Edited by Ben Quash and Michael Ward, two Anglican theologians, and with contributors from a range of traditions, this is an edited volume of pithy essays on an important topic. Too easily these days does intra-Christian discourse jump to using the ‘H’ word, Heresy, when we are actually talking about differences of opinion, style, or the lesser but still very serious category of ‘false teaching’. This book, Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why it matters what Christians believe, is a brilliant primer on the topic of what heresy actually is as a category, and why it matters.
Befitting an edited volume on this important topic, this is a book that has a helpful and useful structure. We begin with a bit of time travel, predominantly to the time of the Early Church, to consider ‘Heresies of the Person of Christ, and How to Avoid Them‘. Theological foundations laid, as it were, we move on to ‘Heresies of Christian Living, and How to Avoid Them‘. This latter section helpfully relates the concept of heresy, as well as the more complex Christological heresies, to direct application. The range of contributors are excellent communicators at the relatively short essay length, and the book flows well despite the various voices.
The first section, then, deals with some of the various heresies that have arisen around the Person of Christ. Here Michael Thompson (an Anglican theologian) discusses the question of Arianism, John Sweet (also an Anglican theologian) discusses Docetism, Anna Williams (another Anglican) discusses Nestorianism, Marcus Plested (an Eastern Orthodox theologian) unpacks Euychianism, Rachel Muers (a Quaker) considers the question of Adoptionism, and Michael Ward discusses Theopaschitism. If none of these ‘long words’ mean anything to you, but you care about Jesus Christ, then this section is well worth reading and this book well worth buying.
The second section turns a little to the relation between heresy and orthopraxy, considering Hereies of the Church andChristian Living, and How to Avoid Them. Here, with a powerful challenge regarding institutional anti-semitism, Angela Tilby (an Anglican) considers Marcionism, Ben Quash considers Donatism and Christian ministry, Nicholas Adams (an Anglican) discusses the thorny topic of Pelagianism, Anders Bergquist (an Anglican Vicar) examines the ever-timely question of Gnosticism, Denys Turner (a Roman Catholic) looks at the little-known heresy of the Free Spirit, whilst Janet Soskice (another Roman Catholic) closes this section with a brilliant chapter; ‘Biblical Trinitarianism: The purpose of being orthodox‘.
Overall, then, this is a very helpful, meaty and thought-provoking little book. Comprising a range of very readable essays on vital topics, it acts as an excellent primer to one of the most misunderstood areas of Christian theology. The range of contributors – Anglican, Roman Catholic, Quaker, Eastern Orthodox – is also a plus, showing the commonality but also the distinctives of these traditions. I think that this book would be an excellent read for all those studying theology at the undergraduate level, and for evangelical ordinands (And other ordinands!) studying in a mixed college or university. Recommended.