Home > Heresy, Theology > What’s So Bad About Heresy Anyway?

What’s So Bad About Heresy Anyway?

Heresy has been defined by some as “that which subverts the logic of the gospel.”  For instance, Athanasius argued against Arianism based on the logic that, “if the works of the divinity of the Logos [the Word = Jesus] had not taken place through a body, humanity would not have been made divine.”  (Against Arians III.33.1)  That is to say that if Jesus was not fully man, we could not be joined with him in salvation; if He were not fully God, then we could not be united through Him in union with God.  Athanasius is arguing that if the church starts teaching heresy then the gospel stops making sense.

But does it?  I don’t know.  It seems like the gospel can make perfect sense before one comes to any kind of metaphysical view of who Jesus is.  It seems like the stress in the Bible is on Jesus as Messiah, and that through Him God was reconciling the world to Himself.  If a person surrenders their life to Jesus, that seems like it would be enough for salvation.  It is not belief THAT He is God that saves, but belief IN Him as Savior.

So it seems to me that heresy is more an issue about what you are teaching others than about whether you can be saved; it is more a matter of ecclesiology than soteriology.  Thus I contend that it is not necessary for a person to sign on to the doctrine of the Trinity in order to be born again.  The problem comes when they begin to teach others that Jesus was not fully God (or fully man, or whatever).  They must be corrected or be cut off from the church lest they infect it with their naughty little doctrines.

Is my view consistent?  Probably not.  If I am right that adherence to the doctrine of the Trinity (for instance) is not necessary for salvation, then what would the dangers of denying it from the pulpit even be?  If it’s not going to keep me from being saved, why would it keep you from being saved if I preach it?  Clearly the church Fathers like Athanasius disagreed with my view.  They thought it was very important that you believe the right thing.  But I’m having a difficult time following their logic through.  Why is it so important that we subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity anyway?  What makes it’s denial any worse than, say, subscribing to infant baptism instead of believer’s baptism?

  1. September 30, 2008 at 10:53 am


    I don’t think a person must have all of the theological nuances in mind when he comes to the gospel. I became a Christian at age seven, so much of sound doctrine was beyond my understanding. I believed Christ died on the cross for my sins, and that He would save me if I believed in Him.

    That having been said, I prayed to Jesus (a clear affirmation of deity). I believed that Jesus was alive and came to live inside me (a form of affirmation of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit). I believed that what the Bible said about Christ was true (part of the doctrine of inerrancy). Many beliefs were implied by the things I did or said.

    And, most importantly, I came to believe the basic doctrines of the Christian faith once I was old enough to understand them. This was a process of discovery, but I did not fail to make basic affirmation of Christ’s Person and work, the Trinitarian nature of God, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and many others.

    Christianity is largely about practical doctrine.


  2. October 3, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    I appreciate the story, JK. I’m mostly with you on this. But what if someone comes to understand the doctrine and chooses to reject it? Why can’t they still be saved then? What is it about orthodoxy that makes it so that you are no longer saved if you deny it? After all, it seems that salvation is based on trusting in Jesus, and this regardless of whether they accept the Trinity or not.

    I guess what I am saying is that I have always assumed that Jehovah’s Witnesses (for instance) are not saved because they reject the deity of Christ. But I am finding that I am unable to give an answer as to why belief in the deity of Christ is required for salvation. I have just kind of figured there must be a good reason, but now that I’m searching it out, I am not convinced by the answers I have come across so far. Check out my newer post on this.

  3. October 11, 2008 at 10:23 am

    I’ll given you my considered answer on the topic of one who rejects a doctrine after he hears of it: I don’t know.

    I am ust relating my own experience and implying something. I am not ready to strongly affirm it.

  4. October 12, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Ryan: I wrote on this last month and in a nutshell my answer was similar to Athanasius’. In my estimation heresy is an affront to God’s saving purposes. The modalistic Jesus fails to save because it eliminates the mediator between God and man. The Arian Jesus fails to save because it’s a creature part of a fallen creation.

    I’d also say that there’s as much stress on Jesus as being the Son of the Father as there is on his being Messiah, and once a heretical view of that relationship enters the picture it undermines the entire experience of salvation. In other words, I think the only way that we can properly express our experience of the God who saved us is with Trinitarian theology. The danger of denying the Trinity is in denying the God that provides salvation. The Father sent his Son to die and rise for us, and his Spirit to live in and sanctify us.

    So to summarize, the Gospel itself is a trinitarian message and salvation is a trinitarian experience.

  5. October 12, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Nick, thanks for your comment. Yes, I see how your view is very similar to Athanasius. And I think Athanasius basically defines what is and is not orthodox theology. So at the end of the day I basically agree with what he has to say, just like I agree with the creeds. But that doesn’t keep me from wanting to think through his logic to see if it makes sense. And I’m not entirely sure it does. I partly think we can attribute Athanasius’ view to the fact that he was just a crabby old cuss.

    Compare salvation to the experience of turning on a light bulb. The conditions of salvation (submission to Jesus) would be like turning the switch on. Whether the light goes on is entirely independent of how you think it works. You might think that flipping the switch tickles little fairies who then use their magic to cause the bulb to light. Your belief doesn’t change how it actually works. But neither does it circumvent the actual lighting of the bulb. What is important is the flipping of the switch. Nothing more.

    Now alternately, there could be two switches – one that controls the light bulb and one that controls nothing. Having the correct belief will now be important. If you believe the wrong switch controls the bulb, you will not be able to turn on the light since you will spend all your time with the wrong switch trying to make it work. I would compare this to putting your trust in the Buddha for salvation.

    There is a difference between subverting the logic of salvation (the first analogy) and having logic which subverts salvation (the second analogy). What is so important about having the proper logic of salvation?

  6. October 12, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Ryan: If I’m understanding you correctly, I think we agree. I think you’re saying that you don’t believe mental assent to the doctrine of the Trinity is a prerequisite of salvation, but that a denial of the Trinity after being saved is enough to make one unsaved. If not then break it down for me.

    But with the first analogy I’ll say this, why assume that the Jesus one submits to is the proper Jesus? In other words, why exatly is that the switch that turns the light on? And if it is the proper Jesus (switch) then why would not a denial of this Jesus at some point in the future not turn the light off?

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