Normalizing healing is an aim here at Remnant. By this, we mean normalizing the practice of praying for healing, believing that God will meet His people if we seek, knock, and ask. It means believing God continues to bring His “kingdom in power.” We believe Jesus commissioned His church to proclaim the gospel. If we ask that proclamation can be accompanied with signs following (Mark 16:19-20; Heb 2:3-4; Acts 4:29-30). 

Where do we begin? What model do we hold out as faithful to the mission? I believe all would agree, the need of every community of faith, no matter the context, is a growing trust in God’s Word and a deepening life of prayer. The testimony of the Chinese church is a good example to hold out to us all. Oblau describes the Chinese church’s commitment to living out the Word (He also delivers a funny quips): 

“Chinese Christians tend to read the Bible literally and prescriptively. For them, there is no historical-critical or theological gap between the text and their present-day reality. They are definitely not cessationists. Biblical healing stories go hand-in-hand with reports circulated in villages today.”[1]

He quotes a church elder in eastern China, explaining why they believe in praying for healing:  

In Christ, our Lord, we can see God's love. His love is the same yesterday, today and certainly in the future, too. Because His love does not change, we who believe and follow Him can do what the Lord has allowed us to do: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. When the Lord Jesus Christ lived on earth almost 2000 years ago, He helped a lot of sick and wretched people. Our church today is in no other situation at all! There are still many suffering and miserable people in our midst. [2]

The elder outlines a problem and a solution that has not changed in 2000 years.. The problem is the world is full of hurting people. The solution is Jesus. It is a s simple as it is profound. Let’s look a little deeper at these ideas. 

First, the Chinese church sees the world as a mass of hurting humanity because of the fall. In the fall, the world became a collection of dehumanizing powers. Sin brought death and the consequences of death brought corruption, and sickness. The West gets this backwards, the Chinese church does not. We, in the West, define what is normal by what is natural. Our experience of the world shapes what we think is normal. We often see miracles and healing as the disruption of the natural order. As if we live in the natural order of things. When God does something supernatural — we often interpret it as unnatural. Yet miracles, and especially healing, are not interruptions of the natural order; they are the restoration of the Creator’s natural order.  We think sickness, disease, and death are natural. They are not. They are unnatural. Those unnatural things broke into God’s good world that he made and corrupted it, bringing a dehumanizing influence into a good world. 

Second, The gospel message that Jesus has done it all and is doing all to save humanity, and this includes restoration of health that can be experienced in this life. Physical healing is understood as a foretaste of the bodily resurrection to come. Believers have no need to postpone all hope to a heavenly existence but expects resurrection power to become effective at any place and moment, in the here and now. On a grassroots level, Chinese Christians take initiative and mobilize people to pray for healing and wholeness of anyone willing to receive it. For they believe, as C.S. Lewis described, that the effects of the cross and resurrection meant, “Death itself would start working backwards.”[3]

Seeing Restoration in a Dehumanizing World. 

The Chinese approach to healing is simple and direct. It is rooted in a commitment to the Bible; its story as their story and its God as their God. It also centers on the needs of hurting people and the God that can meet that need in practical ways. In light of their understanding of sickness, testimonies of divine healing are stories of protest. They tell of people who do not resign themselves to the vicious circle of illness, pain, and sickness. The message for those hurting is one of hope. It is a message, where sickness is not absolute and help is only a prayer away. Yet such prayers are not seen as instantaneous escapism through mystical means but a progressive restoration one prayer at a time. Knowing, just as Lewis, that God never wastes our pain but from conversion to consumption is in a process of making us whole. And even if the healing is slow, we confess with Lewis, “Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” [4]

These stories are underdog stories. Stories of death running in reverse. Stories of Heaven working backwards to bring an outpost of restoration in this mass of human suffering. So, our brothers and sisters in the East, pray against the status quo of sickness and suffering, knowing God is moving against the flow of sin and sickness in this world. So many in the West get it backwards. We consider the simple to be foolish. Yet, with God all things are possible and God uses the foolish things to confound the wise, as Währisch-Oblau observes:  

“Simple, poor, uneducated people gain access to the power of God through their prayers. In so doing, these people show themselves to be more powerful than those who are usually invested with power: more powerful than doctors with their university degrees, and more powerful than party officials who have not succeeded in providing a functional health care system.” [5] 

In the next few blogs, we will look at some testimonies of healing in China and what we can learn from them. Also see our playlist on healing  found on Remnant’s  Youtube page



[1] Gotthard Oblau,  “Divine Healing and the Growth of Practical Christianity in China,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, Edt. Candy Gunther Brown (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011) 324.

[2] Währisch-Oblau, field notes (May 1995).      

[3] C.S. Lewis, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” (New York: HarpersCollins, reprint, 2002) 171.

[4] C.S. Lewis, “The Great Divorce,” (New York: HarpersCollins, 1946), 69.

[5] Währisch-Oblau, “God Can Make Us Healthy,” 98.




In Christianity there is an idea, that is going around like a virus! Here is one formulation of this theological pandemic.

“What kind of Father lets his beloved son be tortured and killed? If the crucifixion happened, then it was divine child-abuse” - Bishop John Shelby Spong.

Some modern theologians don’t like judicial or penal theories of atonement. They make the Father look like an oppressive and violent parental figure who abuses His Son out of a desire to crush humanity. Jesus appears like a passive victim who submits to the Father’s violent wrath so others can avoid it.

One of the first voices behind this criticisms was Dorothee Soelle. She calls the God of the penal atonement theory “sadistic” and the Christ of this theory “masochistic.”[1] Others followed, calling the cross divine “child abuse.” It was claimed that the theory molded an authoritative approval of violence and passive submission to it. Joan Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker write, “The image of God the Father demanding and carrying out the suffering and death of His own Son has sustained a culture of abuse and led to the abandonment of victims of abuse and oppression.”[2]

Given are cultural moment, stories of church abuse are in the headlines. It is no wonder this perspective had gained traction. Behind all this rhetoric is a deeply theological and fundamental questions. Was atonement necessary for salvation? In what way was the atonement necessary? behind those questions is the heart of the issue. Questions like, How did God decree his will? the debate centers on the relation of God's character and Divine Will (choice) in God's divine decrees.

There have been two main answers to this question in protestant theology.

View 1: Hypothetical Necessity View

The first answer to this question takes the position that, given that God decreed to save his elect, he could have done so in any way he chose. However, once he determined to do so by means of the atoning death of Christ, the death of the cross was a necessity. It is a necessity consequent not only to the decree to save but also to the decree to save by atonement, following it and dependent on it. It is hypothetical, since its necessity is not absolute but contingent on the decree that chose this means to redeem us. God, having decreed to save us, could have chosen some other means to do so. However, having chosen this means, it was necessary for our salvation. God’s choice makes it necessary. In short, He chose the way he wanted to forgive. His will to forgive is not dependent on the constraints of His Character.

Many significant theologians adopted the position but it was only a footnote in their theology. Until the 20th century, most adherents follow through with the rest of biblical teaching. Once the Bible was called into question such a theological ordering (will before character) began to mutate into a bloodless formulation of the atonement. Most of the theological activism about this divine child abuse talk comes from those assume an extreme form of the first view.

