Continuing with this week’s theme about Christianity in the post-modern world, today we’re discussing emergence/progressive ideas and heresy. When this movement was younger, you heard a lot about this. It seemed like every day, there was a new book, article, podcast, blog post or sermon decrying the views of some emergent leader as heresy. These days, the word heresy only seems to get thrown about whenever something particularly controversial comes out, such as Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins” in which he suggests Hell might not be an actual physical place. The question I’ll tackle today is whether what’s coming out emergence and progressive Christianity is actually heretical. And, the answer is no, it’s not. Or, maybe it is; but not in a bad way.
That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? I mean, heresy’s a bad thing, right? Well, why don’t we start by looking at what heresy really is. There are multiple definitions according to Merriam-Webster, but the one that works best (I think) is “an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards”. In this case, the beliefs and standards that are generally accepted would be the doctrine and dogma of modern Christianity. That includes things like “getting saved”, ideas about heaven and hell, sexual ethic, marriage and biblical inerrancy just to name a few. As noted in the first installment of this series, What Am I Talking About?, the more progressive Christians in the emerging conversation don’t hold established beliefs (i.e. conservative evangelical) in these areas. So, according to the definition, it is heresy. Why isn’t this bad?
It’s not bad because these “established beliefs” can be in conflict with the Gospel. I don’t think anyone would argue that the point of Jesus’ message was love; love God, love your neighbor, love your enemy, love everyone. It was also devoid of judgment. Well, not exactly devoid; it was a judgment against…, judgment. You know, that whole “Dont’ judge so you won’t be judged” thing? When “established beliefs” bump up against these gospel tenets, the results can be negative.
How so? Any time “established belief” causes you to do something hurtful to others, you’re not loving neighbor. And, if you’re not loving your neighbor, you’re not loving God. Any time you use the Bible, God or your Christian faith to judge someone you don’t like, who makes you uncomfortable, whose beliefs are different than your own, you open yourself up for judgment in return. Not only that, you become more like a Pharisee than a follower of Jesus and you know what how he felt about that.
So, is emerging/progressive theology heretical? Yes, it is. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Tomorrow, I’ll wrap this up (for a while) with a little about the idea of being spiritual but not religious and how we should react t all these changes coming down the pike.