From Alister McGrath’s latest, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (HarperOne, 2009), page 31:

“A heresy is a doctrine that ultimately destroys, destabilizes, or distorts a mystery rather than preserving it. Sometimes a doctrine that was once thought to defend a mystery actually turns out to subvert it. A heresy is a failed attempt at orthodoxy, whose fault lies not in its willingness to explore possibilities or press conceptual boundaries, but in its unwillingness to accept that it has in fact failed.”

4 thoughts on “Heresy

  1. Good definition. It is academic, but I think it is helpful.

    Another definition of heresy could be this: That special class of assertion which, when the church rises up in response to it, has provoked the most clarifying and ground-breaking theological insights as a counterpoint.

    The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

    Tying in to the comments on Ellul from the previous post, what is important to me in all this is the fact that with the Internet, the lid has been blown off the academic and institutional control of the flow of ideas in the culture. Will the church respond by having academic and institutional responses to the many new and old ideas functioning as heresies in the culture, or will they empower the broad lay community to engage with the truth and love of Christ boldly.

    If they do this grassroots equipping, expect much more light to shine in darkness. If they think they can do it themselves, with unique “discernment” per their role, expect darkness to continue its march in and through the culture.

    I welcome more thoughts.

  2. This is something I’m currently giving much thought to. In his new book James Davison Hunter sketches out a plan that is at least intriguing if not realistic. He argues that culture is influenced from the top down. He argues that it proceeds like this: theorists > researchers > educators > popularizers > those who can apply the principles concretely. I think there is an application for this within the church (if I can take the liberty to talk of the church as a culture unto itself). So I don’t think it’s a matter of deciding between the seminary or the pastor/blogger, I think they can all work together, the seminary listening to the online conversation, addressing concepts from a serious level and equipping others to take those conclusions and to spread them and activate them within the local church. This is where I’m at in my thinking.

  3. Good! I think we would all benefit from your insights here.

    I agree that this is a good general flow: theorists > researchers > educators > popularizers > those who can apply the principles concretely.

    Francis Schaeffer has similar insights, but focuses more on the philosophers and artists as the groundbreakers, but I think the flow is basically the same.

    Top-down is important and is not going away, but I think top-down has created culture because culture is shaped by ideas and persuasive communication, and before a free, ubiquitous, point-to-multipoint medium existed (i.e., the Internet), only the people at the tops of organizations could command the tools of communication needed to create culture. The bottom-up nature of the Internet changes the game, because new voices such as bloggers and other online audience grabbers can be the new theorists and popularizers, without having to get the blessing of the institution.

    This cuts both ways. Organizations tend to be stodgy and slow, but the best of them are built on proven traditions and values. Bottom up communication can be more nimble and activate social action more effectively, but also without the provenness of the institution.

    What most interests me is the new opportunities created by the new situation. Also, what if pastors, theories, and other institutional leaders have not, for example, been very effective engaging “heresies” in all the places they show up in and around us? Should the new crop of bloggers wait for them to get with the program, or should we press the program ourselves and bring the light and love of Christ into our world’s dark corners in order to help set the captives free?

    Are you feeling me on this? This is really what I am getting at. And let’s not kid ourselves. SGM, DGM, T4G, CLC and the like need to make the call on this. Try to lead through the traditional, institutional approach? Trust the laity to have the “discernment” needed to jump to the frontlines in the fight? Equip grassroots leaders to be salt and light in the culture, while focusing pulpit time on the gospel’s basic truths?

    These are not easy questions, and I know strategic conversations are being had about all this. But I will say this about those conversations: Those of us on the bottom have as much, or more, stake in the outcome as those in the top making decisions about how to engage the culture. We are the ones working 8+ hours Mon-Fri with people we love, facing the issues of the day together in the marketplace.

    And I bet if you took a straw poll, most of the laity would want (and find it appropriate) to be in the thick of those conversations of how to engage in our shared gospel mission as we face various belief systems all around us.

    So the beauty of blogs is this: We can make the ask. Let’s open up the conversation to all the stakeholders! Let’s let those on the frontlines have a voice in how to best shape our response to the advancing darkness in our nation and in our communities. We are talking about the world that we allow to grow up around our children and those we love, so it’s time to go all in together!

    Alright, I’ll come off my soapbox now.

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