Two notable adherence are John Owen and Thomas Goodwin. Early in his career, John Owen, (1647), argued in The Death of Death that it was

“false and erroneous . . . that God could not have mercy on mankind unless satisfaction were made by his Son” and that “to assert positively, that absolutely and antecedently to his constitution he could not have done it, is to me an unwritten tradition, the Scripture affirming no such thing, neither can it be gathered from thence in any good consequence.” [3]

Owen thought God chose this way because it was the most convenient. But by 1653 he had changed his position on the matter, in response to the rising threat of Socinianism.[4]

In the rest of the work, Owen goes on to masterfully defend Penal substitution same can be said of Goodwin. (See Below)

Thomas Goodwin argued that God’s purpose was to save people according to “his depths of wisdom.” God could have done so by pardoning the rebels.

[But] to punish sin being an act of his will . . . may therefore be suspended as he himself pleaseth. To hate sin is his nature; and that sin deserves death is also the natural and inseparable property, consequent, and demerit of it; but the expression of this hatred, and of what sin deserves by actual punishment, is an act of his will, and so might be suspended. [5]

To pardon sin without punishing it would not have produced the best results or shown “such depths of love.” Goodwin sees the atonement as contingent on the will of God. The decree was not dependent on his nature, for he could have chosen some other means.

Even from these classical examples, the error of this view is clear. To say, God can just forgive if he so wills. Makes God’s omnipotence the attribute all other attributes are defined by. Ironically, God looks more like the Muslim God than the God of the Bible. Given God could have chosen some other means, this assumes God’s will is not dependent on God’s nature. Simply put, this view assumes, God did not think like God when he decided how he would redeem humanity.

If God could have freely chosen another way, other than the cross then the cross is an arbitrary choice. The cross becomes a choice that does not mater. Jesus death is a significant death that means little in the grand scheme of things because God could have done it another way. If God could have chosen another way, why should he have chosen this way, one that led the Son to the intense suffering of the cross? From this perspective, God decrees are Arbitrary, for the decree of His will are not dependent on his nature. I would aslo add that the freedom of God's choice in this view detaches the work of Christ from the nature of God.

Ideas have consequences
The idea that God can just forgive humanity without any consideration of the constraints of his character has consequences. Especially when the Bible is undermined. If God can just forgive and I don’t have bible to bring me back to the Cross. I am left with a gospel that is in line with H. Richard Niebuhr description of liberal theology on his day. A message that teaches, “[a] God without wrath, brought people without sin into a kingdom without judgment, through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” [6] We should not remove from the gospel the necessity of the Cross as the place where sin is dealt with and grace extended to humanity.

View 2: Actual Necessity View

So How does God choose? How does God will his decrees? The same way God commands don’t get caught on the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma. Because God’s choices are dependent on His nature/character. God choice for human morality as well as human redemption are grounded in God’s character. So Redemption like morality expresses the character of God, for the choice of both were dependent on the character of the one making the choice.

This position asserts that, given that God decreed to save his elect, there was no other way he could do this in a manner compatible with his nature than by the death of his Son. Since God is righteous and just, he must bring about salvation in a form that is righteous and just. Of paramount importance is that the disobedience of Adam be overcome in a just way, by the obedience of a second Adam, the eternal Son (Rom. 3:25–26).

The necessity of the atonement under this line of thought is consequent upon God’s determining to save his people. Once he had decreed that, it was necessary that it be achieved by the atoning death of Christ on the cross. The atonement was necessary in an absolute sense, contingent on the decree to save. The necessity rests on God’s nature, a free and sovereign outflow of who he is. This is no limitation on God, for he is not constrained by external necessity.

J. H. Thornwell wrote:

The two great principles on which the doctrine of atonement rests are—the inseparable connection between punishment and guilt, and the admissibility under proper restrictions of a surety to endure the curse of the law. The unpardonable nature of sin, the practicability of legal substitution, these are the pillars of the Christian fabric. [7]

The necessity of the atonement is as a means to an end. The end itself is not necessary apart from the free purpose of God’s grace.[8] It is mercy that gives rise to atonement, not the reverse.[9] The purpose of the atonement was not to make God merciful but to render the exercise of mercy consistent with righteousness. [10].

The pleasure of the Cross
In Isiah 53:10 it states that the the Lord was pleased to crush Him [Jesus] and cause him to suffer. A question arises, does this verse teach that God is a sadist? Does He gets pleasure from inflicting pain? Not at all for the rest of the verse speaks to the intention of this crushing. “though [the cross] the Lord makes his life an offering for sin”. God’s pleasure was in the fact that the redeemed would not have to bear the burden of Judgment. It even gives an understanding that the crushing of the cross had the victory of the resurrection in view. The Father will “prolong his days”. Jesus would be vindicated in his resurrection. This makes doubly clear that God did not take pleasure in crushing Christ for its own sake. God is not a sadist.

Well, Is Jesus a masochist? Does he get pleasure from pain? Hebrew 12:2 teaches that Jesus joyfully and willingly gave himself up to a death on the cross. Yet His joy was not masochistic. As the verse states, He despised the shame of the cross. His joy was one with the Father, the joy that we would not have bear the burden. Jesus’ joy is not in his pain for its own sake but for the sake of others.

The joy of the Father and the Son is a burden lifting joy. They wanted to give and be given so that we will not bear the burden of our sin. They were moved by the idea of substation for the Father giving over and the sons voluntary giving up is found in the joy of believers not receiving the punishment they deserve. Paul also describes the wrath of God revealed from heaven (Romans 1:18) as God delivering sinners over to the deviant desires of their own hearts (1:24–32). But notice that in Romans the Father “delivers Christ over” to the same alienation and condemnation (“for our transgressions”) to save these sinners (4:25; 8:32). This connection between Romans 1:24–28; 4:25; and 8:32 is especially clear in the Greek where Paul uses the same term: paredoken (paredothe), “delivering up” or “handing over”. The phrase of “delivering up” (paredoken) is descriptive of how the one God bears up under the wrath that we have brought on ourselves to draw us into his redemptive heart through an act of penal substitutional. So that, in Christ, the Judge becomes the judged so we could know God’s justice.



    1.  Dorothee Soelle, Suffering (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 9–32.
    2.  Joan Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker, “For God So Loved the World?” in Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse: A Feminist Critique, ed. Joan Carlson Brown and Carol R. Bohn (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1989), 8,9.
    3.  John Owen, “Salus Electorum, Sanguis Jesu; or The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise of the Redemption and Reconciliation That Is in the Blood of Christ,” vol. 10 in The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (1647; repr., London: Banner of Truth, 1967), 205.
    4.  Carl R. Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 42. In many ways those espousing the abuse idea hold to similar assumptions as held in Socinianism.
    5.  Thomas Goodwin, Christ Our Mediator (1692; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Sovereign Grace, 1971), 14–15.
    6.  H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1953), 193.
    7.  James Henley Thornwell, The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell (1875; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 2:209
    8.  Thornwell, Collected Writings, 2:210.
    9.  Thornwell, Collected Writings, 2:210.
    10.  Thornwell, Collected Writings, 2:211


Meaning of the Term: Atonement
The theological meaning of the word can be explained by a simple cliché that is at the same time accurate, atonement means “at-one-ment”; to atone is to reconcile a broken relationship on behalf of another. The state of being at one or being reconciled by the work of another. Atonement is reconciliation. Thus in theology it is used to denote how christ saved us. Particularly, the effect which flows from the death of Christ. Some comments should be made about how we are to rightly approach the doctrine, much of the debate that surrounds the doctrine centers on four questions.

