It's getting late, but let me see if I can pen something that makes a little bit of sense before my battery runs out.
Q: How would you define 'heresy'?
And no, answering with "what is written on this blog" isn't good enough.
I started pondering the question as I read Hart's The Doors of the Sea. He wrote of 'the heresy of "limited atonement", which has so dreadfully disfigured certain streams of traditional Reformed thought' (89), and continues: 'The doctrine, of course, completely contradicts Scripture', and cites, as one would expect, 1 John 2:2.
As I began to think the matter through a little, I turned to a blank page at the end of the book and scribbled some thoughts down. I decided to define heresy along these lines:
'That which encourages a (communal) activity and attitude in opposition to the mission of God revealed in Christ'.
Of course, many would simply define heresy as 'opposed to scripture', which I think is totally inadequate left on its own. Essentially, such a proposal assumes too much (that scripture is univocal and that sublation doesn't happen within the canon). Would I be a heretic to be opposed to some of the prayers prayed in the Psalms ('Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock' 137:9), or when I find myself in ethical contradiction to the 'ethnic cleansing' in the OT? Of course, it may be responded that the point is that heresy is to be opposed not just this or that verse but to the general tenor of scripture. Indeed. And I think that tenor is sung by the God revealed in Christ as he reconciles the world to himself (cf. 2 Cor 5).
My definition badly attempts to express the following: heresy isn't just wrong thinking in isolation from how one lives (even though 'heresy' is strictly speaking opposition to established beliefs). I say this as there are many who like to call anything a heresy that doesn't agree with their own strict propositional theological system. And I find that problematic. My series on redefining inerrancy got me called all kinds of rude things by people who were captivated by the paper majesty of their own ideological neuroses.
I will make this more concrete. I know many people who are delightful Christians, beautiful examples of Christ-ward living, and yet believe in 'limited atonement' for rather pragmatic and naive logical reasons. This doesn't make them heretics, however. But, if one takes belief in 'limited atonement' in such a way that perpetrates a superior attitude of arrogance, and that hinders the offer of the good news to one and all (because Christ dies for me, not you), then we have heresy in the making. At this point one is in opposition to the missional God's plans for the world. There is thus a process. Heresy is conceived, and then later born. To rewrite James 1:14-15 (on sin and temptation) in terms of this argument:
'But one is tempted by one's own heretical potential, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that heretical potential has conceived, it gives birth to a heresy, and that heresy, when it is fully grown, gives birth to a heretic'.
This would mean that traditional heresies like Docetism, Arianism , Pelagianism and so on are heretical in so far as the church testifies that these beliefs contain within themselves heretical potential; that they give birth to heretics. It also means that heresy cannot be defined absolutely, hence I won't try too hard to fine tune my definition above. Much like the words 'childhood', or 'beauty', 'heresy' evidences semantic overflow, it is something in becoming. But in its becoming it is essentially, I suggest, that which is opposed to God's mission, to the activity of God in Christ.
According to this reasoning I come back to Hart's claim. Is "limited atonement" heresy, as Hart claims?