A CREEPING OF HERESIES. A Guest Essay by Mark Jokinen of Peterborough

Picture yourself walking along a path

        Picture yourself walking along a path of many steps, but a path where you can see clearly only one step ahead. You can’t see the end destination. It makes sense to you  to take that one step, and you take it. After that, you can now see the next step ahead, and so on. The thing is, after you have taken many such steps, you look back to where you had begun, and realize that if you could have foreseen the end of the path at the beginning you would not have begun it. What has happened here?

         What I believe happens is that the path changes you. Each step on its own changes you a little, and each seems no big deal. Or each step makes sense on its own if you don’t know the final destination. It is that sum of all the little changes, that you didn’t foresee at the beginning, that concerns me here.

         I see that process in many places. It is part of everyday living, the unavoidable experience of everyone as we age, and ask ourselves, ‘What happened? Where did the years go?’ It happens as we become desensitized to pornography or violence in the media and advertising. It happens with controversial issues such as homosexuality, or divorce, or abortion, where adjustment gradually becomes acceptance, and then approval, and then there is a  new normal. It happens in Christians as we interact with non-Christians socially, intellectually, legally.1  We may change them, but interaction

1 I should state that I consider myself a traditional Christian. My wife 
and I attend a Baptist Church. I am comfortable with Roman Catholicism,
Protestantism, Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and so on.
I have not formally joined any denomination. I accept the Apostle’s Creed
as a statement of faith.

with them also changes us. The changes may be good, or worthwhile, or not, but we should  be aware of the process so that we can choose to assent to it, or not, from the beginning. The two areas I will examine here are (1) the process where many young, university age Christians lose their faith, and (2) the tolerance of heretical ideas, of old heresies returning, such as Gnosticism.

         The important thing is to become aware as soon as possible of the overall effect of the path, and decide whether or not and on what terms to continue. I can see three things to do when one is somewhere on the path. The first is to look back to the  beginning, to recover one’s vision from there. The second is to take one step back as a test; and the third is to take a step sideways, off the path entirely.  (To actually go back to the beginning of the path is usually very difficult, or impossible, and the changes to that point are usually a mixture of good and bad.)

          An example of the first, for a Christian, is reading the Bible, or asking oneself what would Jesus do, or Paul, or Peter. What would they say about this path you are on, the changes in you? Would they approve? How do you feel about their reaction? (Not… ‘what do you think about that?’). Praying. Returning to your root experience as a Christian…

         The second thing one can do is to take one step back. Find out how easy or hard it is, compared with stepping forward. The step back could be easier, or more difficult, or no different. An example of it being easier is a person trying to break an old, long-established bad habit, where backsliding is easy. An example of it being more difficult is when a Christian is alone or in a minority among non-Christians, where it is easier to go along with the crowd. There could be unspoken goals or beliefs among  the majority that are not made clear until that backward step is taken. And if the steps  forward  and back are about equal in difficulty, one could at least stay there until things become clearer.

         The third thing to try is the sideways step, off the path entirely. This is the most difficult of the three because it is the most original response, thinking outside the box. It is seeing the steps, the path, from a different and new viewpoint. From there, one could set off on a new path or direction, or return to the original one with new understanding.

          A great many young Christians leave the faith they were raised in, especially when  they go away to university. I believe one reason for it is exposure to the secular environment, perhaps actively anti-Christian, without the counterbalancing of home and church. The result is a slow leaching away of meaning, of habits and religious practice, to where their faith seems ridiculous, dubious, and restrictive. And their loss of faith feels like liberation to them, which makes it very hard to resist or argue against.

          A change we grow used to becomes the new normal, and each small step can be a small surrender. But each step is also a small confrontation, asking if this path is right, with each person on their own in trying to answer that. Being a religious person in a secular environment is not the same as being a religious person in a different religious environment. A Christian interacting with Hindu or Buddhist people is challenged with a different religious truth. A Christian in a secular environment is challenged by an absence of religious truth, by ‘what’s the point of believing it?’ Key beliefs such as the Resurrection begin to seem ridiculous, irrational, unnecessary, and eventually untrue. Rational argument and scientific reasoning are compatible with  and can support both Christianity and atheism, but somehow atheism has become the default position in secular society.

