Earlier this month, I came out with my book, The Heresy of Ham, in which I take a long, hard look at young earth creationism against the backdrop of, not only science, but more importantly, Church History and Biblical Exegesis. I argue that merely thinking the earth is only 6,000 years old, or merely thinking that Genesis 1-11 is straightforward history, or merely not believing the theory of evolution—none of that is “heresy.” What is heresy, though, is insisting that belief that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that Adam and Eve were two historical people is foundational to the gospel. I further argue that this is precisely what organizations like Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis does.
That being said, though, I make it clear that I realize that “heresy” can be a loaded and inflammatory term. Therefore, I spend a considerable amount of time early in the book, looking at what “heresy” actually means in light of Church history, and explaining precisely what I mean by “heresy.” Because the term “heresy” can be such a loaded word, the responsible thing to do is to be very careful with it, and use it in a very specific manner. One cannot be careless with the term “heresy.”
…except, of course, if you are Answers in Genesis.
Down the Heretical Rabbit-Hole
A few days ago, I was thumbing through my Twitterfeed, and came across an AiG tweet of an article from three years ago entitled, “Can Christians Promote Heresy?” Since I have just published The Heresy of Ham, I thought it would be interesting to see how AiG used the term “heresy.” Well, that short article referenced another blog post from April 20, 2013 that Ken Ham had written about Peter Enns, entitled, “Enns Continues to Promote Heresy—Sponsored by a Baptist Church.” And that blog post referenced another post from January 31, 2012 entitled, “What Jesus Wrong? Peter Enns Says, ‘Yes.’”
I had wanted to just look at one article, but I found myself ushered into a web of articles, all accusing Peter Enns of heresy. It turns out that about five years ago, Ken Ham was effectively dropped from a home school convention because during a previous convention he had publicly attacked Peter Enns, who was also at the convention, promoting his own home school Bible curriculum. The organizers felt that Ham had been extremely hostile in his remarks about Peter Enns. The result, as I found out reading these articles and blog posts, was a litany of Ken Ham’s doubling-down on his comments.
To be honest, even though I have done a whole lot of reading and writing about Ken Ham over the past year, reading these articles and blog posts still was rather jarring. I knew AiG didn’t like Peter Enns (I wrote a number of posts on their treatment of his book, The Bible Tells Me So), and I vaguely knew about Ken Ham being dropped from a home school convention a few years ago, but I never really bothered to find out what exactly happened. I didn’t know it was over Ken Ham condemning and calling Peter Enns…you guessed it, a heretic.
In any case, the articles and blog posts were rather fascinating, rather predictable for AiG, and rather disturbing for one main reason: AiG is as careless with the term “heresy” as it is with the facts of Church history and the Bible itself. After reading these articles and blog posts, it is obvious why so many Christians are so apprehensive about using the term “heresy”—people like Ken Ham are extremely irresponsible in their misuse of the term, and they wield it like a club to bludgeon their perceived enemies.
You can read the articles for yourself, but for our purposes here, let’s look at how AiG demonstrates how not to use the term heresy.
Can Christians Promote Heresy?
The article that piqued my interest was by Troy Lacey, and it was entitled, “Can Christians Promote Heresy?” It was a response to a question someone had sent to AiG about Ken Ham’s April 20, 2013 blog about Peter Enns. The question was straight forward. The questioner noticed that Ham accused Enns of promoting heresy, but then turned around and said he wasn’t calling Enns a heretic. Therefore, the simple question, “How can you promote heresy without being a heretic?”
Clearly, the questioner was confused by Ken Ham’s double-speak and wanted clarification. The answer Troy Lacey gave astonished me as a biblical scholar. It highlighted the highly irresponsible way in which AiG goes about using the Bible.
Peter and Paul: Galatians 2:11-18
Lacey’s basic answer was, “Yes, one can spout and promote heresy without being a heretic.” In order to back up this claim, Lacey pointed to the Bible, specifically to Galatians 2:11-18, where Paul talks about how he confronted Peter over the fact that Peter did eat with Gentiles when Jews from Jerusalem came to visit Antioch. Lacey wrote, “Did not Paul condemn Peter (and Barnabas) of hypocrisy and teaching by example a works-based salvation, which was a form of heresy? Yet they obviously were not heretics but Christians—and Peter was appointed as an apostle.”
