking on the matter, I sent off an email to Scot McKnight, who essentially verified the direction my thoughts were running. Affirm the historic creeds, not a heretic. Deny the deity of Christ but claim to be a Christian, heretic. Deny the nature of angels or demons, not necessarily a heretic. To answer the rhetorical question posed to illstrate the McLaren is teaching heresy, “What other word can you use…?” I answer, “possibly wrong” or “untraditional” or “not the way [you] see it.” But not heresy. That accusation is incorrect, emotive, calculated, and when levied against a brother, grievous. (I may yet publish a more extensive response to an earlier article from the same source.) In this case, McLaren’s offending statement seemed to be,
You know, if you go back into the most ancient parts of the Old Testament, there is no concept of Satan. That idea comes along much later. It seems to have been borrowed from the Zoroastrians, actually. Maybe itâ€™s no sin to think of Satan as a metaphor…
Apparently this is similarly-themed (but not exactly, perhaps misquoting?) something that E.P. Sanders says in The Historical Figure of Jesus. It must be noted that E.P. Sanders (see also E.P. Sanders at Duke) of Duke University Department of Religion is not normally considered a theological slouch, nor is his orthodoxy commonly open to question — whether one can follow along with every little thing or not. But to be clear, this isn’t contary to the historical creeds which would test for orthodoxy versus heresy.
Well. Brian “The Godfather” McLaren is now on record expanding his view of Hell, and I’ve provided the requisite links… but I here admit to not reading all of them through thoroughly, because in a very real way, I don’t necessarily care that much about it. If he were saying something seriously untraditional or dodgy about Jesus, I would care… but he isn’t. And I don’t.
Come to think of it, there are a few things being said about Jesus that aren’t completely traditional, if we look at the tradition of modernity. Let’s look at two eerily similar quotes:
LeRon Shults, in not issuing a doctrinal statement on behalf of Emergent US, writes,
Jesus did not have a “statement of faith.” He called others into faithful relation to God through life in the Spirit. As with the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he was not concerned primarily with whether individuals gave cognitive assent to abstract propositions but with calling persons into trustworthy community through embodied and concrete acts of faithfulness. The writers of the New Testament were not obsessed with finding a final set of propositions the assent to which marks off true believers. Paul, Luke and John all talked much more about the mission to which we should commit ourselves than they did about the propositions to which we should assent. The very idea of a “statement of faith” is mired in modernist assumptions and driven by modernist anxieties…
Meanwhile, Scot McKnight, in properly defining heresy, writes,
let me add an emerging point: it is too bad we donâ€™t have such an evocative term for praxis. Jesusâ€™ focus was on â€œhypocrisyâ€? more than â€œheresy,â€? and it might just be an indication of how far weâ€™ve strayed for us to give so much attention to â€œheresyâ€? and not enough to failure in praxis. As far as we can see, failure in practice is just as bad as failure in theology.
Scot, Scot, Scot. I wish I’d said that. This one goes down as the most valuable insight of the day (the week, the year), and paired with LeRon Shults’ comments, I think we’ve truly come to the heart of the matter. Somehow in the midst of everything, we’ve gotten back to the Bible, to those early days, the ones the modern church has always striven to reach, duplicate, and practice. The days when we’ll strain out a gnat but swallow a camel — and think ourselves justified through the process.
Here we are talking about Brian McLaren, heresy, creeds, Hell, and doctrinal statements, and conveniently forgetting about hypocrisy. Let’s own it and start to change it. Sign me up for that. Step 1: “Hi, my name is Brother Maynard, and I am a hypocrite.” C’mon, say it with me, “Hi, Brother Maynard…”
Can you say, “the pedulum has swung wayyyyyyy too far?” This whole conversation is an excercise is denial. A denial of what th word means – historucally and otherwise. “Possibley wrong”, “Maybe off-base.” But heretical never!!!! In fact, the word means nothing. Anymore. Maybe not to you. But as a Catholic I find your comments highly offensive. To us, heresy is still very alive and well, and your denial and brushing aside of the term is to belittle me and my entire tradition. Are Catholics simply irrelivant to you? Apparently. Not that you care.
