Inquisitions, Witch Hunts & Burning Heretics

I watched a doco the other night on SBS about the witch hunts of Spanish Inquisition days, and how the Church pursued, tried, and burned not only those thought to be witches, but those who were considered heretics (those whose beliefs differed from official church dogma).

We don’t see a lot of public burnings in our churches today (with the exception of ‘heretical’ books and ‘satanic’ rock albums and the odd roast preacher), but the accusations still flow. Usually they are the result of an incomplete understanding of someone’s interpretation of a doctrine or Bible passage, or they are because of a need to be –or be seen to be– ‘pure’ or superior in some way. When we condemn others, we truly do feel better about ourselves.

The problem is that we ourselves have an incomplete understanding and do not know as we ought to know–and that incomplete knowledge applies to Scripture, God, our world, ourselves and others.

Jonathan Brink has written a short post on his blog about Rob Bell, who has endured his share of criticism and name-calling by those who would believe they know better. Here’s part of what Jonathan wrote:

This post isn’t about Rob Bell.  Seriously.

Rob Bell has a new book coming out about heaven and hell. It’s called Love Wins. I can imagine it will sell like hotcakes because people have been wondering aloud for a long time what Rob really thinks about the nature of reconciliation, and if he a universalist.  It’s an easy trick to just come up with a simple test that makes him out to be a heretic, without listening to the underlying theology that goes behind it.  It’s easier to judge him based upon our assumptions, rather than listening to the nuances of what the nature of grace really entails.

The truth is (and I mean that in a nice way) we want to know.  We fight about it and argue because we’re talking about our very souls.  I get why people argue so vehemently and want to draw lines.  It really is that important.

I make the argument in my book that we’re all inside the kingdom of God.  The Tree Of Knowledge is not a test of obedience but a test of reality regarding the nature of reality.  It asks only one question, “Are we good or evil?”  This question is the only question that can trip us up because it is the basis of our interaction with all of reality.  Everything is good from God’s perspective in the story.

But the very nature of sin is to construct a false reality that sees the self as outside of the kingdom.  We all have our fruit that we used to judge.  So the problem is local in the self.  All the cross does is reiterate what has always been true, that we’re in, that there is nothing we can do that can change reality (or God’s judgment of good). (Read more here.)

I for one am looking forward to Rob’s new book. Yes, I’d love to read yours too, Jonathan, and will get to it one day soon. But back to Rob. If it’s anything like his previous books and DVDs, it will be filled with insights into the language and culture of the Bible, and the evolved understanding of God through the ages of humankind. It will certainly get people talking, questioning, arguing, and studying for themselves. . . . and denouncing Rob Bell from the blogosphere.

And some will be convinced. Some will keep studying this topic. And some will think Rob to be a fool. But this is the same result St Paul experienced at the first Mars Hill meeting, and it certainly won’t be the last time that the accusations will be forthcoming.

Now back to Jonathan’s post and the final point he was really trying to make:

I had a very interesting conversation regarding the final judgment with a friend.  I’ve written in depth on the topic in my book, and argue that when Jesus says, “All judgment has been given to the son…” he’s revealing that is is we who judge, not God. It has always been about us coming to terms with grace, not God.  But my friend spoke about what happens in the final judgment in a way that was so fresh, I had to stand back and say, “Oh my God. That is so brilliant.”

He was sharing that the final judgment isn’t God judging us, but our live played back in its fullness and it is we who are judging it.  But then he said, “Because we are in the presence of God, we will be able to see life from the perspective of love.  We’re going to be able to see how we missed out on love in each moment, how God was there, and how we just couldn’t see it.  And this awareness will still require a judgment.  But our judgment will include reality.”

Which brings me back to the top of this post: I’m sure glad we don’t have burnings of heretics today because I, like most of you, would have at some stage lost my life in the midst of the craziness and lunacy of the witch hunt . . . I for one am very glad that one day we will see all from the perspective of love and be in the presence of a God who sees all as it really is, yet loves us (in spite of our mis-understandings) and accepts and  us because of his great love and grace.

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2 thoughts on “Inquisitions, Witch Hunts & Burning Heretics

  1. Pingback: Kick the Shins and Run! (A Favourite Debating Tactic of Emergents) « No Longer Be Children

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