Can You Hate the Heresy but Love the Heretic?

Last week Rachel asked me to participate, along with many others and the entire Christian blogosphere, in The Rally to Restore Unity. You can follow and participate in the Rally on Rachel's blog and on Facebook (I'm not on Facebook so I don't know where to go exactly, but Rachel's blog has the Facebook link.)

I missed Rachel's deadline to send her few lines on this subject and I've been slow to come up with something of value to share this week.

The trouble I'm having is this. Whenever I tried to write anything on this topic I couldn't stop preaching to the choir. That is, I expect that if you are participating in the Rally to Restore Unity then you think Christian unity is more important than doctrinal distinctives. Which, let's face it, kind of marks you as a liberal. The point is, if you think a bit of doctrine is critical to salvation then you are not going to be able to let that go. Nor should you if this doctrine is critical to salvation. But that's the rub, isn't it? Is doctrine critical to salvation? If you don't think so you can go to the Rally. If you do think so, well, the Rally is going to feel like an ice cube dropped down your shirt.

All this is the predictable product of the psychology of moral conviction. The work of psychologist Linda Skitka is helpful here. According to Skitka a moral conviction is characterized by these three features:

1. Emotional
Moral convictions tend to involve a great deal of emotion, often outrage. This makes dispassionate, critical dialogue a bit of a trick.

2. Factual
Moral convictions are believed to be objective realities, a sort of moral fact. Abortion is obviously murder. Homosexuality is obviously a sexual perversion. Keeping chickens cooped up to make Chicken McNuggets is obviously cruel and inhumane. And so on.

3. Universal
Moral convictions are morally binding on everyone. You can't opt out. A moral conviction isn't an opinion. Nor is it culturally relative. It's absolute. No exceptions.
You can see the problem. If someone is morally convicted about something there is little room for "unity." Feature Three rules out a middle ground. Feature Two means you are talking to idiots ("How could anyone deny the obvious?"). And Feature One brings on the shouting, snarkiness, and ad hominem.

The point is, if you are rallying to restore unity you are already saying that you're not morally convicted about a lot of the stuff Christians are fighting over. You're willing to let it go, to "agree to disagree." This is Rachel's story as she recounts it in her wonderful memoir Evolving in Monkey Town, a book I highly recommend. It's her evolution from certainty to doubt, to living into the questions. And I've made the exact same journey. As have many of you.

So it's easy for us to let a lot of this doctrine go in the name of unity.

But what if someone is morally convicted on a given point? How is a Rally to Restore Unity going to work for them? Not very well. The whole notion of a rally suggests you're willing to compromise a bit, that you are willing to hold your beliefs more lightly.

You can see my problem. Hasn't, by its very nature, the Rally excluded those it was intended to embrace? And, thus, isn't my participation just simply preaching to the choir?

I mean, if you are participating in the Rally to Restore Unity we likely weren't fighting in the first place. Right?

Okay, fine, but isn't it possible for Christians to disagree strongly and still love each other? You think I'm a heretic bound for hell. Fantastic. I can respect that opinion. I really can. But will you wash my feet? Eat dinner with my family? Visit me in the hospital? Lend me 20 bucks? Pray for my sick child? And work alongside me in the inner city ministry?

Or, to get all Biblical on you: Will you love me?

Now that's the key question, isn't it? Is it possible, psychologically speaking, to love a person you feel is a heretic? We are not talking here about being nice and pleasant, everyone can slap a smile on their face for a few minutes, we are talking about actually loving this person.

Is it, psychologically speaking, possible to love someone when they are violating a moral conviction of yours? To, as they say, "hate the sin but love the sinner." Or, in this case, to "hate the heresy but love the heretic"?

It might be possible, but I expect that it is the very rare exception rather than the rule. And it's not hard to see why given the psychology of moral convictions. You feel the heretic is a malevolent agent, a person damaging the faith and the faith of others. And in light of this it would be very hard for you could love this person given what you think they are doing.

Overall, I think the dynamics here parallel the dynamics I try to unpack in my book Unclean. If you've read the book I'm sure you can see the connections. Unclean is preoccupied with the problems inherent in the "hate the sin but love the sinner" formulation, and it's only a short step to apply its analysis to the "hate the heresy but love the heretic." I'm particularly thinking about the material on infrahumanization and the moral circle, how we tend to see outgroup members as less than fully human and, thus, less worthy of love. Heretics are prime examples of this process.

So it seems we've come full circle in this post. Can you rally for unity with heretics? That is, can you love those heretics while maintaining your moral convictions? My own answer is that I'm not sure that's possible. If you are going to truly love a heretic you are going to have to put your doctrine on the back-burner. To put the person first, and not the heresy. You'll have to adopt what Miroslav Volf calls "the will to embrace." A commitment to love that precedes any discussion of doctrine. But again, I can't help but shake the feeling that if you're able to do this you've already begun to hold your beliefs more tentatively and lightly. That you've become able to put your doctrine on the back-burner.

And, thus, suddenly I'm back to preaching to the choir.

