By: Dr. John D. Ferrer, previously unpublished (circ. 2010), updated 17 December 2014.
The long and winding road of church history is dotted with potholes, overbrush, and nearly impassible roadblocks. Whether these problems are personal or public, outside opposition, inside divisions, circumstantial struggles or environmental troubles–the church has endured a wide array of problems. But God has sustained the advance and growth of his church regardless. Along this decrepit highway is the church, dipping and diving along on a wing and a prayer, loosely held together by chewing gum and scotch tape. That the church survives at all is a miracle. That the church continues to operate with some degree of integrity is even more remarkable. But more remarkable than the survival and (rough) integrity of the church is the manner by which God has achieved this miracle. Those obstacles noted above were not brushed aside for the kingdom’s advance, nor were they transcended in glorious fashion. Rather God has pushed his church straight through these obstacles succeeding through them, not above or around the fray. Church splits, personality conflicts, political feuds, denominationalism, hypocrisy, power struggles, family feuds, isolationism, colonialism, mercantilism, bigotry, idiocy, and a constant tendency towards heresy all bear witness to that pitifully human incarnation of the Gospel on earth. That God chooses to let His reputation rest on mortal shoulders is no question. Every “Christian” is to be a little Christ and to wear the name well. But why God would choose such a tenuous method of delivery is a great mystery. We can however deduce that if God has chosen to bring his church through such natural disasters, this allowance is good and this work deliberate. Lessons may be learned through the bumpy road that may not have been possible if we had a simpler journey.
Heresy is one of those potholes on the church road. And heresy is one of the best tests of the integrity of the church. Scripture is clear that orthopraxy and orthodoxy are together precious and salvific truth deserves heavy fortification. Scripture also teaches that heresy is to be answered with truth. But, what is not so clear is how it is to be answered.
Some are eager to spot heresy and even more eager to shoot it down. In fact, those same people can be so trigger happy they shoot at anything that moves. At least three problems arise from this sort of hyper-responsiveness.
First, this response can cultivate a deviant fascination with heresy. Heresy needs to be addressed and squelched, but heresy should not get the glory by being an overriding preoccupation. God’s purposes in allowing heresy are not the glorification of heresy but the refinement and advancement of truth. The hyper-responsive person needs to guard against a morbid fascination with error. Like doctors, we are to know and understand the diseases only so that we may better cultivate health. Apologists therefore have a balance to maintain in order that they do not get so bogged down in their daily grind of studying error that they forget to come home to enjoy truth.
Second, this response lacks wisdom. By hastily rushing into battle the people can prove foolish by neglecting to consider the many and diverse ways in which heresy can be addressed. We need time and tact since we are not just solving equations or firing at targets. We are working with complicated people. Not only are there a multitude of ways to counteract heresy, but depending on the situation those different ways will vary in effectiveness. A direct approach may only incite more conflict and make things worse before they get better. Some heresy requires a multifaceted attack on its wrong supporting motives and its wrong doctrines. Some forms of heresy are best addressed on a person level, while others demand corporate rebuke. If we fall back on bold innocence, we may still do great damage by our foolish uses of truth. We need both wisdom and innocence, shrewdness and purity. We need to heed the command to the disciples in the first commissioning, “be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). And frankly, some forms of heresy are so non-essential or so intimately interwoven with other false beliefs that it is not worth much effort at all. In these latter cases, the apologist may just have to prioritize what hills are worth dying on and then fight accordingly. Also, some heresies are so interwoven that to defeat one is enough to squelch its heretical relatives by proxy.
Third, this method is too often guilty of lovelessness. Because apologetics is concerned with defeating bad ideas and not with defeating people, we need to treat the heresy with concern for the person who holds it. While it will not be possible to restore every heretic to the true faith, that goal is nonetheless at the fore. Apologists should see themselves as ministers of reconciliation not as agents of division. We are to identify and treat diseases to the body of Christ that we may ultimately cultivate health and unity. We are to mourn when a member must be divided from the body. We are patient in using our weapons because we know that a misfire can be deadly. We proceed with reverence and love towards God knowing that he loves those heretics just as he loves all sinners.
