Bestselling author Donald Miller has written a blog post arguing that conservative theologians and pastors often use the term "heretic" to defend territories of thought rather than to prevent misguided interpretations of the Bible, and as a result many Christians have stopped thinking.
Those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible believe that God created everything in seven days, writes Miller, whose writings generally focus on Christian spirituality as "an explanation for beauty, meaning and the human struggle."
There are also conservative theologians who subscribe to a less literal interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis, looking at it as a story, "a poetic grunt toward a God-created world, which would then jive with science and not make us all look so silly," he adds. But they choose not to speak up "for fear of being labeled a heretic."
Miller, 42, and author of New York Times Bestseller Blue Like Jazz, asks who the heretic is: literalists or "those who interpret the Bible in a way that, quite obviously, it seems to have been written?"
The author says he has no problem in accepting more objective, open interpretations of the text "because it's not a book that's easy to interpret (by God's intention)," after all "it's meant to point us toward Him rather than replace Him."
"Those who want to put concrete faith in a book rather than (or in addition to) God want it to be, perhaps, more definitive than it is," he explains.
It is the more conservative crowd that has, of late, captured the term heretic and used it to "shame and create fear," Miller argues.
However, liberals also have this tendency, he says, adding there are two kinds of heretics.
Liberal heretics are those "who scan Scripture and interpret it through a people-pleasing filter, looking the other way when it gets too demanding." And their conservative counterparts do the same "through a people-controlling filter."
Miller questions why those who "add rules to the text to test people's loyalty and devotion and use shame and guilt to keep them afraid" aren't labeled as heretics too. Or those who interpret literally when they shouldn't. Or those "who, when a subject is vague, present concrete answers as though God has made the issue perfectly black and white."
The Bible was deliberately written in a way that its interpretation and contextualization wouldn't be easy, the author argues. Certain things are absolute, but not all, he adds.
Miller quotes G.K. Chesterton as saying that we won't be able to cram all of heaven into our heads. But the acceptance of this reality requires humility, he says, and concludes by saying, "I'll cling to Jesus and try my best."