Using "heretic" to stop discussion


I have become very interested in the use of the word “heretic”. The reason I have become interested is it seems that every author I have read in the past 6 months has been labeled a “heretic” by people who disagree with him! (Philip Yancey, Greg Boyd, Philip Gulley, Shane Claybourne, Clark Pinnock - the list goes on and on)…Im getting this sense that people say “heretic”, and it is such a HRASH word, its designed to stop conversation…it also really worries me that there is some implication that if one understands scripture in a unique way, then one is not a Christian…

any thoughts on this? What is the proper response when confronted with “but hes a heretic!”



You’re a heretic! :stuck_out_tongue: :stuck_out_tongue: :wink:


But seriously, I agree it’s frustrating. Robin’s intro to ASBW is very helpful with this topic download/file.php?id=102

It’s particularly annoying when any non-Calvinist is basically put into the heretic basket instantly :unamused:

My advice, for what it’s worth, is stay calm and loving, and ask them “What defines orthodoxy/heresy?”. At least this way, it helps to find some common ground e.g. Nicaean Creed. And hopefully makes them think a little more before jumping to conclusions.


Maybe start by asking them why they think the person is a heretic, and go from there depending on the answer you get.


Thank them in so honoring you! Tell them you are right in there with the apostle Paul, a self-proclaimed heretic:

… but this I admit to you, that according to the way, which they call a “αιρεσις” (heresy), I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets. Act 24:15


Well strictly speaking Paul didn’t call himself a heretic; but he was certainly accused of it.


Here’s the thing: if any of us are in error on a point of doctrine, then objectively speaking we are in fact heretics, not orthodox. Doctrinally we’re in error.

Being doctrinally in error is not necessarily the same thing as committing the sin of heresy, though. (Unless gnosticism, salvation by doctrinal belief, is true. Which is, well… a heresy! :unamused: :wink: Insert multiple levels of irony here.)

The sin of heresy could be committed by someone teaching simon-pure orthodoxy, so long as the person is doing so for their own advantage, in order to ‘go their own way’. Abuse of truth is the sin of heresy.

The typical example, however, would be someone taking a (nominally) ‘heretical’ position and being proud of doing so. Chesterton had some chewy things to say about this. But we see it in our day (as he did in his) when an author irresponsibly throws up a book for fun and profit, literally leveraging the faith of other people in order to advance himself. Dan Brown would be the modern archetype of this; the Jesus Tomb guys come to mind as well.

This, by the way, is why I am quickly losing patience with the Rob Bell situation: he’s going out of his way to sully his opponents; but when pressed he doesn’t seem to have solid and deep reasons for doing so; and there’s a huge marketing push from the outset where he stands to benefit from the friction he’s promotionally generating. He needs to get his act in gear.


Where is a source that demonstrates the sullying of opponents? I am not disagreeing with you, just need to see the data!


Actually my comment was made with tongue in cheek. I am not sure that Paul was even accused of heresy as we understand the word. The fact that the Jews called the Way of Christ a “αιρεσις” (from which the word “heresy” is derived) does not imply that they considered it a “heresy” in the modern negative application of the word. The word “αιρεσις” is correctly rendered as “sect” in many modern translations. Just as there were several other sects of Jews in Jesus’ day: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots, Jesus’ disciples were also considered to be a sect. They were called “Nazarenes” by the Jews of the first century.


I had no idea that the roots of the word “heretic” mean “sect” -very interesting. Also, I had never run across this idea of distinguishing between “heretical understanding of doctrine”, and “sinful heresy” - (as explained above)…also very interesting!



Theologoumenon (singular; and the plural theologoumena) are fast becoming some of my favorite words. Theologoumena are theological opinions/positions about which otherwise orthodox believers may differ and debate without being thought heretics. “Heresy” was reserved for serious theological violations of the core orthodox beliefs believed to be essential to Christianity. The earlier you investigate, the fewer core beliefs you find, which is to be expected. It was only as challenges to Christian belief arose that the Church was motivated to further define what the non-negotiable core was. And of course, as time went by we had the time to make the mistake of adding on things that ought not to have been defined as definitive of Christianity. But as time went on–especially after East and West broke and then later with the Reformation–different understandings arose of what constituted the non-negotiable core beliefs of Christianity. But if you take the ecumenical creeds of the undivided church (the opening few centuries of the church history), neither eternal conscious torment nor universalism were thought to be essential. They were theologoumena–opinions about which believers may (and did) disagree, which is exactly how it ought to be today.