Heresy is a term used either too much or too little in Christian circles. Either Christians call everything they disagree with a heresy, or they are so afraid of offended or exclusing someone that they are unwilling to employ it even when its appropriate.
I think that some of the problem with our misuse of the term heresy comes from an misunderstanding of what heresy is. The word heresy comes from the word for "faction" or "party." Heresies are parties within the church that make one doctrine or one perspective on a doctrine the centerpiece of the faith to the exclusion of the rest. Thus, heresy is not exactly the opposite of orthodoxy ("right teaching"), but is more precisely the opposite of catholic ("universal, complete"). Accordingly, heresy is best defined as substituting part of the truth for the whole. This is why heretics are not completely wrong and often have much truth to share. The problem with heresy is not its utter falsity, but its one-sidenesses.
How might this change our attitude toward heresy? Heresies are not extra-Christian viruses to be eradicated, but intra-Christian parasites that feed off the truth. The solution to heresy is not to push it out, but to draw its one perspective back into the whole truth of the Christian faith. In other words, heresy is to be redeemed.
Let me give an example.
In the 5th century, a certain party called the monophysites claimed that Christ had only one nature: the divinity of Christ subsumed his humanity so that the humanity was rendered divine. This heresy witnessed to the truth that Christ was not a schizophrenic half-man/half-God, but one single person, the Son of God become man. Unfortunately, they did so at the expense of the complete humanity of Christ.
Simultaneously, there was another party who bore the brand name of Nestorians who claimed that within Christ there were really two persons: the divine son of God and the human son of Mary. This heresy witnessed to the truth that both the divinity and humanity of Christ were complete and unaltered. Unfortunately, they did so at the expense of the integrity of Jesus Christ as one single person.
At the council of Chalcedon (451), the church affirmed the truth on both sides of the argument: Christ is one person with two natures. The heresies were not so much rejected as assimilated into a larger whole. The truth on both sides was affirmed, while the error was left behind. In other words, these heresies were redeemed.
How does viewing heresy this way help us to approach views other than our own?
Do you have any other examples of heresy being redeemed?
Are there any heresies that come to mind that seem "unredeemable"?
How do we practice the art of redeeming heresy without becoming misled ourselves?