         The person has to want to stay Christian, has to want it strongly. Without that desire, everything else in their faith is useless. With that desire, the three things to do on the path when in secular society make sense. Returning to one’s roots could be reading the Bible, or ‘practicing the presence of God’.  Taking a step back could be doing a short  prayer at meal-time, both with others and alone. Doing it visibly, not just secretly or silently. And leaving the path entirely could be going on a spiritual retreat to refocus; or starting a craft or art or physical activity that is neither religious nor secular, getting you  completely away from the issues for a while.

          Loss of faith is often perceived or felt by the person as a gain in freedom, but that feeling is a temporary illusion. It is easy for believers  to not face that issue of feeling  and to concentrate on the authority of the Bible, or on belief in the Resurrection, or the Creeds… But the feeling of freedom will undercut any argument. Freedom from feels like freedom to, whether it is sexual freedom, or gender identity freedom, or not having to read the Bible or go to church, or abortion freedom, or freedom to choose what laws to obey, beyond society’s laws. It feels like liberation from a Christianity seen as narrow, constricting, and nonsensical, and into a wider society of more choices.

            Each step taken must be seen instead as a small surrender, not as a step of liberation. To return to the beginning of the path could be to focus on Paul’s gospel of grace, of the ‘Apostle of the Heart Set Free’2 , and then choosing a different path from that point. We must address  the difference between  freedom and license directly, and do it rationally, patiently, respectfully and humbly.

2Bruce; Paul: Apostle. Pages 119 and 141. Also 2 Cor 3:17-18.

         I see a similar path at work in scholars whose ideas become more extreme and provocative as time passes. There is excitement and joy in generating and exploring new ideas, especially radical ones. Developing arguments, marshaling evidence, engaging in intellectual combat: the academic is trained for this, and our culture sees the exploration of radical ideas as heroic. And it is. Jolts of creative pleasure and  intellectual satisfaction are addictive, as they should be. But also addictive are the rewards of public attention and recognition, and the regard of one’s peers. The outsider is seen as heroic. The academic’s earlier ideas become part of his or her mental furniture, and cease to be exciting. The excitement in exploring new, forbidden ideas, new possibilities, more radical and revolutionary ideas is also addictive. Each of us has a secret yearning to be the next Galileo, or Newton, or Einstein. But the scholar may be confusing the pleasures of discovery, and of motivation, with the truth. Our brains are inherent pattern recognition machines, and that of the scholar is trained to be even more so. A friend of mine is of the opinion that modern scholarship, especially in the social sciences, has institutionalized the goal of heresy.3

3Kazmaier, Peter M. Personal communication.

         So what can the scholar (and the creative artist too) do when on a path into the unknown? He can think  back to the beginning, back to first principles in his questions. We are all human: it could mean having to get to the root of one’s motives. For the scientist, how would it feel  to let others have the personal rewards, the professional recognition, the verdict of history for your ideas and work?  For the artist, perhaps the joy of playing/practicing his art with absolutely no audience for it, ever. Would each of them still walk that path, if joy of discovery was the only reward?

         What would taking one step back entail? I see it as a test of resistance and a test of rightness. These are empirical tests, rather than logical ones, for logic alone will keep leading you forward along the path. See if you can reverse the chain of reasoning, which could make just as much sense. Find out what makes it difficult to take that step back. Public embarrassment about changing your mind? Afraid of being called inconsistent or erratic? Listen for a ‘still, small feeling of rightness’ and nurture it. Try to put aside the allure of novelty, of new possibilities that may be illusory. Compare the two steps, forward and back. When you turn and face the other way, the path looks completely different.  And what would be an example of a sideways step, off the path entirely? Perhaps getting an opinion on your situation from someone in an entirely different discipline or craft. (Artist? Musician? Parent with small children?  Manual laborer?)  How well could you convey your situation to them, in their language?

        Another area where this path of many steps effect is at work is in the tolerance of, or indifference to, heretical ideas. I see a deadening or desensitization similar to that to violence or pornography in the media, in our culture generally. The new, the exciting, the offensive becomes in time the new normal. An example of a heretical belief is that Jesus was just a man, a very good man, who didn’t rise from the dead. It is a coherent and persuasive belief that will lead to other beliefs and ideas. Traditionally, it is called Arianism and is a heresy that keeps returning and recurring in the history of the Christian Church.4  (An interesting side question: why do some heretical beliefs keep returning?)