Approaching the atonement in Four questions.
These four questions get at the basic assumptions behind a discussion of the atonement.

  • The Foundation Question: Does the atonement need to be rooted in History?
  • The Interpretation Question: How can a historical event have a definitive meaning?
  • The Integration Question: What other doctrine(s) are in the background and frame any discussion of the doctrine in view?
  • The Existential Question: On a personal level, why should I study this doctrine?

We will look at each question in turn. The first two questions have a history of debate surrounding them. A little expiation is in order. Yet space will not permit a full dialogue. I chose to simply state my answer rather than give the arguments and counter arguments. I stated my position with some ability for the sake of brevity.

1. The Foundation Question
Does the atonement need to be rooted in History?

Some hold that theological ideas are free from Historical obligation. They see the actual verification of historical fact as unnecessary and modernistic. Religious ideas don’t have to be rooted in historical reality to be theologically valid. The epistemological justification of a religious idea comes directly from experience, for religious feeling is the essence of faith. Those in this camp, think it does not matter if the event happened as it is recorded or if it happened at all. Religious truths don’t need a historical foundation to be reliability. What maters is the religious tradition and the scared myths of the religion. Those tradition and myth are enough for theological foundation.

My answer: An actual death, not an abstract concept.
For the historical Jesus, theory and practice were made one in mission. The cross had to be carried before it could be preached. It had to be endured before it could be proclaimed. Jesus came to be the sacrifice, not clarify the concept of sacrifice. He did not come to wax poetic about the cross, but to be nailed to it. Jesus did the heavy lifting so there would be a gospel to preach. Any discussion about the atonement must take into consideration that Christ’s work is a historical reality, an actual death not just a intellectual concept.

More centrally, atonement is viewed in Christianity not as a conceptual problem for human speculation, but an actual event in history with eternal repercussions. The Christian teaching of atonement is not just about the general idea of dying for others, but about an actual, horrible, death. A death that happened to a man from Nazareth on a particular hill on a particular day. Most theories through the history of the church until the modern period held this aspect in common.

2. The Interpretation Question
How can a historical event have a definitive meaning?

Some sophisticated doubters, I mean theologians, believe we attach meaning to events and events don’t have meaning in themselves. They divide the historical act from the message applied to it. Such people posit that in-between an objective historical event and the subjective human response is an interpretation of the act. Such thinkers slyly suggest the meaning of the act can never been known for it could have many interpretations. They would say, any view of atonement is Jesus’ death but our interpretation of Paul’s meaning. Thus we can’t understand the cross in any meaningful way.

They ignore the idea that an event can be a call to response. Event are speech acts and that demand a response of us. I “direct” message that need not be interpreted for it demands a response of acceptance or rejection. They create space for interpretation where they’re is no space for the Event is a word to humanity. The cross is a massage as much as it is an actual redemptive death.

My answer: A Message in blood
Christianity proclaims not merely that Christ died, but that his death had inestimable significance. It is a word spoken to us from outside ourselves. A word that God speaks to us through an event. An event unlike all other moments in history, an event that is as inescapably concrete and irreversibly permanent, as it is undeniably distressing. The meaning of the event is it’s message. This message can be stated as simply as “He died for us.” “He died” is a historical fact. “For us” is the meaning of that fact. The cross is a word to every sinner and the means of salvation for those who respond in trust to it’s message.

3. The Integration Question
What other doctrine(s) are in the background and frame any discussion of the doctrine in view?

My answer: No separation without deviation
The doctrine of Christ is needed to view the cross rightly. From that doctrine we learn of the personal union of deity and humanity, which is the incomparable nature of the person we call Christ, our Savior. The doctrine of Christ’s atoning work focuses upon what this “incomparable” person has done for us. The two doctrines can’t be separated. The person of Christ is inextricably linked to the work of the cross. You can’t divide one from the other without draining the cross of meaning. For what the work of salvation required, the person of the Mediator supplied. This is the economy of salvation. Salvation requires a Savior. But not just any Savior, this unique work could have only been done by this unique person. This salvation can only be accomplished by this Savior—not just anyone on any cross. Christ the God-man had to die on that cross for it to be salvation.

4. The Existential Question
On a personal level, why should I study this doctrine?

My answer: Grace begs for clarity
It must be acknowledged, that it is more important for the believer to know that they are saved by the cross than precisely how. Yet, St Ambrose taught that saving grace “begs the question”. The recipient of saving grace is compelled, by that same grace, to ask how and why of the cross. (1)

We are not given all there is to know about the cross, for all that happened in those dark hours are far too terrible and far too wonderful to be compressed into one mold of human comprehension. Yet we can confess that what is given for us to know, in whatever degree, is meaningful. Scripture is clear enough on this point that we can be assured a meaningful answer is possible. By faith, we hold with warmth the truth, “He died for me” while acknowledging we will never exhaust, what those four words mean for us. Even when we don’t understand we can still worship for In the place of ignorance the Spirit imparts awe and wonder.

The atonement is a well that never runs dry, for in our thirst we come to a God who understands and calls us by name. A God who takes from us the sin tainted tar-like dredges of our soul, that unspeakable darkness within and gives to us light, hope and a home. In this exchange, he draws out refreshing water for us, saying, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters”. And as Isaiah reminds us, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 55:1a, 12:3).

“Sin dug a gulf in a relationship. The cross bridged it. Sin resulted in estrangement. The cross reconciled it. Sin made war. The cross made peace. Sin broke fellowship. The cross repaired and restored it.” - Thomas C. Oden (2)

Glory Be to the Cross bearer!



NOTE: This blog is brought to you by The Remnant Radio, a theology broadcast that exists to educates believers on Theology, Church History and the Gifts of the Spirit. If you would like to know more about Remnant Radio. Here is a short video. If you like this content and you want to know more about Atonement Theory. We have a video with an overview of five different atonement theories [Here]. As well as interview videos on the subject from William Lane Craig and another with Bruxy Cavey. In the next blog, we will take a short look at various theories.



[1] Ambrose, Of Christian Faith 2.11
[2] Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity



The church today needs to recover a simple priority. In theology, it is called the priority of the Father–Son relation over the Creator–creature relation [1]. Simply put, it is the proposition that before God was creator he was Father. It’s one of those starting points of theological reflection. The basic claim is that while God was always Father, God was not always Creator for there was a time when God was, but creation was not. Equally, While God was always Son, the Son was not always incarnate. The eternal logos is the Son in relation to the Father from eternity. The Father is for the Son as the Son is for the Father, within their perichoretic relation. The perichoresis [2] of the Father and the Son is a relation realized through God, the Spirit. In this way the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one being by virtue of their perichoretic relations. God is one in essence but also has a oneness in God’s perichoretic relation [3]. Thus the unity of the Godhead is bound up in God. God’s oneness is from God, through God, to God.

