An essential part of a pastor’s duty is to fight heresy. But it is not an essential part of his duty to screech at it in such a fashion as to make all the heretics bless their false god for having given them such an incompetent adversary.
Some shepherds fight so listlessly or apologetically that it would be easy to assume that they have a tender spot in their hearts for the wolves. Other shepherds fight so enthusiastically that it is not long before we are suspecting that they do not fight because they love the sheep, but rather because they love the fighting.
Not only is there the moral problem of having messed up motives, there is also the pragmatic problem. The heresy-hunters who start typing up their indictments with the CAPS LOCK ON are not effective. If this issue is as important as everything seems to be saying, then shouldn’t we want to fight it effectively?
Now heretics always loooove them some nuance, and so it is not surprising that the orthodox are routinely suspicious of nuance. You can smuggle a bunch of foreign mercenaries over the border when the fog of nuance is thick. This is quite true, and it is a real problem. But the solution should not be to “bomb whatever is in the fog.”
Change the image somewhat. When cultbusters take the Agent Orange approach to the jungle of various theological opinion, they do get the heretics . . . and a lot more besides. That is not what we are called to do.
I have — many times — seen false teachers try to entice me to step into the caricatured role they have assigned to me. The fact that they want me to take that step makes me wonder why so many valiant-for-truth types are so eager to do as they are bidden. The approach I try to take is that of being the kind of adversary that the bad guys don’t want me to be.
Pinched-face advocates of truth and spacious and generous distributors of lies have this in common — they need each other.
Because the postmodern rot is so far advanced, the lie-mongers have a lot more scope. The contenders for truth still think they are in the 17th century, when both sides of theological debates still had a shared conception of Truth. Their debates were over what that Truth was, but they were not debating whether such a thing existed.
Today, the whole thing is different. Our great adversary now is not Rome, but rather Pome. A lot of the evangelicals heading to Rome are just what an RC friend calls “theater kids.” They are just playing postmodern dress-ups, and the bishop’s purple shirt is kind of Elton John campy. When this sets orthodox Protestants off, as it should, the problem is that they start shooting at Jesuits who have been dead for three centuries, instead of at pomo-friendlies in virtually every Reformed seminary. This is more convenient because the dead Jesuits don’t shoot back.
So my approach to heresy is a creative mash-up of the words of the apostle Paul and Israel Putnam at the Battle of Bunker Hill. “The works of the flesh are manifest, streaking up the hill like that, and so don’t fire until you see the whites of their thighs.” Or something like that.