4It is named after its Fourth Century advocate Arius, and has no
relationship to Aryanism, a completely different word.

         There are two dangers in dealing with heretical ideas: the danger of intolerance and the danger of tolerance. The danger of intolerance is clear and obvious from our history: persecution of heretics, book burning, the Inquisition, religious wars, the importance of freedom of thought and expression. The danger of tolerance is more subtle. The issue with heresy is not one of different equal beliefs, but of right versus wrong. It is not a debate with a person of a different religion, but with a person of the same religion who you believe is wrong on a fundamental belief that is accepted as fact. That person is free to believe whatever he or she likes, as are we all, but if we believe the other person is wrong we must be clear in that, and hold to it. A debate format over a belief implies the two sides are equal, are to be treated equally, whether in a formal debate between two people, or in the informal debate within one’s own skull. Any idea should be considered with respect, but a debate about it ends with a choice, and we go on to other things. And we must. But there is a long term ‘wearing down’ or erosion if a debate keeps returning. A wearing down of the older generation having to keep refighting old debates, and of the younger generation not valuing the tradition, rejecting it for the new, the exciting, the different. Both the old and the young must each find their own way back  to their common roots in order to better understand the common path they are on.5

5Two people opposed to each other could each consider their own beliefs to
be orthodoxy,  and the other’s heresy. They would have much to discuss and
clarify. What concerns me is the many-steps process likely at work within
each of them.

         As a society, and in the Church, we have both gained and lost. We have gained in freedom of thought and expression, but we have also lost by becoming less serious in our thinking. It is as if we believe the ideas we think and express have no consequences for us or for others. But they can have consequences, for us in our own personal lives, and for society.

         Consider Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most influential philosophers. Perhaps his ideas contributed to his insanity, or they resulted from it, or both. But the Nazis took his ideas and misused them. And he continues to be influential and popular. Does he not bear some responsibility for his ideas? Or the scientists who helped develop the atom bomb, and who felt guilty for it afterwards. Or Marx, Darwin, Freud: They are intellectual heroes, role models, shapers of our world, and their ideas are part of us. Their ideas are so influential that we can’t go back in our thinking to before they existed. We can’t unthink  their ideas, we can only agree or disagree with them, challenge them, build on them. We can’t remove their ideas from our heads. An idea, an image, even a powerful photograph, can have a long term effect, one for good, or for corrosive ill. If it is for ill, how best can one resist it?

         If we are responsible for what we think and express, responsible at least to ourselves, and to others if we communicate, we must become aware of the little steps in the path of our thinking, our experience, all the little changes and acceptances we make, and to be prepared to stop, to wait, to reconsider and perhaps choose differently.

         If the path of many steps is an intellectual one, leading perhaps to a heresy or unbelief, what could be the three responses I suggest?

          The first, going back to the beginning of the path: you can’t unthink a thought or idea, once it is in your head, but you can consider other paths from where you are, perhaps other philosophical approaches or directions.

         The second, taking one step back as a test, means facing the other way. A path looks quite different when you face the other way,  and a common unexamined assumption our society has is one of faith in inevitable progress. What resistance is there to taking just the one step back?

The third response, stepping off the path entirely:  perhaps concentrate on the non-intellectual feeling of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps doing  some ordinary, everyday good thing that brings you back to Christ. As Brother Lawrence put it, practicing the presence of God  is more to our essence as Christians than intellectual ideas about Christ  and Christianity are. (Though how difficult the simplest things can be to do!)

         The title, which I coined, is called a ‘venereal’ term6. There were many such terms in late medieval English, and knowing them was considered part of being an educated person  A few such terms have survived into modern English. The best have a richness of  meaning, of poetry and illogic to them: a pride of lions, a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens, an exaltation of larks… Perhaps a creeping of heresies  can help us each understand our own paths better.

6Lipton; Exaltation. Venery is an archaic word for
hunting.

                                                    Bibliography:

Bruce, F. F.  Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free.
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.
Lawrence, Brother (Nicholas Herman). The Practice of the Presence of God, With Spiritual Maxims. Grand Rapids: Spire, 1967.
Lipton, James. An
Exaltation of Larks, Or The Venereal Game. New York: Viking,1979. Second Edition.

