6 Heretics Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism

A few church leaders who have just gone too far.

What does it mean to be “evangelical”?

What must you believe?

What must you reject?

Can you be an evangelical Christian and believe…

…in evolution?

…that Hell is only temporary?

…that people from other religions can be saved without even knowing it?

…that the atonement is not about God’s wrath being poured out on Jesus in our place?

…that Scripture is errant?

Many evangelicals would say “no” to most—maybe even all—of these. That’s why, in an attempt to protect the name of evangelicalism, some prominent leaders within evangelicalism have made it their responsibility to publicly denounce those with whom they disagree on issues like these.

To be clear, there is no problem with publicly denouncing ideologies (that is, after all, what this article is doing right now). It is, at times, necessary to publicly call out false teachers. However, one must fully consider whether they promote a different gospel before coming forward with such a bold claim.

But we're not talking about denouncing ideas or exposing real false teachers. We're talking about needless schisms and inconsistent, prideful exclusivism.

Self-appointed gatekeepers of evangelicalism tear apart what could be a noble, diverse movement of the Spirit.

Self-appointed gatekeepers of evangelicalism tear apart what could be a noble, diverse movement of the Spirit. These gatekeepers take it upon themselves to pronounce who is “in” and who is “out” of orthodox Christianity.

By the standards of these gatekeepers, the definition of “evangelical” is becoming increasingly narrow, so much so that very few fit inside the definition.

So, if we are going to be consistent, it’s time to weed out all of the heretics—especially those who have the most influence—not just Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans or other Christian thinkers who have said something controversial recently.

Let's start with these six:

1. C.S. Lewis: Guilty Of Inclusivism and Rejecting the Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory

Perhaps the most celebrated Christian writer of the last century, C.S. Lewis is respected by most Christians, no matter what theological corner they occupy. And that’s what confuses me. Lewis was no evangelical by the standards of modern evangelical spokespersons. Lewis’ seven-volume, fictional masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia, reveals his belief that it is possible for people in other religions to inherit the Kingdom of God without knowing it.

Lewis also rejects the Penal Substitutionary theory of the atonement, which states that Christ “diverted” God’s wrath toward us and took it upon Himself. Instead, in part three of Chronicles, Lewis describes what is called the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement, which holds that the Cross is not an image of God’s wrath against us, diverted to His son, but it was the defeat of evil through an act of selfless love. (Here is a video of Greg Boyd giving a good description of that view using Lewis’ imagery.)

2. Martin Luther: Guilty of Rejecting Biblical Inerrancy

Where would evangelicalism be without Martin Luther? He is the father of the Reformation and the champion of Sola Scriptura.

But to the dismay of every evangelical Calvinist, I fear I must be the bearer of bad news that Martin Luther apparently didn’t believe the Bible is fully inspired, true or trustworthy.

Speaking of inaccuracies in the books of Chronicles, he states,
 “When one often reads that great numbers of people were slain—for example, eighty thousand—I believe that hardly one thousand were actually killed.”

3. St. Augustine: Guilty of Rejecting a Literally Reading of the Creation Story

In his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Augustine (to put it bluntly) thought Christians who took the Creation Story literally were a laughingstock and looked like idiots among non-Christians because they denied science and reason. This is Augustine, the one to whom we can give credit for the doctrines of original sin and Hell as eternal conscious torment (which are at the core of reformed theology).

Here is his statement:

“It not infrequently happens that something about the earth…may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.”

Few are the pulpits he would be allowed to fill among conservative churches in our day.

4. William Barclay: Guilty of Universalism

William Barclay’s iconic little blue commentaries are on the shelves of many pastors. So it's odd that Rob Bell has been so roundly rejected for holding essentially the same belief as this celebrated theologian.

Barclay writes,
 “I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God…the choice is whether we accept God’s offer and invitation willingly, or take the long and terrible way round through ages of purification.”

In that work, Barclay also lists early church fathers, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, as two other Christian Universalists.

5. John Stott: Guilty of Annihilationism

John Stott is one of the great evangelical Christian thinkers of the last generation. Stott rejected the view that Hell is eternal conscious torment of the wicked and suggested, instead, that the unrepentant cease to exist after enduring the penalty for their sins.

He wrote,
 “I believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.”

6. Billy Graham: Guilty of Inclusivism

Billy Graham is, perhaps, the epitome of the evangelical identity.

Or, so we thought…

Like C.S. Lewis, Graham believes that those who do not hear of Christ may, indeed, be saved without explicitly confessing Him as Lord.

In a 1997 interview with Robert Schuller, Graham said:

“[God] is calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.”

Now, I’m sure you, as well as I, find it ridiculous to reject these great and godly people.

There are plenty of other examples: George Whitefield’s lobbying for slavery, Martin Luther’s hatred of Jews, John Calvin’s approval of burning heretics at the stake, etc. etc.

