My wife actually has a distant ancestor named Balaam (although he spelled it “Balum”). This ancient Gentile prophet is something of a paradox in the Hebrew Bible and even moreso in later Jewish tradition. Sometimes he is depicted as a paragon of virtue, a “righteous gentile,” but at other times he is vilified as one who led God’s people astray.
This post by Seth Sanders provides an informative introduction to this perplexing figure.
David Gushee has written a profoundly encouraging piece today about his observations of the recently concluded General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. After summarizing some of the amazing things that happened and were celebrated last week in Atlanta, he concludes:
If America and its religion is destined to continually fracture along right-left lines, and if that is the religion news story that everyone wants to talk about, then this particular religious community will be of little national interest.
But perhaps the very existence of a religious community — primarily located in the politically hot-blooded South — that doesn’t fit this narrative, but is instead doing the slow, organic work of ministry, service, advocacy, inclusion and reconciliation, is in fact a story worth telling.
There’s plenty for your reading pleasure now posted at Reading Acts.
“Did you ever think, child,” she said, presently, “how much piecin’ a quilt’s like livin’ a life? And as for sermons, why, they ain’t no better sermon to me than a patchwork quilt, and the doctrines is right there a heap plainer’n they are in the catechism. Many a time I’ve set and listened to Parson Page preachin’ about predestination and free-will, and I’ve said to myself, ‘Well, I ain’t never been through Centre College up at Danville, but if I could jest git up in the pulpit with one of my quilts, I could make it a heap plainer to folks than parson’s makin’ it with all his big words.’ You see, you start out with jest so much caliker; you don’t go to the store and pick it out and buy it, but the neighbors will give you a piece here and a piece there, and you’ll have a piece left every time you cut out a dress, and you take jest what happens to come. And that’s like predestination. But when it comes to the cuttin’ out, why, you’re free to choose your own pattern. You can give the same kind o’ pieces to two persons, and one’ll make a ‘nine-patch’ and one’ll make a ‘wild-goose chase,’ and there’ll be two quilts made out o’ the same kind o’ pieces, and jest as different as they can be. And that is jest the way with livin’. The Lord sends us the pieces, but we can cut ‘em out and put ‘em together pretty much to suit ourselves, and there’s a heap more in the cuttin’ out and the sewin’ than there is in the caliker. The same sort o’ things comes into all lives, jest as the Apostle says, ‘There hath no trouble taken you but is common to all men.’
“The same trouble’ll come into two people’s lives, and one’ll take it and make one thing out of it, and the other’ll make somethin’ entirely different. (Eliza Calvert Hall, Aunt Jane of Kentucky)
Scot McKnight has a very handy guide to when to use—or refrain from using—the “H” word.
Let me suggest that the term “heretic” is used in three ways, only one of which (I believe) is justifiable — though I have little hope that the mudslingers will learn to use terms as they are supposed to be used.
Before I get there, though, let me add another point: it is too bad we don’t have such an evocative term for praxis. Jesus’ focus was on “hypocrisy” more than “heresy,” and it might just be an indication of how far we’ve strayed for us to give so much attention to “heresy” and not enough to failure in praxis. As far as we can see, failure in practice is just as bad as failure in theology. But this is not what this post is about. We are concerned here with the term “heretic.”
Andy Gill has a list. Some people I could name need to take it to heart.
By the standards of these gatekeepers, the definition of “evangelical” is becoming so narrow that it really doesn’t describe anyone but themselves. As I’ve said before, evangelicalism is shrinking, and pretty soon even the gatekeepers will have to bid themselves “farewell” due to their inability to meet their own standards.
That, or they will continue to reshape the definition so that it will describe exactly (and only) what they believe.
(Probably the latter.)