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Christianity and Its Competitors: The New Faces of Old Heresies Paperback – July 20, 2006
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"This concise, readable book makes plain the blessings of studying church history and the perils of neglecting it. It could be used profitably for group study." (New Horizons, Orthodox Presbyterian Church)
"singles out four heretical positions adopted in the early church and traces with care the way in which the various views developed, and how they have resurfaced time and again... easy to read." (Allan Harman ~ Research Professor of Old Testament, Presbyterian Theological College, Melbourne, Australia)
"draws provocative, daring lines from the ancient errors of the Ebionites, Montanism, Arianism, and Pelagianism to the contemporary errors that plague the theology and/or practical teachings of Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Unitarianism, Universalism, Arminianism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, fundamentalism, and various charismatic movements ...makes for a fascinating read." (Joel R. Beeke ~ President, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan)
About the Author
Professor of Church History at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Greenville, South Carolina and previously Professor of History at Cedarville University, Cedarville, Ohio. He has written extensively on church history in secular and theological journals and reference books.
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Prof. McGoldrick quite accurately defines a major problem facing the Evangelical church in the US in his opening comments. "In the religious climate of the early twenty-first century, there is a tendency to regard as Christian any school of thought which professes allegiance to the teachings of Christ, no matter how vaguely it may do so."
Amen! Though the word "tendency" might be an understatement. Perhaps more accurately it might be replaced with "powerful pressure"
The pervasive and intentional social imperatives pressing upon American Christians are the inevitable fruit of fundamental shifts in philosophical and moral perspectives. Though beyond the scope of this review to survey, I do not think it too far fetched to assign these shifts to a central uniting thread: "distrust of certainty." Americans, at every level, find that "certainty" is equated with "narrow-mindedness", "arrogance", "bigotry" or other such dismissive condemnations. The outworking of this cultural imperative is that the vigorous defense of "truth" is viewed as socially disruptive and, in some instances, subject to judicial action.
Therefore Christians as a group are pressured to be more and more reductionist in their "essential" theology. The naive cry "Can't we all just get along" has passed from being a somewhat amusing cynical platitude to the status of spiritual affirmation. One is simply "not Christian" unless one is tolerant of all those "others" who think differently about religion and especially about Christ Himself. It is difficult, in the modern landscape, to imagine another time (the era of the Reformation) when the nuances of the Protestant claims against the Roman religion were passionately debated by butcher and tailor alike. Yet, it was so and the present state of the Christian witness in this country suffers in comparison.
Truth is worth defending. Christianity is and has always been, a struggle against the "wolves" (Acts 20:29, et al) who seek to devour the flock. A consistent polemical theme is present throughout the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. The Kingdom of God stands over and against the Kingdom of this world and the mandate to clearly distinguish in contrast to its opponent, is inherent in the Great Commission's requirement teach disciples to obey. But in order to distinguish the Kingdom of God it must first be clearly demarcated. There is no neutral ground, no "no-man's land", the essential mastery of which is the object of their struggle. Spiritual warfare is a "zero-sum" conflict. The advance of the Kingdom of God is always to the detriment of and exact reduction of the Kingdom of this world.
Thus those who are outside the Kingdom must be recognized and distinguished. Prof. McGoldrick's book, in an accessible and somewhat comprehensive fashion, does this. His objective is to demonstrate the truth that modern apostasy is essentially just the recasting of older lies in new molds. He systematically traces the various essential deviations from Orthodox truth as they have woven themselves into the "progress" of history and then clearly identifies their modern distillations.
Many books have done this but Prof. Mc Goldrick's major contribution is his spare, non-technical, prose. He writes powerfully and well and retains the reader's interest regardless of prior acquaintance with the subject or technical sophistication.
There are "organizing themes" that can be used to group the various deviations from truth. Prof. McGoldrick sorts these themes under the headings of his chapters: (1) Ebionites and Judaizing Christianity, (2) Montanism, (3) Arianism, (4) Pelagianism and (5) The Completion of Revelation. In my opinion these are a good place to start but my one criticism of the book is that it tends to leave a somewhat reductionistic perspective in the reader. They give the impression that these are all the "competitors" to the claim of "Christianity." Absent from this book are those, somewhat more subtle, heresies that have arisen from errors in hermeneutics. An example would be the "over spiritualizing" of the texts that we find in Origen and the semi-gnostic search for "meaning" which only a select group (such as Harold Camping) have been privileged to understand. One can easily see the range in which hermeneutical error has afflicted the church in the rise of preterism and the denial of a future historical content to Scriptural prophecy including the return of Christ and the bodily resurrection of the dead.
But, as an introduction to the landscape and as a clarion call for Christians to take up again the sword of truth, comprehensively revealed in the Scriptures and comprehensively commanded to be preached by Christians as foundational to their witness, Prof. McGoldrick has done good work.
I would recommend it to all Christians and to any secular reader who is interested in understanding what differentiates the various Christian denominations from their competitors.