The Blessings of Controversies and Heresies

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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.    

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3 responses to “The Blessings of Controversies and Heresies

  1. While not having read Mr. Peters books, based on what you’ve provided I wouldn’t agree with it. Arius used scripture to defend his position about the Son being lessen then the Father. The church have a clear understanding of the Christ’s divinity, it was the difficulty Athanasius and the church faced was what term to use to define it. Sadly scripture didn’t provide a term to discribe it. He had to turn to Greek philosophy for terms on nature and person. Ousia and hypostasis are synonym in his day.

    Those controversies were resolved more in blood then debate. And it’s the witness to the truth more so then the logical and inquiring mind that is helpful IMO.

  2. I believe that faith is always in search of understanding but controversy inside the church hurts more than it helps. I think this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote to Titus: “ But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile” (Titus 3:9).

    Claude Mariottini

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