In 2002, Ashland Theological Seminary invited renowned theologian, Clark Pinnock, to campus for the Fall Lecture Series. At this point of his life and career, Pinnock was exploring the idea of Open Theism for which he became somewhat of a lightning rod. Subsequently, at least one Christian radio station in the Columbus area began criticizing the seminary’s invitation to this “heretic.” Naturally, the implication was that the orthodoxy of the seminary was also now suspect. Luke Keefer once told me that this experience was what sparked his interest in the subject of heresy.
In 2007, Luke Keefer, Jr. took his last study leave with the seminary. During that time he went to England and researched the subject of heresy. The culmination of his research was to be delivered at the 2008 Fall Lecture Series of Ashland Theological Seminary. The title for the lectures was “Heresy: A Troublesome Word.” Luke’s planned topics for the three sessions were: 1) What Is Heresy?, 2) Historical Perspectives on Heresy, and 3) A Modest Proposal for Restoring the Disciplinary Task of the Church. Unfortunately, Luke’s health issues made both the completion of the project and the delivery of the lectures impossible.
Initially, it was my hope to complete his research for him and to present it in this forum. To this end, Luke’s wife, Doris, graciously gave me Luke’s notes and some of the books that he purchased to do his research. However, while I had extensive research notes and drafts of outlines for the first two lectures, the amount of time it took retracing Luke’s research combined with the length of the document that was emerging go beyond the scope of this current work. Perhaps more significantly, I was not able to discover anything that specifically aids in the construction of the third lecture, which is where Luke’s own perspective and wisdom would have been experienced most keenly. Instead, what I offer in honor of my mentor and dear friend are my own thoughts on the subject, significantly informed by his words and research and framed by his planned presentation.
The first question that comes to my mind is this: why did Luke feel that heresy was a troublesome word? I believe Luke would respond that it is our poor use of the term that creates the problems. In his introduction to the first lecture, which is the largest section of fully written material, Luke proposed four factors that caused him to view the term as troublesome.
Why is Heresy a Troublesome Word?
Luke’s four points will provide the framework for the remainder of this study. While I will be addressing each, I will be condensing them into three types of problems. There are issues of definition (Luke’s first point), issues of legitimate danger to the church (Luke’s second point), and issues of the church’s poor response (Luke’s third and fourth points). In what follows, we will attempt to understand these problems more fully and explore possible solutions so that we may once again talk about and address heresy in appropriate ways.
Heresy can be troublesome because of the difficulty in defining it.
First, as we will soon note, defining heresy is a difficult task. Everyone knows what it is until you have to produce a definition in written form. It is a little like the aroma of coffee. We all know what it is until we try to define it for someone who has never encountered coffee in the experience.
Among the articles about the Pinnock controversy were some observations that Luke made. The following appears to be some of Luke’s earliest writing on heresy. He observed:
Words resemble people in many ways. First, they have an ancestry. Words do not just come into existence on their own. They have parents, who gave them birth. Sometimes their DNA is simple, and we can trace them to a person, a country, a language or a time period in which they originated. At other times their parentage is undetermined and we encounter them almost like orphans who have already reached adulthood. . . .
Secondly, words develop relationships. They form associations with their kin or their friends. In grammar we call these associations, synonyms. And they develop antagonisms toward other words that stand for contradictory concepts, what grammar calls antonyms. Like people, we come to know words by the friends they keep and the enemies they oppose.
Thirdly, words travel. They move from one area to another and change their language in the process. They also develop over time and take on new meanings and uses. Some get lost for a time, and when they are rediscovered they have changed. They are no longer what they used to be.
There is a fourth way that words resemble people. They frequently need redemption. They can be taken captive and must be set free from people and causes that treat them as unwilling slaves in their unholy deeds. Labels can become libels that maim and kill. Good words call out to us to set them free from the warmongers who use them as weapons for destruction.
Finally, words, like people have influence. Once they are embraced they can move people to actions that are noteworthy or reprehensible. Think of the use of words in propaganda or political slogans. Pin a label on a person or a group and it can control our emotional reactions in ways that defy rational behavior.
. . . Heresy is an emotionally charged word and a word with a long history. It has sent thousands of people to horrible, untimely deaths. It is a “dirty bomb” that Christians . . . unleash on others. . . . It is a word that needs redemption.
