Needful Heretics


Okay…  Here is the deal.  I started thinking about this some time ago, when I read the following in Bernard Cottret’s biography of John Calvin: 

“A terrible suspicion, however, dogged Calvin throughout his life, that of Arianism.” (page 125)

My thought process was pushed further along when I read this from Doug Wilson:

One of the earmarks of shrewd insight is the ability to see what corresponds to what. Who is like this person? Who is like that one? Who are the reformers, speaking the language of Scripture afresh? Who are the heretics, flaming with the rhetoric of reformation, but denying the substance? Who are the curators and librarians, custodians of treasures they cannot understand anymore?

When the massive confusion of real reformation breaks out, how do you decide what to do? Simple. The children of Abraham will do the works of Abraham.

My thinking all came to a head today when I read something totally unrelated to the previous quotes:

It is a quote from Freeman Dyson, a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton and as far as I know an unbeliever.  Which matters not in this post since I already told you that this quote is totally unrelated to the first two.  Remember?  Anyway, here is what he said:

In the modern world, science and society often interact in a perverse way. We live in a technological society, and technology causes political problems. The politicians and the public expect science to provide answers to the problems. Scientific experts are paid and encouraged to provide answers. The public does not have much use for a scientist who says, “Sorry, but we don’t know”. The public prefers to listen to scientists who give confident answers to questions and make confident predictions of what will happen as a result of human activities. So it happens that the experts who talk publicly about politically contentious questions tend to speak more clearly than they think. They make confident predictions about the future, and end up believing their own predictions. Their predictions become dogmas which they do not question. The public is led to believe that the fashionable scientific dogmas are true, and it may sometimes happen that they are wrong. That is why heretics who question the dogmas are needed.

Now, for my part.  Those who rise up against the institution of orthodoxy, which is different than “the orthodox”, are often labeled as heretics.  It happened to John Calvin and, curiously enough, Erasmus (also accused of Arianism) it happened to Luther and host of other reformers. 

When the institution is attacked we should expect the institution to get all bent out of shape.  The interlopers are turning the world upside down with their “newness” and the charge of heresy is simply a shoring up of the battlements and a flooding of the moat.

Real reformation always attacks the institution and there are two things to note:  First, the institution is well defended and second, real reformation is always messy.  Expect the defence and expect the mess, it makes it a bit easier to deal with.

I believe that many of the Federal Vision proponents are part of just such a reformation, questioning the dogma of the institution.  They are needful heretics and I believe, lovers of orthodoxy.

There, I said it and I feel better for it.

al sends


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