We need an Athanasius; we need a William Wilberforce (Part I)

Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. – Matthew 22:37-38

I’m just getting into John Chrysostom’s Homilies On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (CUA Press). The homilies attempt to explain that we can know nothing of the nature of God, but we can still know God. St. John gave these as a response to the neo-Arians who said that we could know the nature of God.

In order to give some background information, the introduction explains the controversy of Arianism and what it brought about. He talks about how how the adoption of the Nicene Creed was a response to Arianism. Yet he points out:

“…Arianism did not die; in fact it grew for four decades and was still a disturbing factor at the end of the fourth century. Indeed, it might have been reestablished after Nicaea were it not for Athanasius of Alexandria.”

For those who do not know, Athanasius is often referred to as “Athaansius Contra Mundum” (Athanasius against the world). Athanasius was a deacon when he attended Nicaea, but in 326 (the year after Nicaea) when Alexander of Alexandria died, Athanasius took his place as Bishop of Alexandria. During Athanasius’ tenure as Bishop of Alexandria he was banished from the city no less than five times due to his refusal to back down on his beliefs concerning Christ.

Eusebius (not to be confused with the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea), the bishop of Nicomedia, was an open Arian and used his position of influence to have the government of Alexandria consistently harass Athanasius. Much to the chagrin of Eusebius, Athanasius willingly faced the persecution; after all, he was raised during the last great persecution of Christians under the Roman Empire (303-311) and watched many of his family friends and his mentors die in the persecution. What was banishment compared to what he had endured as a child?

Athanasius turned away the favor of man and a position of prominence in order to stand for the truth. As C.S. Lewis says of Athanasius in the introduction to “On the Incarnation” (St. Vladamir’s Press),

“He knew that the very existence of the Church was at stake; but he was utterly certain of the truth and he knew that it must in time prevail.”

Athanasius was faithful to the doctrines of Christianity and to Christ not out of some desire to be right or some attempt to win an argument or exert his power and control over people, but because he was dedicated to the Truth who is Christ. In being dedicated to the Truth, he desired that all men know the Truth as He revealed Himself. The Arians created a Jesus who was different from the Jesus of history and therefore Athanasius, in loving loyalty to Christ, stood his ground and suffered for his holy obstinance. Banishment back then was not a simple thing; being in Egypt, he was banished into the wilderness. He had to leave all that he knew five separate times and depart into the unknown (though the first two times he went to the Desert Father Antony, while the last three times he went to the disciples of Antony). Continue reading

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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Four Types of Heresy – Rejection of God as God

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)

In early Christianity, most of those who rejected a doctrine of God generally rejected His ability to create. They bought into the Gnostic belief that the material world was created by aeons or “little gods” or angels. Others, however, taught that matter pre-existed God and that God came along the scene, formed matter to His likening, and let it go. Though He had a plan for creation, He had no way of causing this plan to come about. We see this in modern heresies too. Whether someone denies that God has foreknowledge or is truly good or the strange theology of Weakness Theology (as per Caputo’s book, The Weakness of God, specifically chapter 3 where Caputo declares, “God is not omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal, or supersensuous.” [p73]), some modern-day heresies begin with the denial of who God is.

For instance, the Damascene speaks of the Theocatagnostae (“Condemners of God”) who sought to find the faults within God. As John of Damascus explains:

“The Theocatagnostae, who are also called Blasphemers, try to find fault with [the Lord] for certain words and actions, as well as with the holy persons associated with Him, and with the sacred Scriptures. They are foolhardy and blasphemous people.” (Heresy 92)

In other words, those who say, “God was wrong” or that we shouldn’t trust all of Scripture are heretics. This might seem inflammatory to some, but others wear the title proudly. Caputo, on page 69 of his book, reverses the role of the serpent and God and says the serpent was telling the truth while God was being crafty. Such sentiment is not limited to Caputo (who few people have heard of). Instead, a studier of Caputo, my friend Peter Rollins also decides to shift the blame to God and make the serpent look innocent (chapter 2 of his book The Fidelity of Betrayal). For instance, Rollins, in talking about the narrative of the serpent deceiving Adam and Eve, supposes that God doesn’t have to be right and the serpent wrong. In a footnote to saying this, Rollins states:

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How to make Shelby Spong look conservative

Many of the leaders in the Emergent Movement have just gotten…well…weird lately. Tony Jones, for example, has been falling further and further off the deep end. He has especially caught my attention, from posting an article from the Huffington post that mocks Rick Warren’s prayer (not that I’m a huge fan of Warren, but what he’s mocked for is what all real Christians believe), to talking about how motherhood is not a calling, discussing how homosexuality is acceptable (though he admits a “weakness” in the argument), celebrating interfaith heroes month, and how conservative Christians are somehow Gnostic (which is somewhat of a joke as he misrepresents what Gnosticism is). Let’s also not forget that believing in the Trinity is optional according to Jones. Let’s also not forget that Doug Pagitt is running for public office in Minnesota. 

Before getting into the issue I want to discuss, I must ask this: Whatever happened to the “Third Way” that the EC was going to provide? How is anything above different from the liberalism that has plagued Christianity for the past two hundred years? The inerrancy of Scripture, Christian ethics, conservative Christians, the exclusivity of Christ, and the doctrine of God are all challenges by the EC, just as they were with the liberals. The greatest irony is that Christian liberalism is a direct result of the Enlightenment (modernism) and the EC has gone to great lengths to show how modernism is bad. Yet, a great portion of their beliefs center on modernistic ideas.

With all the “weirdness” above, however, I think John Caputo takes the cake this week. In quoting from his book The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event (Indiana Press University, 2005), I want to show how far the EC has begun to dive into heresy.

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