What’s the problem, you may ask? Everything. First, Lacey, completely misunderstands and misrepresents what the situation with Peter and Paul was. Yes, Paul confronted Peter over his hypocrisy, but he didn’t accuse Peter of heresy. Peter’s problem was that although he knew God had accepted Gentiles who put their faith in Jesus, he chose not to eat with them when certain Jews from Jerusalem showed up in Antioch, thereby confusing the Gentile believers and, simply put, probably hurt their feelings. Peter was being kind of a hypocritical, insensitive jerk to the Gentile believers, but he wasn’t “teaching a works-based salvation.”
To be clear, being a hypocrite in that situation is not heresy.
Apollos: Acts 18:24-26
Lacey then pointed to Acts 18:24-26, to the situation with Apollos, a Jew who had known only the baptism of John, and who was told about Jesus by Aquila and Priscilla. Lacey stated:
“And what about Apollos? Doesn’t Scripture also exhibit him as an example of incomplete teaching through ignorance? Although he knew Scripture and taught it, he did not have a full knowledge of Christ. Paul taught in Galatians 1:7–9 that any other gospel except the one true gospel was false and not to be received. In effect, due to ignorance, Apollos was not teaching the whole truth and counsel of God, which again could be viewed as heresy.”
Again, “incomplete teaching through ignorance” is not heresy. The situation with Apollos had nothing to do with heresy, but Lacey doesn’t care. It’s in the Bible, he can use it to serve his purposes, therefore it’s fair game.
Elijah: I Kings 19:13-19
Lacey then gave a third “biblical” example, that of I Kings 19:13-19, where Elijah had gone off to Sinai and complained to God Jezebel had killed all His prophets, and that there was no one left in Israel to worshipped YHWH…but Lacey puts it slightly differently: “Elijah did this by claiming that everyone except himself was a heretic, but God corrected Elijah and told him that there were still many loyal believers to Him.”
Let’s be clear, Elijah was upset because most of the people in the northern kingdom of Israel had become worshippers of Baal. And it’s true, YHWH assured him that there were still 7,000 left in Israel who were faithful to Him. But…worshipping Baal is not heresy; it is worshipping a false god. Lacey falsely portrays worshipping Baal as, I would have to guess, an “Israelite heresy”? That is nonsensical. That would be like calling Buddhism, or Hinduism, or Greek mythology a “Christian heresy.” They’re not heresies—they are different religions that worship different gods.
But again, Lacey either doesn’t care, or he’s just too lazy to take the time to understand and define what heresy actually is. As Alister McGrath states in his book, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth, heresy should be understood as “as a form of Christian belief that, more by accident than design, ultimately ends up subverting, destabilizing or even destroying the core of the Christian faith.”
If you are going to use the term “heresy,” you should take the time to use it correctly, precisely because it has been so misused in the past, and is therefore a potentially toxic term. But as I’ve come to realize about AiG is that they are extremely irresponsible in virtually every area of science, Church history, and biblical exegesis. That sort of irresponsible behavior has, as McGrath as defined heresy, ended up subverting, destabilizing, and destroying the core of the Christian faith.
At the end of his article, after completely twisting three different Bible passages, Lacey then brings things back around to Peter Enns, and says,
“Regarding Peter Enns, God alone knows his heart; we can only condemn his teachings as false like Paul did with Peter. We hope the Lord will correct his errors and lead him to repentance, and then that Dr. Enns will hold fast to God’s Word and teach it accurately. We rebuke his teachings out of love and hope for those rebukes to be instructive.”
In typical fashion, we find the AiG’s trademark passive-aggressive condemnation: “We’re not saying he’s a heretic, we’re not saying he’s not a Christian, only God knows; we’re just rebuking his teachings out of love…he needs to repent!” And then, Lacey invokes Proverbs 13:18, 15:32, and 27:6, all which basically say that people like Enns need to heed their rebuke.
So, not only did Lacey not define what heresy actually is, he lifted three different passages from Scripture, none of which had anything to do with the actual concept of heresy, then twisted them and claimed they actually were about heresy, and then accused Enns of being a heretic
…but no, he’s not necessarily a heretic; only God knows his heart; but he’s teaching heresy and needs to repent, because he doesn’t agree with us.
An article like this is why I think Answers in Genesis and YEC is so dangerous. It’s not that they are misrepresenting and actually denying actual science (although they certainly do); it’s that they are actively involved in twisting Scripture—this is not just a matter of opinion; this is actual fact. Galatians 2, Acts 18, and I Kings 19 have nothing to do with heresy, and to present them as dealing with heresy is absolutely a twisting of those passages.
And I haven’t even gotten to what Ken Ham said in his own posts. That will have to wait for another day.