No sooner was Bishop Pike’s If This Be Heresy off the presses than the emergency theological committee of fellow Episcopalians announced that the concept of heresy is out of date. James A. Pike’s latest flinging down of the theological gauntlet, and the report from the blue-ribbon committee asked to decide how much Pike and others may disbelieve, converge on the verge of this month’s Episcopal General Convention, which meets every three years.
The convention will be asked to approve the committee’s conclusion that “the word ‘heresy’ should be abandoned” except in relation to the losers in the great theological debates of the early centuries.
In this key recommendation, the committee quotes a discussion of history by J. V. Langmead Casserley of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, one of four experts (Pike was another) who testified before the committee in April.
But Casserley disagrees with the committee’s conclusion. He is willing to keep things flexible for men struggling with “new theological questions.” But he objects “very violently to reformulation of ancient heresies and pretending that this is a new contribution.” To him, the Pike affair is not as much a case of heresy as “gross incompetence.” “If we are to have a serious theological debate, it can only be with real theological knowledge.” Thus, he opposes a heresy trial for Pike, which would also be “widely misunderstood by the public.” “The real heretics were great men,” he says, and Pike doesn’t deserve the compliment.
When the committee was formed in January, Pike tabled his move to force an investigation of his views to “clear my name.” He sought this study after the House of Bishops gave him a knuckles-rap last year. In his new book, Pike says he’ll have to wait ...1
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