The world and God are in no sense co-eternal. The Trinity was first. Such an order allows us to maintain a distinction without separation of the immanent and economic Trinity, [4] so that any attempt to historicize the being of the Son with the idea that history somehow constitutes him as the second person of the Trinity, (as Arian did) is a destructive idea. This kind of thinking we now see in process theology. Such thinking allows history and not God to determine who God is. God as Father is not an anthropomorphism but a divine revelation of the relation in the imminent Trinity. A referent of God (name) to be true of God is an example of God acting in divine condescension accommodating human experience in an analogical way. The analogical thinking moves in only one direction. This means that true knowledge of God can only occur through God.

Important Implications
The idea that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before God was Creator is not some piece of abstract doctrine. The priority of the Father–Son relation before the Creator–creature relation has two powerful implications. God's self-identification as Father, Son, and Spirit is a central component of Christian theology, spirituality and even Christian ethics.

1.) Father, Son and Spirit: God reveals the names we are to name him.

God in relation to himself from eternity is fundamental to who God is. In the uniques of his interrelation of his being, God is Father, Son, and Spirit. It is worth noting from God’s Triune reality, one can argue that God's Fatherhood is utterly unique and not at all defined by our experience of human fatherhood; it is not defined at all by our prior experience or knowledge. For that reason no gender can be read into God with the suggestion that we might think of God as mother in order to think more inclusively about God. Since gender is a part of being human and care part of human experience, we simply can-not read that back into God with the imperative that we ‘must’ think of God as mother and not just as Father. It is not a matter of what we think about God but about what God has revealed of himself in his Son, through his Spirit. In the same way, no one is excluded from the love of God revealed in Christ, through his Spirit. So it would be extremely misguided to think that for women to have equality in the church, we need to reconceptualize God as mother or use the pronoun ‘she' when we pray.

The question is who defines who God is. Who defines God? And the answer is only God, the eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit, define God. God's self-identification as Father, Son, and Spirit is a foundational truth of the doctrine of God.

When we confess that from eternity, God has revealed the names by which He wants to be named. We are stating, these are not optional terms that we use from our experiences to refer symbolically to God. Rather, it is our terms and our categories that must be transformed by an encounter with God, and in Christ enable us to think of him with thoughts worthy of him. Through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to name him as he wants be named.

2.) We may not think of God as having gender but we still must name him by his names.

In one sense, God is incomprehensible in his being. The imminent Trinity dwells in unapproachable light (I Tim 6:16). The eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is knowable only as far as he makes himself known. Thus only God reveals God, this is the meaning of the incarnation. The knowledge of God can only be revealed from God, the Father, through God, the Son, by God, the Spirit.

That does not mean human language about God as meaningless quite the contrary. Human language about God is put in proper theological perspective. We don’t abandon our creaturely images and concepts, words and phrases. Yet we should seek to relate to them rightly. Such created images are means given by God to help us think of God through them in a “see through” fashion. We see in part and the same is true of such created images. As we see though them we do so without the intrusion of creaturely forms or sensual images interjected into God. Thus, we may not think of God as having gender. In the same way, we don’t think of the Father as begetting the Son or of the Son as begotten as if they are giving birth. An all-to-human concept we are familiar with as creaturely beings. We never take the metaphor to far nor draw the line of analogy beyond the lines of scripture to do so is to flirt with error.

The first principle then is that our images and concepts, words and phrases, must be transformed through union with Christ to point beyond themselves to God as he exists in an utterly unique way as Father, Son and Spirit. As said above, this analogical thinking moves in only one direction, from God to humanity. Then we in Christ can “see through” those human shadows and return to the referent from which it refers. Thus, God’s revelation of himself in his written word has preeminent importance as where God names his name.

Christain analogical thinking moves in only one direction, and exit from God in revelation and a return to him in praise. Thus our thinking is in keeping with the end for which God created the world, the glory of God.

[1] This principle goes by many names. (1.) God's self-identification as Father, Son, and Spirit. (2.) The priority of immanent Trinity. (3.) God naming himself from eternity. (4.) The Father–Son relation over the Creator–creature relation. Different theologians use different terms and for your amusement and like frustration I use them all {Reader be warned}.

[2] the doctrine of Perichoresis can be defined as co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration. The concepts, “allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a 'community of being,' in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.” Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Blackwell, 2001), p. 325.

[3] in this formulation, Both ontology and teleology become the foundational categories for describing God’s unity. God is one in essence (ontology) and ultimate goal (teleology). Thus, God’s ontological reality is distinct and different for everything else for God is holy. God’s teleological reality is a movement for God’s glory a glory that makes much of God in a joyous display of self giving love. Thus God’s life overflows in a movement of self-giving love to such degree that each member literally indwell one-another. This means the perichoresis of God’s divine life is expressed in self-giving joy and love. From the overflow of divine life in the Trinity, God loves the world into existence. Since God is holy, absolutely unique in every way, God remains different and distinct from creation but not distant. For even in creation in its fallen condition, the Father, Son and Spirit work all thing for the good and sustaining, redeeming and guiding the world towards the end for which it was created, the glory of God.

[4] Immanent Trinity is understood as God in himself from eternity (as an endless duration of time) outside of history and Economic Trinity is God in relation to his creation, through his redemptive action within history.



Throughout his life, John Wesley held to an orthodox view of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Godhead. It was his trinitarian understanding of the God that informed his view of the Spirit's role in the Christian life. So adamant was Wesley’s conviction of this doctrine that he noted at the conclusion of his homily on the Trinity:

But I know not how anyone can be a Christian believer till “he hath” (as John speaks) “the witness in himself”; till “the Spirit of God witnesses with his spirit that he is a child of God”—that is, in effect, till God the Holy Ghost witnesses that God the Father has accepted him through the merits of God the Son—and having this witness he honours the Son and the blessed Spirit “even as he honours the Father. . . . Therefore I do not see how it is possible for any to have vital religion who denies that these three are one.[1]

In Wesley's view, one can not have an authentic "inner witness" of the Spirit without an equally orthodox view of the Trinity. Non-trinitarians beware. Wesley's words remind us that no experience of the Spirit whether it be in vision, spiritual gift or personal encounter is deemed authentic if one denounces a trinitarian understanding of God. The gracious would say such manifestations are heterodox. The honest call it hersey. Wesley would surely support the proposition that without an orthodox view of the Trinity one cannot claim an authentic experience of the Spirit.

1. John Wesley, “On the Trinity,” The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, ed. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990), 2:385–86.


One of the best explanations of Repentance I have ever read was by J.I. Packer. I have quoted it in full below. The excerpt is from Rediscovering Holiness by J.I. Packer, published by Regal Books, 2009. The except comes from chapter five.

What is repentance?
What does it mean to repent? The term is a personal and relational one. It signifies going back on what one was doing before, and renouncing the misbehavior by which one's life or one's relationship was being harmed. In the Bible, repentance is a theological term, pointing to an abandonment of those courses of action in which one defied God by embracing what he dislikes and forbids. The Hebrew word for repenting signifies turning, or returning. The corresponding Greek word carries the sense of changing one's mind so that one changes one's ways too. Repentance means altering one's habits of thought, one's attitudes, outlook, policy, direction, and behavior, just as fully as is needed to get one's life out of the wrong shape and into the right one. Repentance is in truth a spiritual revolution. This, now, and nothing less than this, is the human reality that we are to explore.

