(Ed Goodman writes an excellent blog called “Living with Fire” – well worth regular reading.)
It is both a privilege and a challenge to witness the events taking place in the Kingdom of God worldwide in what SBC President Bryant Wright calls “the Golden Age of Theological Education” for our denomination. Today, seminary graduates are biblically astute, extremely well-versed in systematic theology, and amazingly adept at articulating their theological convictions. These graduates almost always affirm two foundational concepts: 1) the Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God; and 2) the doctrines of the Bible are deeply important.
However, with such a vast number of Bible scholars being produced by our great seminaries, there has arisen the “problem” of varying interpretations of Scripture. Within the ranks of people who affirm that Scripture is absolute truth, scores of different doctrinal “sects” fail to agree on what exactly constitues that absolute truth. In soteriology, you have Calvinists and Arminians; in eschatology, you have premillennial dispensationalists, historic premillennialists, and amillennialists (postmillennial adherents are the dinosaurs of the theological age, having gone extinct); and in ecclesiology, you have Landmark Baptists, seeker-sensitive Baptists, reformed Baptists, “traditional” Baptists (whatever that means), and cooperative Baptists (who proudly embrace their moderate stances and “balanced” journalism). With so many perspectives and practices out there, how do we know which positions are correct?
There’s a problem with simply going to the Word of God for answers: every single one of these positions have a solid scriptural basis! Arminians are not idiots, and Calvinists are not jerks. Premillennial dispensationalists are not hermeneutical criminals, and amillennials are not allegorical heretics. Each of these positions have strengths and weaknesses, and many of these “competing” doctrines must be held in tension with one another.
However, some people (such as Les Puryear) want to ambiguously claim that “all of God’s Word is equally important.” Well, I agree with that in principle, because no single jot nor tittle is unimportant. However, if certain doctrinal positions can’t be nailed down, even by the best of scholars, what do we do? Do we throw out the Word of God as impossible? Do we give up trying because none of us can intellectually contribute to the discussion like Mohler, Moore, Akin, Lemke, and Keathley? Absolutely not!
Instead, for the sake of missiological cooperation and Christian unity, we adhere to the principles of theological triage. This does not rate the “importance” of Christian doctrines, as all doctrine is important. Instead, theological triage rates the essentiality of doctrines. For instance, eschatology is important to the Gospel message, because Christ is coming back to bring judgment to sinners and joy to saints. However, the nature of the Second Coming, while important, is not “essential” to the Gospel message itself. One Christian can affirm a pre-trib dispensational view while still affirming the sainthood of a post-trib historic premillennialist. Eschatology is important, but not “essential” in determining Christian salvation or biblical fidelity.
I wish I could take the easy road of ambiguity and just tell you that “all Scripture is important.” While that is certainly true, the issue is too complicated to leave at just that. With the vast number of doctrinal positions and solid biblical interpretations in contemporary Christendom, unity must take precedence above needless doctrinal division in order to cooperatively fulfill the Great Commission. Theological triage is the best answer I have seen. Ambiguous piety and simple-minded theological conclusions just won’t do. Unless we can get the greatest scholars of the day on the same theological page in every category, then theological triage must remain.