So that's the question I keep kicking around about the Rally to Restore Unity given my work in Unclean. Can you hate the heresy but love the heretic? Or does loving the heretic imply that, in some deep psychological way, you have come to you hold your beliefs more lightly? Are these processes, paralleling the analysis of love and purity in Unclean, reciprocally related? Does in the increase of one (love) necessarily involve the decrease of the other (dogmatism)? And vice versa?

My guess? I don't think it's possible to love heretics. You have to burn them.

So if you want to love. You have to choose.

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63 thoughts on “Can You Hate the Heresy but Love the Heretic?”

  1. if we hold EVERYTHING with open hands, unclenched fists as Henri Nouwen puts it, then even our doctrines could be easily let go if He asked them of us, in order to Love.

    that doesn't answer any of your questions. it's just what they brought to mind.

  2. I have become convinced doctrinal unity is a discussion of the past, still clung onto be a few aging theologians. The bigger problem I believe is the opposite of doctrinal unity, that no doctrine exists. That is, "Jesus is my best friend and nothing else matters". This seems to me a very shallow religion.

  3. whats nice is what Abraham maslove says or was it caral young ,god help me i cant spell....
    1+1=2 but i can't stand it .....1+1=2 so what.....then there is 1+1=2
    how interesting.
    and most of us fall unfortunately into the category of 1+1=3 to others,
    that is why relationship is screwy.... we are alllll right..... god word is ....i w0nt finish that
    love one another

  4. I agree. I wrestle with that issue a lot (and in my book), the balance between integrity (moral or theological) and inclusion. It seems like it's a pick your poison. How to maintain the balance?

    My thoughts about this are sketchy, but I might try a Part 2 to this post to float some ideas.

  5. I just had to laugh at that title, The Rally to Restore Unity. RESTORE, surely Rachel is not serious?

    > Can you rally for unity with heretics?

    Yes, when you have first defined 'unity.' Emily Post might consider a person who set their table with the forks on the right as an heretic. So for her, unity might have to do agreement on place settings. In the Bible, the primary unity that I can find spoken of is the unity of the Spirit. A person who is actually 'walking in the Spirit' can't do anything but love and consider the other as more important than themselves.

    All of the phychology you mention is very relevant and important when the person is on their own throne. When the Holy Spirit is, when a person is in submission to the Holy Spirit, then that stuff is just so much nonsense.

  6. Richard, much of what we claim as "psychology" is merely a description of instinct. I know you're not much into volition, but we do, in fact, have a choice in conquering our "psychology." Much of what being a Christ-follower entails is counter-intuitive. It's not a natural instinct for me to turn the other cheek or deny myself. That is a state of mind that must be nurtured and developed over time. It is a product of my willingness (there's that concept again) to abandon my intuition and attempt to plug into God's.

    So it is in dealing with those with whom we disagree. My intuition tells me to combat these people, to wipe out the threat they represent to all that I hold true. God calls me higher, however. It is possible, if I really work at it, to firmly disagree with the heretic and yet truly love him. It's hard...really hard, but that's our challenge: to be like Christ and love the unlovable. It's the very nature of Grace.

    So while I wouldn't necessarily value "unity" above all else, I must value my neighbor above all else. I may disagree with my neighbor, perhaps stridently, but I must be prepared to love him all the same, and if need be, humble myself before him and serve.

    Unity isn't uniformity. I am free to hold my "truth" and yet serve those who reject the same. It's a cross to bear to be sure, but that's our commission.

  7. CD,
    First, your profile pic is something else!

    Second, I'm huge into volition. Any rants I have against it are not about volition, just about radical, unrealistic models of it. Volition is the stuff of life. My very sense of self-authorship.

    But to your point. I hear what you are saying. Let me frame it this way. You say the balance is "hard...really hard" and that the proper stance "must be nurtured and developed over time" and that we must "really work at it."

    Totally, 100%, agree. A couple of observations, locations where I think we agree.

    One way to look at what I'm trying to say is that I'm simply pointing out, as you describe so well, how hard this all is. I think a huge part of the problem with all the "love the sin but hate the sinner" talk is how easy people make it seem. How people blandly say, "Sure, I just love the sinner but hate the sin." How they look at someone they are treating like shit and say, "Yes, I love you." People trick themselves into thinking they have flipped this easy switch in their mind. "I hate your sin, but I love you." When, in fact, they are doing nothing of the kind. Examples of this sort of Christian hypocrisy are as numerous as the sands of the sea.

    But when I look over your comment what I see isn't a simple switch, a quick little choice. I see boot camp. A lifelong boot camp. And if that is what we mean by "loving the sinner but hating the sin"--a lifelong boot camp, like a heroin addict fighting to stay clean each and every day--well, I have no quibble.

    But I think you'd agree, that isn't how most people think about it. They don't think they are heroin addicts in how they treat people.

  8. Jesus: I give you a new command, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

    John: Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. ...Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen god; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

    Paul: And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.

    I grew up in a militantly conservative congregation. I now minister in a conservative congregation (although not militantly so). I have been called a heretic at both. Ultimately what becomes so frustrating is that, if I'm honest, I'm just as dedicated to my convictions as my opponents are about theirs. The question, when it comes to living as a united body of Christ, is whose hermeneutic is going to win out? In my "liberal" camp, all commands must be filtered through the command to love. Obviously, others would (and do) filter God's commands through different lenses. Neither party assumes they are being scriptural, and in fact, neither are, at least in the realm of proof texting. So, whether I like it or not, as you said above, I am asking them to be the ones to back down if they are going to live as I think they should...which of course they will not do because they are equally sure I am the one who needs to change.