Another faulty response is evasiveness. One may avoid conflicts over heresy for fear of conflict, or failure, or bad press, or any number of reasons. But this form is deliberate and therefore in direct opposition to Scripture which demonstrates that challenges to the faith deserve address. This approach can accidentally overlap with the approach of wisdom since its reluctance to act may afford the time and opportunity to identify the best approach. Unfortunately, the evasive do not get around to answering the problem. These are the peace-keepers who fail to identify and defend truth on which true peace can be made. A disingenuous harmony is here preferred over the disruption brought on by truth. Often this response is chosen out of laziness or cowardice and it is only its nobler rationalizations which are espoused vocally. This evasion can be done in the name of pluralism, relativism, tolerance, kindness, or ignorance with words such as, “Judge not lest you be judged,” or “The jury is still out on this subject so we won’t pass judgment.” Such a statement might be justified if the subject were not decided. But we are speaking of real heresy here, not potential heresy. We can know if Jesus is God, and those who argue otherwise are in need of correction. The importance of Christian truth makes this option a non-option. One can justifiably evade a prank phone call or a telemarketer, but if someone is calling with the threat of catastrophic spiritual death, then there is no place for evasion.
Still others may be evasive or under-responsive out of ignorance. Not realizing what threat heresy may pose nor how to identify such heresy, the ignorant are easy prey for the hounds of heresy. They are oblivious to the indirect benefits to be had with a right response to heresy. This position is painfully common due to a prevailing anti-intellectualism within the contemporary evangelical church and within society at large. This position is perhaps the most blissfully pre-occupied, care-free and comfortable. But such a scene is about like setting up a lawn chair and lemonade at the center of a battlefield. What you don’t know can hurt you. What you don’t know can kill you.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the over-responsive is the under-responsive approach. This approach recognizes that total avoidance is not always possible. Nor is ignorance an option, especially once one gets enough knowledge to know that he should know better. But for whatever reasons this approach does not go as far as the hyper-responsive and rightly tones down its attacks. However, the under-responsive easily mistakes its laziness for wisdom. Rather than responding too aggressively, this person is not responsive enough. Under-responsive churches permit bad ideas to prevail where they should have responded correctively in wisdom and love. While wisdom is not rushed, it cannot afford to be late either. In the time that the under-responsive person delays response, souls suffer at the malicious hands of heresy.
Another category of responder is the reactionary. This person rightly responds to heresy and may respond with wisdom and love. But this person errors by letting the heresy lead the discussion. That is, the reactionary person lets the heresy crop up and thereby initiate discussion on the boundaries of orthodoxy. Sometimes heresy is so precocious it sprouts quickly showing no early warning signs. But it is often the case that the heresy has existed for a while but not till it becomes “troublesome” is it addressed. Unfortunately, some diseases do not manifest symptoms until the critically advanced stages. And to wait till the advanced stages arrive may mean that the best point of attack has already passed. Reactionaries often have a remedial disposition rather than a preventative disposition towards heresy. So the response given may not be adequate for addressing or preventing future outbreaks of that sort. Rather than speaking to anticipated deviations in the future, the reactionary formulates doctrine and practices of the church according to the immediately urgent issues at hand. This practice is a new brand of “tyranny of the urgent.”
Approaching a Right Response
There is however wisdom to be gleaned from each of the above approaches. The hyper-responsive lend zeal and conviction for truth. The approach of ignorance rightly admits that it does not know everything, a critical admission for the sake of humility and graciousness. The under-responsive rightly tempers zealous excess. The evasive rightly recognize that not every hill is worth our dying. The reactionary can show great wisdom and love and rightly recognize the practical pressing issues involved in manifest heresy. However, these all need the comprehensive integration of wisdom fueled by love. Wisdom is needed to identify what and how to address heresy. The effort is not merely to win arguments, but to change minds and turn hearts back to the truth of Christ. Much zeal with a little information can often win arguments. But it is a greater task to perform spiritual surgery in healing those hurt by heresy and still be able to walk them through the healing process all the way to full restoration. Moreover, love is needed as a right corrective to motivate a timely and tactful address of heresy that is no less concerned for the individuals involved.
