Friday, June 18, 2021

Today on the Almanac, we go to the mailbag to answer a question about heretics, blasphemers, and how to be a gracious historian.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 18th of June 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I’m Dan van Voorhis.

A special Mailbag Thursday edition, you can thank Richard in Bellevue whose question has been rattling around in my head and demanded an answer… here’s the question

I was wondering how you decide what stories you are going to tell, and which topics you avoid? I am a Lutheran but enjoy hearing stories about figures from all across church history, how critical should we be of people in the past who we might consider heretics?

I. So, I am answering this question whilst I have two other questions on the issue of Christian marriage that I am playing with. Frankly, their show is 5-7 minutes long and I don’t want to miss important nuance with questions that tend to stoke the culture wars. One is a question about changes in Christian marriage over time and the other is about polygamy. I’ve cracked open some new works and look forward to giving those answers soon.

II. As far as listening to people “not like you”, I think that’s part of the reason I do this job. I know that in my own life the more I am forced to evaluate my own beliefs in the context of a really big world and a really long history, It makes me humble. It doesn’t make me a skeptic, but a realist.

III. It helps me to remember that:

I don’t know what everyone believes, even when they tell me (in writing, etc…)

I like the idea of a felicitous inconsistency with my own beliefs, and that of the beliefs of others. That is:

Membership in a church body does not always equal fidelity to the teaching of that church body. Not amongst laypeople and not amongst pastors

You aren’t a Christian on account of your “right belief”. You are a Christian on account of the work of Christ and your baptism.

When you think someone might be a heretic, try “blasphemer” instead. Think of Arius, he says “there was a time when Christ was not!” And an “orthodoxy” develops explaining why what he said was really bad. Did Arius persist in these teachings? Maybe. Especially as they were being tested. Did he back off? Seems like it.

And “heresy” works in conjunction with “Orthodoxy” and thus you might even modify your language to say that someone is a heretic by persisting in teachings that oppose your definition and understanding of Orthodoxy. And yes, this is complicated. But “heresy” isn’t a word to toss around lightly in the history of the Christian faith.

Maybe last of all, you don’t need to decide that everyone is a “heretic”, “your favorite”, “the best of…” or all sorts of labels we jump to. Read broadly, breathe deeply, embrace what points to Jesus and shrug at the folly of humans when things go really bad knowing that there is a promise… something about the redemption of all things.

The last word for today is a promise from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of June 2021 brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Bellevue’s includes the city near Seattle, the Mental Hospital in New York, and the beach just north of Copenhagen, Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe (it’s free!) in your favorite podcast app.