It is a standard cry in some quarters that if a theologian is compared to a “heretical” theologian, then it is guilt by association, and therefore an invalid argument. However, this is not really what “guilt by association” means. A person’s theological statements do not constitute “association.” Therefore, comparison of one theologian’s statements to another does not and cannot constitute “guilt by association.” This is amply proven by the opposite example. The very people who complain about the “guilt by association” argument are often the very first ones to compare their own theology to orthodox theologians, saying in effect, “Look, I’m just saying what orthodox theologian X said, therefore I’m orthodox.” What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If it’s okay to compare one’s statements to an orthodox theologian, then it’s okay to compare one’s statements to a “heretical” theologian. The nature of that comparison, of course, is another question entirely. I’m not saying that it is always legitimate to compare someone’s theology with a “heretical” theologian. All I’m saying is that the “guilt by association” objection doesn’t fly.
I actually think that there is a limit on how far this kind of comparison can go. It’s not always legitimate to compare two different people’s theology, although sometimes it is. How one would go about deciding when it is and when it isn’t would go way beyond the scope of this post. Oftentimes, the question of comparison between two theologians is simply beside the point, especially when the question has to do with the orthodoxy of one of the theologians. Then, the only comparison that matters is the theologian in relationship to the standards of the church.