The Greek word, hairesis, from which we get the word “heresy,” denotes the idea of choosing or choice. This choice also implies a sense of division or separation.  It and its cognates are used in a variety of ways throughout the New Testament. The word is used rather innocently to express having been chosen, as in reference to Jesus in Matthew 12:18. It is also used in Acts to express various groups like the Sadducees (Acts 5:17), Pharisees (Acts 15:5) and even Christians (Acts 24:5 in referring to the “sect of the Nazarenes”). These examples suggest that the fundamental use of the term in the New Testament is to convey a faction or division in the Church that may or may not be connected to false teaching.
This certainly does not mean that the New Testament is unconcerned about correct doctrine. One need only study the passages that address terms like “false teachers” or “false prophets” to see that correct understanding and belief are extremely important. In 2 Peter 2, the term is used in the way we most commonly think of it—being connected to false teachers and false teaching. Yet, even in 2 Peter 2, hairesis, or division, is the result of false teaching rather than a synonym for it. In Titus 3:10, a form of the word is employed as an adjective describing people. It is the only instance in the New Testament where someone is referred to as a heretic. The letter clearly conveys the seriousness of the charge by instructing the reader to “have nothing more to do with” the heretics. However, the larger context of Titus 3:9-11 permits understanding a heretic as the New Revised Standard Version translates it, “anyone who causes divisions” rather than necessarily one who promulgates false teaching.
Another example can be found in Ephesians 4, even though the specific word for heresy is not used. Within the themes of unity of the church and maturity in faith, there is a verse about wrong teaching. We read, “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). As indicated above, while right teaching is most assuredly important, its connection to the unity of the church is what matters fundamentally. It is also interesting to note the verse’s implication that the more mature we are in the faith, the less false teaching is an issue.
Our definitions of heresy can lead to trouble in another way. At times, when we use the term, we mean too little by it. For Christians today, the common understanding of heresy is a deviation from the accepted teaching of the Christian faith. This not only ignores the biblical concern over the unity of the church; it also flattens out conversion and discipleship. If heresy only pertains to doctrine, then orthodoxy only involves the mind. The Christian faith is thus reduced to mere propositions to which one must give mental assent, rather than being a dynamic way of living in relationship to God and to one another that is founded upon those truths.
Luke made numerous notes about the fact that in the New Testament, the deciding factor of a person’s legitimacy was the fruit of her or his life. An example is found in the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7. The notion of the “broad way” and the “narrow way” is introduced in verses 13 and 14. It is then fortified by three illustrations.
The first is that of the true and the false prophets. Luke writes, “the key issue for discernment is not doctrine (because they may appear in sheep’s clothing), but conduct of life—fruit good or bad (here is where the wolf-like character is unmasked).”  In addressing the true and false disciples, Luke observes, “what differentiates is whether or not they ‘do the will of the Father.’ Prophesying, driving out demons, and performing miracles does not get one past the judgment of the last day, where God will disown those who are false.” Likewise on the wise and foolish builders, Luke notes, “again what makes the difference is ‘whether or not they put the Lord’s word into practice.’ Does this not involve the whole ‘Sermon on the Mount’ since it is the last section, the closing appeal of the whole sermon?”
A second test that exists in more than one place in Luke’s notes is what he refers to as the test of 1 John. Luke indicates that on the basis of 1 John, we can perceive a three-part test. The first part is theological and requires that the person believe in Jesus. The second is moral and requires that the person live righteously. The third part is social and requires that the person love others as God loves her or him. Consequently, if behavior is at least one of the standards, if not the fundamental criterion for determining a false teacher, we must, among other things, prayerfully contemplate what the inconsistencies in our lives may indicate about how right we are in our theology. For a long time, we have assumed that being right in our theology is to be on the side of truth. But perhaps being on the side of truth has more to do with being righteous than it does with being right.
If the above is true, how did we find ourselves in this situation where heresy seems to be exclusively an issue of doctrine? Harold Brown notes in his helpful study of heresy that “it was the constant threat and frequent reality of dying for the faith that made doctrine so important to the early church and caused heresy—false doctrine, which cost one’s salvation—to appear so dreadful.”  Another contributing factor was the external pressure on the church towards uniformity after Constantine in order that the church might contribute to, rather than detract from, the unity of the Roman Empire.
While this last dimension was certainly an issue leading up to Nicaea, the church sensed the need to define the Christian faith long before Constantine. There is ample evidence for early Christian creeds that exist outside of the canon of Scripture. For example, Irenaeus contains at least two summaries of the Christian faith in the first book of Against Heresies, which can be dated to 180 with some certainty.  He even refers to the second of these as the regulam veritas (rule of truth). Another second-century creed is the regula fidei (rule of faith) from Tertullian.  We also have from the early third-century the Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus which was used at baptism. These are all known before 250. As Luke observed, “There is a heritage to be received and handed on.”
