On the side of the heretics?

I might (appropriately enough) be committing grave heresy –  even blasphemy – in saying this, but I wonder if Christ has always been more on the side of the heretics and blasphemers than that of the Guardians of Orthodoxy, Correct Doctrine and Public Morals?

To me, Christ is a deeply subversive, even rebellious figure. He routinely (and it seems quite deliberately) upsets the religious establishment and offends the religious authorities of his day. He completely and shockingly reinterprets accepted and beloved theologies, doctrines and interpretations of scripture. He crashes through almost every religious and social convention and transgresses every boundary of race, religion, gender and social class. He welcomes sinners and outcasts, hangs out with prostitutes, and praises those outside his religion – pagans even – while snubbing and insulting the ‘righteous’ and respectable, and rejecting the leading lights of his own faith community. He ‘works’, heals, and picks food on the Sabbath in contravention of sacred custom; he declares all foods clean in direct contradiction of the Mosaic Law. The most orthodox believers of his day consider Jesus to be a heretic and a blasphemer, not to mention a serious troublemaker who needs to be put away.

Crucially, Jesus doesn’t actually preach a whole lot of doctrine or theology. He doesn’t tell people a list of things they need to believe or assent to. The only thing people need to believe, he says, is that he is sent by God; they need to believe him, in the sense of trusting and following him. After that, what really matters to Jesus is people’s heart attitude – to God and to other people – and their life response; what they do and how they live in light of their beliefs. In other words, it matters hugely how we regard others, how we treat them, crucially how much we love – and above all, love practically, in our actions and deeds.

Christ never puts anyone through a test of Orthodoxy; he simply asks them to ‘follow me’; to ‘love one another as I have loved you’. When he tells the story of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25), the difference between the righteous and the condemned is nothing to do with their theology, doctrine or even (in a sense) morality; it’s all about how they’ve treated others – the poor, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned. This is no liberal cop-out; Christ’s way is actually a good deal harder and more challenging than merely holding the correct doctrinal beliefs.

I don’t really think that Jesus was (or is) on the side of all heretics or blasphemers, of course. I think he would strongly have rejected and opposed any heresies that said it didn’t matter how we lived, what we did with our bodies or our money; how we treated the poor or the planet. In fact, I think the heresies he would most strongly have opposed are probably the heresies and blasphemies that our modern western and, yes, even evangelical churches have most strongly (if tacitly) bought into: the heresy that the planet doesn’t matter because God’s going to destroy it; the blasphemous culture of greed and materialistic consumerism; the idea that Christianity is solely about ‘bums in seats in heaven’ and conversion is just a matter of ‘praying the prayer’; the heresy that the only issues that really matter are sexual morality and doctrinal correctness. Jesus fiercely opposed those attitudes and beliefs in his own day; I’m not sure he’s changed his mind that much in ours.

So I think Jesus calls us to a kind of radical heresy against the cherished beliefs and practices of our culture and even often of our church. I think he also calls us to a radical blasphemy against the false gods that our culture (and our church) holds up, and against the false views of God that our cherished theologies present. For indeed all theologies are only partial; none can ever encapsulate the fullness of God; all fall short and are to a degree false. We need them, but we should only ever hold them provisionally.

Being true to Jesus then almost inevitably means being seen as heretics and blasphemers by many; by all those who feel that it’s compromising on doctrine or conventional morality or tradition or other things which they hold dear, but which Jesus himself held as secondary to radical love and goodness.

So in that sense, I’d be very happy to be a heretic, in the tradition of Christ and all the saints. Sadly though, I think I’m still just far too comfortably orthodox for that…


About TheEvangelicalLiberal

Aka Harvey Edser. I'm a web editor, worship leader, wannabe writer, very amateur composer and highly unqualified armchair theologian. My heroes include C.S. Lewis and Homer Simpson.
This entry was posted in Bible, Heresy/blasphemy, Orthodoxy, Theology, Truth and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to On the side of the heretics?

  1. Daniel says:

    As the Immortal if Heretical Film Dogma says!!

    “Rufus: He still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the shit that gets carried out in His name – wars, bigotry, televangelism. But especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.
    Bethany: Having beliefs isn’t good?
    Rufus: I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier… “


  2. Terry says:

    Clearly, you’ve never read the Second Gospel According to Mark. This is taken from 2GospMark 9:28-31:

    28 And Jesus said to his disciples, “There is a time coming, and has now come, when the Son of Man will give his life as a ransom for many, and yea, it shall be interpreted primarily in terms of penal substitution, for I am the perfect sacrifice that appeases my Father’s wrath. And you shall utterly scorn and put on trial any who suggest that this understanding of my death is only one of many ways of understanding.”