(c) Copyright Mark Jokinen, 2019

About Peter Kazmaier

Lover of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Author of the SF series THE HALCYON CYCLE. I frequently re-read my favourite books. http://tinyurl.com/p46woa4

Posted on April 4, 2019, in Christian Worldview, Essay, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedoms, History, History of Christianity, Marxism, Materialism, Modernism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Mark, I appreciate that you have been thinking about these very important questions: What path am I on? What do I do if I don’t like the destination? These questions have also concerned me.

    In my second book in THE HALCYON CYCLE called THE BATTLE FOR HALCYON, in the ninth chapter, I have imagined a conversation between a sociologist called Aberhardt and the University of Halcyon Senate Executive Committee, where Aberhardt complains they are making changes at the dislocated university too quickly. He has come up with a constant which defines how quickly one can make changes (my imagination and invention) without people noticing and so manipulate them in the direction you want them to go.

    I’m curious. You have thought about this question a lot. Is there a rate of change, or in your parlance, a step size that makes it almost impossible to detect that we are being changed against our will and that cherished convictions are being ground out of us?

  2. I haven’t thought about that. My intent in the essay was to make people aware of the
    possibility of small changes, so they can assent or not. A perception thing. If you aren’t
    thinking about them, or are distracted in some way, you are less likely to notice. If
    the changes are very small, maybe they would come under the heading of ‘that’s life’…

  3. Mark, you and I have spent many years in an academic environment. You point out that “Loss of faith is often perceived or felt by the person as a gain in freedom …” How does one guard against that idea (an idea that I think is fundamentally incorrect)? Is the problem that students of faith don’t understand the freedom they already have or is the root cause something else?

  4. An example of a heretical belief is that Jesus was just a man, a very good man, who didn’t rise from the dead. It is a coherent and persuasive belief that will lead to other beliefs and ideas. Traditionally, it is called Arianism ….. I don’t thing this is true. You may mean ‘adoption-ism’ the belief that Jesus was a good man whom God adopted as his son and who then went on and die for our sins etc. Arianism has it’s roots in logic ‘two can’t be one’ and in the verse that calls Jesus the first born of all creation. It means that Jesus is part of creation and ‘was born.

    …….and is a heresy that keeps returning and recurring in the history of the Christian Church.4 (An interesting side question: why do some heretical beliefs keep returning?) The reason Arianism keeps returning is because it has as much support in scripture as many of the other things that evangelicals fight over.

    Remember that Jesus was a heretic to his religion. If someone is trying to improve the religion don’t be so quick to denounce them. You may be denouncing someone whom God sent.

    I’m assuming that you are an evangelical I could be wrong. From here on everything I say is really directed at evangelicals.

    I find it interesting when people speak of the history of the Christian Church and then speak of heresy. Evangelicals generally believe that a lot of wrong stuff crept into church belief over the years and that the ‘sola scriptura-ists’ tried to get those beliefs out. And yet, when defining heresy sola scriptura-ists will appeal to history. We don’t really know exactly when the church went wrong. It may have happened very early.

    Here’s an idea that I wish all religionists would adopt, ‘It’s not the beliefs that matter but the behavior’. Jesus himself said very little about what to believe but a lot about behavior.

    I would like to belong to a church where you can believe anything that you want but if you tell a lie you are a heretic and get denounced from the pulpit. I would find that much preferable to the current system where people maintain leadership positions after committing egregious sins but some kid who just starts reading his Bible says ‘Hey it says right here that baptism is for the remission of sins (or some other fought over verse)’ gets snidely told “that’s not what we believe”.

    • Starman, thank you for your comments on my essay. I have spent some time thinking about them.
      My understanding of Arianism comes from my copy of The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. The first sentence is ‘The principal heresy which denied the true Divinity of Jesus Christ, so called after its author, Arius.’ I wasn’t concerned about being more accurate than that in the essay.

      It is true that Jesus was considered a heretic by the Jews of his time, yet after his death his followers worshipped in the temple for a time. You are right that it is good not to be too hasty in calling someone a heretic. But a time can come when a decision or choice has to be made about another’s different beliefs, while also keeping in mind the possibility of being wrong.