Before turning to Luke’s next concern about heresy, I would like to propose a working definition of the term. Luke’s notes contain over a dozen definitions of heresy that he gleaned from various sources. While they share some similarities that could be synthesized together and each has something to contribute to our understanding, I have decided to let Luke speak for himself. I believe that the following is his own.
It is my conviction that covenant and community constitute true faith and practice. Heresy, then, is a violation of the covenant and a threat to community life and union. This raises questions then of divergence and discipline. How much dissent from covenant expectations and communal faithfulness can be tolerated before God or his people need to administer discipline?
I like this definition for several reasons. First, by speaking of covenant and community, Luke does not remove heresy from its connection to doctrine but extends it to the realm of relationships. Second, Luke tethers orthodoxy and orthopraxy together in ways that few other definitions do. Third, Luke reminds us that the issue of heresy is fundamentally related to the biblical concern for Christian unity that we have observed previously.
Heresy is troublesome because it is a threat to the Church.
Secondly, heresy (however defined) has always brought trouble into the church. It destabilizes ministry, turns fellowship into schism, and causes confusion among the faithful. It detracts the church from its more lofty mission and consumes enormous energies as many must put out fires before everything is lost.
While the experience with the seminary’s invitation to Pinnock created in Luke a distaste for the way we tend to use the word, he nevertheless believed that heresy was real. Moreover, his keen grasp of church history made him especially aware of heresy’s destructive power. The existence of heresy as a perversion or distortion of orthodoxy may seem self-evident. While this is an operating assumption for most of the church’s 2000-year history, this belief was challenged in the last century. The following is a brief excursus into the origins of early Christianity.
In 1934 Walter Bauer published a revolutionary work entitled Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. In it he argued that early Christianity was more diverse than unified and that it was inaccurate to refer to a single orthodox position before the fourth century. He writes, “perhaps certain manifestations of Christian life that the authors of the church renounce as ‘heresies’ originally had not been such at all, but, at least here and there, were the only form of the new religion—that is, for those religions they were simply ‘Christianity.’”  Bauer then marshals evidence to demonstrate that different geographical areas tended to produce different forms of Christianity.
In the second half of the twentieth century, several scholars began to raise serious objections to Bauer’s thesis. Among the earliest is Henry Turner. In his book, The Pattern of Christian Truth, Turner presented a thorough critique of Bauer’s thesis and demonstrated several weaknesses in Bauer’s argument. These include Bauer’s habit of overstating the conclusions suggested by the evidence and his reliance on arguments from silence.  These and many other issues have created large holes in Bauer’s thesis.  While Bauer’s conclusion about early Christianity is generally understood to be significantly overstated, he was right and should be credited for raising awareness about the diversity that existed within Christianity before Nicaea.
The real danger of Gnosticism was how close it was to some forms of Christianity. This does not mean that significant differences did not exist, however. Perhaps the most important of these is the radical dualism that was intrinsic to most forms of Gnosticism. In most Gnostic cosmologies the material world was understood to be a result of some sense of fall in the demiurge. It logically follows that the material world is evil. Furthermore, salvation meant escaping from the material world or being delivered from it. This contrasts with the Christian understanding that the world was created “good,” despite the fact that it was in need of redemption. Another dimension of this dualism is the belief in most forms of Gnosticism of a pre-existing and immortal soul. Additionally, there was an elitism or exclusivity to Gnosticism, since only select people knew the secret knowledge that would lead to salvation.
The reason for this brief examination of Bauer’s thesis is two-fold. First, if Bauer is correct, there is no “orthodox” or even proto-orthodox Christianity before Nicaea. This means that what is understood as orthodoxy today is only orthodox because the people believing it defeated those who had different ideas. Consequently, the current tendency to avoid the term heresy is justified by history. If on the other hand, it is possible to demonstrate that some depositum fidei (deposit of faith) existed and was carefully handed-down, then we are obligated to address, in some way, deviations from that faith. Second, and perhaps more significantly, we ought to be aware of the threat that the early church leaders understood Gnosticism to be, since many educated and thoughtful people believe that Gnosticism was not merely a second-century sect but is alive and well. In his book, Omens of the Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection, the late Yale professor and renowned literary critic Harold Bloom offers what he calls his spiritual autobiography. In explaining why he considers himself a Gnostic, Bloom writes, “our American Religion . . . is more of a gnostic amalgam than a European kind of historical and doctrinal Christianity.” To those who would reject his notion, Bloom cites America’s fixation with angels, near-death experiences, and astrology as evidence of a prevalent Gnosticism. 
