Purpose Driven Heresy

HeresyWhen I skimmed a copy of church historian Alister McGrath’s Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth I noticed that despite its provocative title, I didn’t see any of those really juicy heretical bits that one finds in the latest Dan Brown biblical bodice ripper.

McGrath refutes what he sees as fallacies set forth by Brown and Elaine Pagels by arguing how many of the heresies once embraced in certain Christian circles were and are in fact more oppressive than those beliefs deemed orthodox by the church. For example, one might think by reading Brown and Pagels that Gnosticism presented a more holistic view of the role of women in the church. McGrath counters this theory by quoting the last line from the Gospel of Thomas, “For every woman who makes herself male shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Those feel they’ve cracked The Da Vinci Code might want to consider picking up a copy of Heresy, so they can get a more accurate historical perspective on this work of fiction.

Conversely, for those who will deny women any role within the church by taking a literal reading of the Epistles, McGrath illustrates how such a view is indeed unbiblical. He debunks such black and white thinking by reminding die-hard Calvinists that the version of the bible that they take so literally was in fact interpreted differently by their Reformation counterparts, a view seemingly supported by Rick Warren, who penned the forward. So, maybe this holiday season, we can all avoid the Fox News-fueled “Christmas Wars” by realizing that none of us holds the definitive view of the birth narratives. After all, those who believe that “Jesus said it, I believe it, that settles it” might dismiss centuries of academic scholarship, but they wouldn’t dream of dissin’ Warren.

Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).