6 Heretics Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism

What does it mean to be “evangelical”?

What must you believe?

What must you reject?

Can you be an evangelical Christian and believe…

…in evolution?

…that Hell is only temporary?

…that people from other religions can be saved without even knowing it?

…that the atonement is not about God’s wrath being poured out on Jesus in our place?

…that Scripture is errant?

Many evangelicals would say “no” to most—maybe even all—of these. That’s why, in an attempt to protect the name of evangelicalism, some prominent leaders within evangelicalism have made it their responsibility to publicly denounce those with whom they disagree on issues like these.

To be clear, there is no problem with publicly denouncing ideologies (that is, after all, what this article is doing right now). It is, at times, necessary to publicly call out false teachers. However, one must fully consider whether they promote a different gospel before coming forward with such a bold claim.

But we’re not talking about denouncing ideas or exposing real false teachers. We’re talking about needless schisms and inconsistent, prideful exclusivism.

Self-appointed gatekeepers of evangelicalism tear apart what could be a noble, diverse movement of the Spirit. These gatekeepers take it upon themselves to pronounce who is “in” and who is “out” of orthodox Christianity.

By the standards of these gatekeepers, the definition of “evangelical” is becoming increasingly narrow, so much so that very few fit inside the definition.

So, if we are going to be consistent, it’s time to weed out all of the heretics—especially those who have the most influence—not just Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans or other Christian thinkers who have said something controversial recently.

Let’s start with these six:

1. C.S. Lewis: Guilty Of Inclusivism and Rejecting the Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory

Perhaps the most celebrated Christian writer of the last century, C.S. Lewis is respected by most Christians, no matter what theological corner they occupy. And that’s what confuses me. Lewis was no evangelical by the standards of modern evangelical spokespersons. Lewis’ seven-volume, fictional masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia, reveals his belief that it is possible for people in other religions to inherit the Kingdom of God without knowing it.

Lewis also rejects the Penal Substitutionary theory of the atonement, which states that Christ “diverted” God’s wrath toward us and took it upon Himself. Instead, in part three of Chronicles, Lewis describes what is called the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement, which holds that the Cross is not an image of God’s wrath against us, diverted to His son, but it was the defeat of evil through an act of selfless love. (Here is a video of Greg Boyd giving a good description of that view using Lewis’ imagery.)

2. Martin Luther: Guilty of Rejecting Biblical Inerrancy

Where would evangelicalism be without Martin Luther? He is the father of the Reformation and the champion of Sola Scripture.

But to the dismay of every evangelical Calvinist, I fear I must be the bearer of bad news that Martin Luther apparently didn’t believe the Bible is fully inspired, true or trustworthy.

Speaking of inaccuracies in the books of Chronicles, he states,
 “When one often reads that great numbers of people were slain—for example, eighty thousand—I believe that hardly one thousand were actually killed.”

3. St. Augustine: Guilty of Rejecting a Literally Reading of the Creation Story

In his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Augustine (to put it bluntly) thought Christians who took the Creation Story literally were a laughingstock and looked like idiots among non-Christians because they denied science and reason. This is Augustine, the one to whom we can give credit for the doctrines of original sin and Hell as eternal conscious torment (which are at the core of reformed theology).

Here is his statement:

“It not infrequently happens that something about the earth…may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.”

Few are the pulpits he would be allowed to fill among conservative churches in our day.

4. William Barclay: Guilty of Universalism

William Barclay’s iconic little blue commentaries are on the shelves of many pastors. So it’s odd that Rob Bell has been so roundly rejected for holding essentially the same belief as this celebrated theologian.

Barclay writes,
 “I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God…the choice is whether we accept God’s offer and invitation willingly, or take the long and terrible way round through ages of purification.”

In that work, Barclay also lists early church fathers, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, as two other Christian Universalists.

See Also

5. John Stott: Guilty of Annihilationism

John Stott is one of the great evangelical Christian thinkers of the last generation. Stott rejected the view that Hell is eternal conscious torment of the wicked and suggested, instead, that the unrepentant cease to exist after enduring the penalty for their sins.