    As a minister, this is a thorn in my side. I feel like a sell out in saying that I've come to the conclusion that the only way I am going to survive spiritually and be a service to the Church is by stepping out of my present environment and finding one in which my and my congregation's convictions match. For me this has meant leaving my religious tribe altogether.

    I truly hate how the dynamic you talked about in this post affects the Church, both the lay people and the ministers. This is one of those many moments where I am left looking toward God and thinking, "God, save us from ourselves. Come, Lord, come."

    Sorry for the rant. This post struck a nerve.

  9. I think many, many of us can identify. I sure can.

    Obviously, I've been thinking about this stuff for a long time. Wrote a book about it. But I have few answers. I'm really good at describing the psychological mechanics of the problem but fare less well with providing solutions.

    That said, ranting to sympathetic listeners can be cathartic!

  10. You don't have all the answers?! Thank you for the kind words. It has been a long few years for my wife and I, and now we have a son to try to raise in the midst of all this. Also, for clarification, when I said, "Neither party assumes they are being scriptural..." I meant to say "Both parties assume they are being scriptural, and in fact, they are...." I'm not sure what my brain was doing with the negatives there.

  11. Well put, Richard. I agree, we've watered down Christ's message into a "cheap grace" that is sometimes entirely an intellectual exercise and other times simply rote.

    If we're really honest with God and ourselves, we recognize that though Jesus may have been "simplifying" the convoluted law the Pharisees had created, he certainly wasn't making things any easier.

    Your equation with addiction is an apt one. We're all hardcore "self" addicts. Until I stand before the group and honestly confess, "Hi, I'm Chuck and I'm a self-a-holic," I can't get any further toward "recovery."

    At the core of all sin is selfishness. The same is true wrt doctrinal fallouts. Like the preacher said above, it becomes a battle where "my" doctrine must win out over "yours." If I'm really trying to become Christ-like, I'm going to be genuinely after discovering truth, not just trying to filter information so it will fit into my preconceptions. And above all, I've got to maintain the humility to realize that as convicted as I might be about something, I still ultimately "see through a glass darkly."

  12. Could you address I Cor 5:11, because it stumps me...


  13. I'm afraid I have to agree with your thoughts wholeheartedly, based on my experience last Sunday attending a church in which the pastor unabashedly denounced someone as a heretic. There is no middle line anymore. You do have to choose. Choose sides, or choose to live in uncertainty. Either way, you make a choice, and others will disagree.

  14. I still cling to the notion that there are core beliefs on which the vast majority of Christ-followers concur: God is ... Jesus is His Son ... by His life, death and resurrection we are meant to die to self and live. These really are necessary common beliefs. The details; the interpretations; the opinions - all of these pale in comparison to these simple, great truths. It is largely over the anemically human inferences that we divide and hate, rather than discuss and love. By discussing and loving, we learn to grow closer to each other and God - because none of us has a copyright on truth; He does.

  15. A friend recently passed on this quote from Dallas Willard (not sure exactly where it comes from):

    “Christians are routinely taught by example and word that it is more important to be right than to be Christlike. In fact, being right licenses you to be mean, indeed, requires you to be mean.”

    I suspect Jesus had strongly felt moral convictions (overturning the tables at the temple), but managed to hold them in such a way that love, not meanness, is our primary memory of him... Not an easy example to follow, but that is our calling, isn't it?

  16. Hi David, let me ask you this, given our disagreements about how salvation works:

    Are you and I in unity? That is, do you consider me a heaven-bound Christian, despite my being in error?

    For my own part, I stand fully unified with you, despite our doctrinal disagreements. I think you are my brother in Christ. But then again, I'm kind of liberal like that. :-)

    Of course, only God knows any of this. I'm asking here about your own opinion.

  17. hang in the battle preacher! we all stay frustrated in trying to "work out our salvation w/fear, trembling, and humility. I learned a long time ago to think of it as the "creative tension" that the Church faces in this world that will only end at the Consumation.

    The Apostle John also talked about 'doctrine' as in 2John10,11.

  18. Godly men in the field of missiology would not like that last sentence. The science of the mission of the Church has learned to appreciate the contributions of the social sciences in tandem w/ Biblical theology and the history of the Church & her mission. Personally I think it is not only relevant but necessary when Christ is enthroned in my life as I follow Him.

  19. It stumps me too as does 2John 10,11. These are some of the real issue we all have to wrestle w/ as we pursue the imperatives of Ephesians 4 regarding maintaining the unity of the Spirit.
    Lets face it: if it was easy, there wouldn't be all this disunity.
    Nice talking w/you today. That's what unity in Christ is about.

  20. I'll admit guilt to the last sentence being 'over the top.' Sorry. If I may be defensive; I was trying to keep the comment as brief as possible.

    I'll also have to admit complete ignorance of 'the science of mission of the Church.' Any handy references? I thought the Church was to be the pillar and support of the truth? And, that Jesus would take care of building it.

