05 June 2014

Book Review: Know the Heretics

Do you think you would recognize a heretic? Does that phrase even have any contemporary relevance in our pluralistic society? Justin Holcomb's Know the Heretics (2014) likely will be a useful resource for the church to help us to understand these questions. Weighing in at a short and very accessible 156 pages, Know the Heretics presents the basics of a dozen well-known heretics through the history of the church. In each case, he explores the background, heretical teaching, orthodox response, and contemporary relevance.

Taking the opening questions out of order, we must ask does heresy have any relevance today? I know many people who would argue that heresy is not only an irrelevant, but a frankly intolerant, term. To refer to someone as a heretic is to say that they are wrong about some foundational biblical truth and to say someone is wrong is to be judgmental. In modern society, intolerance is the unforgivable sin, but in the early church, believers painstakingly committed themselves to proclaiming, clarifying, and defending the truth, which Holcomb shows us along the way in this book. Holcomb is right to clarify that heresy does not mean "everyone who disagrees with me" but has to do with foundational beliefs of the faith. I wish the church today would take a stronger stand for these foundational biblical truths rather than being blown around by every wind of doctrine.

My initial question was, "do you think you would recognize a heretic?" Unfortunately, I believe the answer would be "no" for many people in the church today. I would imagine that the majority of church goers today would be unable to differentiate between modalist, a Mormon, and a Trinitarian Christian.

Holcomb opened the concluding chapter by quoting GK Chesterton, who wrote "the disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present." How many Christians would recognize that the ever popular image of the Trinity as being like water (ice, water, steam) is reminiscent of Sabellianism, which is one of the most well known forms of modalist heresy (p. 84). In fact, how many Christians know what modalism is and why it is important? How many people would recognize that the theology of Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of the surprisingly popular To Train Up a Child, appears to be Pelagian? Pelagius was a heretic who said many things, but one of them was his rejection of original sin. How many of us would recognize the roots of these ancient heresies in contemporary thinking, or even that they are something worth fighting for?

I am grateful for godly men and women throughout the history of the church who were willing to fight long and hard for orthodox biblical teaching. I am also grateful for those like Justin Holcomb who believe these issues are important enough for "common" (i.e., not the academic type) believers to continue to think through.

Truth matters. We need more books like this one to help the church see that it does.

 I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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