Heresy is troublesome because the Church has, at times, responded to it poorly.
In the third place, heresy has often prompted the church to engage in violent responses which tarnish its image as the “bride of Christ.” There have been too many incidents where one wonders, What was the greater evil, the challenge of the errant teaching or the violent reaction of the church against those it considered to be its dangerous enemies?
Finally, heresy is a most unwanted topic in the contemporary church. The solution to the troublesome nature of heresy in the minds of many is to banish the term behind a veil of secrecy. It is as if some think that having no words for heresy means it no longer exists. All that remains, then, are differences of belief among Christians; and this condition is to be celebrated as evidence that the church has come to maturity in faith. Of course, one is a little suspicious of this move, since some of its most ardent spokespersons take issue with cardinal doctrines of the faith like the deity of Christ and his resurrection from the dead. It is quite difficult to have serious conversations about heresy when one’s partners in the dialogue refuse to acknowledge any such problem exists in the contemporary church. For such people, the only problem is that some Christians are too immature as to bring up the subject of heresy. They are then dismissed by a wave of the hand and labeled with the epithet “fundamentalist.”
The church’s responses to heresy can be conceptualized as a spectrum. On one end is the decision to do nothing about heresy. On the other end is the decision to eradicate the heresy by any means necessary. Within these extremes are what Luke asserted were the biblical or appropriate responses to heresy. The spectrum of responses can be understood to look like the following diagram. Luke referred to the grey part of the spectrum as the “scale of discipline.”
The idea communicated by the spectrum is that in order for discipline to be appropriate it must be in proportion to the degree of divergence. It is important to note that even with the most severe form of discipline within the grey area, the purpose is for correction and restoration and does no physical harm to the person.  Additionally it should be remembered that these are responses to heresy that are dividing the church and accompanied by unchristian behavior, not responses to people who have different ways of understanding the faith. As Paul indicates in writing to the Philippians, “Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you” (Phil. 3:15). I will return to the subject of appropriate responses to heresy later.
It is necessary to make some observations about the extreme ends of the spectrum. Addressing this is important for two reasons. First, they were among the reasons Luke offered for the troublesomeness of the term heresy. Second, I am convinced that while they are inappropriate responses, they are the two most common responses to heresy today.
The response that heresy must be eradicated is an overreaction to it. It is important for us to acknowledge that throughout history, some of the church’s least Christ-like moments have been connected to an overreaction to heresy. This overreaction can be manifested in several ways. The mildest form is the church’s tendency to overuse the term. The existence of seemingly irreconcilable opinions does not necessarily mean that either one is heresy. Peter Rollins, who is at the forefront of the Radical Theology movement has offered a caution about the Christian “tendency to judge those who are ‘other’ than ourselves, deciding whether they are right or wrong by simply comparing their views to our own and seeing how similar they are.”
In other words, the moniker of heresy is one that we use too quickly in an attempt to control positions that are different from our own. Where two positions exist that appear to be mutually exclusive, one does not have to be wrong and the other right. Both may be wrong or partially wrong. But let us suppose for the sake of argument that one view is correct and the other is not. Even in this instance, heresy may not be an appropriate label. Augustine, for example, made an interesting distinction between error and heresy.  He understood that the word heresy involved choice. This means that if a person held an unorthodox position because it was what they were taught by their parents or some authority, the person would be wrong but not guilty of heresy. I also believe in light of the previous examination of the term heresy in the New Testament, it is possible to argue that if a wrong belief did not cause division in the church, it would not technically rise to the level of heresy.
This type of overreaction to heresy was Luke’s concern with the suspicion that was created regarding the seminary’s evangelical commitment as a result of its invitation to Clark Pinnock. The issue for Luke was not that Open Theism was correct and needed to be defended. Rather, it was the nearly automatic tendency to label ideas that stretch us or are different from our own as heretical. Again, this is only one way of overreacting.
Another manifestation and the most radical form of this overreaction is violence, whether in the form of character assassination, coercive control, or actual physical injury and death.  It is not necessary to rehearse the church’s history of the crusades, the papal inquisition, or the Salem witch trials in order to make this point, and while these examples are certainly beyond justification, they were at least focused on those who could be viewed, rightly or wrongly, as “enemies” of the Christian faith. We must, therefore, also remember events like the Thirty Years War and the persecution of Anabaptists, during which Christians were killing other Christians in the name of the Lord.