    29 “But Lord,” said Peter. “I do not accept that you will die, for you are the Messiah and are going to mash up the Romans with a sword dipped in the blood of even more of your enemies. But if you do die, surely there are many other ways of interpreting your death. I’m sure I’d be inclined to think of it as a victory over evil, or even as the supreme demonstration of love that elicits a similar response in others.”

    30 “Peter, Peter, you know that I love you,” Jesus responded, “but you need to think more carefully about this. Those ways of regarding my death are all well and good, but they’ll only sidetrack you from the truth: my Father will punish you all unless I take his wrath on the chin.”

    31 At that moment, Martha came out of the house and said, “Dinner’s ready!” And Jesus and the disciples went in, hoping that lamb chutney wouldn’t be on the menu for the sixth time in a week.


    • Yea, and verily. For doth it not also say in the recently-discovered revised second edition of John’s Gospel, chapter 14 verse 6: “I am the Alpha Course and the Mega-Church; I am the Wayne Grudem, the Literal Truth and the Purpose-Driven Life. None cometh unto the Father except by predestination and a rigorous entrance test on Calvin’s Institutes” ?


      • Terry says:

        No, it doesn’t. That’s 2GospJohn 14:7, although I suppose there is some evidence of early manuscripts merging 14:6 with 14:7, before Jesus goes on to tell the so-called Parable of the Lost Echidna.


  3. Eric says:

    Rather ironically, your use of capitals for Orthodoxy made me think for a second that you were discussing Eastern Orthodoxy. I say ironically because my contacts with Orthodoxy seem to all involve a good deal of mysticism and a sense that the heart of the Church is not identical with its intellect. It’s probably one of the reasons I wouldn’t actually identify as an evangelical these days.

    I also applaud your use of the word heresy to describe heteropraxy – I think it is really only in a world that has separated religion out as a private affair that one can see many of these issues as something other than the practical worship of alternate deities.


  4. johnm55 says:

    But then Paul came along to give the correct spin on what Jesus said and did.


  5. johnm55 says:

    Somehow the first part of the comment got left out.
    You are absolutely right Jesus always seems to be on the outside of orthodoxy kicking inwards, but …..
    Actually that not totally fair to Paul who kicks against the orthodox as well. The problem is our spin on Paul’s spin that really is the problem.


    • Hi John, sorry for not replying before… got sidetracked with making silly Harry Potter videos 😉

      I think Paul does have a little bit to answer for – but as you say, much of that is down to how we’ve misread him over the centuries. I have to confess that I still don’t like most of Paul’s letters very much though!


      • johnm55 says:

        You need to be careful with those Harry Potter videos. The wrath of the neo-Calvinists when they smell heresy is nothing compared to that of the true believers in JKR when they detect the slightest suggestion of deviation from the true path of Potter.


  6. dsholland says:

    The religious establishment often seems out of the loop when it comes to the real work of God. It is a testament to the breadth of His plan that Caiaphas “prophesied” that Christ would die a substitutionary death. It seems we have to put Him in a box to understand Him. I suppose we should expect that He doesn’t fit.


    • A side point, but interesting that you interpret John 11:50 as prophesying a substitutionary death. “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish”. I can certainly see that substitution (whether penal or otherwise) is a valid reading of “one man die for the people” but I think there are also other ways of looking at it. Dying on behalf of, or as a perfect representative of, the people is not to me quite the same thing as dying in place of them as a substitute. Just a thought. 🙂


  7. Theothedog says:

    Goes without saying that I’ve no right to make such an assertion, but I doubt whether Christ really minds much at all whether we’re heretics or not. Heresy does, after all, involve changing or deviating from a dogma or idea, doesn’t it, and as you’ve rightly said, when on earth he didn’t exactly major on systematic theology. So I don’t necessarily see Jesus as an instinctive friend of the heretic, or indeed of the rebel (worse luck!). My own formulation of (roughly) what you’re saying is would be something like: (a) he is an enemy of comfort zones (which by definition involve complacency and often arrogance); and (b) he really does have a ‘bias to the poor’, to the poor in body but also the poor in spirit, in the sense of those who are open, willing to learn, and not afraid to grow up. ‘He hath thrown down the mighty from their seats and hath exalted the humble and meek’, to quote a good example of Bible-steeped liturgy.
    All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I agree pretty much completely!


    • Yes, I don’t particularly see Jesus as a friend of the rebel any more than of anyone else – rebels are often just people with an authority problem (and that’s me in a nutshell!). I do see him as perhaps a little more the friend of the heretic, if for no other reason than that heretics are often marginalised and mistreated by the mainstream church and the ecclesiastical powers-that-be. But there are many kinds of heretic, and I’m sure there are plenty whose heretical-ness is simply obnoxious, rather than a sincere seeking after truth outside the theological box…


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