In a book i’m currently reading by Ted Peters (with a review hopefully done next week) the author points out that controversies can be a good thing in the church’s theological and thus proclamation efforts.
He points out that if current thought is true regarding the development of Christology and the Trinity in the early church, then it was only after Arius had proposed his view of Christ that Athanasius thought articulated what would come to be considered the orthodox position.
According to Peters this shows how the controversy actually served to stimulate creative theological reflection on who Jesus was. I think that this shows the benefits of controversies in the church. Few events in our world can serve as a catalyst as well as when our cherished (and often stagnant) beliefs and systems of thought break in and disrupt our assumptions.
Of course, we are often disoriented and uncomfortable by our foundations being challenged, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it could be just what we need. There is no inherent connection between the duration of a belief and its veracity. It is this truth which helps to justify the need of scholarship in the church today. What if we have something wrong? How else could God correct us, unless he rises up or uses an “agitator?”
This does not mean that there is not a time to reject or to condemn, but that we should not be so quick to dismiss the theologically novel. This is because even when controversies and those who start them are deemed heretical, they can still be used by the Father to wake us up, to get re-engage our minds in the task of fides quaerens intellectum.