The defense of orthodoxy has not been the sole cause of the problems just enumerated, however. Instead, it is the passion to defend orthodoxy combined with the power of the state. Alister McGrath refers to this as the “politicization of orthodoxy.”  Luke observed, “The early church stood against heretics on the basis of doctrine and life, but it did not kill them.” Elsewhere, he noted that “state power makes punishment worse,” and after Constantine “church discipline gives way to civil punishment.” This is exemplified by Augustine, when in reference to Donatists he writes, “The unity of Christ is rent asunder, the heritage of Christ is reproached, the baptism of Christ is treated with contempt; and they refuse to have these errors corrected by constituted human authorities, applying penalties of a temporal kind in order to prevent them from being doomed to eternal punishment for such sacrilege.”  In light of these atrocities, it may be tempting to conclude that the church should avoid labeling heresy and administering church discipline in response to it. But Luke asks, “Must the church make no decisions regarding heresy simply because past power-crazed churches acted like governments?”
As indicated above, the other end of the spectrum is the tendency to ignore heresy or act like it does not exist. This could be understood as an underreaction to heresy, and it is also an inappropriate response. I am confident that while Luke understood the overreaction to heresy as a serious problem due to its propensity to justify violence, he perceived the underreaction to heresy as a greater problem because of its current prevalence.
By insisting that heresy be addressed, this does not mean that everyone must conform to a narrow sense of the Christian faith. In reality, there is ample room for diversity, but there must also be enough in common about being Christ followers that would distinguish us from other groups, religious or otherwise. This has been understood throughout the history of the church. For example, Origen’s On First Principles is the earliest known philosophical treatment of Christian doctrine. Yet, in his preface to it, Origen is careful to communicate that it is an expression of his theological exploration and speculation and not necessarily his understanding of dogma. He states, “the reader must carefully consider and work out for himself; for we must not be supposed to put these forward as settled doctrines, but as subjects for inquiry and discussion.”  During the Reformation, Luther’s colleague Philip Melancthon borrowed from Stoic philosophy and applied the idea of adiaphora, or “things indifferent” to doctrinal disputes in an effort to promote unity in the church. In the same vein, one of John Wesley’s most frequently quoted statements is this: “But as to all opinions that do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.”  In other words, while there is plenty of room for exploration and opinion, there must be agreement about the core of the Christian faith. As Harold Brown observes, “A certain level of disagreement is compatible with Christianity, and indeed has always existed, but beyond a certain point of disagreement, one can no longer speak of a community of faith.” 
While a debate over what constitutes the core or non-negotiables of the faith will naturally occur, an examination of the parameters of the debate is beyond the scope of this study. The only comment I would offer is the wisdom in limiting our understanding of the “root of Christianity” to what has been preserved in Scripture and expounded upon in the ancient creeds. Dorothy Sayers addressed a similar situation several decades ago when she wrote, “What is urgently necessary is that certain fundamentals should be restated in terms that make their meaning—and indeed the mere fact that they have meaning—clear.” 
Guidelines for making heresy less troublesome
So, how ought we to address heresy? How do we go about implementing Luke’s scale of discipline? This study has led to several principles that should be prayerfully used when dealing with heresy. While presented in a list form, the following has been gleaned from Luke’s notes and cobbled together here.
The first principle is to have the right disposition. This ought to be achieved before the term heresy is even employed. Luke reminds us that “condemnations do not stop every wrong idea.” In fact, I would argue that the more individualistic a culture becomes the less effect condemnations will have. For instance, most of us have experienced some form of the radical self-stylized faith that is pervasive today. Luke Timothy Johnson addresses this in his book The Creed, where he notes, “Some sleepwalk through the words they memorized as children, bothered not at all by the outrageous ideas to which they are declaring their commitment.”  Even more troubling than this apathy is the antipathy that he describes in people who are aware of the radical claims of the Creed but “deal with the scandal by freelance editing, passing over in silence or altering the statements” with which they disagree.  The declaration that a particular idea is heretical is wasted energy where covenant and community do not constitute the basis of Christian identity and fidelity.
Furthermore, Luke advises that before something can be declared as heresy, there needs to be “wide Christian council and agreement.” This means that no one person, or side of an issue (Calvinist/Arminian, Protestant/Catholic, etc.), can legitimately define heresy for the entire church. Luke also observed that “there is room for learning by experience over time.” For this reason, the church should “take time” when determining heresy. Luke remarked that “many were first called heretics who later were honored for their pioneering work.” Among these are Wycliffe, Hus, and Luther. Related to his advice to take time, Luke cautioned that “hasty judgments, especially if there are self-interests involved, cloud judgment regarding who is heretical.” Therefore, we ought to be critically aware of our own motives. Lastly, Luke believed that “communication requires language that invites discussion rather than closes it.” It is always profitable to keep talking, especially if restoration is the ultimate goal for any discipline the suspected heresy may warrant.