      I described my own Christian beliefs in a footnote. I believe that I am not an evangelical,
      I have difficulty with scripture alone as the source of authority. I see my faith as a tripod: The Bible, personal direct experience of Christ or the Holy Spirit, and the traditions and historical experience of the Church. I am not sure if the Church has gone wrong somewhere.

      I would say that both beliefs and behavior matter. To me they are connected. If they aren’t, it means we have no reasons for our choices and actions. If behaviour is all that matters, it means that I have no principles behind them. No basis for figuring out what to do when a novel situation arises. It will mean letting others decide for me, if I am part of a group (the leader? the congregation?). No freedom.
      If telling a lie makes you a heretic, who decides what is a lie? Does the end justify the means? What if one person’s lie is another’s truth? Most serious of all: there is no defence against self-deception. And how does this relate to politics and political action? The end result may be solipsism.

      Thank you. You have given me much food for thought!

      Mark Jokinen

    • ps
      Starman, you might find a Quaker Meeting to your liking. I attended one for 25 years.
      They are good people, and very accepting and very much truth speaking. I attended what s described as an unprogrammed Meeting.
      Another possibility is the Unitarians.

      In friendship,
      Mark Jokinen

  5. Starman, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I think this is your first comment on my website and so I had, as moderator, to accept it. I did so as soon as I saw it and, if my site is working properly, future comments will go straight in. I appreciate your thoughts and plan to engage with them myself, but I will wait until Mark has a chance to respond. After all it is his essay. Thanks again for your comment. -Peter

  6. Mark, in your essay, and Starman, in your comment, there was talk of heretics and heresies. The words “heretic” and “error” are used in the negative or, perhaps, the pejorative sense in the New Testament. For me, I have found it much more useful to talk about what is right, true or correct i.e. what is orthodox, rather than what is wrong or incorrect.

    Before we talk past each other, I want to define these words: I’m trying to use them in the New Testament sense, not the modern English sense.

    ORTHODOX (from orthos right, true, or straight; and doxia from opinion [https://www.etymonline.com/word/orthodox]) in NT times meant working to find the correct, accurate, or true opinion on a subject. From that point of view no one would argue they are unorthodox since that would be tantamount to arguing they were wrong. Today, of course, orthodox has the connotation of “staid,” “old-fashioned,” and “unthinking conformity,” while unorthodox means “original,” “courageous,” and “independently minded.” These meanings are very different from the original meaning of orthodox.

    ERROR (from Greek plane (Vines Gk Dictionary)) has the sense of wandering off the path. That is to say, one presumably has the correct destination in mind, but gets lost and likely will not reach it.

    HERESY (from the Greek hairesis (Vines)) comes from the root word for choice or choosing and describes a teacher from within the Christian community who chooses a divisive and destructive doctrinal position with a view to forming a following or a sect.

    For me, my focus ought to be on getting the teaching right in the first place, by study and due diligence. If I do that, both error and following a heretic are less likely to happen. Implicit in this point of view is the assumption that there is a true teaching or opinion to find and that finding it matters. I believe that to be true. If I did not, talking about these questions would, in my view, be pointless.

  7. What follows is a way-too-long (1779 words) reply to your comment. No need to read it. The benefit for me was that by replying to you I was able to organize my own thoughts. Some good may come of that someday. I wish you all the best and I respect what you have done with your books and your blog.

    Hi Peter:

    I appreciate your honesty and your intellect. I especially appreciate your statement ”Implicit in this point of view is the assumption that there is a true teaching or opinion to find and that finding it matters.” Most people just assume this. By stating it the way you do, you are acknowledging that someone else can legitimately hold another opinion. I also believe that there is a true teaching to find but that the true teaching occurs at a different level than is normally described by orthodoxy and heresy. If you have the patience and are interested I’ll tell my story.

    I grew up in the evangelical community. We have the bad habit of treating the Bible like a Torah or a Koran. I remember a preacher talking about the model prayer and saying that in the original language the ‘Our Father’ was familiar language like daddy. I also remember reading the opinion of others who disagreed. The language is formal. They seemed offended that God could be a daddy. My own father corrected me once when I called him father. He said ‘God is your Father, I’m your dad’. That debate sat on the metaphorical back burner until one day, back when I was selling industrial supplies, I was in the office of a young guy. He had a picture in his office of himself sleeping on a couch with a baby contentedly sleeping on his chest. I took note because I have a picture just like that one. On his picture someone had put the words ‘I (heart) my Abba’.

