Evangelism needs heresy. That may sound crazy, but it’s true. Well, to be more accurate, evangelism needs hairesis.
Heresy is the English word that comes from the Greek word, hairesis, which means choice. When we call people heretics, we’re charging them with picking and choosing what they want to believe – keeping certain parts of the tradition and jettisoning others. The history of heresy in the first few centuries of Christian faith is fascinating as the church slowly and methodically made choices about the core tenets of Christianity.
And that’s the key. It was a process of choice – hairesis.
I believe we’re in the same situation today. In a pluralistic environment such as ours, where many approaches to faith and spirituality vie for our loyalty, making choices is inevitable. Even the most orthodox of believers come to that position through choice.
This is a good thing. It places us more firmly in line with the earliest of Christians whose world was also enthusiastically pluralistic. For those early Christians, faith was only possible through a deliberate choice.
Faithful evangelism demands that we recognize the importance of choice. We offer others the opportunity to come to know Jesus and to choose to follow him. We need to be aware that they have many options to choose from, including choosing nothing at all. Why should they choose faith?
Providing an environment where others can answer that question for themselves rests in large part on our ability to answer that question ourselves. Why did we choose faith? Since faith doesn’t involve mathematical theorems or scientific hypotheses – if it did, it wouldn’t be faith, after all, faith is believing what we cannot know – why were we willing to take that step into the unknown?
Just as faith isn’t about proofs and certainty, it also isn’t a narrow choice made only by intellectual assent to a set of propositions or principles. In a very real way it’s a choice made possible when we receive intimations of God’s hidden presence communicated to us by others. Some have called this the “rumor of God” – we hear it and, in an act of faith, respond by saying YES!
Of course this rumor of God could not be heard if God did not desire to be discovered. But God does desire to be discovered and God chooses to reveal Godself – not everywhere, but at particular places, and at particular times, through the story that comes to us through Scripture, or through spoken words of preachers and teachers or even through conversation among trusted friends.
Hairesis. Choice. A crucial understanding for evangelism. God chooses to reveal Godself. God waits for us to choose to respond. In a world where faith is not something that can be assumed or taken for granted, where many voices clamor for our attention, will we will be a voice intimating God’s hidden presence? We we spread the rumor of God?