I just finished reading Heretics for Armchair Theologians. I like to joke that only hyper-judgmental people would read a book about heretics. Yet it is important to learn about and understand why certain teachings were considered at best deficient and at worst soul-condemning.
The authors, Justo L. Gonzalez and Catherine Gunsalus Gonzalez, do a pretty good job of explaining the various views and historical development in a way that is educational, entertaining, and funny. Justo Gonzalez is a well-known historian, so he can write rather informally because he knows his material.
Though the book was enjoyable, I was quite alarmed by the authors’ worldview. They view Christian belief (doctrine) as somewhat dynamic, frequently stating that what we believe today is not what the early Christians believed. This is very misleading. While Paul may not have explained the Trinity in his writings, the concept was definitely there. There’s a difference between organizing/categorizing our beliefs and developing brand-new beliefs foreign to the Bible. The authors’ seem to be intending to justify the latter.
Likewise, they are quick to argue that the heretics themselves were basically “good” people and devout Christians. Yet denying the divinity of Jesus (Ebionism) or denying His humanity (Docetism) is not merely an off-kilter belief but a denial of the true gospel.
For those well-grounded in their faith and the reliability of it, this book would serve as a humorous brush-up on early Christian history and the challenges the early church faced. As a historian, Justo Gonzalez is great at presenting the facts and accurately describing the various views. It’s when the authors’ add their own opinions on the validity of those views that things stray from orthodoxy and into the very territory this book is about—heresy.