4 the World RSS Icon

4 the World logo

Episode 22 - Heresy is a Tricky Word


Date: November 7, 2018
Run Time: 12:56
Host: Dr. Gregory R. Perry
Guest: Prof. Justin Holcomb
From the Series: The Trip Wire of Tradition

Program Notes

What do you think of when you hear the word "heresy"? Given our responsibility to defend the faith, as well as to speak truthfully about one another, Dr. Justin Holcomb talks about:

  • Using (or misusing) the "H bomb"
  • The heresy of Marcion
  • Dualism and the church today

This week we recommend: Thirdmill’s series on The Apostles' Creed and Dr. Justin Holcomb's books, Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics, published by Zondervan.

This month, we have the pleasure of conversing with Dr. Justin Holcomb, the Canon for Vocations in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida and the author of two volumes in the Know Series published by Zondervan — Know the Heretics and Know the Creeds and Councils. Justin and his wife, Lindsey, speak regularly to offer hope and healing to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence and have co-authored Rid of My Disgrace and Is it My Fault? as well as the children's book, God Made All of Me. For more information about Dr. Holcomb, visit justinholcomb.com.

Related Materials

Podcast Transcript

EPISODE 22: Heresy is a Tricky Word
Guest: Dr. Justin Holcomb

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we believe every Christian deserves a well-trained pastor. To study Scripture deeply or to learn more about how you can partner with us to provide Biblical Education. For the World. For Free. download our App to your phone or visit our online classroom at Thirdmill.org. And now, your host 4 the World, Dr. Greg Perry.

Welcome back to our conversation this month with Dr. Justin Holcomb, a friend of Third Mill and the author of Know the Heretics, published by Zondervan in their helpful KNOW Series. You can find it on Amazon, or you can find it all together in one spot at justinholcomb.com.


Justin, you, along with your friend Glenn Lucke, coedited a book called For the World, which is the title of our podcast. Now, that book kind of has a formal name — it’s called a “festschrift.” What is a festschrift, and tell us about who this book is honoring.

Justin: Well, a festschrift is a book in honor of a scholar, or professor, or teacher. And Glenn and I both had the joy and honor of having Richard Pratt as our teacher. And he was, for both us, the most significant teacher that we had in seminary. The word “festschrift” is German for … it’s called “party writing,” and so a bunch of scholars or those influenced by a professor or teacher to honor them. So we actually had… It’s For the World and clearly we took it from the charge of Third Mill, which is “For the world.” So we wanted the book to honor his vision but also the ministry, because we were actually in seminary with him right when he was talking about and thinking about Third Mill, right before he launched it and started getting it going. So the early seeds of him talking about this type of stuff were there. And we just wanted to honor him. So we had Bruce Waltke, you, Glenn Lucke, some of his former students, Monica Taffinder, myself, in various ways that we were influenced both for ministry — Steve Brown, who was a recent guest — so those who were for ministry, for academic, for Old Testament, for hermeneutics, for theology, for missions, all the different ways that he has made an influence, is what we wanted to be represented in that book.


That’s great. Now, you and I both know that one of Richard’s sort of gifts in teaching is being a bit of a provocateur.

Justin: You don’t say! He hasn’t lost that?

I don’t think so, I don’t think so. But I can remember a couple of times when the word “heretical” was thrown around in relation to some of the things that he was saying just to get us to look at something from a different perspective. That word gets thrown around a lot these days in the theological blogosphere. Sometimes people even weaponize it. But the word “heretic” really has a very important, special function, doesn’t it?

Justin: It sure does.

So, you wrote an article about this in Christianity Today. In fact, it was a cover story article. Why are you concerned about this? What is the value of this word? What does it mean? Why is it important to preserve it?

Justin: Well, it’s used… I refer to it as the “H bomb.” You can just drop it into a conversation or a blog, and suddenly you’ve detonated and escalated the conversation by claiming someone’s a heretic. Or, it can be used like a laser gun. Like, you zap something with the “heresy” title, and it’s supposed to annihilate it. Well, it’s important because it actually… it’s misused. That’s one reason why it’s important, but also because it’s a fascinating way to study church history, is to go through the heresies. That’s why the books that you referred to, Know the Heretics, came out at the same time as Know the Creeds and Councils. I wrote two books at the same time because it’s just different sides of the coin. You can talk about the creeds and councils, which are responding to, usually, heretics, or you talk about the story of the heretics, and then the backstory is, well, how did the church respond to this? Well, in heresy, it means to choose to separate and walk away. You know, there are things that I have done or said that in themselves would have been heretical, but I either said them out of ignorance, and when they were brought to my attention… Like, some things I said when I was a teenager on the doctrine of the Trinity; they were heretical things. Well then my pastor said, “That’s not actually what it means; it’s not what it says.” If I would have dug my heels in against the teaching of the church and the clear teaching of Scripture, it’s the choosing to be separate from the trajectory and teaching of Scripture and the summary that the church has given of the teaching of Scripture. So there’s different categories. There’s heresy, which is to go against any central doctrine of the faith — Trinity, the virgin birth, the resurrection, that Jesus is one person with two natures, fully God and fully man — those are essential doctrines. There are other important things like baptism and end times and who should or should not be ordained that are important, but if someone believes in one scheme for eschatology — there are significant implications for how you think about end times — but you’d have to go really far to find something heretical about them. I’ve started seeing conversations about baptism — the mode, who is baptized, immersion — and saying, “Well, that’s just heretical.” Or if women are ordained. These are important. They’re not essential, but it’s also not your view of tofu and beansprouts. It’s not just that, but it’s there in the middle.

