Dr. John Perkins… on Heresy?

John perkins

Guest Post by Sam Adams

We had the privilege of hosting Dr. John Perkins at Kilns College this past week. Dr. Perkins is a follower of Jesus whose life has been given in service of justice for the poor, the outsiders, and the abused: those who have been deemed unimportant by our world of comfort and privilege. He shared with us his story and his faith, and he rejoiced in our willingness to engage with and learn from those people who are different from us. We came away from our time with him moved by the sweetness of a life lived in faithful discipleship.

Since his visit last week I have taken the opportunity, together with my students here at Kilns, to explore further some of the issues Dr. Perkins raised and bring them into conversation with material we are discussing and learning in class. Just a couple of days later we were having class at a local restaurant, Jackson’s Corner, discussing Bonhoeffer’s ethics, when the conversation somehow turned to back to Perkins. I’m not sure what the connection was, but, as we often do in that class, we let our discussion veer off in this new direction. Here are some thoughts I had about Perkins’s visit thanks to that conversation.

After dinner on Monday night, one of our graduate students asked Perkins to predict what we would see, twenty years from now, to be the obvious justice issue of our day, an issue we were now missing. His response repeated something he said earlier in his lecture that morning: we ought to be speaking out more against heresy. Heresy? My first thought was, “Huh?!”

I confess, I’m tired of heresy hunters. For many in the church, the work of the gospel is about purifying the ranks of the orthodox and securing our borders against encroaching error, shaming outsiders until they sheepishly join the ranks of the elect. I have a hard time seeing how this has anything to do with the proclamation of good news.

Of course, Perkins’ heresies weren’t the usual heresies. At the top of his list was the prosperity gospel, the idea that the rich are the rich because of the favor of God; or, conversely, the idea that if you are faithful to God he will make you rich. Okay, sure…that’s a heresy. He also mentioned the stupidity (his word) of having to convince Christians that they ought to value the poor and work for reconciliation.

In short, his list of heresies weren’t the usual culprits. We at Kilns can get behind him quite easily on these points. But that still leaves open the question of heresy. How do we determine what is heretical? Who gets to determine orthodoxy and condemn heresy? What authority is in place to make these distinctions? Protestants turn to the Bible, but that raises the question of interpretation: “whose interpretation is the correct interpretation?”

At this point I have two thoughts.

First, we need people who can think graciously along with the gospel and communicate its truths in such a way that right belief is something we bear witness to but never possess. In fact, it is in our being dispossessed that we discover a truth worth living for. To flesh this out I suppose you’ll have to come take one of my classes.

Second, I trust Perkins more than most to tell me what heresy is because of his location with the poor. Why? Because that’s where Jesus says he is: in solidarity with the least of these. This might be an odd argument, but it’s an ‘orthodoxy’ grounded in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. If there’s a ‘position’ that allows us to make strong orthodox claims, it’s a position outside the gates, in the streets, behind bars, and with the broken.

If this is where we learn ‘orthodoxy’ then I agree with Perkins.

*Dr. Perkins comments used with permission




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