Repenting in the full sense of the word–actually changing in the way described–is only possible for Christians, believers who have been set free from sin's dominion and made alive to God. Repenting in this sense is a fruit of faith, and as such a gift of God (cf. Acts 11:18). The process can be alliteratively analyzed under the following headings:

1. Realistic recognition that one has disobeyed and failed God, doing wrong instead of doing right. This sounds easier than it actually is. T.S. Eliot spoke the truth when he observed: "Humankind cannot bear very much reality." There is nothing like a shadowy sense of guilt in the heart to make us passionately play the game of pretending something never happened or rationalizing to ourselves action that was morally flawed. So, after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and compounded it with murder, he evidently told himself that it was simply a matter of royal prerogative and, therefore nothing to do with his spiritual life. So he put it out of his mind, until Nathan's “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7) made him realize, at last, that he had offended God. This awareness was, and is, the seed bed where repentance grows. It does not grow elsewhere. True repentance only begins when one passes out of what the Bible sees as self-deception (cf. James 1:22, 26; 1John 1:8) and modern counselors call denial, into what the Bible calls conviction of sin (cf. John 16:8).

2. Regretful remorse at the dishonor one has done to the God one is learning to love and wanting to serve. This is the mark of the contrite heart (cf. Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15). The Middle Ages drew a useful distinction between attrition and contrition (regret for sin prompted by fear for oneself and by love for God respectively; the latter leading to true repentance while the former fails to do so). The believer feels, not just attrition, but contrition, as did David (see Psalm 51:1-4, 15-17). Contrite remorse, springing from the sense of having outraged God's goodness and love, is pictured and modeled in Jesus' story of the prodigal's return to his father (Luke 15:17-20).

3. Reverent requesting of God's pardon, cleansing of conscience, and help to not lapse in the same way again. A classic example of such requesting appears in David's prayer of penitence (see Psalm 51:7-12). The repentance of believers always, and necessarily, includes the exercise of faith in God for these restorative blessings. Jesus himself teaches God's children to pray “forgive us our sins... and lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:4).

4. Resolute renunciation of the sins in question, with deliberate thought as to how to keep clear of them and live right for the future. When John the Baptist told Israel's official religious elite: "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8), he was calling on them to change direction in this way.

5. Requisite restitution to any who have suffered material loss through one's wrongdoing. Restitution in these circumstances was required by the Old Testament law. When Zacchaeus, the renegade Jewish taxman, became Jesus' disciple, he committed himself to make fourfold retribution for each act of extortion, apparently on the model of Moses' requirement of four sheep for everyone stolen and disposed of (Exodus 22:1; Exodus 22:2-14; Leviticus 6:4; Numbers 5:7). An alternative alliteration (as if one were not enough!) would be:

1. discerning the perversity, folly, and guilt of what one has done;
2. desiring to find forgiveness, abandon the sin, and live a God-pleasing life from now on;
3. deciding to ask for forgiveness and power to change;
4. dealing with God accordingly;
5. demonstrating, whether by testimony and confession or by changed behavior or by both together, that one has left one's sin behind.

Such is the repentance – not just the initial repentance of the adult convert, but the recurring repentance of the adult disciple – that is our present theme.



Today definitions are assumed rather than investigated. Yet we live and "define" our lives by them. A definition in need of investigation is repentance.  A good way to get at defining such important and common terms is by first explaining what it is not. So let us take a moment to  investigate the contrast between Penance and Repentance.

The difference between Penance and Repentance is unclear for many. It's a distinction we desperately need to get clear. There are many Christians who are convinced – based on their despair, regret, and self-loathing – that they are repentant. But in reality, they are not repenting at all. Here is a quote from a little known book on repentance I read years back that helped me see the difference.

Penance… is a religious attitude deeply rooted in the human heart which prompts people to attempt to pay for their own sins by good works and sufferings. Self-justification is the goal of this effort. In practice this means that humanity always has one more scheme for getting things right with God and their conscience. Sinners doing penance always say in their hearts, “Give me one more day, a new religious duty, another program, another set of human relationships or a better education, and then things will come right-side up.

They are preparationists – that is, sinners who are forever getting ready for grace. They want to make themselves worthy of grace so that God will reach out to them once this work of preparation is completed… But they do not know that this is a terrible insult to God and His grace. In their pride they are attempting the impossible… if we are grafted into Christ, if we are rooted in Christ, then we can grow in grace. But we will never have the power to grow into grace as a work of moral reformation.

Therefore, anyone doing penance is sadly mistaken. Things cannot come right for such people. They cannot pay for their sins, because they poison all the best gifts of God. Send them to church and Christian schools for a lifetime and they will never come to know rightly a single thing about the living God and his mercy in Christ. For in their heart of hearts, they are proud – infinitely proud – perhaps without having the slightest idea that this is their basic problem. Having but themselves as the ground of their hope, they will not see the glory of Christ until the Spirit grants them “repentance to life,” which included a genuine turning from penance. In brief, they must repent of their penances.

This matter is very tricky. Self-deception goes right along with self-trust and self-justification (Jer 17:9). You may say, “But you don’t know how earnestly I pray for God’s help. I have shed many tears over my sins.” But friend, this cannot work, because at bottom you are still asking God to baptize your sin – to Christianize an essentially lustful heart by making you a little less nervous and a little more patient. The Heavenly Father, however, does not hear your prayers, because you are in reality asking Him for help so that you can continue to live a life which is independent of God....What these people seek from God is enough grace to be strong in themselves. They do not need or want a constant flow of water from heaven.

…The repentant person repudiates this whole process with its self-justification and pretense. For truly repentant sinners have discovered, through the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, that all their doing is full of sin. Their doing is the source of their wretched emptiness, their black depression and their self-despising. But now they have come undone. They turn from their sinful doing and trust in what Christ has done. This is the essence of repentance. [1]

Key Bible Facts about Repentance

Repentance is a gift of God (2 Tim 2:25, Acts 5:31). In this aspect, Repentance is an inward surrender empowered/enabled by God. In this way, "Repentance has nothing to do with what man has done. Rather it is man’s coming undone in respect to all human righteousness, followed by his going outside himself in faith to Christ alone for salvation.”[2]

Repentance is also the same as turning to God and returning to God (Acts 26:20 Acts 3:19). Here is why it is often thought of as the other side of faith. Saving faith seeks after the object of faith. Saving faith seeks after God and repentance is the act of calling your sin what it is turning from it. SO if faith is turning to God repentance is turning from sin.

Taken together we have the definition of conversion

Repentance is the grace to change your mind (basic disposition) about Your unbelief, mistrust, and rebellion, against God and turn from your sin and in faith turning to God in reliance on his Grace and forgiveness in Christ. (PS. I wrote this in such a way that both Calvinist and Arminians can affirm it)

So Repentance is bigger than saying you’re sorry but it’s never less than that. We have to remember we are not to make just converts but we are call to make disciples, people to follow Jesus. So repentance is more surrender then a choice to sign up for church softball. It has an initial and a continual aspect for the Christian life is a life of follow daily. It initially begins by owning your sin before God acknowledging the punishment you deserve and casting yourself one God’s mercy. It continues on as a lifestyle of repentance. For a short simple definition that includes both the initial and continuing aspect of repentance. I humbly suggest this one.