  21. Richard!!!

    I am so sorry that you feel the need to ask this question. ABSOLUTELY, do I consider you a brother in Christ. A 'slightly' more liberal brother; but, a true brother nevertheless. Let me also add, just in case I have screwed this up too. Doctrine does not save; God does. Doctrinal disagreements are not a problem to be avoided; loveless argumentation is.

  22. I didn't mean to belittle the place of doctrine in my comment above. John uses three "tests" in I John to show the difference between true Christians and false: 1) Obedience, 2) Love, 3) Doctrine (specifically regarding Jesus). I did not mean to imply from the verses I quoted that two of the three don't matter. I am simply frustrated by the irony that the command to love one another tends not to be treated as doctrine, or at least takes a back seat to the finer points of theological arguments. I will be the first to say that if we don't know what we believe, we won't know why/how to love anyway. Thanks for the encouragement, John.

  23. So, are you saying that if we want to love each other, we have to give up on moral convictions? I'm probably the poster child for the kind of Christian you think can't love someone with whom I disagree. (I think Rob Bell, Brian MacLaren and Wm Paul Young are all heretics.) I will admit that it is difficultm to discern how to respond. The issues are complex, but I have one question I can't shake: What do you so with the Bible, if you take this position? The fact remains that the Bible reserves its strongest language of condemnation for false prophets and false teachers. If you believe that someone is presenting something as Gospel which is not, as life which is really death, as true which is really false, then how can you not be outraged? How can you not publicly comdemn their teaching, if they are publicly promoting it? Of course, this doesn't mean hating the person just because you hate their teaching. I think of Peter and Paul in Galatians 2. Paul opposed Peter to his face because Peter was in the wrong. Does this mean Paul hated Peter? No, but he did hate what Peter was doing by distorting the Gospel in his actions. Sometimes the difficulty lies in distinguishing between a Peter at Antioch (Galatians 2) and a true false teacher (see 1 Timothy 4:1-2, where Paul calls such men "hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared with a hot iron.") Or, perhaps to use contemporary terms, can we distinguish the difference between a Dan Brown and a Rob Bell? Or is there such a distinction to be made, say between an Paul Young and a Rick Warren?

  24. So, are you saying that if we want to love each other, we have to give up on moral convictions? I'm sure I'm the poster child for the kind of Christian you think can't love someone with whom I disagree. (For example, I think that Rob Bell, Brian MacLaren and Wm Paul Young are heretucs whose view of God and the Gospel is poison for the church.) I will admit that it is difficult to love someone you think is hurting the church. The issues are complex, but I have one question I can't shake: What do you do with the Bible, if you take this position? The fact remains that the Bible reserves its strongest language of condemnation for false prophets and false teachers. If you believe that someone is presenting something as Gospel which is not, as life which is really death, as true which is really false, then how can you not be outraged? How can you not publicly comdemn their teaching, if they are publicly promoting it? Of course, this doesn't mean hating the person just because you hate their teaching.

    I think of Peter and Paul in Galatians 2. Paul opposed Peter to his face because Peter was in the wrong. Does this mean Paul hated Peter? No, but he did hate what Peter was doing by distorting the Gospel in his actions. Sometimes the difficulty lies in distinguishing between a Peter at Antioch (Galatians 2) and a true false teacher (see 1 Timothy 4:1-2, where Paul calls such men "hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared with a hot iron.") Or, perhaps to use contemporary terms, can we distinguish the difference between a Dan Brown and a Rob Bell? Or is there such a distinction to be made, say between an Ed Young and a Rick Warren? One thing I believe: If we embrace theological relativism and subjectivism, we have lost the ability to speak truth in love, for we have no truth to speak and no definition of love either.

  25. "The point is, if you are rallying to restore unity you are already saying that you're not morally convicted about a lot of the stuff Christians are fighting over. You're willing to let it go, to "agree to disagree." "

    I think there might be another possibility: the recognition that unless others really see who I am and what I'm about, there's little hope that I convince them that they are wrong about things. It behooves those who have strong convictions to invest in unity because it produces more opportunities to convince "heretics" to see the truth. (Of course, your interlocutors might be thinking the exact same thing. Mutual conversion attempts might be result.)

    Further, I'm going to suggest that not all people who hold strong convictions believe that "heretics" are going to hell. Do you believe Universalism strongly? If so, I hardly think you'd expect a Calvinist to suffer never-ending damnation. Even most Arminians wouldn't think a Calvinist to be damned. I can believe any number of things strongly without thinking those who disagree are damned. So I think you're going a bit of far to suggest that those rallying to restore unity are necessarily those who weren't fighting in the first place. I might even suggest that those rallying to restore unity might have every intention of continuing to at the very least argue. Agreeing to disagree might be a last resort and not a first attempt.

    That all being said, I do understand your concern. Here's another thought, though: a lot of non-Christians level criticism at Christianity because it's so fragmented. A public display of Christian unity might be appropriate right now from a PR point of view.