The second principle is to have a correct and robust understanding of what the term heresy means. Yes, heresy means a deviation from the faith that has been handed down to us, but it also ought to include a sense of choice or intentionality. If it is heresy, it should be threatening the unity of the church, and we could rightly expect it to be accompanied by unchristian behavior.
A thin or one-dimensional understanding of the term is quite dangerous today. This is because of the relationship between truth and reality. Modern-thinking people have a very difficult time getting their minds around the notion that something could be true but not real. Postmoderns not only have no problem making the distinction; they are largely uninterested in the intellectual concept of truth. Luke was aware of this dynamic when he wrote, “People are not asking, ‘Is the Bible true?’ People are asking, ‘Is there any good news in that Book?’” In light of this situation, we could expect that a church that is spending its energy defending the truthfulness of its position(s) will be generally ignored by people who believe that truth is an irrelevant category and who are instead seeking what is real.
The third principle is to renounce coercive force. Not only does the refusal to use coercion most resemble the ethic of Christ and the kingdom of God; it is an effective means of reaching postmoderns. As Alister McGrath has observed, “Orthodoxy, in a postmodern reading of things, is not about the merited triumph of ideas that were clearly superior to their rivals. It is about the imposition of such ideas by those in power . . . in order to preserve the status quo.”  If McGrath is right, as I suspect he is, what better way to communicate the reality of orthodoxy than to renounce coercion?
Additionally, coercive force ought to be rejected by the church because its use actually means we are weak. The readiness to employ force for one’s faith seems to be more common among the extreme fundamentalists of groups, whether we are talking about Westboro Baptist Church members, Islamic jihadists, or militant environmentalists.  Obviously, there are differences, but in each of these some form of force is being used to make those on the outside of the group see that those within the group are right. On the surface, the tenacity, and at times the ferocity, of these groups can give the impression of a strong conviction, but I believe the opposite is actually true. Strong faith is able to exist with disagreement and difference. A strong marriage is not one where both members agree on every decision; it is one where both members are committed to the other even when they do not see eye to eye. Strong faith does not need force. It is its own compelling argument.
The fourth principle is to boldly proclaim the reality of the kingdom of God. Luke asks, “Cannot a church, which has renounced the power to coerce, still persuasively argue that Christ’s resurrection makes all the difference in life?” We all want to say that it can, but how do we go about this? The temptation may be to merely reassert our belief that the Christian faith is true. While it is an approach that has had a long history, I am not sure that it will persuade people who are not interested in truth, if what is meant by truth is only propositional statements. 
A new way forward
Alister McGrath envisions an approach to the subject of orthodoxy and heresy that is different from what has typically been pursued by the church. I believe this resonates with what Luke had in mind. McGrath writes:
. . . the real challenge faced by the churches cannot be neutralized by the demonstration that theological orthodoxy is both necessary and appropriate for the well-being of Christian communities. Can orthodoxy once more be sprinkled with stardust? If Christianity is to regain the imaginative ascendancy, it must rediscover what G. K. Chesterton . . . termed “the romance of orthodoxy.” It is not sufficient to show that orthodoxy represents the most intellectually and spiritually authentic form of the Christian faith or that it has been tried and tested against its intellectual alternatives. The problem lies deeper, at the level of the imagination and feelings. If Christ is indeed the “Lord of the Imagination,” the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy ought to have significant imaginative implications. The real challenge is for the churches to demonstrate that orthodoxy is imaginatively compelling, emotionally engaging, aesthetically enhancing, and personally liberating. 
Some of the foundation for the task to which McGrath is calling the Church has been laid decades ago in the work of my favorite theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar. Although he is only now being discovered in Protestant circles, von Balthasar was one of the most influential theologians of the last century, both inside and outside of the Roman Catholic Church. There are several ways in which it is ironic to be concluding this study with a glimpse at the work of my favorite theologian. First, despite being elected to become a cardinal (he died before the ceremony), von Balthasar, like Pinnock, had been accused by some of promulgating heresy.  Second, he is among those mentioned earlier who was convinced that Gnosticism did not die in the early centuries of the Church but was very much alive and must be combatted. In fact, he viewed “many modern theological trends as variations of second-century Gnostic doctrines.” Von Balthasar has much to add to these reflections on heresy, faith, and truthful living.
