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Ben Quash and Michael Ward: Heresies and How to Avoid Them

Hauerwas’ foreword is followed by Quash’s prologue, which offers a detailed discussion of heresy and orthodoxy. He begins with a simple definition of a heretic:

“A heretic is a baptized person who obstinately denies or doubts a truth which the Church teaches must be believed because it is part of the one, divinely revealed, and catholic (that is, universally valid) Christian faith” (p. 1).

Following this definition, he mentions the works of Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-c. 200) who wrote, Against Heresies, and how he fought the heresies of his day. Using history, Quash notes how heretics might be sincere and have the best intention while veering off the straight path. He also explains how proof-texting can lead to error in doctrine. In Quash’s view, “heresies and heretics aren’t all bad” (p. 7). In many cases, he believes, heretics “haven’t been given an entirely fair press” (p. 7).

Quash writes that heretics frequently had some legitimate things to say, but “they didn’t always do so in the right way or in an appropriate context” (p. 7). He, and the contributors to the book, generally believe that orthodox believers “have reason to be grateful to heresies because they have forced us to think our belief out more deeply and thoroughly—whether by their misguided attempts to clarify it, or by challenging it” (p. 7-8).

Heresies and How to Avoid Them is an interesting treatment of heresy and orthodoxy. It succeeds in emphasizing the value of truth without demonizing those who may be in error. For each of the heresies it features, it presents a brief historical summary that is followed by the verses of Scripture used by those in error. It uses the same Scripture to explain how a particular truth should be understood. It also uses contemporary examples to explain the correct view of the issue.

Because each chapter was originally a sermon, the text does not read like a reference book or academic treatise. In fact, it is actually conversational in places, a feature that should be welcomed by the laity. Another feature worth mentioning is the use of Scripture. Although the authors expound on certain passages, they do not delve into heavy exegetical treatments of those passages.

One area that could probably use further development is the instructions for avoiding heresies. The title of the book promises, “How to Avoid Them.” However, greater emphasis is placed on historical accounts, definitions and explanations of the various heresies. The idea of avoiding heresies can be gleaned from each chapter, but it would likely be more effective if the chapters provided a clear strategy, or a simple, concrete plan that could be easily followed.

Heresies and How to Avoid Them has much to offer. It is especially relevant to Pentecostals and Charismatics, among whom a number of unorthodox teachings have arisen at times. Its chapters on the person of Christ should prove invaluable to many who might have questions about the deity and humanity of Christ. It would be especially helpful to those who teach that Christ walked the earth and performed his miracles only as a man filled with the Spirit, and not as God in the flesh.

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Category: Living the Faith, Winter 2010

About the Author: Roscoe Barnes III, Ph.D., is a prison chaplain, former award-winning journalist, and independent scholar of church history. He holds a doctorate from the University of Pretoria, South Africa, a M.A.R. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, and B.S. and A.S. degrees from East Coast Bible College, Charlotte, N.C. He is the author of numerous books including F.F. Bosworth: The Man Behind “Christ the Healer” (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), The Guide to Effective Gospel Tract Ministry (Church Growth Institute, 2004) and Off to War: Franklin Countians in World War II (White Mane Publishing, 1996). His articles have appeared in Refleks Journal, The Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association, The Africa Journal of Pentecostal Studies, and in numerous newspapers and popular magazines. He blogs at Roscoe Reporting and shares his F. F. Bosworth research at Professional: Roscoe Barnes III. Twitter: @Roscoebarnes3

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