I just sat down after a long day’s events. Phew! What a day.
As part of the “Converse with Scholars” series at the Credo House, our special guest for an entire day of festivities was Justo Gonzalez. For those of you who don’t know him, shame on you! Here is a list of some of his works available on Amazon. We started the day with our “Lunch with Scholars” (an event reserved for members of the Credo House), followed by two special sessions of Theology Unplugged (to be published in the next week or two). After that, we moved to our book signing, called “Coffee with Scholars;” finally, we ended the day with our special main event, called “An Evening with Scholars.” Justo’s main topic was “How Heresy has Helped the Church.”
It was a great time. It was particularly special for Tim and me as we were able to meet and hang out with one of our great heroes. Justo is lively, light-hearted, and fun. I knew he was a great scholar, but these three characteristics surprised me. Moreover, it was a wonderful treat to meet his wife Catherine. I had no idea that she is not only a former church history professor, but quite the scholar herself. We had fun with the fact that she is a Presbyterian, while Justo is a Methodist.
Here are some highlights from the day’s events:
Justo said that one of the greatest heresies happens when we believe that everyone else is a heretic. I found this very interesting and particularly profound, coming from someone of his stature. I certainly agree that doctrinal legalism leads to a snobbery that eventually, despite our best intentions, begins to shroud the Gospel with a dark blanket of obscurity leading to deadness in the church. We need to be very careful that we don’t draw our lines of doctrinal stability so tight that no one can fit inside those lines but us.
Cardinal Newman once said “To be deep into history is to cease to be Protestant.” This is an oft used sound-bite which can be found on the lips of many Roman Catholic apologists. Of course, the Protestant’s normal response to this is to say, “To be deep into the Bible is to cease to be Roman Catholic.” However, I have certainly never been satisfied with this position. I am an enthusiastic student of church history and don’t find it particularly favorable toward the doctrines of Rome (for the most part). But I wanted to see what Dr. Gonzalez had to say in response to this. After all, there are not many people living today who have been as deep into church history as he has. As well, Dr. Gonzalez is respected across the board for his balanced scholarship. In response to this sound bite, Justo Gonzalez said that he has never been close to converting to Rome. Both he and his wife agree with great passion that if one were to dig deep in church history, they would understand that Protestantism is necessitated because there is no better way to smooth over the divisions in the entire church. “Eastern Orthodox maybe,” they said. “But not Roman Catholic. Church history shows how necessary Protestantism truly is.”
Furthermore, both of them agree that the history of the church is our history. It is not owned by any particular tradition or denomination. They also believe (as did the Reformers) that the Gospel of God’s grace began to get lost in the late middle ages, making the Reformation necessary. Moreover, they also agree that the doctrine of salvation by faith alone (sola fide) was not invented by the Reformers, but recovered by them. This is an incredibly important distinction.
“What is one of the greatest heresies in the church today?” This was a question asked tonight. Gonzalez’s answer might surprise you. No, it was not a denial of the deity of Christ. No, it was not liberalism. It was American individualism. It took him some time to unpack this, but the essence of what he was saying was that we don’t care too much about the community of the church. “I would not be here without the church. And neither would you. Just listen to the worship music at your local church and make a tab of how often ‘I’ or ‘my’ is used. ‘Christ is my savior.’ ‘He died for me.’ We have forgotten that we are a community. If we don’t like a church, we just go to the next one. If the sermon is bad, we find a new preacher . . . or worse, start our own church. It is all about us. But this is not the Gospel.”
Who is Gonzalez’s favorite heretic? Now, I found this interesting. It was Marcion! Why? He said that Marcion, when you attempt to read between the lines of what he said, cared deeply about Christ. He even went so far as to suggest that we might see Marcion in heaven. Tim Kimberley said afterward (tongue in cheek), “Now I want to take Marcion off the wall in heretics corner.” Ha! I would not go so far, but it is little things like that which really mess with my head and cause me to rethink things (or at least remember that I don’t know as much as I think).
There is a bit more to tell, but that might give you enough to chew on for now. Thanks for listening.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]