"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Heresy and Heterodoxy

It has of course been fashionable in some academic circles for some time (everything changes except the avant garde, as the late Richard John Neuhaus used to say) to decry the very categories of "heresy" and "orthodoxy," as often as not saying that the latter is merely a disguised will-to-power over the former. And yet Christians have always felt the need to make sure that what is taught is in fact the truth. For a faith committed to following the One who is Himself described as the "way, the truth, and the life," concern about such questions is not just Nietzsche on the cheap.

Eastern Christians are intimately familiar with the problems of heterodox thought since the majority of heresies, at least in the antique period, were of Eastern provenance. Several recent books have helped us come to a greater appreciation of these issues, and the complexity surrounding them. A recent one comes from the prolific pen of the celebrated evangelical theologian Alister McGrath, author of numerous other works:
One of McGrath's works recently released in paperback is Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (HarperOne, 2010), 288pp. 
About this book, the publisher tells us:
In recent years the distinction between heresy and orthodoxy has come under fire by those eager to reject the formal boundaries of sanctioned beliefs about God, Jesus, and the church. In a timely corrective to this trend, renowned church historian Alister McGrath argues that the categories of heresy and orthodoxy must be preserved.
Remaining faithful to Jesus's mission and message is still the mandate of the church despite increasingly popular cries that traditional dogma is outdated and restricts individual freedom. Overturning misconceptions throughout the book, McGrath exposes:
  • how many of the heretical beliefs and practices rejected by the church were actually more stringent and oppressive than rival orthodox claims.
  • that many theological alternatives were rejected when the church had no power to enforce one view over another, long before Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
In Heresy, McGrath explains why no heresy has ever been eradicated—rival beliefs only go underground and resurface in different forms. McGrath presents a powerful, compassionate, and deeply attractive orthodoxy that will equip the church to meet the challenge from renewed forms of heresy today.

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