Theological Triage

I’ve so enjoyed reading Andrew Naselli & J.D. Crowley’s book on the Conscience. It is particularly helpful for multicultural churches and those who are planning on being involved in cross-cultural mission.

the following quote is really helpful in defining the role of the conscience in ‘third level issues’.

“Some Bible teachings are more important than other Bible teachings. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “I delivered to you as first importance what I received.” The words “first importance” imply that although everything in the Bible is important, not everything is equally important. Some doctrines are more important. To simplify things, we could think of three levels of theological triage:

  1. First-level issues are most central and essential to Christianity. You can’t deny these teachings and still be a Christian in any meaningful sense. For example, there is one God in three persons; Jesus is fully God and fully human; Jesus sacrificially died for sinners; Jesus rose bodily from the dead; we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; Jesus is coming back.

  2. Second-level issues create reasonable boundaries between Christians, such as different denominations and local churches. These issues will have a bearing on what sort of church you are part of. For example, what’s your view of baptism or church government or God’s sovereignty in salvation or the role of men and women in the church and home? You don’t have to hold one particular view to be a Christian, but it’s challenging for a church to have a healthy unity when its leaders and members disagree on these matters.

  3. Third-level issues are disputable matters (also called matters of indifference or matters of conscience). They might involve how you interpret particular passages of the Bible. For example, who are “the sons of God” in Genesis 6? There is more than one viable view. Third-level issues also include many practical questions. For example, how should Christians view the “Sabbath”? Is it okey on Sundays to go to a public restaurant? Or shop at a grocery store? Or watch a football game? Or play a football game? Or mow the lawn? Or work for pay? Disputable matters aren’t unimportant, but members of the same church should be able to disagree on these issues and still have close fellowship with each other.”


I think this ‘three-level’ approach is much more helpful than the “open hand vs closed hand” approach which has shaped  my thinking over the last 10 years or so.


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