Now, you hopefully find it ridiculous to reject these great and godly people. Which is why it’s amazing to me what we ignore in order to protect ourselves from the truth. We want our “heroes of the faith” to be perfect in theology and conduct, so we ignore or justify the parts we don’t like.

We all do it.

So, maybe it’s time to extend a bit more loving kindness to the evolutionists, to those who reject inerrancy, to those who take the Bible literally when it says that God will redeem all people to Himself, to the Rob Bells and the World Visions.

And for those of us on the moderate-progressive side: maybe we can find it in ourselves to turn the other cheek and forgive those who wish us gone. Then, when we find someone who will accept us—“heresy” and all, let’s embrace and learn from them.

This article was originally posted at AndyGill.org.

Top Comments

Jack Barnett


Jack Barnett commented…

The fact that this article puts forth the concept that believing the Bible may have used exaggeration at points(a la Martin Luther, according to the author) is actually comparable to declared universalism(Barclay) should basically completely disqualify this author. And to go on and talk like we not only can but SHOULD! Should! accept things like universalism as part of legitimate christianity.... Just mind boggling


Luke Cypert


Luke Cypert commented…

Humanism just feels so good hu?

James Quiggle


James Quiggle commented…

Neither the antiquity of a belief, nor its creator, sponsor, or champion make that believe a biblical belief. Your argument is specious.

Carl Peterson


Carl Peterson commented…

Interesting article. i agree in the basic premise. The examples are a little weak and uneven.

1. C.S. Lewis- Doe we know that he rejected penal substitutionary atonement? Many accept other atonement theories such as Christus Victor without deny penal substitutionary atonement. Even if he did this is clearly not heretical since many denominations including the Eastern Orthodox reject it.

Also is the only evidence he believed in inclusivisim what he wrote in the Chronicles of Narnia? Anything else?

2 & 3 Luther and Augustine. not heretical. I am also pretty sure that Augustine wrote two different commentaries on Genesis. One that took an allegorical reading of it and one that took a more literal reading. Even if he did not, he is not heretical.

4. This one actually sounds pretty bad. Universalism is much different than rejecting penal substitutionary atonement. That is one reason this article is very strange. The examples are so wildly different in severity that it really hurts the premise of hte article.

5. Stott- Not heretical. I think it is very wrong but not heretical.

6. Graham- I remember when Graham said this and all the hub bub that surrounded it. Truly sad.

I think the article would have been stronger using some of the "other examples" listed instead of Stott, Augustine, and the one they chose to use from Martin Luther.


Josiah DeLorenzi


Josiah DeLorenzi commented…

What I don't understand is why this man thinks the alternative to these theologies is better. How can we claim to believe in a loving God that cast people into hell forever simply because they never knew his name? Is this a religion where we hope the best on ourselves and wish the worst on those not part of it? That is primitive. I personally think God is bigger than that, and because of his love, he might work in people's lives all over the world who might not even call themselves Christians. These "heretics" were simply trying to look at the world through the eyes of a God of love and a God of justice. The bible says the wicked will go to hell. There are moral people around the world of different religions closer to God's heart than many of us. I wouldn't call them wicked, and I would never bring myself to put them in eternal torment. And St. Augustine is right, creationism makes Christianity look bad by blatantly denying scientific truth. People need to look at the context genesis was written, keep that in mind, and then compare the chronological order of events to the history of this world. Then you will find remarkable similarities. Genesis isn't a book of science. It gave Christianity a very simple model to follow, now we can expand on that model, and understand how it came to be with evolution. It isn't anti-christian. This guy needs to look around, God's a lot bigger than what he makes him out to be, and he should study other religions, God has revealed himself in remarkable ways among many peoples. The Israelite got this idea of God from somewhere, and he's interpreted in different ways. Not to say all religions are right, there just no necessarily totally devoid of our God

Kraig Lundberg


Kraig Lundberg commented…

This kind of thinking is dangerous because it muddies the waters in terms of what "heresies" are of secondary importance and what heresies attack the essentials of the gospel. We have to be able to discern the difference. This is not a question of exclusivism in evangelicalism, but rather a question of truth and a matter of life and death. It is so important to get the gospel right, and any teaching that doesn't do that must be rejected. To compare some of these guys to Rob Bell is naive because Rob Bell's gospel is so far off of the biblical gospel (and the gospel those guys preached - except for Barclay, apparently? but I've never heard of him so I have no idea what he teaches). Despite this article's seeming desire, an orthodox understanding of the gospel absolutely cannot live in harmony with Rob Bell's gospel. They are two different things and one of them necessarily has to be wrong if we accept the other. I'm not saying we should treat people like garbage, but the reality is the Bible is packed with very strong warnings against heresy. We can, and should, be magnanimous and still reject things that are not true and that are dangerous to people's souls.

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