A Relatively Orthodox Heretic   1 comment

Above:  The Author in August 2009

Photograph by Bonny Thomas

Among my favorite possessions is a shirt which reads

HERETIC.

I wear it proudly.

Yet reality is more complex than that anecdote indicates alone.  Yes, my inquisitive nature, complete with interests in theology, church history, and epistomology (how we know what we know) led me down paths some of my fellow church members in certain rural South Georgia United Methodist congregations considered heretical.  Even my father proved cold to some of my honest inquiries; that hurt the most of all.  There was no need to shut me down over an honest question.

The relationship between religion and intellect has been a frequently troubled one, for free inquiry is often the enemy of dogma, as it ought to be.  A dogma is a doctrine beyond discussion or debate.  But who decides what is merely doctrinal and what is dogmatic?  This is a question worth exploring without determining the value of the dogma first.  And one should also apply rigorous epistomological standards to any doctrine without fear; truth will hold up well under scrutiny.  That it holds up well tells me that it is truth.

I have not changed my mind significantly about theological matters in over a decade.  The main alteration has been the acceptance of the reality of Single Predestination, but my Christology, as before, continues to meet Western Christian standards  more often than not.  I am neither an Arian nor an Adoptionist, for example.  I, once a relative heretic in South Georgia, am now relatively orthodox in my parish in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia.  I was bound to, at some point in time, find a band of professing Christians, many or most of whom are to my left, and to associate with them.  They are wonderful company.  I do not call them heretics, either.  To the best of my knowledge, there is nary an Arian nor an Adoptionist among them.

If the Virgin Birth of Jesus and Penal Substitutionary Atonement are vital elements of orthodox Christianity, I am a heretic.  If Jesus said that one must affirm the Virgin Birth, nobody recorded that saying in the New Testament.  And the New Testament and writings of Church Fathers contain at least three understandings of the Atonement.  My doubts regarding Penal Substitutionary Atonement do not condemn me; no, they place me in excellent and ancient company.

I wonder, what is the proper standard of orthodoxy according to which I should evaluate myself?

“Heresy” comes from a Greek word meaning “choice,” with a subtext of fractiousness.  The first heretics where those who chose what to believe and thereby broke with the budding Christian hierarchy.  Quite often these heretics were truly mistaken; I am glad they lost the arguments.  Yet sometimes heretics (such as Copernicus and Galileo) were correct and the hierarchy was objectively wrong.  Human standards of orthodoxy seem to be unreliable much of the time.

I claim the label “heretic” proudly, treating it as an affirmative thing.

Yes, I am a heretic.  Do you have a problem with that, you Donatist?

That is fantasy rebuttal to more than one annoying person.  I have never used it, but the mere thought of it satisfies me.  Above all, I want to be righteous more than I want to be right or to win a theological argument.  Besides, I suspect that everybody is, to some extend, a heretic by God’s standard, the only rule which should matter.  And grace stands ready to forgive a great deal.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 22, 2012 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALENE, EQUAL TO THE APOSTLES

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One response to “A Relatively Orthodox Heretic

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  1. Pingback: Guide to Posts Regarding The United Methodist Church (1968-) | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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