Von Balthasar’s major work was composed in three sections with each section containing multiple volumes. The first is his theological aesthetics, which he entitled, The Glory of the Lord; the second is his theodramatics, where he addresses action (morality); and the last is his theo-logic, which is his philosophical treatment of truth.
A fundamental concept for understanding von Balthasar is his term “transcendentals.” Aidan Nichols provides a helpful summary of this key concept in von Balthasar’s thought. The idea is that “every existing thing, sheerly by virtue of its existence, shares in being and in the so-called ‘transcendental’ qualities of being: unity, truth, goodness, and beauty.”  It is important to understand von Balthasar’s conviction that these cannot be separated from one another.
With this awareness, we turn to von Balthasar, who writes:
Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past—whether he admits it or not—can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love. 
Later in the same passage he states:
In a world without beauty . . . the good also loses its attractiveness, the self-evidence of why it must be carried out . . . in a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself to affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency. In other words, syllogisms may still dutifully clatter away like rotary presses or computers which infallibly spew out an exact number of answers by the minute. But the logic of these answers is itself a mechanism which no longer captivates anyone. 
It is interesting to me how many of the earlier themes of this study return in this passage from von Balthasar’s work. For example, the transcendental of truth must not be divorced from goodness, and together they exist alongside unity. All but one of these have been mentioned previously in this document. The new concept here is obviously beauty. But what does von Balthasar mean by beauty?
In its purest and most succinct form, beauty is the divine self-revelation of God’s love. Von Balthasar explains, “’The beauty of God’ in the ‘beauty of Jesus Christ’ appears therefore precisely in the crucified, but the crucified, precisely as such, is the one risen: in this self-disclosure, God’s beauty embraces death as well as life, fear as well as joy, that which we would call ugly, as well as that which we would call beautiful.” It is the “reception, perceived through the eyes of faith, of the self-interpreting glory of the sovereignly free love of God.”  Elsewhere, he describes this love as “not wanting to be for oneself.”  He begins his work with aesthetics because he is convinced that seeing this beauty, grasping this love has a gravitational pull. This is why von Balthasar believes that this “love alone is credible” in our day.
Given that the concepts of orthodoxy and heresy have been largely restricted to correct or incorrect understandings of doctrine, this trajectory will naturally seem like an abandoning of objective Christian truth. But attending to aesthetics is not a refutation of truth but a pondering of a different set of questions. As Alejandro Garcia-Rivera indicates, the consideration of beauty as it relates to faith addresses the question, “What moves the human heart?” 
It is true that following the path suggested by von Balthasar may mean that the demarcation lines that the church has historically enjoyed drawing, regarding who is “in” and who is “out,” who is right and who is wrong, may be less clear. Perhaps this is not a negative development, however. It may actually reflect the complexity of life. Von Balthasar gives an example of this when he writes,
Indeed, must we not simultaneously intensify both aspects: the less the Church is identical with [the] world and the more it is itself, the more open and vulnerable it is to the world and the less it can be marked off from it. Can such a paradox be thought, let alone lived? It must. 
Von Balthasar’s attention to theological aesthetics relates to this study in another way. The transcendentals (goodness, truth, unity, beauty) connect directly to Luke’s four reasons for the troublesomeness of the word heresy. The church’s overuse of the word and history of violence concerning heresy is a failure of goodness. Acting as if heresy does not exist is a failure of truth. Neglecting to understand the threat of heresy is a failure to preserve the unity intended by God. Lastly, functioning with a one-dimensional view of truth, orthodoxy, and heresy that includes neither a sense of passion nor morality is a failure to express the beauty of the Christian faith.
In a day when truth is viewed as irrelevant, could von Balthasar have been on to something with his emphasis on beauty? If von Balthasar is right, could it be that the next and actually the proper battleground for orthodoxy is fundamentally in our hearts rather than solely in our minds? To those who are suspicious of this approach, I pose two questions: 1) Are we not observing the perceived irrelevance of the Christian faith that is at least partially a result of our emphasis on truth as reality in a culture that makes a distinction between the two? 2) How can the self-disinterested love of the Trinity, expressed most precisely on the cross, and given witness in the Body of Christ, not be sufficient evidence of both the truth and the reality of the Christian faith? I believe Chesterton answered this question when he wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” 
 The words in italics are taken from the notes of Luke’s research on heresy. While I have included several lengthy passages, I decided that it is important to allow Luke to speak for himself as much as possible.