  26. What do we do with what the Bible teaches throughout about false prophets and false teachers? Not just 1 Cor. 5:11, but the whole Bible reserves its strongest language of condemnation for false teachers. (See Galatians 1:7-9, 1 Timothy 4:1-2 and more) It seems to me that if we're going to pursue "unity" (whatever that is) at the expense of doctrine by getting rid of our moral convictions, we're going to have to throw away the Bible. What we need is the discernment to make distinctions between doctrinal distinctives and heresy. We have these boundaries of orthodoxy in the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. Beyond these creeds, we have distinctives. I love distinctives and I think we should debate and discuss them, but we should not condemn anyone on the basis of them.

  27. So, are you saying that if we want to love each other, we have to give up on moral convictions? I'm probably the poster child for the kind of Christian you think can't love someone with whom I disagree. I think Rob Bell, Brian MacLaren and I will admit that it is difficult. The issues are complex, but I have one question I can't shake: What do you so with the Bible, if you take this position? The fact remains that the Bible reserves its strongest language of condemnation for false prophets and false teachers. If you believe that someone is presenting something as Gospel which is not, as life which is really death, as true which is really false, then how can you not be outraged? How can you not publicly comdemn their teaching, if they are publicly promoting it? Of course, this doesn't mean hating the person just because you hate their teaching. I think of Peter and Paul in Galatians 2. Paul opposed Peter to his face because Peter was in the wrong. Does this mean Paul hated Peter? No, but he did hate what Peter was doing by distorting the Gospel in his actions. Sometimes the difficulty lies in distinguishing between a Peter at Antioch (Galatians 2) and a true false teacher (see 1 Timothy 4:1-2, where Paul calls such men "hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared with a hot iron.") Or, perhaps to use contemporary terms, can we distinguish the difference between a Dan Brown and a Rob Bell? Or is there such a distinction to be made, say between an Ed Young and a Rick Warren?

  28. I wonder if our western rationalistic expectations are working against us here. Any time I see in the Bible teaching against false beliefs, these were not merely "intellectual variations" but doctrines that led to practice that usually restricted freedom, demanding a narrower approach to the freedom of the gospel, or occasionally outright immorality justified. The Judiazers were insisting you could not be a follower of Jesus unless you became a Jew. 1 John addressed the Gnostics, whose teaching also led to a belief in a special select few with the only true knowledge. All the heresies seem to have come from a desire of the heretical teachers setting themselves up as the "the true guardians of faith" and their teachings gave them special recognition. I challenge anybody to find an exception. What I find in the writings of many of the so called "modern day heretics" - Young, Bell, and so on, is just the opposite - they are not demanding followers, not teaching an "exclusivism" that they alone are right - they are opening the game up! And I don't find in any of these writings an "opening up to moral relativism" - but actually a questioning if our moral practices flow from a changed heart (isn't that what Jesus promised) rather than simply a fear of punishment. True heresy will lead to bad practice ( and PLEASE ignore the straw men so quickly put up) - arrogance, exclusivism, pride, or justified immorality....ultimately the absence of love, which Jesus said would be the mark of his followers.

    A couple of ironies - the reasoning of the religious establishment actually reflects more of what Jesus and the gospel writers opposed than what they supported - the "guardians of the truth" may need a wake up call. And the irony of ironies...the "guardians of the truth" often refer to the Bereans - if you read the story in Acts, the Bereans were rooted in "the established understanding" and what Paul presented to them was new and uprooting - and they studied that, found it true, AND CHANGED THEIR BELIEFS.

  29. Ironic - The individual/group who has decided to label another individual/group as heretical presumes a position of superiority (whether they realize they're doing this or not). Judging the salvation status of others - seems very dangerous, spiritually speaking.

    Unstrained/genuine/lasting unity in His body might be achievable when all really, really, really, really, really realize (at a deeply personal level) that ALL OF US are pathetcally broken and desperately needy of His MERCY.

    For those who are concerned about the other extreme - no doctrinal consensus: For the single mom (who did not grow up in a "Christian home") trying to take care of 3 young children while living in a gang zone, and having no transportation (to go to "church) - having "Jesus as a Friend" might be the only accessible thing afforded her and her children.

    Gary Y.

  30. Hi Jason,
    I'm not sure I know who Ed Young and Rick Warren are. I know Warren wrote A Purpose Driven Life, but I've not read it. So I can't answer that last question.

    Regarding your more important questions, I don't have a great answer for you. I'm being descriptive rather than proscriptive. I'm describing what happens to people, psychologically speaking, when they follow the speech acts of the apostles rather than Jesus and the theologia crucis. What happens when the epistles lead and run out in front of the gospels.

    Is it possible to hold Paul and Jesus together? That's a good question, and one that has been debated for centuries.

  31. Two quibbles.

    Making a pronouncement about what is heresy is not or should not be about labeling persons or groups as heretical, but rather labeling ideas as heretical. Maybe one might not thing it makes a difference, but they are not the same thing.

    Also, it seems you have equated defining heresy with "judging the salvation status of others." Those are not (necessarily) the same thing at all. They may perhaps have the same outcome, and they may not, but they are not the same.

  32. I don't ask this to be critical to Richard. You'd be hard pressed to find someone more interested in restoring (?) unity. I'm a Christian hippie to my core. But I don't shy from the hard questions, and that passage is often one that makes me go "hmmm...."