    It all came together. I no longer need an Aramaic English dictionary to know the meaning of abba. I’m an abba. Seeing abba used this way changed the paradigm for me from Father means God to God is a father. If Jesus wanted people to see God as an Abba, what does that change? The Jews have a concept of God that is like that of a king. Kings want to be obeyed. Kings reward their most loyal subjects more than their less loyal subjects. Kings also are pleased when loyal subjects kill the rebellious and very disloyal. This is natural behavior for a king because a king’s position is insecure. Jesus understood that treating God like a king is actually demeaning and even insulting. Jesus introduced the concept of God as abba.

    What changes if God is an abba. As luck would have it, you and I know exactly what changes. None of us has been a god and few of us have been kings but a lot of us have been abbas and we know exactly what an abba wants. You and I are lucky in this regard. In times and places where life is hostile, fathers act like kings. They force daughters to marry for the advantage of the family and any behavior whether by daughter or son that might weaken the family standing in the community of families is punished severely. This is how kings behave and for the same reasons. You and I do not live in such times and places and so we have a better idea of how God sees us. Since we believe there is only one God (all other beings spiritual or material are his creation) then that God’s position is never under threat.

    What does a secure-in-his-position abba want for his children? It is not ‘love the LORD your god with all your heart etc.’ Jesus quoted this verse when when he was asked ‘what is the greatest commandment’. He was quoting the law. And in the law this is the greatest commandment. Later Jesus gave a new commandment of his own that was in keeping with the concept of God as abba. Abbas don’t especially care if their children love them. What an abba first wants for his children is that they care for themselves: brush their teeth, do their homework, eat their vegetables and all those other things that we have both heard from our own parents and taught our own children. An abba is even willing to punish his children to enforce behaviors that are in the child’s best interest. Whether the children then love him or hate him makes no difference. The other thing that an abba wants for his children is that they get along with each other. There are many reasons for this, starting with just plain happiness. People are happiest when they have good strong relationships with other people. They are also more likely to be able to weather the storms of life.

    When treading in the realm of the transident there is no one idea that illuminates everything. God is not a father or a king or anything else that we understand. He is a god – which we don’t understand. That being said The Christian God has invited us to understand him as a father and this helps us to make sense of Jesus. Love your enemies because they are your brothers and sisters. Jesus healed on the sabbath because while a king may care more about his rules than his subjects an abba does not. Jesus taught us to pray only for our daily bread because an abba is not going to answer a prayer of one child for an advantage over another one. Abbas don’t do that. On the other hand, imagine intercessory prayer as being children going to their abba on behalf of one of their brothers or sisters. An abba might be inclined to answer just to reward the kids for caring about each other. There is no need to go on. You are an abba. You already know these things.

    Thinking back to the original subject, heresy. As an abba I can’t think of anything that I want my kids to believe about me that doesn’t have its roots in good behavior for them. I want my kids to believe that I am forgiving because I want them to forgive each other etc. If they believe that I have two heads or something i don’t care.

    There is a fallacy in all thinking about religion that I am making and theologians make also. It is something of a fallacy of necessity. That is we apply the rules of the material world to the spiritual world. We know that we can’t do this. In fact we hold up the doctrine of the trinity as evidence that we can not understand the spiritual world and at some point we give up trying. I believe that it is logical and honest and humble to give up much sooner that the trinity.

    Now a more personal note. You and I are both have cultural heritage that in most cases works well. When I was young my older sister told me this story/joke. An American an Englishman and a German went to India to study elephants. The American wrote a book titled Elephants. The Englishman wrote a book titled Indian Elephants. The German wrote a book with a very long title The something something of the something something Indian something elephant. I got the point of the story and I am inclined to agree with the German. The route to understanding lies through study. Lots of study. The more you know about any one topic the better you are able to use that knowledge for advantage. In the material world this works very well and should be encouraged. Take any problem, take it apart down to the most detailed level possible, understand every aspect of every part, then use that knowledge to solve the problem. It works very very well. But not on God. There is no taking it apart and there is no understanding.

