Friday, June 13, 2014

Know the Heretics by Justin S. Holcomb

Today we hear lots of Christian teaching. How do we know if what we hear is truly biblical?

Heresy is nothing new. It has come up at various times through Christian history. To help us understand the development of heresy and orthodoxy, Holcomb has chosen twelve major events in which the church preserved the biblical message.

For each of the heresies, Holcomb presents the historical background, the heretical teaching, the orthodox response, and the contemporary relevance. Discussion questions are added at the end of each chapter.

People and beliefs covered:
  • Judaizers: Gentiles must be circumcised like the Jews or they cannot be saved.
  • Gnostics: the enlightened have special knowledge hidden from most people.
  • Marcion: the Old Testament God is wrathful, Christ was sent by the real God of love and peace.
  • Docetists: Jesus was totally divine and His humanity was merely an appearance (flesh is evil).
  • Mani: crafting a global religion combining Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity.
  • Sabellius: “persons” of the trinity are merely three different ways God wants people to think of Him (modalism).
  • Arius: the Son is not co-eternal with the Father but was the supreme creation.
  • Apollinarius: Jesus Christ took on humanity only to the extent of assuming a human body and a sensitive soul.
  • Pelagius: man has the inate ability to live as God commanded (no original sin).
  • Eutyches: Christ had a hybrid nature of divine and human, not two natures.
  • Nestorius: the divine and human natures of Jesus are totally separate.
  • Socinus: only the Father is truly divine, Jesus is only human.

Holcomb concludes that the pursuit of theological truth can be messy but we need to leave room for the mysterious.

This is a very good introduction to the topics of heresy and orthodoxy. It is not comprehensive but does cover enough so readers can have a good idea of what both are. Holcomb also shows how the church's understanding of what they are has developed over time. A feature I appreciated in the book was the “contemporary relevance” section. He frequently mentions recent authors and teachings, making the book current and relevant. The twelve studies and discussion questions would make this book a good choice for a Sunday School class or a small group.

Justin S. Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and a professor of theology and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He has authored, co-authored, or edited several books. He lives with his wife and daughters in Orlando, Florida.

Zondervan, 176 pages. Find out more at the publisher's product page.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

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