A Lesser-Known Heretic?

Initially I was not going to mention this, mostly since I do not want to get into a flame war with the Calvinsit bloggers.  Someone sent me a link to the Alpha and Omega Ministries website, “A Lesser-Known Heretic You Should Know About.” The article concerns Joel Finck, a hyper-dispensationalist and vocal anti-Calvinist, and the Berean Bible Society as a whole. This is a good example of why I think the word heretic is overused, especially in this case. Let me preface this by saying I have a great deal of respect for the Alpha and Omega ministry, some of James White’s debates have been very productive and he has produced a massive number of resources for defending the faith.  I object to the loose definition of heretic in this particular article by Jamin Hubner.

Hubner is a decent scholar who has written a book answering Finck’s anti-Calvinist book. I looked it over and found myself in agreement with the theology in Hubner’s book, but that is no surprise since I walk on the Calvinist side of the street most of the time and think that much of what Finck says is inaccurate theologically.  But to be an Arminian is not to be a heretic.  (For the moment I will set aside the more radical “Open Theist” style Arminians, along with the more radical Calvinists.  I realize there are far more problems there, but these two extremes do not help this discussion.)

Finck simply reads the Bible from a different set of presuppositions than I do, although we should both be considered “within the reformation” with respect to sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, sola Christus, sola Deo gloria. Shocking as it is to my Calvinist theological world view, someone can be a raving Arminian and still hold to the five solas. We may disagree about the nature of faith, grace and the application of atonement, but we are in agreement that we are saved by the finished work of Christ on the cross.

For Hubner, Finck’s rejection of baptism is more disturbing. That Finck rejects all forms of ritual baptism is enough to call him a heretic and place him in the same category as Arius or Harold Camping.  This is despite the fact that Finck would agree with the whole Nicene Creed and the five solas which guide the Alpha and Omega ministry.  Finck believes the only baptism that “counts” is the baptism of the Holy Spirit which occurs at salvation and he is disturbed by any ritual at all that appears to be necessary in addition to that baptism.  To me, that emphasis on the Holy Spirit sounds fairly Pauline and his arguments are based on scripture, not his own visions or extra-biblical documents.  In no way is Finck a cult member who relies on secret knowledge or some authoritative personality.  As such, he is not a heretic, even if he is not going to be able to pastor the local Baptist or Reformed church.

I have met Joel Finck a couple of times and am fairly confident he would be in complete agreement with the Alpha and Omega doctrinal statement, which is not particularly Calvinistic nor does it include baptism as a requirement for salvation.

You can disagree with Finck’s conclusions on some doctrine.  You can show that he is fundamentally flawed in his approach to Scripture.  But you should not call him a heretic.

Harold Camping – Heretic?

I would like to suggest that people be a bit more careful with the word “heretic.”  Christians throw this word around as if it means “someone who disagrees with my beliefs.”   After Love Wins was published, Rob Bell was vilified as a “heretic” for is nebulous view of Hell.  More recently Harold Camping’s prediction of the Rapture for May 21 resulting in not a charges that he was a “heretic.”  In both cases the basic core beliefs of Christianity are not at stake.  Rather, these two men have expressed a belief of the church in a way which is out-of-step with the norm.  Bell believes in eternal punishment, just not in the same way that Calvin did.  Likewise, Camping believes in the return of the Lord, just not in the same way Luther did.

Do not get me wrong, I think that Christianity as properly understood from the Bible down include some sort of an eternal Hell, although I doubt it is the medieval fantasy plagiarized from Dante which most people imagine. Likewise, I do believe in a pre-tribulation Rapture, but I see no warrant in scripture to try and predict the date, nor do I feel any great compulsion to write an epic book series describe “what happens next.”  My point here is that one is not a “heretic” for misunderstanding scripture on these issues.  We need to reserve that word for someone who denies a core doctrine of Christianity and not use it to describe people who know how to work the media to sell books.  Both Bell and Camping land within the bounds of the Nicene Creed and should not be called heretics.

Historically, the study of Last Things, Eschatology, was among the last categories of doctrines to be developed.  While I am well are that there is eschatological thinking throughout church history, it was not until the last century that biblical scholars and Christian thinkers began to develop what the return of Jesus means. This theological work is in some ways in response to Dispensational thinking, but Dispensationalism has made solid contributions to the on-going discussion.  Someone like Camping stands in a grand tradition of date-setters, but these people have always been on the fringe.  But being “on the fringe” is not heretical, just dangerous.

I certainly think that Christianity is has suffered much from the Camping debacle.  A generation ago few would have heard of Camping as the day approached, a hundred years ago there would have been very little media coverage at all.  The Internet as given a platform to anyone with a strange idea.  They can “publish” their ideas and gain a huge following in ways which were impossible until recently.  The Internet also makes it possible to mock these sorts of ideas and make them out to be more mainstream than they are.  Jokes about the apocalypse were everywhere last week – even Doonesbury got into the act.

I am most disappointed that many non-Christians groups have used Camping’s prediction to paint all Christians as lunatic date-setters who look forward to the Apocalypse.  The media calls Camping an “evangelical.”  I suppose this is true, but I cannot image Camping reading a paper at the Evangelical Theological Society, or publishing his ideas through a major Evangelical Publishing house.  To use Camping as a model of Christianity is fuzzy thinking at best, and intentionally dishonest at the worst.

Camping is neither a heretic nor a paradigm of contemporary Christianity.  To mis-quote The Life of Brian, there is no heretic here, just a very silly man.