Dawson’s definition:
Repentance is giving all you know of yourself to all you know of Jesus.

The definition above is easy to explain to a new believer while not watering down the ongoing nature of repentance. It’s aim is to help the new believer to engage in initial repentance with the full gravity that moment deserves and encourage a continual response to the gospel. As they learn more of Jesus in the gospel, they see who they are by way of contrast and as they learn more of who they are, they can give more of themselves to Jesus. Rinse, Repeat (See Calvin institutes 1:1).

Our approach to daily repentance
Daily repentance is not a burden for God’s children! Rather, it is good news. It’s just not easy:

Be encouraged then, fellow believer. In calling you to daily repentance, the Lord Jesus is not simply giving you good advice. He is saying, ‘If you are a child of mine, you must continue to repent.’ He does not say to reform your human nature inherited from Adam. Instead, He says to ‘put to death your members which are on the earth’ (Colossians 3:5). And dying is not easy. Nor…does it all happen at one’s conversion.

Now there is grand encouragement here. The putting to death of the flesh—ongoing repentance—is not something reserved for the select few. For repentance, in the larger use of the New Testament word, includes trust in Christ which unities the believer to the Lord in His death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:1-11; Colossians 2:9-12, 3:1-4).

So to be in Christ is to be in possession of the power to put to death the lusts of the flesh (Colossians 3:5), to put off vicious habits like uncontrolled anger, slander and lying (Colossians 3:8-9), and to put on the qualities of love, kindness, meekness and patience which identify a person as one of the elect of God (Colossians 3:12-17). [3]

Conclusion: In living a lifestyle of repentance we are to pursue ongoing repentance as a child of the king, not as an orphan seeking approval from God and acceptance into the family.



[1] John Miller, Repentance, (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2009). p. 17-20.
[2] John Miller, Repentance, (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2009). p. 63.
[3] John Miller, Repentance, (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2009). p. 37


God-man of action
From start to finish, Jesus is the uncontested subject of the Gospel of Mark, and he is portrayed as a man of action. The action of the Gospel is all-important to the meaning of the Gospel, for we learn who Jesus is not so much from what he says as from what he does. In this respect, Mark writes with a paintbrush.

Although Jesus is often referred to as a teacher, when compared to Matthew or Luke, Mark is not focused on the content of his teaching as much his actions. It is quickly apparent that the person of the 'teacher' is Mark's aim. He wishes to to hold up as important

In his book, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, Theologian David Garland, thinks Mark as presenting Jesus “as the Messiah and the Son of God and to show that his shameful death on a cross was part of God’s plan for the redemption of humanity.”(1)

Garland considers the Christology of mark To be an Enacted Christology. “Mark developed his Christology through narrative. That is, the audience learns Jesus’ identity and significance for their lives through story.”(2)

In Mark, we discover Jesus as Messiah, Son of God, through his actions and deeds. Mark gives a consistent balanced christology, describing Jesus with divine and human characteristics.  But it is through the whole narrative from beginning to end that Mark describes Christ in high definition to add clarity to the portrait of Jesus, he is presenting.

Jesus the Authoritative Son of God
Mark’s Jesus is authoritative: He calls disciples and they follow him; people are amazed and listen attentively when he speaks; even unclean spirits obey his commands. In the opening chapters His authority is clearly on display.

Jesus the controversial Son of God
According to Mark, the religious leadership opposed Jesus. In chapter 2, Mark gives four stories about the controversy Jesus stirred up. The religious leaders were offended by his confrontation of their self-righteousness, ethnocentrism and the correction he brought to their misinterpretation of the Torah. Despite this animosity, Jesus never opposed Judaism as a religion. Jesus as the Jewish messiah. He came to be the fulfillment of it.

Jesus the Misunderstood Son of God
In the first half of the Gospel, only five individuals or groups know Jesus’ identity: 1.) God, 2.) Jesus, 3.) the evil spirits, 4.) the author, and 5.) the reader. Not even his family or closest disciples understand who he is. It is not until the middle of the Gospel that his disciples begin to realize that Jesus is the Son of God. And this they know, in part, at best.

Jesus the Suffering Son of God
Mark portrayed Jesus as the suffering servant of Isaiah’s servant songs. Jesus even predicts his death three times in this Gospel, and the latter part of Mark’s Gospel focuses exclusively on Jesus’ the events leading up to the crucifixion. Mark explains that it is precisely because Jesus is the messiah that he must die: His death will serve as “a ransom for many” (10:45). The narrative continues with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, teaching at the Temple, arrest, and trials before the Sanhedrin and Pilate.

Jesus the Crucified Son of God
Even at the end, Jesus’ disciples do not understand his identity and mission. Judas hands him over, Peter denies him, and the others scatter to avoid arrest. Jesus is left to die alone. Though he was alone, He would not die in vain. What was accomplished in those three hours changed everything. Mark uses two events at Jesus’ death to illustrate the reality of what Jesus has done for sinful broken humanity. First, when Jesus dies, the curtain into the Holy of Holies is torn from top to bottom. Not a bottom up work but a top down act of Grace signifying open access. Through this story, Mark implies that after Jesus’ sacrificial death, all people, not just the high priest, have full access to God. Second, and even more striking, is the Roman centurion at the cross who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son. The man who killed Jesus, recognizes Jesus as God’s son. Throughout the Gospel, all of the Jews, including Jesus’ closest followers, fail to recognize Jesus for who he is. Ironically, and deeply consistent with the Scope of Christ’s work, it is a Gentile with Christ’s blood on his hands, who first confesses this truth. Taken Together, the two points form a profound truth, on the grounds of Jesus’ work on the cross that (1) their is open access for all, (2) access to God only comes through Jesus.


1. David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel: Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2015) 25

2. David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel: Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2015) 262



Drawing the Line

Determining “Heresy” is all about where to draw the line. It is both a doctrinal and an ethical question. Ultimately it is something we aim at much like a bulls eye. It is equally misguided to draw the boundaries too narrowly and allow almost anything to pass as doctrine, too broadly and limit all disagreement and dialogue around topics worthy of honest debate. From the ethical arena, the same metaphor moves in the opposite direction. If you can draw the boundary, too wide in ethical areas, the church will promote moral laity and hypocrisy as an unspoken marks of the church. If you can draw the boundary, to narrow moralism takes hold, making every errant motive and/or sinful struggle a reason for exclusion from the community. A conscious awareness of the grace of God is squeezed out replaced by a willful conformity to a particular group’s moral preferences and expectation.

The ESV study bible has a helpful section on this issue (below are my notes from it).

Understanding Essential vs. Peripheral Doctrine
The ability to discern the relative importance of theological beliefs is vital for effective Christian life and ministry. Learning to draw the line rightly allows a church to follow Jesus, in being a people full fo grace and truth. The importance of drawing such lines can’t be overstated for the purity and unity of the church are at stake in this matter.

The relative importance of theological issues can fall within four categories: 
(1) absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith;  
(2) convictions, while not core beliefs, may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church
(3) opinions are less-clear issues that generally are not worth dividing over; 
(4) questions are currently unsettled issues.

These categories can be best visualized as concentric circles, similar to those on a dart board, with the absolutes as the “bull’s-eye” (illistrationed in ESV Study Bible.).