Thanks for your comment. Please refer to the Scot McKnight article I cite — this provides a scholarly technical definition of the word “heresy” which has its roots in the creeds which both Catholics and Protestants can affirm. Catholics are very relevant to me, but I’m not very keenly interrested in that debate where some Catholics might consider Protestants heretics while some Protestants might consider the Catholic church apostate. I want no part of that kind of mudslinging between christian groups, which is essentially what this post is about. I don’t deny that heresy exists today, but I’m aware that I’m using the term differently than the way in which it may be commonly used (“disagreement with the Roman Catholic [or another] church”); I affirm the definition which Scot McKnight outlines, which is historically-based. In context above, I maintain that this specific comment by Brian McLaren does not constitute heresy.
I think you’ve missed my point entiurely but thank you. Let me ask you this simple question: When you speak of anyone who uses the term hersy and say that, “That accusation is incorrect, emotive, calculated, and when levied against a brother, grievous.” How are you one iota different when you call those who use the term (which is entirely relevant and useful in their world, as it has been since the beggining, though maybe not in yours) by calling and painting such people as “critics” – and equating such with being “name-callers” – all very very very negative phrases, and particularly so in this quarter of the Christian world? Why critics, and not simply fellow-conversationalists? Or are those who converse only allowed to do so if they agree with you? Do you see the absolute hypocisy of your position?
Okay I went back and read what you were referring to.
“”but Iâ€™m aware that Iâ€™m using the term differently than the way in which it may be commonly used (â€?disagreement with the Roman Catholic [or another] churchâ€?); I affirm the definition which Scot McKnight outlines, which is historically-based.””
See my point? It has nothing to do with whether or not you disagree with the Catholic Church (lets try to paint this guy as a dogmatist) But exactly as Mr. Mcknight has defined it. The Vincentinian Rule. So using that rule, since a literal hell and a persoanl Devil are clearly affirmed in the NT and within the creeds and also passes the Vincentian rule, despite the fact that Mr. Sanders possibley falls outside of it on this point, would you say that a dneial of hell or the affirmation of Satan as a mere metaphore is a position that rests outside of Orthodoxy?
I’m pushing the issue to make my point. Where there is no one to define or defend Orthodoxy, there is no heresy and vice versa. This is precisley what we “romanists” have been predicting for years. The logical end and conclusion of a traditionless worldview.
You ask how do I do it? I get asked this about 10x a week, and my answer is this: “It’s easy. And were it not easy, I’d never be able to do it, because it is not hard work, not drudgery, but tons and tons of fun. I love it. Maybe that’s why it is ‘easy’.”
The Church, however, didn’t really affirm Hell for some time, and the Easterns did not affirm it that way. So, I’m not sure the Vincentian canon applies.
“The Church, however, didnâ€™t really affirm Hell for some time, and the Easterns did not affirm it that way. So, Iâ€™m not sure the Vincentian canon applies.”
What exactly is “for some time”? Quite a relative term. What was affirmed first, the canon of Scripture or the literal and eternal qualities of hell?
In short to your response: Nonsense! Except the fact that you are “not sure”, of course.
One Cappadocian Father, Gregory of Nyssa, Patriarch of Constantinople – questioned the Orthodox doctrine of hell, but Eastern Orthodoxy clearly affirms it nonetheless.
If I’m not mistaken the Western Church didn’t affirm eternal sensory punishment until around 1200, and that is what I’m referring to.
More for Bobby,
Origen, then Gregory of Nyssa, and Nazianzen was close to this, St. Basil said most of his time thought this way (he didn’t) and Augustine, again not agreeing clearly, said there was lots of diversity on this. Pope Pelagius I made it dogma, I believe. First Council of Lyons, 1245, eternal sensory punishment. Aquinas admitted to degrees of punishment.
If you actually read McLaren’s book “The Last Word…” you’ll see that he carefully and biblically examines the meaning of the word “hell.” We’re talking about specific Hebrew words and Greek words. Check out a Bible dictionary on “Sheol” (Hebrew) and “Gehenna” (Greek). Focus on what those words literally mean and how they’re used in context. I’ve discovered McLaren to be quite biblical- and certainly not a heretic. Having said that, many Christians assume a very different meaning for the word “hell” than McLaren re-discovers. Peace, Tim
I will not even dignifiy the idea that Mclaren has “re-discovered” anything biblical. I will simply answer with three Scriptures:
“It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Mark 9:47-48
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matthew 25:41
“And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” Revelation 14:11
And now Scot,
Question: Why have you shifted from appealing to the Vincentian Rule to the suddenly appealing to the Catholic Ecumenical Councils? Which is your standard? And why shift from one standard to the next when attempting to justify your point? Seems to be selective opportunism to me. I’m not trying to be argumentative. But certainly you can see it from my perspective. My point is that you will not even stick up for your own standard. Would you say that the following list (pulled from someones Amazon review of one of Brian Mclraens books) entails or at least encroaches on “universal” consensus.