He wrote,
 “I believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.”

6. Billy Graham: Guilty of Inclusivism

Billy Graham is, perhaps, the epitome of the evangelical identity.

Or, so we thought…

Like C.S. Lewis, Graham believes that those who do not hear of Christ may, indeed, be saved without explicitly confessing Him as Lord.

In a 1997 interview with Robert Schuller, Graham said:

“[God] is calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.”

There are plenty of other examples: George Whitefield’s lobbying for slavery, Martin Luther’s hatred of Jews, John Calvin’s approval of burning heretics at the stake, etc. etc.

Now, you hopefully find it ridiculous to reject these great and godly people. Which is why it’s amazing to me what we ignore in order to protect ourselves from the truth. We want our “heroes of the faith” to be perfect in theology and conduct, so we ignore or justify the parts we don’t like.

We all do it.

So, maybe it’s time to extend a bit more loving kindness to the evolutionists, to those who reject inerrancy, to those who take the Bible literally when it says that God will redeem all people to Himself, to the Rob Bells and the World Visions.

And for those of us on the moderate-progressive side: maybe we can find it in ourselves to turn the other cheek and forgive those who wish us gone. Then, when we find someone who will accept us—“heresy” and all, let’s embrace and learn from them.

This article was originally posted at AndyGill.org.

View Comments (4)
  • Really? You promote BioLogos, which doesn’t hold to a biblical view of Adam, but denounce Augustine? I haven’t studied Augustine’s works, but from what I see in the passage that you presented, I see that he rejected certain people’s interpretations of the bible and not that his interpretation was non-literal.

  • Dear writer:
    CS Lewis wrote Narnia, not the Bible. I think it´s most of our fault that we turn it into a doctrine manuscript instead of realizing that it is a fiction novel. When I started reading this I thought you were going to talk about other writings of CS Lewis like his book about death, A Grief Observed. Christians should, above all else, understand and know that if you want doctrine, you should read the Bible not Narnia.

  • First, you have begun to hit on an important truth: That if you look closely enough, you’re bound to find some point of disagreement with every great figure of Church history that you admire.

    Second, not all points of disagreement are equal. There are issues on which each of us can be convinced in our own minds (Rom 14:5), but Jesus Himself said that whoever does not gather with Him scatters (Mt 12:30; Lk 11:23) and warned us that the Way of Life is entered by a narrow gate, and only a few find it (Mt 7:13-14). There are lines of demarcation, and though we may not be able to nail them all down exactly, we need to do our best to understand their contours.

    Third, please show a little respect, both to your sources and your audience. Your wantonly irresponsible caricatures of your six “heretics” indicates that you have no concern for what those men actually believed and taught. You also communicate that you think your audience must be either too stupid or too lazy research and understand that your cherry-picked quotes don’t begin to represent their actual positions.

    That said, there are clearly some problematic positions in the examples you have cited, and several of them have been extensively debated in evangelical circles for years. However, those debates have been conducted on a common assumption that there is a common authority we must all submit to in the real, understandable revelation God has given to us in the full counsel of the Scriptures. This is the point that separates the six “heretics” you caricatured from the two you’re trying to defend. Without an authoritative Bible that we can truly (while not comprehensively) understand, Jesus is reduced to whatever our own dreams and imaginations make of Him. When that happens, the only “truth” that remains is dictated by whoever is most persuasive or influential.

    So, where there are points of disagreement, first, lets understand where the disagreements truly lie, and then let the authority to decide them lie with the God who truly reveals Himself to us through His Word.

  • Whew! So glad to know spiritual midgets like C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham fall short of all us modern evangelical spiritual giants! I was afraid our superior 21st century theology obtained by superior education and piety was falling short. I’m so proud to be part of such a humble (and obviously perfected) spiritual movement. I’ll sleep better tonight in this new confidence of my theological superiority.

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