So you’re making a couple of important distinctions here. One is the essentials of doctrine and then sort of secondary matters, things that there are differences, questions about. And then things that are really nonessential.

Justin: Adiaphora is the phrase.

That’s right.

Justin: They’re noteworthy but they’re not essential or important for godly worship or for the unity of the church. And so there’s a phrase called heterodoxy. So, there’s heresy — that’s the big no-no — and there’s orthodoxy. But in between is this realm called heterodox which is… it’s not heresy, but it seems different from the way we’re normally talking about it. And so it’s this other area where we need a lot of wisdom and discernment.


One of the first heretics you introduce to us that you think we should know about — you even mentioned it in your Christianity Today article — is Marcion, for example. Why is he a heretic and not just teaching heterodox ideas?

Justin: There we go. It’s good to go into the history so it’s objective. So, Marcion taught in the first and second century. I mean, right there, first one out the chute. He said that there were two different Gods. There was the God of the Old Testament who was vengeful, mean, Yahweh who was just wrathful. And then there was nice, meek, mild Jesus in the New Testament version. Well, it’s one thing, it would be heterodox, to say, “Hey, God in the Old Testament likes talking about wrath, and the God of the New Testament, something seems… his disposition… same God and everything, but his disposition just seems to have calmed down.” I mean, that’s wrong, and it’s not helpful.

You’re correct, it’s wrong.

Justin: It’s wrong, but if you end up going so far as to say, “There’s two different Gods,” you’re actually in heresy land at that point.


You told us about Marcion, and there’s a worldview behind something of what he was talking about, which is called dualism. You know, he lived in a very Greek, Neo-Platonic world. Is dualism still a problem? Is that something that still is manifest in the contemporary church in the West?

Justin: Absolutely. And the fancy word is “Gnosticism.” So that was playing in the background too. But it’s dualism. And there’s two different ways to do dualism. Dualism one is, what you do is, you take something that belongs together. So, humans are both immaterial and material. We have bodies, and we have this immaterial soul. They belong together, and so it’s a duality. But if you make a strong distinction between body and soul, and then you separate them, what you end up doing is, we end up privileging one of those. Either the spiritual or the material, and so when we hyper-spiritualize, we denigrate the body. We say things like, “Can’t wait to get rid of this body and go off to heaven.” Well, the picture of the Bible is actually resurrection, a new body and soul put back together. In Revelation when you have these disembodied souls crying out, they can’t wait until the resurrection when their bodies and souls are put back together. So that’s dualism one — and that’s the hyper-spiritualized, so a lot of the Greeks would say, “Christianity is ridiculous. Why would God on purpose take on a human body, human nature? And then, Jesus finally gets rid of it, why would he take it back up in a resurrection? This is laughable!” That’s what happened with Paul in the Areopagus. They laughed at him because he talked about incarnation and resurrection because it was just ridiculous and offensive. There’s a flip version which is to privilege the material over the spiritual, which is hedonism. And so, in the history of Greek thought, hedonism is another form where you just downplay spiritual and you up-play physical, bodily pleasures. We have both of those happening in our culture and in our churches.

In spades.

Justin: Sometimes in the same church, same denomination, both types of dualism too.

So, salvation is not escape from this world; it’s the renewal of this world, the reconciliation of all things to God. It’s reunification and redemption.

Justin: So just by taking on the incarnation, there’s a sense of the blessing of the created order, that God would condescend to his creation and take on the limitations of creation and the human nature for eternity. Jesus forever has a resurrected body, with scars on it probably.

So it really matters what we do in the body then?

Justin: It sure does.

As John says, this is how we know what love is: Christ laid down his body. We lay down ourselves for our brothers and sisters, we give them material support. Yeah, that’s a very different worldview than dualism.

Justin: And that’s how this plays out for an organization like Third Mill, which is you care about Bible teaching, but what flows from good Bible teaching and theology are works of mercy. If you’re only doing, you know, saving souls but not actually helping the body — education, food, clean water which flows from those — then that’s one form of dualism. Or the other end of dualism is let’s not worry about all the spiritual stuff. Let’s just get the clean water and mosquito nets — which I care deeply about. I went to Sudan, and I actually raised money for mosquito nets, clean water and vitamins — but if you do the social justice stuff without the message of mercy and God’s forgiveness of sins, put those together again. Try to stay away from understanding ministry in a dualistic sense, or your own life in a dualistic sense in either direction.

Next time on 4 the World we’re going to talk together about that other book you wrote, which is the other side of addressing the heretics, how the church responded with the creeds and the councils.

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we are reimagining biblical education for Christian leaders in a global church. Each week we bring you conversations to cultivate your curiosity about God’s Word, to inform your intercessions for God's people, and to equip your efforts in God's mission for the world. Our host is Dr. Greg Perry. Our sound engineer and editor is Christopher Russell. Our web designer is Ra McLaughlin, and our director of communications is Darlene Perry. Production assistance is provided by David Zoeller and John Cook, and I’m your announcer, Cindy Sawyer. Our guest for this series is Dr. Justin Holcomb, the Canon for Vocations in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. Learn more about Dr. Holcomb at justinholcomb.com where you can access his books, including Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics from the Know series published by Zondervan. And join us next week as we continue our conversations 4 the World.