Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth
By Alister McGrath
HarperOne, 2009, 282 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - March 16, 2010
Mature people who are self-assured have no need to criticize others who hold views that differ from their own. If they believe that God exists, they would never insult the deity by supposing that God is only interested in the views of just a segment of humanity, who believe as they believe. If they belonged to a particular religious denomination, they would have the sense to see that virtually every member of the denomination has a somewhat different view on how to understand the doctrines of the denomination.
So, if even within a particular religion people differ in their thoughts, why shouldn't people respect people of different faiths with different views? Isn't this a mature and reasonable approach? Isn't this the basic command to love another as oneself?
Alister McGrath book, "A History of Defending the Truth" and "Heresy" unsuccessfully attempts to explain and defend the opposite view: it is sensible to despise and harm people who have ideas that are different than one's own. Besides the problematical thesis, the book self destructs.
McGrath, a theologian, focuses on Christianity, not on religion generally, and defines "heresy" as a belief that "ultimately ends up subverting, destabilizing, or even destroying the core of Christian faith." In other words, heresy is "defective and damaging forms of the Christian faith (that) will limit its survival prospects." Because of how he defines the term, he writes that atheism is not a heresy. He notes that the Greek word, from which "heresy" derived, hairesis, was not pejorative and simply meant "a school of thought." However, the word came to be used in Christianity to denote an evil person because the person is harming Christianity.
McGrath's book is apologetic; an attempt to condone what others would consider bad behavior. In order to accomplish his goal, McGrath twists and distorts many facts of his "history" of Christianity. He insists that from its very beginning as a Jewish sect, Christianity had a core "doctrinal truth" that never changed. What may appear to others as changes, he writes, is nothing more than evolution, similar to the idea of Darwinian evolution. Anyone who deviates from this core belief system in a way that causes others to stray from the core beliefs is a heretic.
But, McGrath combined two books within his volume. The first is his thesis about heresy. The second is a history about the developing changes in Christianity during the past two thousand years. This is how the book self-destructs. His second subject, that details many dozens of changes in Christianity, disproves his first thesis that Christianity never changed.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.