The H(eresy) Bomb: Part 1
Part 1: Introduction
It has been said that the job of Christian theology is to apply the great, unchanging truths of Scripture to our ever-changing times. While we aren’t to reinvent the wheel with every new generation (trusting that the Holy Spirit has given wisdom, insight, and understanding to Christians of previous generations), we are to reexamine and relearn the central truths of our faith again and again. As Jude taught, we are to earnestly contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (v. 4). Throughout its two millennia of history, the Christian church has experienced attacks from both outside and within. Our generation is no different from those before us. So, for example, during the early 20th century we had the modernist-fundamentalist controversy with its debates over the authority of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, and the historical Jesus.
Again, our age is no different. Today we find these same doctrines disputed by post-evangelicals on the one hand and those associated with the Emergent church movement on the other. Peter Enns and Kenton Sparks have challenged the historic understanding of Biblical inerrancy ; respected Old Testament scholars such as Enns, Tremper Longman, and John Walton (all of which have produced helpful works of literature and biblical interpretation) have questioned whether the first chapters of Genesis were written with the purpose to teach us of the existence of a historical Adam (I’ve briefly addressed Enns and Longman here, and here.). Rob Bell has questioned aloud whether Christianity really loses anything vital if the virgin birth of Christ hasn’t historical (see his Velvet Elvis), and more recently has redefined and called into question the historic Christian understanding of hell as eternal conscious judgment under the wrath of God and the exclusivity of Jesus as Savior in his best-selling book Love Wins. Another Emergent leader (perhaps the Emergent leader), Brian McLaren, rejects the Creation-Fall-Redemption scheme as the narrative structure of the Bible (see his A New Kind of Christianity). And Steve Chalke, a Christian leader and social activist, is infamous for calling penal-substitutionary atonement “Cosmic child abuse” (see his The Lost Message of Jesus).
The question I’d like to ponder is the issue of heresy. When is it appropriate to use the term? When should we refrain? And just what does the term even mean? My contention is that the American evangelical church both overuses the term and underuses it.
Sound like a contradiction?