The Helpfulness of Heresy
Therefore an approach is needed that is both wise and loving, shrewd but innocent, truthful yet comely. Heresy is to be combated, but its holders should not be objectified merely as combatants. That is to say, both the heretic and the heresy are not merely problems to be answered. Heresy presents a learning opportunity and the heretic a ministry opportunity. Heresy has value even if, by definition, it should not be believed or practiced. This value is seen in people and in the doctrines of the church. Concerning people, heresy is valuable as resistance training and for heightening awareness. In relation to truth itself, heresy can also serve as a backdoor to orthodoxy and as an expose on the gaps in current expressions of faith. Heresy then can be seen as motivation to chisel away the soft or gratuitous overstatements of otherwise correct theology.
One value to be found in heresy is that it can serve as a kind of resistance training. Being aware of and exposed to heresy in guarded amounts can be a useful means of training disciples in the truth. “Guarded” is the key term because people can drown when they are inundated in heresy. Even the strongest believers can become overwhelmed. And it is duplicitous and dangerous to present heresy as if it were truth. Everyone is susceptible to heresy whether in belief or practice. But in measured amounts, and provided there is some church support for the tried individual, a little exposure to heresy can provide an opportunity to see how well one’s theology can spar with a conflicting theological system. An occasional debate, informal discussion, open forum or something of that sort can provide an excellent way to utilize an alternative belief as resistance training. Lacking that competition, many Christians have grown up with a poor grasp of their Christian faith. Like athletes who have never scrimmaged, they are ill equipped for the strong competition presented by the world. Of course, too much resistance training is overtraining and leads to burn out. But some resistance training can be of great value for individual Christians.
Heresy can aid strength but can also aid awareness. In light of heresy, the reality of spiritual warfare and practical opposition becomes apparent. Likewise the beauty and value of the true Gospel is sometimes clarified by the contrasting light of heresy. As the thief comes in the night, so heresy is most penetrating when the guards are off-duty. But when it is known that theft is prevalent, one is likely to be guarded so as to protect the valuables. And there is no possession more valuable than the true Gospel. We should never take Christian truth for granted whether it is expressed in logical propositions, in theological verbage, in spiritual symbols, or it is implied in cultural, social and personal applications. In this sense, heresy can drive Christians closer to their own orthodox truth to appreciate and exercise the true faith for its own sake. Yes, Christians are to express their faith in response to heresy but they are also to express their faith for its own sake.
A Backdoor to Orthodoxy
Heresy can also be of great value to orthodoxy itself serving as a sort of backdoor to truth. There is a sense in which heresy can trigger orthodoxy for much of Christian theology has been formulated as an apologetic response to the challenge of heretical suppositions. The Nicene Creed expressing a Trinitarian formula was largely a response to the Arian heresy. Paul’s famous resurrection creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 clearly has in view the heresy that Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead. The letter to the Galatians addresses legalism. The book of Romans and the book of Jude answer antinomianism. In modern times, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is unabashedly apologetic in its nature attempting to clarify a thoroughly evangelical view of Scripture in light of challenges to inspiration and inerrancy. One wonders how eager men would be to clarify their beliefs for teaching and training purposes if heretical pressures had not already put the church on the hot seat.
An Exposé on Orthodoxy’s Gaps
Heresy often exposes gaps in our own theology. While a heresy may propose wrong answers, it may expose an important question which still merits an answer. Often it is not the strong voice of a heresy to be credited for attracting a crowd, but the silence of truth which is to blame for neglecting its audience. Van Baalen and Jan Karel express this truth in their oft quoted phrase, “the cults are the unpaid bills of the church.” When the church in truth does not answer, or “pay its bills,” where are people to go for answers?
To illustrate this point consider the rise of Mormonism. Mormonism retains the ancient heresy of Arianism. This heresy asserts, among other things, that Jesus was not always God but became God at some point. This view helps explain how Jesus expresses certain limitations in His earthly ministry, after all, Christ would not be “God” in the fullest sense if he is truly separate from the omnipotent and omniscient Father (Matt. 20:23; Mark 6:5; 13:32). Regarding salvation, Mormonism borrows a smattering of different ideas to answer the question such as “what happens to those who die having never heard the gospel?” The Mormon can answer with baptism for the Dead. By this doctrine not everyone has to personally receive the Gospel so long as they have progenitors who are baptized on their behalf. These doctrines are un-Biblical and false, but the questions they address are important and deserve orthodox time and attention.