The four areas can be labeled as Absolutes convictions opinions or questions

Central area: Absolutes are Necessary to the faith. They deal with what it means to be a Christian (often called point of fellowship)

Here is the line of heresy above heresy —— below difference of opinion and conviction

Second Area: convictions for the most part the classic distinction between Protestant denominations (Issue that necessary demands a measure of unity in keeping with the fulfillment of a given group’s mission as the people of God.) Convictions held in common by a good conscience over which honest debate can be had but not wanting a denouement of ‘heresy’. Some beliefs in this category are not heretical but may be unhealthy in various ways.

Third Area: Arena of individual conscience - dealing more with debatable moral issues like the issue of meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Cor.

Fourth area: questions we all have but may never know the answer to. Did Adam have a belly button?

Method of evolution
Legally speaking this is a burden of proof analysis. In which case, the preponderance of evidence is the criteria of assessment.

"These criteria for determining the importance of particular beliefs must be considered in light of their cumulative weight regarding the doctrine being considered. For instance, just the fact that a doctrine may go against the general consensus among believers (see point 6) does not necessarily mean it is wrong, although that might add some weight to the argument against it. All the categories should be considered collectively in determining how important an issue is to the Christian faith. The ability to rightly discern the difference between core doctrines and legitimately disputable matters will keep the church from either compromising important truth or needlessly dividing over peripheral issues." (ESV Study Bible)

Given are often only as valid as the biases and core values of a given group. Thus, such psychological dynamics should be assessed, both on an individuals and group level.

Where an issue falls within the above categories should be determined by the weighing the cumulative force of at least eight considerations: (ESV gives 7 added 1 additional step)

(1) biblical clarity;

(2) relevance to the character of God;

(3) relevance to the essence of the gospel;

(4) biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it);

(5) effect on other doctrines;

(6) consensus among Christians (past and present);

(7) effect on personal and church life.




(8) after above assessment consider in community, your own cultural and personal bias, agendas and perspectives about the issue.





What is the most used, least understood, theological term? My guess ‘heresy’. Online it’s probably the most pejorative term in use by Christians to speak of other Christians. As one contributor on Facebook noted in a theology thread, “it’s not an interesting theological discussion until ‘heretic’ or ‘heretical’ are thrown around a few times.” While likely an accurate statement. It’s nonetheless a regrettable one. While ‘heretic’ is an epic slam in a homeschooler’s playground rap battle, its proper use has been lost in translation.

Let me back up, first Christians believe words matter. So we should care how we use our words. God created a world that exists independent of the individual self. In light of this,we have the responsibility, to the best of one’s ability, a human should rightly call a thing, what it is. (Gen 2:18-20a). The words we speak should correspond with reality. What we say about a thing should harmonize with what a thing is as created by God. Yes, due to the noetic effects of sin, naming reality is easier said than done. But I digress.

So, what is heresy? When are we morally responsible to call a teaching, heresy? More important. When is it ethical for the church to label someone a heretic? (a question we will look at in another post). Before we answer those questions let’s look at the biblical data on the issue.

Terms and biblical data

As theological terms within Christian tradition, Heresy and orthodoxy are thoroughly Christian words. Irenaeus coined the technical meaning of them both. Orthodox characterize his own teachings, which most other Church Fathers agreed with, and heresy defined the teachings of his adversaries. Even though Irenaeus coined the word as we use it now. The idea extends all the way back to the New Testament and early jewish literature.


We will Trace the development of the concepts behind the terms of heresy and orthodoxy in Scripture.

Heresy in the New Testament
The Greek word from which “heresy” derives (αἵρεσις, hairesis) originally meant “choice” or “opinion.” The word appears nine times in the New Testament, often referring to a religious sect characterized by its distinct opinions or practices (Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5; 26:5). Josephus used the term this way in referring to Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. But the term is also used more specifically.

The term “heresy” could also characterize those who departed from acceptable beliefs and conduct (Acts 24:14; 28:22). The word appears twice in Paul’s letters to describe unhealthy divisions that should be avoided (1 Cor 11:19; Gal 5:20). Although Paul instructed believers to limit their fellowship with those who supported such factions, he claimed that the existence of heretical groups helped distinguish the true believers from those who were causing division (1 Cor 11:19).

The early church saw in the word an allusion to the choice made in the Garden. Adam and Eve’s eternally regretable meal choice was worse than three-day old Thai, and twice as intentional. “Heresy” conveyed the idea of autonomy, of choosing for yourself as opposed to receiving from God what He has passed down. The heretic made a choice to rebel against revealed truth and define good and evil on their own terms rather than letting God pass down to them His Truth as they walked together in the cool of the day. Thus to commit heresy was to intentionally reject related truth and choose to define life on your own terms.

“Heresy” eventually came to mean a belief deviating from established doctrine in major areas like the Trinity, Christology, and soteriology. Thus, those who embrace error and rejected the core doctrines encouraging other s to do the same were known as heretics. The term seems to be used this way in 2 Pet 2:1 to describe how false teachers had taken a dangerous departure from sound doctrine by denying Jesus. Early church leaders such as Ignatius (second century ad) used the term “heresy” this way consistently (See, Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians 6; Ignatius’ epistle to the Ephesians 6). Also, the word was repeatedly applied to the gnostics during the second and third centuries because, well, it fit! (See, Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.7, 22). The term was specifically applied by early church fathers to describe those who had departed from established Christian doctrine (doctrine which is most clearly seen in the articulation of the Apostles’ Creed and later the Nicene Creed; e.g., Origen, Against Celsus, 3.13; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 10.22). The “heretics” most in question were people convincing (or attempting to convince) others that their viewpoints were correct. For the early church fathers, it seems that heretics could also be received back into the church under certain conditions (see, Canon of the Council in Trullo, XCV).

Orthodoxy in the New Testament
The term “orthodoxy” describes right belief. Although the word derives from Greek terms “straight” (ὀρθός, orthos) and “praise” (δόξα, doxa), the term itself is not found in the New Testament. In the Gospels, the concept of orthodoxy is often represented by the word “truth” (e.g., John 4:23–24; 8:32, 40–46; 14:6). Jesus’ principle ministry involved teaching truth, which He claimed was contained in His words and the Hebrew Scriptures.

The concept of orthodoxy in Paul’s writings is best captured by his use of the phrases “sound teaching” (1 Tim 1:10; 2 Tim 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1), “sound words” (1 Tim 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13), and “sound faith” (Titus 1:13; 2:2). The foundation for this teaching was established by the New Testament apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20; 3:5) and handed down from one generation of believers to the next (Luke 1:2; 2 Tim 2:2; 3:14–15; 1 John 1:5; Jude 1:3). The contents of orthodox belief, according to Paul, must be guarded by those to whom they are entrusted (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:13–14; Titus 1:9) so that Christians remain pure in their doctrine (Titus 2:7).

Paul cautions Christians who wish to retain their orthodox standards to keep their distance from those who depart from the apostolic instructions regarding belief and conduct (2 Thess 3:6, 14). He also states that those whose teachings are contrary to apostolic orthodoxy should be refuted and silenced from speaking in the church (Titus 1:9–10; see also 1 Tim 6:3–4).