“At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.” -Athanasian Creed
“We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.” – US National Evangelical Alliance Statement of Faith & World Evangelical Alliance Statement of Faith
“…And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil teaching the faith of God for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him” -Ignatius Bishop of Antioch (Letter to the Ephesians 16:1-2 [A.D. 110]).
“If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect his commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment” -Clement (an associate of Paul ) (Second Clement 5:5 [A.D. 150]).
“But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire, the righteous, who have done good, and who have endured tortures and have hated the luxuries of life, will give glory to their God saying, `There shall be hope for him that has served God with all his heart!'” (ibid., 17:7).
” Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. ” -Justin Martyr (First Apology 12 [A.D. 151]).
“We have been taught that … they who live wickedly and do not repent will be punished in everlasting fire” -Justin Martyr (ibid., 21).
“Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire” -Polycarp (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3 [A.D. 155]).
“For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity… there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish; and in the end, such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire” -Theophilus of Antioch (To Autolycus 1:14 [A.D. 181]).
“[God will] send the spiritual forces of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, and the impious, unjust, lawless, and blasphemous among men into everlasting fire” -Irenaeus (Against Heresies 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).
“The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . [I]t is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, `Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,’ they will be damned forever” -Irenaeus (ibid., 4:28:2).
“After the present age is ended he will judge his worshipers for a reward of eternal life and the godless for a fire equally perpetual and unending” -Tertullian (Apology 18:3 [A.D. 197]).
“Then will the entire race of men be restored to receive its just deserts according to what it has merited in this period of good and evil, and thereafter to have these paid out in an immeasurable and unending eternity. Then there will be neither death again nor resurrection again, but we shall be always the same as we are now, without changing. The worshipers of God shall always be with God, clothed in the proper substance of eternity. But the godless and those who have not turned wholly to God will be punished in fire equally unending, and they shall have from the very nature of this fire, divine as it were, a supply of incorruptibility” (ibid., 44:12-13).
“An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life” -Cyprian of Carthage (To Demetrian 24 [A.D. 252]).
“but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” -Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 33 – 2.
“The evil ones will be convicted by the witness of their own consciences, and shall be made immortal– but only to be tormented in the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” -The Belgic Confession – Article 83
“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, `eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” -(CCCatechism 1035).
“preachers, catechists, teachers . . . no longer have the courage to preach the threat of hell” -Pope John Paul II Crossing the Threshold of Hope (p. 183)
“Neil finished the sentence: “… like the millions of others, young and old, who have given up on Christianity because our way of talking about hell sounds absolutely wacky. `God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,’ we say, `and he’ll fry your butt in hell forever unless you do or believe the right thing.’ `God is a loving father,’ we say, `but he’ll treat you with a cruelty that no human father has ever been guilty of-eternal conscious torture.’ No wonder Christianity-or at least that version of it-is a dying religion in so many places in the world.” – From the Book.
“For many people, hell means that God torments or tortures people consciously and forever, with no possibility of repentance and no possibility for an end to the tortures.
This view of God, I believe, is unworthy of the God presented to us in Jesus Christ.” – Brain Mclaren
In summary, why was there not the need to clarify the Churches affirmation of Hell as eternal and conscious until 1200’s? Because there was no need to do so. Justin, Ignatius, Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, and Irenaeus had already made it very very clear what the Rule of Faith for the Early church was. To shift from appealing to the Vincentinian Rule to the Council of Lyons is smoke and mirrors. History is there for those who will simply look it up. But I’m sure that Mclaren understood the Apostles true intentions far better than any of these chaps who actually ministered beside them. Of course. Thank you my protestant brothers. :)
With that, I’ll respectively bow out then. If I could before departing however, I’d like to speak as claerlya s I can why I chimed in in the first place. It was to try to point out the hypocrsisy of your post in the first place. Please allow me to explain.