The Theological Context of Heresy
Heresy serve some practical purposes but it must be understood that everything falls under God’s sovereign authority, heretic, heresy, apologist, and apologetics alike. The value of heresy can be deduced from its practical implications within theological teaching, but its value can also be inferred from the larger context of a systematic theology and theology proper (theology about God) in particular. In other words, heresy is not a surprise to God but actually is an allowance of God which serves God’s ultimate purposes. Because of who God is, there must be a reason that God allows heresy to proliferate. He is not an arbitrary and fickle fairy. He is the sovereign Lord of all. Nothing surprises Him. And nothing happens by accident but only by God’s permission. God does not make mistakes, nor does He perform evil, nor would He allow the evils of heresy unless a greater good were possible through it. The helpfulness of heresy is a testimony to the divine purposes of evil. God can reap where he did not sow. He can claim good fruit even when it was prodigal hands which sowed the seed. This phenomenon is not unique to heresy, but is true of all evil. Were evil only capable of evil products, then God would never have allowed it in his system. But one of the deepest mysteries of the Gospel is that God sent his son to live by dying, to succeed by failing, to conquer by sacrificing his life. What lunacy? What foolishness? But God has proven His great power by winning the grandest of all wars with his (proverbial) hands tied behind his back. He succeeded not “in spite of” or “around” evil but through evil. Heresy is one of those evils Christ endures that His victory can shine more gloriously overtop its competitors.
It has been above that heresy can serve generally positive purposes even though it is not itself “good.” But heresy still deserves specific address. Below is a suggestion of how to address instances of heresy in a fruitful manner. This suggestion is not an attempt at a comprehensive address to all heresy, nor is it an attempt at a fully-orbed consideration of culture. Cultural considerations are nonetheless important in the application of a Christian truth. The Gospel is combative enough; Christians need not add to its difficulty by being culturally insensitive and socially inept.
Rightly Observe the New Doctrine
It almost goes without saying that the first step in addressing a false doctrine is to observe that false doctrine. This step is not a full evaluation but rather a basic consideration of what this doctrine is and a clear distinguishing from what it is not. This action point sets some broad parameters dividing this doctrine from others by establishing what is and is not included. At this stage one can identify what level of importance this new doctrine holds and whether or not this doctrine is even heresy. This rudimentary step deserves mention because it is often ignored. By beginning with a basic observation this point prevents several errors.
First, one may fail to note the level of importance of this issue. Some heresies are of critical urgency. But other beliefs do not affect theology proper or salvation and may not be of such critical importance. In light of the thousands of heresies extant today in need of an apologetic address, we have to be wise in choosing our battles. Before launching into a full answer of every theological problem we encounter we would do well to conduct a spiritual triage, prioritizing which injuries to the Body of Christ are of the most pressing importance.
Second, one may fail to recognize whether or a not a certain doctrine is even a heresy. Sometimes a deviant doctrine may just be a degree of flexibility allowed with the historic Christian faith. Apologists should take care not to throw the words “cult” and “heresy” around lightly since these are libelous words and, when misapplied, can be sinfully hostile. Apologists, like everyone else, are prone to expect more grace and understanding than they are willing to give. We do not want to be judge yet we want the privilege of hastily judging. A bit of time observing a doctrine can prevent a person from saying big nasty words that they will have to eat later. That same observation may also help a person rightly label heresy as such in its early stages long before its full destructive plumage has been unveiled.
More failures could be noted in this list. But it is sufficient to say that apologists often fail to adequately understand the belief they are addressing. So, in phrasing a defense, they fail to even address that false belief for what it is. Their apologetic is a straw-man argument. Hence a basic observation of that new doctrine is merited.
Rightly Evaluate Yourself
Second one should evaluate his or her own beliefs and practices. In this self-evaluation one should remember that the whole life, not just the spoken word, speaks a message. Perhaps it is the disparity between one’s words and one’s lifestyle that have suggested the need for new doctrine. The first step in addressing potential heresy is to re-evaluate what is known of the truth. The onset of heresy is an opportunity to shine a new light on one’s own faith and evaluate how the truth appears under that exposure. Perhaps that light casts a bad shadow on the truth and needs to be corrected. Sometimes that light exposes actual weaknesses in one’s own life-theology.
Rightly Evaluate the New Doctrine.
Third, having observed the doctrine and having evaluated one’s self one can go deeper and start evaluating the doctrine. Its parameters have been set and now one can begin to interpret and infer from the observed data in effort to clarify the implications of this doctrine and what relations this doctrine may have with others. As with the observation stage, several errors are common at this stage.
