Skip to main content

Defining heretic

Yesterday, I sat with a few friends discussing the Da Vinci Code in preparation for our contemporary worship series we're putting together using the film/book/phenomenon. It came up that Dan Brown’s assertions in the novel are heretical (with which I agreed) -- and, lo and behold, this morning I ran across this post at Jesus Creed (blog of New Testament scholar Scot McKnight): “What’s a ‘heretic’ anyway?” McKnight goes over some of our misuses of the term (which are good to know) and ends with this definition:

. . . the proper use: a “heretic” is someone whose teachings or beliefs extends beyond legitimate doctrinal difference to “undercut the very basis for Christian existence”. I here quote my friend and former colleague, Harold O.J. Brown’s book, Heresy.

Most importantly, heresy pertains to the central doctrines of God and Christ. Heresy is established by orthodoxy and orthodoxy was established by the classical creeds (Nicea, Chalcedon, etc). The interactive development of our term then is that interaction of Christians both with Judaism and with doctrinally, dangerous dissent by those who claimed to be Christians (like the gnostics or the docetists).

Here’s the rule on the proper use of the term “heretic” or “heresy”: anything that denies Nicea or Chalcedon, etc., is heretical; anything that affirms them is orthodox. We should learn to use the term for such affirmations or denials.

Example: Atheists are not heretics — they are not advocating the Christian gospel and deviating seriously from it but instead don’t believe in any of it. I once wrote of someone that they were so far removed from orthodoxy they could no longer be called a heretic. We need to see this important clarification: heresy has to do with those who claim to be Christians and are teaching something that fundamentally attacks the entire basis of the gospel.
Heh, so what do you think: Is Da Vinci Code heretical or is it so far from orthodoxy that it can no longer be called a heretical? I appreciate posts like McKnight's that clarify meaning and language. Kudos to a good post—and the comments are interesting, too.

Comments