  33. Let add some clarification given a lot of the very good questions. Can you love and love someone who is violating a moral conviction of yours? My answer in the post is, no. You have to choose. Many of you have pushed back, suggesting that both are possible. You can love heretics.

    Well, yes, heretics on paper. But if you are morally convicted I'm a heretic I doubt you'll be showing up at my birthday party.

    Let's think through an example. Let's say I have neighbor Joe, who is Jewish. Further assume that, as a orthodox Christian, I conclude that Joe is going to hell. He's Jewish after all and doesn't think Jesus is the Son of God.

    But here's the thing. Joe and I are best friends. Our kids play together. I'm invited to family Jewish celebrations at his house. We coach our kids baseball team together. We go on weekend fishing trips together. And we journey through some tough times together. Joe helped me out financially when I was unemployed a few years ago. I now visit Joe as he battles for his life against cancer.

    And as Joe is dying he asks me, "Do you really think I'm going to hell?"

    And 100% of the time, if what I'm describing is true, you will respond: "I hope not."

    Now tell me, does that sound like moral conviction? That love hasn't caused you to put Joe first and doctrine second? Because seriously, if you put doctrine first and treat Joe as a Jew rather than as Joe, you'll never get to that deathbed scene.

    And that's my point. You can say you are morally convicted about X, Y, or Z, but when I look at your behaviors I see, like with the Joe's in you life, you let people "opt out," or hope you're wrong. And that's not moral conviction as I've described it.

  34. I actually talk about this in the book a bit. The passage is hard. My answer is simply this: You can't read 1 Cor. 5 without 1 Cor 13. If the two become decoupled then you have problems. But if you read 1 Cor 5 through 1 Cor 13, as I think you must, then the separation looks very, very different. Stay with the child/parent image. You don't just let your child engage in self-destructive acts. You try, via discipline, to get them to stop. To, in the language of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, "come to their senses." It's a separation, but an engaged, loving separation. The bond of love never breaks. Love "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." Even in discipline.

  35. yes. that makes sense. thank you Richard.

    I am eager to read your book. now more than ever.

  36. Hello Seanlotz,
    Technically speaking, you are absolutely correct. In actual practice, most of us are not mature enough to keep the the two separated (doctrinal "idea" vs. the person himself/herself).

    "They may perhaps have the same outcome" - in actual practice it seems inevitable - the heretic label and a question of one's salvation eventually merge as one combined label. With something as crucial as salvation allegedly in the balance, this tension is not trivial when attempting to work side by side with our "siblings" in Christ. Provoking unnecessary suspicion of one another's "legitimacy" within His family ... ??? Again, I'm just sharing my observation of actual attitudes/practices.

    I'm not qualified to answer this rhetorical question but to
    jump in on your really good point, there might also be a difference between heresy and apostasy ... technically speaking.

    At the end of the day however, Jesus Christ didn't come to save ideas, creeds, denominations - he came to save people.

    Gary Y.

  37. > That love hasn't caused you to put Joe first and doctrine second?

    My short definition of love (the verb) is to unselfishly seek the true welfare of the other. A Christian (not a Methodist or a Calvinist or ...) knows what the true welfare of Joe involves? Surely, the gospel is not a doctrine that is to be held loosely by a Christian? The loving thing to do for Joe on his death bed is to tell him the gospel. Maybe he'll stay a friend for a little while longer or maybe he'll throw his Christian friend out of his hospital room. Joe gave his Christian friend the opportunity to witness for his Lord. "I hope so" is not a worthy witness and certainly not love.

  38. I don't get why anyone would hate either the heretic or the heresy. I've met people like that, but they usually had a fair bit of hate in them to start with. You could be taught to do it - if you lived in an environment where everyone really believed that God rejected the heretic for their ideas - but we don't live in such a world these days. Even in fundamentalist churches, not many people, in Britain anyway, seem to have much in the way of doctrinal hangups. There's one church where I preach occasionally, where there's the odd bit of aggro over my liberal ideas, I've been in a couple of churches where some individual has told me that we Methodists 'don't worship God properly' because we do things differently to them, but it's very much the exception. In 23 years, I've only come across it at my own church, and we get all sorts. Someone rang me up the day after my wedding, and told me I was going to hell for marrying a Muslim. She didn't stay long.

  39. What if there is actually no way to the Truth except through love? What if the only way we discover doctrinal reality is in the sometimes grueling, sometimes wonderful experience of engaging with others as a loving servant? That would mean that all our doctrinal convictions apart from love are merely "clanging gongs and tinkling cymbals." What if the only heretic is the one without love? Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants!

  40. That's what I love about Gods atoning work: I have "doctrinal disagreements" with every single person on this earth - yet they are still all my brothers and sisters in Christ!

    BTW - really like your book!