To begin with, one may err by not going deep enough. False belief systems are often quite sophisticated and elaborate since they have come into being by dodging and overcoming conventional Christian arguments. It is not enough to tell the Baha’i person (a follower of the Baha’i Faith) that in Colossians 1:15-20 we see that Jesus is God. Bahai’s have answers for that kind of direct and simplistic approach from Scripture. Bahai’s allow for Jesus to be called God and to exercise certain attributes of God since he is a manifestation of the true God. Having a cursory understanding of a doctrine may do more harm than good especially when one imagines it a comprehensive understanding.
Also one may err by failing to note the causes behind these deviations. While one will not understand the effect entirely from the cause, often the causes provide great help in understanding the effect. Doctrines are part of culture. As such, particular doctrines are phrased in a way that specifically reflects the elements of a culture. Understanding the societal, circumstantial, ideological, historical and literary context of certain heresies therefore can provide the groundwork for a tactical rebuttal. If the causes are ignored, the most potent apologetic arguments may prove ineffective because they failed to address the reasons for that belief. Often people choose a cult system for unjustifed reasons. Some ascribe to Mormon theology because of the youth program at the local Mormon church. Some become Muslim with little concern for the truth or falsity of its theology proper focusing rather on how Islam makes provision for the poor. People’s minds need to be dignified with appeals for truth, but people are not merely minds. So a consideration of the other factors involved in their belief can be of tremendous value.
Further, apologists often make the mistake of inferring associations that are not there. The heretic may not be aware of all the ideological baggage that comes along with the one particular belief they are asserting. It would be wrong to assume that this person believes everything associated with the heresy they have professed. Some believers and belief systems are eclectic, inconsistent, or otherwise defy the categories in which Christian apologists are trained. Sometimes a person can be won back to orthodoxy by simply reminding them of how they hold to beliefs which, combined together, disallow this heresy. Of course, one could preempt such problems by phrasing and explaining the true doctrine so as to cut off any deviance in that direction. But there is no way to foresee every possible schism and deviation. The potential for heresy is limitless, so no amount of creed-making or systematizing is sufficient to prevent all future heresies on that subject.
This evaluation part of the process is rife with error but some helpful aims can still be maintained throughout.
Identify the Question
First, one should identify what questions this doctrine attempts to answer. These questions may recall orthodox answers thus suggesting a direction for ones apologetic defense. Rarely is it enough to respond to dogma with dogma, much less to respond to a reasoned new doctrine with dogma. When a person says “Jesus was really a woman,” it may be a wasted arrow to respond with the counterclaim, “Scripture says Jesus was a man.” If a person came to the conclusion that Jesus was a woman, then the normal reading of canonical Scripture is probably not the method and source which they most respect. Instead, try to identify why this person would believe that idea. If it can be identified why a person would question this rudimentary doctrine one might be able to formulate a comprehensive address to that person’s challenge using Scripture, history, and reason in ways that this person will respect. In that case, one might need to show Scripture and Christianity dignify women and espouse a kind of gender equality, proving more faithful and fulfilling to the female psyche than a female Jesus could achieve. Notice, this example does not discard Scripture just because a person may question it’s veracity, or because a person puts other sources above it. Instead, when you identify what key questions the person is trying to answer, you might find yourself preferring a different set of answers from Christianity than you might have expected. If a person holds this view because he believes Christianity is sexist, then instead of quoting verses about Jesus’s gender, you might instead point out verses about the dignity and value of women–which may say nothing specific about Jesus’ gender.
Identify the Truth
Second, one should identify what amount of truth is present in that heresy. Rarely is heresy 100% wrong. Usually there are elements of truth within any given heresy that need to be recognized and even affirmed lest we forsake the crucial bridges whereby restoration can be made. By recognizing the measured amounts of truth still present within this false doctrine one can begin the work of saving the metaphorical baby while throwing out its bathwater.
Note the Strengths and Weaknnesses
Third, one should search for the strengths and weaknesses within this doctrine. The parts that approach or agree with truth can be affirmed as such. These alignments may provide common grounds whereby the apologist can establish trust and build bridges of communication. Other parts of a doctrine which are heavily fortified but are still wrong may be properly reserved for later address since they will likely need more “ammunition” and training before one can answer them well. Still other parts of a doctrine which are weakly defended and are dangerous in their falsity may be a prime target for immediate apologetic response.
