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Heroes of the Faith

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Frank Viola, a fellow follower of Christ, has been working through a series of blog posts on his blog over at http://patheos.com/blogs/frankviola/shocking to shed light on various people of the faith we revere and adore.

I’d like to offer a brief overview of some of the “shocking” beliefs or actions of some of our most dearly beloved theologians and Christian celebrities.

The point of this is not to point out the faults of these people for the sake of shaming them. Rather, it is to recognize we’re all screwed up, and some of the people who we draw our most dearly held beliefs from (we can say we get our beliefs from the Bible all we want, but we still read into Scripture the influence of 2,000 years of church history) held beliefs and did things we shun other Christians for.

Basically, if we’re going to keep lacking unity in the Body of Christ, let’s at least be consistent and shun every single theologian that came before us. Although, without them, we wouldn’t have the theology and comfy systematic belief complex we use to help us sleep at night.

Note the sarcasm.

Rather, please recognize the diversity of beliefs, and learn to tolerate lesser pertinent beliefs within the Body of Christ.

Not to say all beliefs and actions should be considered okay. (Looking at you, John Calvin.)

Speaking of John Calvin, some of the things he believed and did, according to Viola’s research, are as follows:
1. He believed that killing “heretics” was an advancement of the Kingdom of God. (Sounds like Isis to me.)
2. He believed that the Reformed church (the church that held to his doctrinal, systematic way of interpreting Scripture) was the only true church. Any followers of Christ beforehand who disagreed, and any thereafter who disagreed, were not really apart of the true Church.
3. He liked to call his theological opponents names. For example, he referred to Menno Simmons as a donkey. He referred to others as “asses” and “dogs.” This is not nearly as bad as burning a man alive for 6 hours simply because he wouldn’t put “only begotten” before “son of God,” (Something else Calvin did) but still reveals a lack of respect for human dignity.
4. He believed Jews were basically worthless and deserved to die.
5. He believed in Double Predestination: the idea that God created, and hand picked, the majority of the human race with the intent to have them suffer and burn in an agonizing torturous hell forever and ever and ever. I know a lot of Christians who believe this, and, frankly, this is some of the most appalling theology I’ve heard.

So, my bias against Calvin has probably come out a bit in my summation of his theology. That is not to say good didn’t come out of Calvin. Again, the emphasis here, despite my prejudice, isn’t to simply rebuke the beliefs and actions of Calvin, or any of the people who will be mentioned here, but to show how God can, and will, work through the selfish, evil tendencies of those who follow Christ, and that no man, not even those we hold dearly, is capable of escaping the human condition: being pretty jacked up.

Speaking of being jacked up, let’s move on to C.S. Lewis. (“Jack”ed up in reference to the fact that C.S. Lewis would only respond to the name “Jack” because he despised the name Clive.)
I don’t have near as much bias against C.S. Lewis. Actually, I’m a fan. I don’t like admitting that, though, because I think we provide him too much credence.
Nonetheless, he and I would agree on many a point. Even many of the points that will be mentioned here. (Label me a heretic and throw me in Gehenna.)
1. It is highly likely that Jack believed in purgatory, or at least, some sense of it. Thus, he believed in praying for the dead, as well.
2. In relation to that, he also believed in the possibility of postmortem salvation. These views of his make sense, in that he was greatly influenced by George MacDonald, an inclusivist universalist, who believed all would eventually be saved through refining of the fire of God’s love.
3. Jack didn’t think the book of Job was historically accurate at all, and believed the Bible contained many errors. *insert shocked gasp here* This is seen also in his views about the creation account in Genesis: “I have therefore no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of those scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical.” (Quote from Reflections of the Psalms)

This is a man many of my Protestant, and even mainline non-denominational Evangelical, friends respect greatly. If we can appreciate this man’s contributions to Christianity, why do we label Rob Bell a heretic for simply asking questions? I mean, the poor guy didn’t even bluntly declare any doctrinal deviations, as far as I’m aware. He simply wanted to ask questions. Here we have C.S. Lewis (as well as George MacDonald) explicitly claiming views many mainline Evangelicals would find appalling. I’m not advocating that we abandon C.S. Lewis, rather I’m suggesting we give an ear to Rob Bell.

Last but not least, let’s take a brief look at some of Augustine’s thoughts. I know a lot of people who are fans of Augustine, because his Confessions resonated with them.
1. He believed baptism is required for salvation. To my knowledge, that was a common belief for quite a while, but as far as I know, many Evangelicals would disagree with this statement.
2. He wasn’t against the use of violence to “heretics.” Again, this reminds me of Isis, and nothing of Jesus.
3. He flirted, and I might say, even made love to, Manichaen philosophy. He was intimately connected to it. This influenced much of his theology, and influences many theologians who draw on him (think of the Medieval theologians, as well as Reformed players).
4. He believed that the Virgin Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Christ, and was completely sinless.
5. Like Jack, Augustine also believed in praying for the dead and that the creation account in Genesis is far from literal and accurate.

There are many other characters that could be mentioned here, most of which Viola doesn’t even mention.

Look in Scripture. Most, if not all, of the “heroes of the faith,” are people who make all sorts of mistakes: David, Gideon, Moses, Sampson, and the disciples, to name a few.

More recently, one thinks of Mennonite celebrity John Howard Yoder, who performed “sexual experiments.” I’m a huge fan of Yoder, but learning of his campaign was quite appalling and very sobering.

I would like to reiterate the point here. We’re all messed up (some more so than others). We all have blind spots. We all need grace and mercy – from God and from each other. Let’s stop the petty name calling and open up conversation. Let’s stop being afraid of other beliefs, stop being afraid of ambiguity, stop being afraid of pluralism. The majority of society is learning to be tolerant in an unhealthy way – all beliefs are equal. We tend to have the opposite reaction – we’re the only ones who are right. Even in the whole of Christian tradition (a rather arrogant thing to believe, considering Protestantism is still very young in the greater narrative of Church History). I’m not advocating we convert to Eastern Orthodoxy or start believing in Universalism (although I’m not necessarily opposed to that, either), but I am advocating we learn to stop shunning other traditions and beliefs that fall perfectly well within the creedal confessions of the Christian faith, and start trying to utilize each others’ strengths to benefit and love this broken, falling-to-pieces world.

All in all, live in love, as Christ loves you.




P.S. For further reading and elaboration on the topics discussed here, please refer to the link in the first paragraph of this post, which leads to Viola’s blog with further resources.

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