Monday, February 28, 2011


A few years back I did an intense study of Galatians that left me with a lot of unanswered questions I’m still wrestling through. One thing is clear, however, from the very beginning of the impassioned letter. Paul believes that those who distort the “gospel” are anathema or “accursed” (Gal 1.6-9) – the same word that appears in the LXX to describe those “devoted to destruction” in the conquest narratives (Josh 6.17, 18; 7.1; etc.). This kind of language was not very nice. Paul is fighting with full rhetorical fury.

Today, instead of anathema we fight with the word “heretic.” There are two examples of folks who have recently come under the ire of evangelical Christians (I don’t intend that to be a pejorative category). First, there was a recent article published at about the controversial Jesus Seminar scholar John Dominic Crossan. I remember when I first stumbled across Crossan’s work on Jesus. I thought it was fascinating, incredibly insightful and dreadfully wrong at a number of points. His view of Jesus as a subversive non-violent healer is firmly rooted in history, and while I disagree with his theology and Christology, I find that learning from him is quite beneficial. I would not want Crossan’s to be the only book people read about Jesus, or even the primary introduction, but I do think he has a lot to teach people about Jesus.

The second, and probably more popular guy to be called a heretic is the pastor Rob Bell. I first encountered Rob listening to sermons while I was in high school. I found his creative teaching style fascinating. Even though I later learned that his use of historical background material is occasionally wrong (as probably some of all our teaching is), overall he does an excellent job of making the words, teaching and life of Jesus interesting and relevant to contemporary culture.

So why do so many Christians think Bell is a heretic? Sarah Pulliam Bailey has a nice little article about the controversy here Basically, the issue boils down to the fact that some think Rob’s God is too inclusive – even though they haven’t actually heard what he’s said yet!
Check out the promo video of his forthcoming book:

Let’s remember that in Galatians Paul is engaged in a family fight. His problem is with people who are distorting the gospel by excluding some from the family of God because they aren’t circumcised. Paul thinks the Galatians are being too exclusive. He  calls the Galatians to pay attention to the Holy Spirit (Gal 3.1-3). Where in all this is the Spirit of God moving?

What do you think? Are these guys heretics? If they are can we still learn from them?

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