“Heresy,” Dr. Karen Finch explains, “is a word that should be reserved for when it is really meant,” adding that “You don’t really know what you believe until you’ve had a fight about it with your roommate.” She was speaking on the subject of “Christ Alone: What We Can Learn from Calvin’s Response to Christological Heresies” at the recent Presbyterian Scholars’ Conference held in Wheaton, Ill.
Finch, an assistant professor of Theology at Whitworth College, defined heresy as “not a particular position that scares you. A heresy is something taught within the Christian community by a person who is a confessing Christian and it must be dangerous to the heart of the gospel.” She distinguished apostasy from heresy saying that apostasy “includes a falling away – the break in the relationship. An apostate is someone who was in love with Jesus but who is no longer in love with Jesus. But it does not necessarily include heretical thought or belief.”
Finch said that as we deal with false teachings of our day, we can look to John Calvin to learn effect methods of refutation. Calvin, Finch said, interacted two Christological false teachings in his day – and she added, “both heterodox viewpoints are very much with us today.”
Finch says we can learn from Calvin’s polemic of dealing with the “bad guys” of his day. Taking a deep dive into Calvin’s interactions with Francesco Stancarro and Andres Ociander, Finch demonstrates how Calvin’s Biblical, specific, humble, respectful approach was effective in confronting the Christological heresies of his day.
She said, “Read your Bible instead of speculating out of your own observation.”
What do we learn from the method of Calvin’s refutation? Finch identifies six things we can learn from Calvin’s methodology:
- “Draw from the WHOLE Bible – claim Jesus as mediator throughout; the big salvation history narrative matters
- “Do not deal in generalities; deal in particulars.
- “Where there is heresy, there is pride, power, politics and desire for acclaim. Be the theologian of humility. This has to do with theology and persons.
- “All the heresies lead into one another. All ideas in orthodoxy are likewise connected. You can get to anywhere from wherever you start.
- “Recognize that heretics are trying to make the Christian faith simpler than it is. It takes a lot more Biblical acuity and awareness to hold onto Orthodoxy than to embrace simple heretical ideas.
- “The medieval polemic is vitriolic, Calvin responds in respectful gentleness.”
Finch said, “Bad theology hurts people, we might as well make that plain.”
Following her lecture participants engaged in a Q&A seeking to make application to issues confronted in the church today.
One inquirer asked, “how does the conversation about essence and being and nature connect to the debate today about who we are and the skin we’re in?”
Finch answered, “I think of it of this magic trick of being you – over time. Christianity needs to regain the ground of self and soul. We must fight the illogical nature of the current conversation.”
She then explained, “If selves do not persist in time and space, if this is not even a person who has coherence, then what are we? Who are we? Confront heterodox ideas being bandied about by talking about self as what you lay down when you love. Use references to the giving away of self – that’s a powerful Biblical call today and an entry point for people to enter into the conversation about the soul and the self. We can’t solve problems of social concern without a reclamation of the self – in all the fullness of what that means from God’s perspective, not our own.”