Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Defense Against the Dark Arts: The Human Factor

Almost ten years ago I picked up a copy of The Cruelty of Heresy by FitzSimons Allison. I came across it, first of all, as a footnote in Don Carson's The Gagging of God, and to my surprise, a few months later, there it was at one of the local Christian bookshops. I have never seen the book for sale since then (well apart from on Amazon of course). And somewhat ironically it was in the reduced section, along with a number of other fine books, because this particular book shop specialised in "health and wealth" literature.

This book has provoked me to much thought and further reading on heresies. Not that I especially wanted to become an expert on ancient and modern theological diseases. There are plenty of books that focus on describing and categorising heresies, but The Cruelty of Heresy is different. What really stimulated my thinking was the insight this book offered on the pastoral dimensions of heresy, the appeal factor in heresies, and their unremmitting cruelty to men and women who stand in need of the grace of the triune God in the gospel.

The following extract calls for the inclusion of the pastoral dimensions of heresy in our thinking:

The ultimate cruelty of heresy can be shown by approaching the Councils from the concern over what happens to someone who follows teachings outside the limits set by the creeds. A human factor needs to be added to the traditional way in which these Councils are approached. Historical, theological, and philosophical questions are always, and of necessity, diligently treated by studies of these Councils.

The question of the fidelity of a given teaching to the data of Scripture also is traditionally treated with great rigor. However, the condition of the human heart that receives and conveys the gospel is almost everywhere ignored as a factor in consideration of teachings, whether they be heretical or orthodox.

That the human heart is a "veritable factory of idols" is a truth attributed to various Reformers. The heart is certainly "far gone from original righteousness," and it is a filter through which the gospel must pass in its hearing and telling. Each heresy in its own way encourages some flaw in our human nature.

Without appreciating this human factor one could be led to believe that othodoxy is a relatively simple matter: the results of proper research and scholarship. The human factor makes us acknowledge that research and scholarship itself must pass through the heart of the researcher and scholar.

C. FitzSimons Allison, The Cruelty of Heresy, p. 22-23

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