Nancy Ring, “Heresy,” in The New Dictionary of Theology, Joseph A. Komonchak, Mary Collins, Dermot A. Lane, eds. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), 459.
The validity of Luke’s observation is supported by the fact that the notion of the “two ways” was a recurring theme in patristic literature. It can be found in the Didache, and the Epistle of Barnabas. In a way similar to that of Matthew, the Didache indicates that among the tests of a prophet is how long he/she stays and whether he/she asks for money (Didache 11:6, 9).
Before moving on from this discussion of the connection between heresy and church unity, I would like to remind us of what I believe to be the least-proclaimed explanations that Christ offered about one of his own parables. In Matthew 13:36-43 we read Jesus’ explanation about his parable of the wheat and the tares, where the Son of Man charges his angels, not Christ-followers, with separating the weeds from the wheat. In fact, the wheat and weeds seem to be in the same venue until the eschaton.
Harold J. Brown, Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 19.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.10.1 and 1.22.1.
Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 12.
Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, trans. Paul J. Achtemeier and others (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), xxii.
H. E. W. Turner, The Pattern of Christian Truth: A Study in the Relations between Orthodoxy and Heresy in the Early Church (London: Mowbray, 1954), 46-58.
Among the more recent and interesting criticisms of Bauer’s position is that provided by James McCue. His position is that “the orthodox play a role in Valentinian thought such that they seem to be part of the Valentinian self-understanding.” McCue believes that the way Valentinians used the books of the New Testament is best explained if one understands Valentinianism as arising within a context of second-century proto-orthodoxy. McCue raises another objection to Bauer based upon the self-understanding of the Valentinians. McCue questions whether or not a group like the Valentinians who seemed to understand themselves as the few against the many and who reveled in their exclusiveness could ever rise to be the majority form of Christianity that is required by Bauer’s thesis. James F. McCue, “Orthodoxy and Heresy: Walter Bauer and the Valentinians,” Vigiliae Christianae 33 (1979), 120.
See Harold Bloom, Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection (New York: Riverhead, 1996), p. 31. See also, Robert A. Segal, ed., The Allure of Gnosticism: The Gnostic Experience in Jungian Psychology and Contemporary Culture (Chicago: Open Court, 1995). An interesting argument can also be made that evangelicalism is somewhat Gnostic. To the extent that faith is allowed to be more synonymous with doctrine than trust, it resembles the Gnostic emphasis on secret knowledge that saves.
See 1 Cor. 5:5, and 1 Tim. 1:20.
Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addition to Certainty and Satisfaction (New York: Howard Books, 2013), 149.
Augustine, Letter 43 1:1.
At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, it seems like the greatest temptation for modern-minded Christians is to overreact to heresy, while the greatest temptation of postmoderns is to underreact to it.
Alister McGrath, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2009), 222.
Augustine, Letter 43.
Origen, De Princ. II.8.4.
John Wesley, The Character of Methodists, 1.
Brown, Heresies, 22.
Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1995), 57-58.
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 6.
McGrath, Heresy, 217-218.
Admittedly, issues of injustice, whether only perceived or real, make my point about violence less precise than I wish, but I believe that my basic principle remains.
 In raising the distinction between truth and reality, I am not arguing that truth has nothing to do with reality. In fact, I believe that the shalom that God wills for his creation means that there is no difference between truth and reality. The problem is that we live in a culture where many people are uninterested in truth-claims.
McGrath, Heresy, 232-233.
Kevin Mongrain, The Systematic Thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2002), 133.
Aidan Nichols, A Key to Balthasar: Hans Urs von Balthasar on Beauty, Goodness, and Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), p. 6.
 It is analogous to the fruit of the Spirit, which is a singular fruit composed of several qualities.
Von Balthasar, Seeing, p. 18.
Von Balthasar, Seeing, p. 19.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone Is Credible (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 11.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Credo (New York: Crossroad, 1990), 59.
Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, The Community of the Beautiful: A Theological Aesthetics (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1999), 9.
Von Balthasar, Truth, 91.
G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World? (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), p. 48.
Author: Robert Douglass
J. Robert Douglass previously pastored the Ashland (OH) Brethren in Christ Church and taught at Ashland Seminary and Winebrenner Theological Seminary, both in Ohio. He was recently installed as senior pastor of the Dillsburg (PA) Brethren in Christ Church. He is also the co-editor of Celebrations and Convictions: Honoring the Life and Legacy of Luke L. Keefer, Jr., from which this article is reprinted. Copies of the book are available from the Historical Society.