I never want to be a heretic. Of course, if you ask some Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Orthodox Christians, and people from other groups, I already am one. Still, I profess Christ crucified, and I agree with the great ecumenical creeds of Christian history, so I dare to think that I am safe. Plus, I’m Baptist, and all Baptists go to Heaven (that’s in the Bible, right?).
Anyway, off of my babbling. Despite that I never want to be a heretic, nor do I particularly appreciate their presence in Christianity, I do find their existence useful. This is just another way that God works all things to the good of His people, even when false teachers arise to lead them astray. So, without further ado, I’ll briefly list the benefits of reading the writings of heretics:
Benefits of Reading Heretics
- You gain a better understanding of where not to go. When you become familiar with the general patterns and philosophies of a heretic, you find yourself with better discernment on all sorts of doctrinal issues. If you know what heretics sound like, then you will more easily be able to spot one and refrain from taking him with the same trust you would someone else. Key words and phrases will stand out as danger signs. You will also be able to recognize better if you yourself begin slipping down a slope that could lead to heresy (and at some point or another, most people will).
- You can learn why you believe what you do. When you read from someone who assures you that original sin or the Trinity is a false doctrine, then you will find the opportunity to research the issue and come out with a better understanding of why you should believe these truths. Investigating assaults on the truth often leads to knowing the truth more confidently.
- You can refine and expand your understanding of your own beliefs. I have a really heretical friend who contradicts almost everything I believe except the Trinity and the state of the human will. Nevertheless, I find conversing with him very eye-opening to me because when he explains his radically different perspective of some issue, he actually sheds light on the weaknesses or blind spots in my own understanding while still leaving me convinced of what I believe. The end result is that my views gain depth and perspective, while I remain entirely orthodox.
- You will gain the ability of helpful dialogue that can bring heretics back to the truth. If you read heretics and understand their thought processes, you can talk to them in such a way that they respect you and you don’t feel the need to verbally burn them at the stake. This opens doors to leading them back to the truth, which of course is a wonderful and excellent event.
All that said, you’re going to go read Love Wins now, right? Actually, if you’re going to read from a heretic, read someone better than Rob Bell. Choices of heretic aside, I should also point out the dangers of reading heretics, so as to keep you from making dire mistakes.
Dangers of Reading Heretics
- You can loose your theological footing. If you spend too much time listening to heretics, you may drown out the voices of Scriptural truth and orthodoxy. This can put you on a slippery slope to becoming one of those heretics that someone else reads one day. So whenever you read heresy, make sure you counter the effects with Scripture reading and strong Biblical teaching from trusted leaders.
- You can become a minimalist. A minimalist is someone who is unconcerned with all doctrine except, basically, “Jesus is Lord.” These people want every group of Christianity to get along equally without confrontation, and are likely to put doctrine down as divisive in favor of loving everyone. This can be a result of reading heretics if you grow to sympathize with them enough, or find their arguments equally valid to those for true doctrine. So remember to maintain a fight for what is right, and ground yourself with good reasons to believe what you do.
- You can get distracted. If you spend too much time reading heretics, you’ll run out of time to read Scripture, and Scripture is the source of our strength and the final authority in our Christian walk. So, just like with any reading material, set your copy of The Shack to the side every once in a while to read God-breathed truth instead.