Damascene Cosmology – The problem of the Incarnation

While the aforementioned problems certainly pose a problem for proving that the Christian God is immutable, it is the act of the Incarnation that is seemingly the nail in the coffin for Christianity. In the act of the Incarnation we have God becoming man, which indicates a drastic change. Likewise, if we say that Jesus was God, then how can it be said that God does not change? After all, Jesus grew older and grew in knowledge, both of which are indicative of change. Thus, if Jesus changed and Jesus is God, then certainly the God of Christianity must be mutable.

While a human being, God grew in knowledge. There is little evidence to suggest that Jesus came out of the womb acting like an adult. In fact, we know from his stay at the Jewish temple that he continued to grow in knowledge. We know that he didn’t come out of Mary’s womb fully grown; he was a baby. This means that he grew into a man, indicating that he changed physical status while growing up. If Jesus was God, then certainly this would indicate that God is capable of change.

Another objection critics could bring up concerning the Incarnation is that we have God changing into another nature. By taking on a human nature, so the critic says, God became something different. God didn’t have a human nature and now he did have a human nature, which indicates a change. This would show God to be mutable.

The critic could point out that no matter how nuanced we are in explaining the Trinity, the change encountered in the Incarnation proves that the Christian God cannot be immutable. For instance, if we say that is true of the part is also true of the whole, then what is true of Jesus is true of the Trinity. If my hand is infected, then it is proper to say that I have an infection. If the person of Christ changes, then it is proper to say that the Father and Spirit change as well. Continue reading

Combating Heresy – the Fourth Solution: Compassionate Rhetoric

The final step to combating heresy is to have mastered the art of rhetoric. Again, while the first two steps (studying orthodoxy and living correctly) apply to all Christians, this step, along with the third step (studying heresy), is limited to a few people and is not something everyone should or can engage in.

The reason having compassionate rhetoric is important is that it allows the one who is studied in orthodoxy and heresy to succinctly and clearly explain why a certain belief is wrong. He can do this among colleagues so as to break down a certain heresy or he can do this amongst the masses to explain why a new belief is wrong. Most importantly, he must be compassionate in his approach.

There are two approaches in combatting heresy through rhetoric; the sledgehammer approach and the Socratic approach. The Socratic approach is always preferable because it disarms those trapped by heresy, but the sledgehammer approach is needed when combatting those entrenched in heresy (that is, when you’re fighting wolves instead of trying to rescue sheep). But in both approaches, insulting the heretic or those trapped by heresy is never a viable option.

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Combating Heresy – The Third Solution: Proper Study

In the previous two articles we learned that the two best ways to combat heresy is to study orthodox doctrines and live rightly according to those doctrines. These are two aspects of combating heresy that all Christians need to follow. However, if this is where Christians stayed for the rest of their lives, then Christianity would lack the ability to go against heresy.

When we think of a bank teller, we think of someone who knows currency so well that they can know just by looking at the currency if it’s a counterfeit or not. By understanding currency, anything that is counterfeit will stick out. But what if we look at the Secret Service? Their job, aside from protecting the President, is to investigate counterfeiters. Would an agent be qualified to hunt down counterfeiters if he only knew what real currency looked like? The answer is no. In order to be a good agent, he would need to know how counterfeits are made, who is most likely to make those counterfeits, and what are the most common types of counterfeits.

In Christianity, everyone is called to right thinking and right living, but only a few are called to study the heresies themselves in order to better understand what is taught, how the heresies are formulated, and where they error. For instance, a Christian who just studies right doctrine can look at Mormonism and know it’s wrong because it teaches someone preceded the existence of God and that God is created. Orthodoxy teaches that God is eternal and uncreated, preceded in time by none. The average Christian who studies orthodox doctrine, however, could only go so far as to say that Mormonism doesn’t match what is orthodox and therefore must be wrong. The Christian who has studies these heresies, however, could look to Mormonism and show it is wrong without appealing to orthodox doctrine. Such a Christian could point to the infinite regress within Mormonism and explain that such a regress makes Mormonism’s belief in someone pre-existing God quite impossible.