Heresies quick overview

1. Heresy as deviant ethical or theological teaching (Heb 13:9 cp. Gal 1:6-7; 2 Ti 4:3-4)

2. The origins of heresy
        a. Erroneous human teaching Col 2:8 cp. Eph 4:14; Col 2:20-22
        b. Deceitful demonic power 1Ti 4:1 cp. 1Jn 4:2-3,6

5. Christian opposition to heresy
        a. Heresy warned against 2 Pe 3:17 cp. 1 Ti 4:7; Tit 1:10-14
        b. Heresy condemned 2 Pe 2:3 cp. Gal 1:8-9; 2Pe 2:17-22

A little more nuance
Well, What do most people think is heresy?
a number of possible solutions (Yet these are not adequate definitions)

* The Council Answer: Heresy is whatever one of the seven ecumenical councils said it was. (Greek Orthodox)
* The Power Struggle: Heresy is just the label for the “loser” in the debate. (Post-modern)
* The “Other” Answer: Heresy is an exclusionary process used to establish the identity of some group. (Proud-estant Liberalism)
* Poop in My Coffee: Heresy is whatever corrupts the essence of Christianity - anything unlike what I was taught is heresy. Not Pre-Trib rapture, your a heretic, a “dammmmmmnable” hieratic (2 Peter 3:1 JKV) (Fun-da-mentalist).
* Really Not Really equivocation: Heresy is never really to be used. It is a bad word. No, I don't study theology! No, I will not define my terms! Can't we just be accepting. No one is sure about hell and judgment and all that. Love wins! Right? (Shallow “Christain”?)
* Zip it or I kill you: Heresy is rejecting church authority. (Catholic or any absolutist group)

From the evidence in our first section, here are some points that are necessarily true of heresy in general

1. Heresy requires an exercise of authority.
Today, determining, "what is heresy?" can not be a purely individualistic affair. I can’t determine by myself what “heresy” is, though I can certainly offer opinions as to if an idea is heresy and if a group should be declared to be heretical.

2. Heresy necessarily involves power and exclusion.
Today, both ideas are understood in negative terms. Yet, their is nothing necessarily wrong with either of these, when properly administrated. In and of themselves, neither power nor exclusion are bad. Church leaders sometimes need to use both for the benefit of the body For example: exercising authority (power) in excluding a dangerous person from a children’s ministry.

In an age of spin, and rash judgements tweeted in seconds leaders need to press the pause button, take a moment to remember the power of labels. Leaders should always be aware that when they use the label “heresy” they are wielding the power to exclude. My fear is that if we don’t make this explicit, we’ll wield the power without being aware that we’re doing so. And, that is exceptionally dangerous. It’s like giving someone a box and not bothering to mention that there’s dynamite inside. We can’t wield carefully what we don’t know that we’re wielding.

3. Heresy undermines the Gospel.
The idea of "heresy" is at its core something that undermines the essence of Christianity. (1) Heresy is about essential, rather than peripheral, matters. Granted, it’s not always easy to tell the difference given the interconnect nature of Christian theology. (2) Heresy almost always comes from within. We make a mistake when we see heresy as something that attacks Christianity from without. Instead, we must realize that heresy is always something that arises from within the body and must be dealt with as such.

Clarifying Addendum:
1. Recognize the difficulty: it needs to make the appeal to authority/power more explicit. Rather than simply presume that heresy is self-evident, we need to recognize that sifting heresy from orthodoxy is a difficult process that will often require a final decision to be made by those entrusted with the authority to do so.
2. Realize heresy is both in beliefs and behavior (Titus and Jude attest to this). Bad teaching bares Fruit (behavior/ethics positions promoted) that drastically deviate from biblical boundaries of behavior. we need to realize that the “essence” of Christianity is more than a set of beliefs. Commonly held Beliefs shape the ethics all views a community holds and if their ethics are "hinky" - then something is up with their Beliefs. For Example: Oneida Community . This kind of test is what Jesus meant when he taught you will know them by their fruit. Also remember the flip side, He is a hypocrite and maybe an unbeliever but not a heretic, who, while keeping the outward appearance of Christian religion, devises or follows false opinions for a desire for human approval, earthly reward, or worldly pleasures"
3. The idea of Christianity’s “essence” is far too vague. Heresy is better defined as something that undermines the Gospel itself. I realize that gets us into a discussion of what the Gospel is.

My working definitions of heresy:

Heresy is any form of Christianity (in practice and belief) that undermines the Gospel (explicitly or implicitly) and is determined to be not in agreement with the Scriptures by a reasoning argument, and by comparison with the shape of basic traditional orthodoxy.

Thus, A heretic is one who obstinately holds to and publicly teaches, heresy, despite the Christian communities opposition and after private and public censure has been exercised, and continues to do so.

Craig Blomberg article on heresy some years ago in The Journal of evangelical theology is a fitting word on this word "heresy".

     The collection of false teaching and immoral behavior that NT authors most strongly oppose is an interesting one. A strong insistence on both the full deity and the full humanity of Christ naturally appears. Salvation by grace through faith, countering all forms of legalism, nomism, and ethnocentrism, proves central, but one must submit to the resurrected Jesus as total Master (Rom 10:9–10) and exhibit the fruit befitting repentance. The only absolutely crucial eschatological tenet is the fact of Christ’s still future, visible return. With respect to what systematicians usually include under “sanctification” appears an insistence on keeping security and perseverance in balance, and on avoiding the twin errors of defeatism and triumphalism, including in its extreme forms perfectionism. After that, one is hard pressed to find further absolutely central theological tenets for which NT writers strongly contend.
      At least as crucial as correct theology is correct behavior. The NT strongly opposes antinomianism, immorality more generally (especially in its twin, opposing manifestations of asceticism and hedonism), and a factious or a divisive spirit. It insists that stewardship of one’s material possessions functions as “exhibit A” of the good works that must necessarily flow from the life of one truly redeemed. It consistently places morality above ritual, an observation that should address us loudly in the current evangelical “worship wars”!
Our inspired authors clearly oppose non-Christian religions and their practitioners, but their dominant strategy is to call them to repentance via making the gospel as winsome as possible. The harshest rhetoric is almost always reserved for the ultraconservative religious insider who transgresses key boundaries, especially leaders who should certainly know better. By way of contrast, the last century of American evangelicalism has majored on creating extensive doctrinal statements to separate itself from outsiders, usually adding numerous adiaphora(1) to more central matters. The ETS is a rare exception but, paradoxically, our doctrinal statement lacks any requirement for salvation. And when evangelical “lifestyle” statements have addressed ethical concerns, the lists have often proved quite different from NT vice and virtue lists.
       In short, our tendency has been to fight our fiercest battles at the theological periphery of evangelicalism, where we believe the limits of tolerance have been exceeded. We rarely ask who in our midst may be equally misguided (and possibly even more dangerous) because they have drawn the boundaries too narrowly rather than too broadly. As Arland Hultgren’s survey of the earliest eras of Church history reminds us, one can become heretical by being either too broad-minded or too narrow-minded.(2)


(1) adiaphora are matters not regarded as essential to faith but nevertheless as permissible for Christians or allowed in the church.

(2) Craig Blomberg, The New Testament Definition of Heresy (Or when Do Jesus and the Apostles really Get Mad?) JETS 45/1 (March 2002) 71–72. The pdf can be found at HERE



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