Spiritual growth through heresy
There are two ways (in my mind) in which heresy spurs spiritual growth. For the purposes of this post, I will use the word heresy in extremely broad terms. One of the ways merriam-webster.com defines heresy is:
An opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards
As I move through life, growing in knowledge and experiences, more and more, I’m learning to reap the benefits that come from heresy. And as I look back on my life, I find some of the most rewarding spiritual lessons have come via heresy. Yes, you heard me right. HERESY! As in, HERETICAL!
“Wait just a minute!” an inner voice somewhere screams. “This is outrageous talk! How can anyone call heresy good? It’s not a positive thing. It destroys our spiritual growth and leads us astray!”
“That depends,” is my response.
It depends on who we are and what we believe. This is the first way in which we can look at how heresy spurs spiritual growth. If we pan our camera back and think about beliefs on the scale of the entire global picture, we see a lot of faiths in this world. A lot of beliefs. A lot of doctrines. What is orthodox to a Christian is heresy to a Muslim. What is orthodox to an atheist is heresy to a religious Jew. So if we think of heresy in this picture, our own worldview is a heresy to a lot of people with different beliefs. In our own case, we might invite a friend of a different faith to think through our truth claims and are reasons for belief. But for them, this is asking them to consider the heretical, for the doctrines of their own faith will differ in many substantial ways. So in this case, when we ask the question, can heresy spur spiritual growth, the answer must be yes. If we truly believe are worldview is true, then to invite others to consider what to them is a heresy is a good thing.
Or conversely, if while discussing spiritual matters with our friend (each considering the other’s reasons for belief), we find what we once believed orthodox to be heretical, and embrace what we once found heretical to be orthodox, this too, is a good thing (with the one qualification being that we moved closer to truth, not further from it!)
But there is a second way heresy spurs our spiritual growth. It is in its ability to deepen us in the truth of our own faith. I am a Christian, so I will use my Christian faith as an example. What would the Christian New Testament look like without heresy? N.T. Scholar Carl Mosser has written,
“When one surveys the history of Christian theology, it quickly becomes evident that many of the greatest theological insights occur in the course of responding to heterodox doctrines. The Judaizers who followed the Apostle Paul around the Mediterranean provided a foil for Paul and opportunities to develop his grand doctrine of Justification by faith. The Arian controversy forced the church to think hard and deep about what the Bible says about the Father, Son, and Spirit and how they relate to one another. The result—the blessing of heresy, one might say—was a more accurate and profound understanding of the nature of the God of our salvation.” Mosser, New Mormon Challenge, Pg. 85
Without heresy, Paul wouldn’t have had to write Galatians or Romans in response to the Judaizers. And the rest of the New Testament is full of interaction with heretical ideas. Heresy forces us to dig deeper into scripture or the beliefs we hold, and in the end, we can come out with a richer, fuller view of what we believe. Imagine if the writers of the New Testament didn’t interact with heresy. How well defined would our doctrines be. Carl Mosser goes on to state that,
“Indeed, in every age the fruit of the toil of rigorously engaging heterodoxy is deepened insight into God’s revelation.”
In this same mode, heresy can push the individual believer to study and evaluate his own beliefs. As I mentioned above, heresy, in my own personal experience, has been the catalyst that invigorates me to pour through scripture to find answers to claims I believe are in error. Is the idea of God being a trinity scriptural? What is the relationship between faith and works? Are their many Gods, or one God? Did Jesus rise bodily from the dead, or only spiritually? Questions like these asked by people who believe differently than I have forced me to open my Bible and give their views a second look. In doing so, I now have a richer, fuller understanding of these topics. Heresy has enriched my faith, not torn it down.
I do recognize there are many who are deceived by heresy. They have walked further from the truth rather than closer to it. So do we 1) shelter ourselves from all ideas and just hope what we believe is true? Or do we do the opposite and 2) expose ourselves do the good reasons for and against our belief?
I think it’s clear we must follow choice number two. The one caution here is this. Before you expose yourself—learn what you believe! Some may fall into heresy because they never studied to know what they believe to begin with. If you are unable to critically think about your own faith and dig into the reasons why you believe what you believe, then you will either fall for heresy, or ignorantly subsist in your belief, whether it is true or not.
As a last thought . . . did you at first find the title of this article to be . . . well, heretical? Do you still fill the same way now? Or maybe after reading all the way through you still disagree with this post, and, in a sense, believe the thoughts expressed here to be heretical to what you find a proper view of heresy?
If you do disagree with this post, my question to you is, did this little post push you to think deeper on this subject? If so, then I think you should reconsider your position, for consistency’s sake. 🙂