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Combating Heresy – The Second Solution: Orthopraxy

As previously seen, Orthodoxy is extremely effective at preventing heresy when properly followed. In fact, it combats three of the four types of heresy and even aids in the fourth. Orthodoxy outright combats the rejection of God as God, the rejection of Christ as Christ, and the rejection of the Law. It aids in combating the rejection of Biblical morality by giving us a proper basis for understanding the virtues, but it only goes so far.

To truly fight against the heresy of vice, we must engage in orthopraxy, that is, living rightly. It is not enough to believe the right things about God. We must also live rightly.

I think of the numerous “conservative” leaders who have been caught in scandals, generally involving some sort of sexual encounter. While such scandals are horrible, sadly enough such scandals should have been seen before they ever happened. What I mean is that such churches were so busy putting an emphasis on thinking rightly that they forgot to live rightly. When a pastor becomes arrogant in the truth it is only a matter of time before he begins to engage in the heresy of immorality (in fact, by being arrogant he has already engaged in such a heresy).

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Combating Heresy – The First Solution: Orthodoxy

As I have finished explaining the four types of heresy, it would do me no good to sit back and think that my mission is accomplished. In looking at how to fight heresy, I see four solutions to heresy that counter-act the four types of heresy:

1) Orthodoxy (right thinking)

2) Orthopraxy (right actions)

3) Study of heresies

4) Compassionate rhetoric

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Four Types of Heresy – Rejection of the Law

I am writing this while out of town. This is a scheduled post. Any comments made on this post may not appear until I get a chance to authorize them (all new users go through a filter so I can weed out spam; objections are allowed, but please look at the commenting policy). If your post has not been authorized by June 30, please contact me)

During the time of the Gnostic crisis, it was common for Gnostic writers to reject the Law and most of the Old Testament. The reason the Law was rejected was that it:

a) showed all humans were sinners

b) showed one must engage in physical acts to be holy as well as non-physical acts

c) showed a God that interacted with creation

d) showed a God that created the physical world

e) showed that a Messiah would come

There are multiple groups that John lists as falling under the heresy of rejecting the Law or the Old Testament. John was not advocating following the Law, but merely acknowledging its moral value and that it was given by God. The Law stands as a testament that we need God and that God interacted with us.

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Four Types of Heresy – Rejection of Christ as Christ

I am writing this while out of town. This is a scheduled post. Any comments made on this post may not appear until I get a chance to authorize them (all new users go through a filter so I can weed out spam; objections are allowed, but please look at the commenting policy). If your post has not been authorized by June 30, please contact me)

For ancient heresies the rejection of Christ entailed one of two things. Either they would reject that Jesus was God or they would reject that Jesus was human. Few accepted Him as both God and man (some did, but their heresy dealt more with the specifics of such a union). They would often teach that Christ was a created being who was spiritual and appeared to be human, but was merely an apparition. The other side taught that Jesus was a man who was inhabited by the spirit of Christ or was simply enlightened. The Arians attempted to combine the two, teaching that Jesus was like God, but still created by God, and thus was just a created being, though created above all other beings. In Arius’ own words,

“We know one God – alone unbegotten, alone everlasting, alone without beginning, alone true, alone possessing immortality, alone wise, alone good, alone master, judge of all, manager, director, immutable, and unchangeable, just and good, God of Law, Prophets, and New Testament – who begot an only-begotten Son before eternal times, through whom he made the ages and everything…But, as we say, he [Jesus] was created by the will of God before times and ages, and he received life, being, and glories from the Father as the Father has shared with him.” (Arius’s Letter to Alexander of Alexandria, paragraph 2)

What Arius is saying is that Jesus was no mere human, but rather created before time (how such a contradiction could exist is beyond me – time is the indicator of change, for something to come into being constitutes change, thus time would exist at such a point) and through whom all other things were created.

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