Arius Didn’t Describe Himself As Arian

Greg Boyd: “I strongly doubt Rob Bell would describe himself as a “Universalist.”

Greg Boyd: “…hell (which, by the way, Rob does emphatically believe in)…”


Greg Boyd: Despite my Open Theist Views, I strongly doubt that I deny God’s sovereignty, omniscience, or Scripture’s fidelity.

Sometimes when a theological debate dusts up on the interwebs, one side will defend the accused by noting that the writer under suspicion does not think of himself as espousing the view for which they are being accused. For example, see the Federal Vision debate in the PCA, the Rob Bell debate alluded to above, and the rest of over two thousand years of church history. Perhaps the suspect’s views could lead to that heterodox position, so goes the argument, but our friend over here does not himself hold to that view, so of course he’s not guilty of said heresy. (Similar to this is pleading that you actually do believe in the doctrine under question, you just mean something very, very different than what everyone else means by it.)

A few thoughts on this line of argumentation.

Heretics never wear name tags clearly describing their views for orthodox Presbyterians (besides bloggers, the last white blood cells of the Church) to pounce on. False teachers are great guys with good manners, impeccable credentials (“but Arminius was trained at Geneva!”), and they carefully obey the 10 Commandments of Niceness. Their teaching always has a ring of truth to it, otherwise nobody would be attracted to their ideas, and we wouldn’t call them false teachers (“teacher” implies “students” who listen to you) but Charlie Sheen crazy apostates. So simply arguing that so-and-so doesn’t recognize himself in those heretical options doesn’t guarantee a clean bill of orthodoxy.

Further, is this really how subjective we’ve become? If I write a book (or a blog post) arguing for position X, and then my final sentence is that I don’t hold to position X, what does that say about me? Does writing books or making statements have no objective value if I deny them? Now I’m not saying “recant.” Recanting is acknowledging that yes I did write this idea, but now I’m changing my mind, and I suppose every author or human ought to be allowed this mulligan of words. If I write extensively for a position, and a wide range of reaction to what I’ve written says that I hold view X, at some point my objective writing will trump my subjective interpretation of my words, if only in the mind of the reading public.

Now, I suppose one option here is that an author really, truly does not hold to view X, even though his reading audience swears that he does. The final option here is that I am a poor communicator. I am either a poor communicator in my writing, or I am a poor communicator by writing to the wrong audience (they just don’t get me!). Either way, the author should either refine his craft, ignore his audience, or find a new line of employment.

I’m sure you can read between the lines, but I’m not trying to weigh in on the Rob Bell fracas. Universalism is clearly false teaching, but I’m not completely sure if it is heterodoxy or heresy. (I try to be consistent with what I think is the view of church history, that heresy strikes at one of the cardinal doctrines taught in the Ecumenical Creeds. Universalism surely redefines “He will come to judge the quick and the dead,” but I’m not sure if it is heresy like “Jesus is not divine” is heresy. Thoughts or feedback on this distinction?) I was taught not to respond to a book until I’ve read it, and I have not (and probably will not) read Bell’s latest. But whether it was Boyd in 2001 or Bell in 2011, or any other teacher that has caused a fracas with their writing, part of being a writer or teacher is communicating clearly enough to your audience so that they don’t misunderstand your view. (In an ecclesiastical context, surely this is a requirement for the office of elder as well: “able to teach,” 1 Timothy 3:2.)

Lastly, my own thinking above has probably been so corrupted instructed by John Piper and R. Scott Clark that I apologize in advance for plagiarism and heavy borrowing.

5 thoughts on “Arius Didn’t Describe Himself As Arian

  1. Pingback: Wollebius on Heretics & Schismatics « Brian J. Lund

  2. I completely reject universalism and Rob Bells understanding of Hell. I love John Piper, but I am not a Calvinist. To be honest, I have not settled this issue for myself. I do spend a lot of time studying the different schools of thought. It bothers me, that often a position is classified a “heresy” simply because it deviates from the 500 year old Reformed position.

    Is it heretical to suggest that God knows perfectly all things that are knowable? It is if you mean that he doesn’t know ahead of time what a free creature will do, say the Reformed. Or if you mean that God knows EVERYTHING, even possible choices made be free creatures (Molinism) Could it be that the open theist or molinist are just wrong, like a person who thinks Christ will come before the tribulation?

    Why do they have to be heretics?

  3. Hi Jim! You’ve got a great site. Thanks for stopping by with your thoughts.

    I agree with you that any and every deviation from “the 500 year old Reformed position” is not heresy. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this also, but it seems like the “heresy” label gets tossed out pretty frequently in blog debates and online discussions, and this not only stops discussion but is usually pretty goofy too. I’ve noted elsewhere that the Reformers were certainly not this rigid, and that they had categories for thinking about positions they disagreed with. I think the word “heresy” should only be whipped out when we’re talking about disagreeing with cardinal Christian doctrines that Christians in all times and all places have agreed to. Usually, this means doctrines in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds – Trinity, two natures of Jesus, etc.

    If my post sounded like I was calling Boyd or Bell out as heretics, that wasn’t my point, and I’m sorry if I miscommunicated! I was simply trying to point out the objectivity of what we say as evidence for weighing a theological position. At least, that was the goal!

    You’ve probably already guessed from my site that I would want to argue against the Molinist or Open Theist position. I like how you put it: our understanding of God’s knowledge could be wrong, but that doesn’t necessitate heresy. I think what makes people nervous – people much smarter than I like Piper or Michael Horton – is when some of the conclusions of God’s knowledge start getting applied to the cross, salvation, and the Bible.

    By the way, I hope I’ll always be faithful enough to say that Calvinist or Reformed theology is not perfect, that we are all striving to be as biblical as possible. I just happen to be convinced that Reformed theology is the least flawed, and the most biblical discussion of what Scripture says in the Christian Church.

    So what do you think about that distinction?

  4. I did not get that impression from you at all. I think your distinction is a very healthy one. When I graduated from Bible College 20 years ago, I severely underestimated my lack of knowledge. I thought I had everything figured out. OOPS! I sometimes feel I owe an apology to the first church I pastored.

    Over the years, I have adapted the same attitude. When it comes to the essentials, like the Nicene Creed, I agree whole-heartedly. When it comes down to the debate of the last 500 years, I hold my views loosely. “This may be the way God did things, It may not.” How can a finite mind wrestle with, grasp and comprehend the inner workings of the infinite mind of God? I sometimes think that God has given us just enough information to know him, trust him, and to follow him, and has purposely hidden the other things from us.

    Being a blogger, I have seen the same things. I think I would agree that people throw out that “Heresy” word quite a bit. It often seems to mean “My view is God’s View, yours isn’t. You are a heretic! Bring the firewood!”

    That is why I always try to find people who have a little humility, and understand that the other camp has some compelling arguments. I’ve read a lot about Molinism, and many Calvinists label it as a heresy. Sure, its different. Essentially it is 3 point Calvinism, redifned. If you read the arguments with an open mind, they make some VERY good points. But it has problems too. Anyone who is an honest Arminian, Calvinsit, Molinist or Open Futurist (the prefered term for the Open Theism crowd), knows that the view they hold to, has problems. Everyone at some point has to point to “Mystery”. I truly appreciate it when the problems are acknowledged, and wrestled with.

    At the end of the day, things truly are the way God says they are. Whether or not I understand it or agree with it. I am grateful, that my standing with the Savior is not contingent upon my knowing and having the secret things of God all figured out.

    I love your site!

  5. Pingback: Dear Pastor: Straight Talk on Hell | Brian J. Lund

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