    I confess that my own separating God into Abba and King was part of just such a process. It was an attempt to understand the God of the Bible better and to make sense of some of the oddness there. It was especially an attempt to gain some advantage. Maybe if I understand God better I will be able to appeal to him better and thereby maybe God will answer some of my prayers when I ask for more than just my daily bread. Maybe I am more wicked than the average person but maybe not. I see the various and sundry Christian beliefs, orthodox and not, as an attempt to gain advantage. We are trying to be better than our brothers and sisters by magic. We think that if we believe just so and pray just so God will serve us. Or maybe that’s just me.

    I have come to the conclusion that the problems that need to be taken apart are the problems of morality. The command to love is not simple. Long term love and short term love look very different from each other. Short term love feeds the kids cookies; Long term love feeds them vegetables. Should I tell my wife she’s fat? Should I tip even though the service was bad? Speaking for myself, I find these problems difficult and I wish that the intellectual energy that is being spent on doctrine and theology would be spent on solving them.

    Another story on the topic of how to live. In a Christian online magazine I read a woman elaborating on the issues of the #metoo movement within the church. She recounted an incident where a man in the church complimented her looks rather to elaborately. It made her feel uncomfortable. There are two things about this story that I don’t like. Any woman who writes for a Christian magazine should know enough about Christianity to know that she should forgive social awkwardness and have the kindness to accept the compliment as a compliment. The man in the story should have known better also. Someone should have taught him how to pay non-sexual compliments. I’ll bet he knew whether he was a calvinist or not though.

    So the conclusion. It is my opinion that any orthodoxy/heresy debate is predicated on an untruth. The untruth being that it matters. Other than believing of Jesus “if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” what matters is behavior. Behavior is hard and we really need to work on that.

    All the Best.

    Starman

  8. Starman, thank you for your thoughtful comment of April 20th. I did read the whole thing several times (twice carefully) and I hope I understood your points well enough to give a cogent reply.

    You began by telling me a little of your history. Let me do the same. I consider myself a Christ-follower. I think in times past I self-identified as a evangelical and I still very much respect that position and the focus of evangelicals on sharing the Good News. I still want to do that, of course, but I think “Christ-follower” is simpler and shows my unity with others who merely desire to follow Jesus. We many differ in our understandings of doctrine, but if we are following Jesus, then we are on the same journey.

    I very much appreciated what you said about seeing God as abba or Dad. That’s very important to me. I am blessed in having a very good father and that helped me in seeing many of the loving characteristics in abba-God. I hope I do the same for my children and grandchildren.

    I think we may differ in that I also very much value that my abba-God is King. I understand and agree that many human kings (perhaps all) exhibited insecurity, caprice, and violence in their conduct as monarchs. However, qualities or ideals do not cease to be good simply because people warp and degrade them when they practice these offices. Jesus was crucified under the sign “king of the Jews” (Matthew 27:36), he was called lord by his disciples and listeners, but I think he redeemed kingship and made it into what it should have been all along by repeatedly showing and teaching that kings need to serve and care for their subjects. He made this point most clearly when he washed his disciples’ feet on the eve of his crucifixion.

    So why is it important to me that God is both abba and King? Thinking as a child, having a father who loves me and wants the best for me (abba) is not that useful if my abba does not have the power and authority to protect and preserve me. Abba tells me about God’s heart; Kingship tells me about his power and the two together give me security.

    Let me close by pointing out, from where I sit, you and Mark are not very far apart. Mark, in his essay (Mark chime in if I have missed a key point), was concerned very much about behavior. In particular, he was concerned about behaviors that look good when taking small steps, but bad over a larger, multi-step time-scale. It seems to me in the end you are both arguing for good behavior as an indicator of a properly oriented heart.

    I very much, by conviction, affirm the trinity and I don’t think it violates the law of non-contradiction, but I will leave that lengthy discussion to another day.

    Starman, thank you again for your thoughtful response. Have a blessed Easter.

    Peter

  9. Starman and Peter,
    Thank you both for your responses. A great deal of food for thought!
    A quick comment about Peter’s point at the end about me being concerned about many small steps in behaviour. I see it as about behaviour and perception. The many small steps change us in our behaviour and in how we see and understand things. I want us to become more aware of the process, and earlier, so we have more choices about our paths.

    Blessings to you both,

    Mark

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