Referring to those who use the word heresy as it has always been used from the beginning:
You accuse them of being accusatory.
You call them names like “name-callers” (a very bad name to be called in such a name-calling free zone as the Emrgent discussion claims to be)
You negatively paint them as pinting oythers negatively.
Now stop poitning that finger at me and screaming”don’t point your finger at me!” And perhaps I won’t become so argumentative and defensive.
Please try to see this from my perspective.
And to help you on your future post, I would just say this: No one knows what doctrines cause soemone to “be saved” or “not be saved”. no one. Orthodoxy (and heresy) are simply the guidelines. They define where you should be if you claim to be part of the Church. If you respect the Church, if you respect the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church, then you will endevour for concern over your own soul to stay within those guidelines. Simple as that. The further you drift outside of Orthodoxy, the more you risk your soul as you partake of falsity and eventually cloud your perception of the Character and nature of God. All theology affects our perception of God. But simply because someone believes something or wrestles with something about God that is not right does not make them a heretic that is automatically bound for hell. Otherwise we would all be in trouble to a degree. However, when someone claims to be a teacher, and yet he teaches his own ideas which are in conflict with the historical position of the Church he should fear. Mclaren shouldn’t be teaching on issues that are outside of Orthodoxy. He can do all of the word studies that he wants, but the fact is that he is outside of Orthodoxy on this one issue. We who have search engines should point this out and ask him to either discontinue teaching on this particular issue or if he fails to repent, we should shun him. This is how it works. For his sake and ours. This is love.
True Orthodoxy is the foundation for true Orthopraxy by the way. Once you understand that, you see why Orthodoxy is so important. The symbiotic relationship between the two is inseparable. PAX
To teach that which is not Orthodox is among the worst kinds of bad Orthopraxy
Bobby, you’re the determened sort, aren’t you? ;^) I like your point that teaching bad ‘orthodoxy’ is bad orthopraxy… hmmm, teaching bad dogma is chasing bad karma? Too much of a stretch for the pun?
In the emerging mindset, orthodoxy is a bit more open… as you correctly point out, we can’t know certainly which doctrines are perfect and which are not, but we can maintain that there are a subset found in the creeds which are in the earliest parts of church history which, for me, contain the non-negotiables. People tend to make the little things non-negotiable over time, and end up fighting one another over them instead of fighting ‘the good fight’.
One of your statements I would make even more strongly. You said, “All theology affects our perception of God.” whereas I would say that “Theology is our perception of God.” The latter statement I would footnote by saying that our perception is mainly made up of what he’s revealed of himself, at it’s core. The danger is when we heap so much logic on top of that revelation that we end up with a construct of God which only marginally represents his revealed self. I say we quit that process and start doing the things that express who God is… after all that’s a big part of our mandate, isn’t it?
I take your point about me name-calling the name-callers, but rather than defend myself against charges of hypocrisy, I refer you to the ending paragraph of the original post above where I freely admit it.
“rather than defend myself against charges of hypocrisy, I refer you to the ending paragraph of the original post above where I freely admit it.”
Exactly. As amatter of fact, when I became a Catholic, I took the hypocritical oath. Pray for me.
“The danger is when we heap so much logic on top of that revelation that we end up with a construct of God which only marginally represents his revealed self. I say we quit that process and start doing the things that express who God isâ€¦ after all thatâ€™s a big part of our mandate, isnâ€™t it?”
Exactly. Logic; no. Tradition and the voice of the Spirit in the Church; yes. And that is why you and Brian Mclaren should both become Catholics. :>
And then there’s the view from the notable “heretic” George Fox, as reported by Margaret Fell:
“And so he went on, and said, “That Christ was the Light of the world, and lighteth every man that cometh into the world; and that by this light they might be gathered to God,” &c. I stood up in my pew, and wondered at his doctrine, for I had never heard such before. And then he went on, and opened the scriptures, and said, “The scriptures were the prophets’ words, and Christ’s and the apostles’ words, and what, as they spoke, they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord”: and said, “Then what had any to do with the scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit that gave them forth? You will say, ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;’ but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?” &c. This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly: and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, “We are all thieves; we are all thieves; we have taken the scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves.”
That’s the real question: “what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?” Nothing else matters. Let your life speak.