I came across today another terrific article by a man who is fast becoming one of my favorite essayists-- R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The article is over at The Christian Post, and is titled, "A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity".
Dr. Mohler says that "God's truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail, but responsible Christians must determine which issues deserve first-rank attention in a time of theological crisis."
The article goes on to present an analogy of defending Christian truth by "theological triage", that is, determining which are the issues that require the most urgent and immediate attention, and giving such truths first priority. "A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world's framework for medical priority", he says.
Dr. Mohler includes among the "first-level theological issues" those doctrines "most central and essential to the Christian faith". Among these are "doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture."
Second-level issues, Mohler points out, are those upon which Christians may strongly differ, often forcing them to separate into different denominations. These issues are not the fundamentals of the faith however, and Christians may have honest, though strong disagreements over them. Mohler mentions the practice of infant baptism, or the ordination of women as second-level issues. I think that issues such as "speaking in tongues", or differences over the definition and practice of the "Baptism in the Holy Spirit", might also be placed in this category.
Dr. Mohler continued by defining third-level doctrinal issues as those over which Christians have differences, yet are still able to continue fellowshipping together within one church or denomination. He spoke of people holding various views of eschatology as an example of the kind of third-level issue that might be present within a congregation.
Dr. Mohler's analysis of the errors present in the extremes of fundamentalism vs. liberalism is incisive. While liberalism tends to treat first-order issues, such as the authority of Scripture, as if they are third-level in importance, fundamentalism treats all disagreements as if they have a first-level significance.
Dr. Mohler's article is a clarion call to the Christian community. In a time when truth itself is under attack, we must band together to defend the vital, core truths of Christianity, and not get sidelined bickering over non-fundamental truths. But as he points out, in order to do this, we must be able to determine, as mature believers, which are those fundamental core truths.
This strong defense of the fundamental truths of the faith that Dr. Mohler exhorts us to practice is what I was lamenting as missing from the Billy Graham ministry (see my recent post on his visit to NYC). If one of the fundamental truths of the faith is that we are justified by faith in Jesus alone, as Graham preaches, then to be consistent with that word, the BGEA ought to send those who have made decisions for Christ only to churches that believe, practice and defend that doctrine. But sadly, it seems that it does not do this.
Some questions for discussion
Do you agree with Dr. Mohler's view that we should be defending the fundamentals of the faith? And would you agree with his list of the essentials; if not, which do you think are the essential Christian doctrines that need to be defended? Is it possible for Christians of various stripes to come to a consensus on what the "fundamentals" are, so that we can join forces in their defense?