  41. pssst ... please get your book available for kindle. :) thanks!! :) :)

  42. this is exactly where Wisdom is leading me.


    sometimes I doubt it though. I read a verse here or there or listen to naysayers and think I'm off course.

    but Wisdom, she's a persistent one. :)

  43. I still think you're slipping from "You believe in a heresy" to "You're damned." I may very well think you're deeply wrong about particular Biblical hermeneutics or liturgical concerns or the best way to go about evangelizing or whether there is volition (and what it looks like if there is) or what kind of days we're talking about when we say it took seven days for God to make Creation or whether God is gendered or if women can preach (all of these hypothetically). I may think also that getting on the same page (my page, actually) on these issues is important. That doesn't mean that I'm going to say you're damned. I may think salvation has nothing whatsoever to do with these issues. Their importance lies elsewhere. I can love someone (in a Biblical or, presumably, romantic or any other sense) without agreeing with them on these issues. We may even argue vehemently and often. It may be difficult to love in those circumstances, I don't suppose it's anywhere near impossible.

    Which is to say, again, that we can talk to people who believe that other congregations are wrong in non-damning ways to start thinking more about Christian unity. I agree that it will be difficult to convince people who think the rest of us are all damned to attempt it, but I'm not sure we're preaching entirely to the choir. There's a set of folks who need to be a bit more supple and who might be willing to hear it.

  44. I see what you are saying. But I think it clear that you aren't describing moral convictions. Yes, things might be "important" to us and we might feel "strongly" about these things. But that's not what I'm describing in this post. I'd like to refer back to the three features of moral convictions. If we are talking in "non-damning" ways, if salvation isn't in play, well, we not in the realm of moral conviction. Nothing of ultimate concern is at stake. We're just sincere people sharing theological perspectives.

    But I'll admit that the hard work of ecumenical dialogue is more that just "preaching to the choir." I agree that that phrase is poorly chosen to describe that effort. In my defense, I wasn't trying to describe ecumenical outreach. I was trying to capture a sense I had about the Rally that had an exclusionary feel to it. For example, the banner for the Rally, copied here, reads "Farewell flippant dismissals." We all know who that is referring to. How's that banner going to "unify" people who like John Piper and those who agree with him? See what I'm saying?

  45. Not to oversimplify but if your core doctrine centers on loving God and loving your neighbor, it clarifies things a bit. In my experience, I would much rather be around people who spend their energy loving others rather than defending truth. I also find it easier to love hardcore sinners that many "devout" Christians who "hate the sin but love the sinner" and "speak the truth in love."

  46. Well, I do have all the answers. I tell Jana this all the time. She just rolls her eyes...

  47. Right, I looked back and see that in the definition. I suppose I would define "moral conviction" differently, but that would be a plain language definition and I'm not always a supporter of those. So, point taken.

    I was more concerned with the implication that there aren't those who need this. There are a lot of folks who have strongly held beliefs that are preventing them from ecumenism (let's say "weak ecumenism," which doesn't require a consolidation of denominations) who could benefit from the recognition that they needn't just agree to disagree to have Christian unity. The impression I got from your post is that you were dividing Christians between those who are liberal (you and I) and those who dogmatically think you and I are damned. That slip starts to occur in paragraph three: not all people think that doctrinal distinctives are necessary to salvation, but you strongly imply this (unintentionally?) in that paragraph.

    I am very distressed about the state of Christian unity at the moment. I suppose I'm just a little worried if one of the sanest Christian influences on the blogosphere (you) is publicly washing his hands of it.

  48. I hear that. I don't want to be read as washing my hands of any effort toward unity. I share your distress.

    I'm just struggling here to think hard about how we can restore unity between people who really, really disagree. That effort shouldn't be taken to minimize the work of people to unify whose disagreements are less acute and catastrophic. Again, my description of "preaching to the choir" is poorly chosen. In the post I was trying to think about extreme cases rather than about people who, while disagreeing with on important issues, are fundamentally willing to be unified, where the "will to embrace" is already in place. Not that unity amongst these people is easy or a given. It's not, as you note. Just that the foundation is already in place. True, that's not "preaching to the choir," but you get the idea I was gesturing toward. The psychological prerequisites are in place.

    But what if the will to embrace isn't in place? How will these people respond to a rally to restore unity? My sense is that they will see the rally as a compromise. That's what I'm trying to wrestle with. How do you restore unity with people who see unity as a form of contamination? For example, I wonder what someone like John Piper or Mark Driscoll would think about this. If they think, say, that Rob Bell's teaching is putting people at risk for hell would they want to stand in "unity" with Bell? You see my point. This is the kind of case I'm thinking about. And if I sound pessimistic it's because I'm thinking about these extreme cases. Not the cases where the will to embrace is already in place.

    But my focus on the extreme case shouldn't be taken to mean the "easier" cases, where the prerequisite will to embrace is in place, aren't very, very important. They are, as you've rightly pointed out.

    And I'll admit, this isn't crystal clear in the post and that in places I seem dismissive of the work on the "easier" cases. For that lack of clarity, I apologize. Still, I hope the post is helpful in getting people to think about unity "at the extremes," about unity with people who don't show up at rallies to restore unity.

    As is my tendency, I tend to focus on who is not in the room and ask why.

  49. It is a fair concern, one I wrestle with, too. There seems to be a divide between the Christians I know personally, who may sometimes seem to be incredibly pig-headed but who are nonetheless always open to conversation and communion, and those Christians I hear about and whose comments on certain forums I read, who seem bent on exclusion. I don't know what to do with them, either. I'm inclined to give up on them and focus on those people who will listen to me, but some of them are too scary to give up on. Moreover, that's not especially loving, is it?

