Know The Heretics by Justin Holcomb

Justin Holcomb, Know The Heretics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 176 pp. $12.99

Heretic. It’s a word used often today to describe someone that does not believe in what we believe, does not agree with what we agree with or simply as an insult/joke. More often than not when the term heretic is used today it is not used in a way that is true to what the term really means or how it was originally used to describe someone in the early church.

In Know the Heretics, Justin Holcomb takes a look at what the word heresy actually means and what were some of the heresies of the early Christian church and their influencers. Holcomb has written this book in a way that it could be used for personal study as well as small group discussions with other people. Each chapter/heresy is accompanied with Further Reading suggestions and Discussion Questions. Know the Heretics is just one book in the KNOW book series that has been written to help people more deeply understand the foundations of the Christian faith.

So what is heresy? Holcomb writes this book from a position that, “a legitimate heresy has threatened to confuse ordinary believers simply because of the speculations of an influential thinker” (12). Heretics were not simply crazy people that flew off the handle or had gotten a little liberal for one’s liking, but instead were good intentioned teachers, bishops and priests who were trying to make Christianity easier to understand and/or make it more compatible with the societal systems. “They weren’t heretics because they asked the questions. It is the answers that they gave that are wrong. They went too far by trying to make the Christian faith more compatible with ideas that they already found appealing” (12).

The early church creeds were developed to combat heretical thinkers and beliefs and to keep believers on the path of correct beliefs (orthodoxy). The early church did not consider every wrong thinking or idea heresy, but instead. “only those beliefs that contradicted the essential elements of the faith were to be labeled heresy, not disagreements on nonessential doctrines” (15). Holcomb writes here about the recent position of thought by some that if you disagree with my interpretation of Scripture, you’re outside the boundaries and are a heretic. He wonderfully addresses this by talking about primary and secondary doctrines/elements of the Christian faith and notes, “When everything is central, nothing is” (17).

So what were the heresies of the early church that Holcomb addresses?

  • Judaizers – The Old Rules Still Apply
  • Gnostics – God Hides Messages for the Enlightened
  • Marcion – Vengeful Yahwell vs Gentle Jesus
  • Docetists – The Spiritual is Good, the Physical is Evil
  • Mani – God Must be Freed
  • Sabellius – One Actor and Three Hats
  • Arius – Jesus is a Lesser God
  • Apollinarius – Christ May Be Human, but His Mind is Divine
  • Pelagius – God Has Already Given Us the Tools
  • Eutyches – Christ as a New Kind of Being
  • Nestorius – Christ’s Divinity Must Be Shielded
  • Socinus – The Trinity is Irrelevant and Jesus’ Death is Only an Example

Holcomb has done a great job in this short book to given an overview of the early church heresies and show how most of the labeled “heretics” of the early church were people who wanted to make Christianity more accessible. The scary part is as he is describing the various heresies it is easy to see how many have remained throughout the history of the church or how they have popped back up at certain times. Holcomb wrote early this early on in the book, but it was a reminder to me throughout the importance of studying the early church and to see how nearly 2,000 years later many of the same questions are being asked and many wrong responses continue:

Learning how Christians throughout history have wrestled with the tough questions of our faith gives us a valuable perspective and keeps us from assuming that our own know-how, pat answers, or inspiring platitudes are best suited to solving the problems of the world (20). 


This is an honest review written in exchange of a review copy of Know the Heretics from BookLook Blogger publications.


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