Fourth, with the knowledge gained so far one can return to his or her orthodox beliefs and refine and clarify the truth. Note this does not mean “change the truth” but simply clarify the points that have been left implied or vague. Other parts are supposed to be unknown and to answer them at all is heretical. At this point it is helpful to recall the distinction between orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice). Up to this point, this essay has addressed these two together informally under the title of orthodoxy, but formally speaking the two are distinct. And it should be remembered that the task of the Christian is not simply to address problematic teachings, but, just as the Gospel of Christ is at once propositional and personal, so heresy is both in the teaching and in the teacher. Heresy tests not just the orthodoxy of the church but its wholistic integrity. To consider doctrinal implications without considering their practical outworkings may not be an adequate response.
We do not address arguments in isolation rather we address the argument through the arguers. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy may together be refined and elaborated in light of the gaps exposed by a glaring heresy. Of course one should never be hasty in tampering with core beliefs and practices, but one need not hold to core beliefs and practices on blind faith either. Christian truth affords infinite levels of discovery and living application and in 2000 years of the Church’s existence, we have only scratched the surface.
Address the heresy.
Fifth, and lastly, we may address the heresy as such. So far we have addressed the heresy as a tool for learning and as an opportunity for God’s truth to be refined and developed. But we come around now to the point where heresy is to be answered as the sinful error that it is. This step is often the first step in our apologetic efforts, and as such we fail to glean the maximal value from the fact of heresy. While this stage fits best after the observation and evaluational stages, it must fit in or else we are not even talking about apologetics. Comparative religious study, intellectual observation, theological discussion, philosophy of religion, worship or whatever we may call it, it has not reached the level of defense and earned the title of “apologetics.” No apologetic is complete without actually addressing the heresy. There are innumerable ways in which heresy should be ultimately addressed so this short essay is not sufficient for such an ambitious task. And there are many many resources devoted to this topic so little need be said here in that vein.
It can be said therefore that heresy possesses great value just as every other evil possess value. Heresy is one more intrusion upon the true order, but its intrusion falls within God’s sovereignty and will ultimately serve to more brightly highlight the glory of God’s truth. Christians can learn from heresy and through heresy without committing the liberal errors of accommodating heresy or believing heresy as truth. The church should not become a different being or deny its doctrinal roots but the church is nonetheless living. And as a living thing the church is a moving thing for it is always seeking further applications and clarifications of the truth. Consider the illustration in the introduction of this essay the church may be held together by scotch tape and chewing gum. But the church is still a force to be reckoned with and Christ is its animating force giving it power and life. This fragile and goofy machine is really an organism whose essential identity remains the same though it is ever growing and, we may hope, is always maturing.
See, Mark Noll. Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994); J. P. Moreland’s Love Your God With All Your Mind (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1997); Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind. 3d ed. (Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent, 2005); and John R. W. Stott, Your Mind Matters (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1975).
Formally speaking, orthodoxy would refer to true doctrines whereas orthopraxy would refer to true practice. However, informally speaking orthodoxy is used to refer to both and is so used here. Orthodoxy is used here to refer to the truths of the Christian church whether they be of practices such as the Eucharist, evangelism, and prayer or whether they be of beliefs such as the Trinity, and sola fide sola gracia salvation.
Van Baalen and Jan Karel, Chaos of the Cults 4th rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 14 quoted in Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults. Anniv. Ed., Hank Hannagraaf, gen. ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1997), 20.
In response to the questions of what happens to those who die having never heard the Gospel, infants who die before they are mature enough to exercise faith, and what are the minimum conditions necessary for salvation see Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology III: Sin and Salvation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2004), 430-551.
 By “life-theology” is meant the wholistic theological belief system one holds as revealed in his or her life. This “life-theology” is distinct from mere “theology” in that it refers not just to intellectual beliefs consciously admitted but the total theology to which one holds whether or not it agrees with what that person confesses. To illustrate the difference between life-theology and theology one may consider the phenomenon of practical atheism. Christians can be guilty of practical atheism when they confess Jesus as God yet live like there is no God. Their life theology belies the theology the confess.