  50. Hi,

    I'd like to mention a personal experience here as I find it puts some "meat" if you will, on the bones of the argument.
    Several years ago, I 'became a Christian' in a pretty conservative; Bible-believing church. I was very happy at the time; I believed not only in what the Bible said, but in doing my best to DO what it said. I had a friend who was a Christian before I was, in a different denomination, who initially was happy for my conversion. As some time went on, though, he believed that some of the things I believed were 'heretical.' He tossed Galatians 1:7-9 at me and we quite literally never spoke again. I tried to contact him- I thought maybe we could work out or move past these issues because we had been good friends for a while; but apparently my 'heresies' made me the enemy.
    The problem is that are literally hundreds of denominations who all believe something slightly different from each other; all sincere in their belief that their way is sanctioned by God and is not heretical. The Bible, for all of the discussions on the clarity of its meaning, is not obviously clear on certain things. Hence the issue.

  51. Richard,

    i have an unrelated question--do you know of anyone who argues against Methodological Individualism?

    (Do you hold to MI as the appropriate approach to social science by the way?)


  52. David-
    That's another one of those 'seeming' paradoxes of our faith. You are surely right that it is Christ Himself that has taken the responsibility before the Father to build His Church. And He can not fail. But the other side of the coin is our responsibility of faith, to follow the Great Shepherd where He leads and this involves obeying the commission that He has given the Church. Using all the tools legitimately to do this is why we study, why we wrestle with understanding Scripture; it is not automatic. Every local church should be about the Father's business and have some kind of knowledge of the history of how God's People have been going about this labor of love with all their heart and all their mind as well.
    The work of Bible translation into indigenous languages is my favorite example to illustrate how this work must be done by us as we depend upon & trust Christ to go w/us and enable us.

  53. I agree with you on this. We as the body are the ones 'doing' the work. But, are we following or leading? Is it 'me' deciding what should be done next or is it the Holy Spirit actually leading me? I see so much of "I think that ought to be done; it's Scriptural (e.g., soup kitchen for the hungry), I can do it, I pray to God for His blessing on 'my' ministry, I enlist others, we all pray for blessing on 'our' ministry, etc. etc."

    I just wish I saw more of actual following going on and less leadership by 'us' because we just know what ought to get done. Just a little pet rant....

  54. Looking in a historical mirror, the Christian I used to be, obsessed with "being right" theologically, wouldn't have accepted or liked the Christian I am today, able to accept into my circle and home and table those that the former self never would. In fact, the two of me probably would not be able to have a productive conversation (which is partly why the family I come from doesn't like me now). The hope lies in that the journey from there to here was possible, though unforeseen. And those who are much like I was may not see who they will be.

  55. Hi Guy,
    I don't know much about MI. I had to Google it. It seems to be more about economics and sociology than psychology. Sorry not to be of help.

    But speaking as a complete novice, I can't help but think of the emergent properties of an ant colony. Global behaviors that emerge from bottom up processes creating a feedback loop.

  56. This discussion puts a new spin on Pascal's Wager. Christian's commonly ask atheists "What if your wrong?"

    The easy response is "What if we're BOTH wrong?"

  57. well I've been thinking about this more and read (some) of the many comments and I'm coming back to something very simple...

    it seems the ultimate Christian virtue - the Jesus-like-ness we are shown in scripture is summed up in this:
    you-not-me (by which I simply mean, die to self, other before yourself, make yourself nothing, philipians 2 kind of submission to others and their good not your own)

    and if that's it - every minute of every day, choosing you-not-me, well ... who would be have to be divided against? the person divided against us falls into that "you" category.


    they may choose to be divided from us, but we'd never be divided from them. because we'd be for them, not us...

    reconciled, as God is already to the world, we would also be with everyone. because its you-not-me. them-not-us.

    am I making a lick of sense? or has all this already been said before.

    prolly so...

    regardless, it's rockin my world and reminding me to get out of my own head and start you-not-me'ing on this world (insert "hammer and a nail" from indigo girls) :)

    thx for stirring the pot, Richard. good stuff.

  58. Whoa. You get me. You keep getting me. All of your blogs resonate with my logic and spirit. And it's starting to creep me out. Stop doing that! :) (smiley face to show I'm making an ironic complement instead of espousing literal truth).

  59. It seems to me that in order even to *have* heretics, one has to be holding pretty tight definitions, and holding convictions that tightly means that it's practically impossible, as you say, to relax into them. Or to relax into something more encompassing. Which suggests that "loving the heretic" may not be impossible but will be unlikely.

    Second, what unity did I miss that we want to restore? Possibly that of one of the desert hermits? (And even they, I understand, heard warring voices.)

  60. we kinda have specific instructions how to treat heretics:

    2 John 1:8-11 (New American Standard Bible)

    8 (A)Watch yourselves, (B)that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 [a]Anyone who [b]goes too far and (C)does
    not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who
    abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, (D)do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting (E)participates in his evil deeds.

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