Dr. Albert Mohler is to be credited for promoting a helpful theological grid which assigns to each doctrine a level of importance for Christian faith and practice. While his theological triage framework is conceptually sound, one cannot help but wonder about the convenience with which he somewhat avoids the placement of Calvinism. In the above article, for example, no specific mention is made of soteriology, unless one interprets it as among “any number of issues related to the interpretation of difficult texts,” a classification rendering it in the relatively unimportant third-tier category, a matter which by definition should not be expected to impact the unity of any individual church fellowship.
Another presentation of theological triage may be found in the following chart. Once again, one will look in vain to find a word like “soteriology” or “Calvinism” or even “doctrines of grace” listed in this categorical presentation of doctrines. Granted, if you are the one coming up with a system, you have the right to define terms however you wish, but sometimes what we leave out is more important than what we say. I believe it is fair to say that Dr. Mohler considers soteriological doctrines related to Calvinism as a third-tier issue, with plenty of room within each local congregation for Christians to disagree over these matters just as they might disagree over their eschatological view or, to use hyperbole, whether or not Adam had a belly button.
To summarize the system, tier one issues separate Christians from Non-Christians. Tier two issues separate one church from another. Tier three issues need not separate us within local fellowships at all, consisting largely of disputable “gospel freedom” matters such as television, home schooling or even Harry Potter. Does it not strike anyone else as odd that Mohler would not clearly identify within his framework the very issue that is arguably the most significant theological question of our day, especially since he personally has become practically synonymous with advancing the Calvinist viewpoint?
I am sure Calvinists will be relieved to know that I do not view soteriology as a tier one issue, which is simply to say that I believe both Calvinists and Non-Calvinists are saved, redeemed saints who are heaven-bound and within the family of God. Unfortunately, when considering the place of Calvinism in the theological triage framework, choosing between tier two and tier three is far more complicated.
I will admit the existence of certain fellowships, such as that of SBC Voices contributor Chris Roberts, in which the pastor and the people may co-exist happily possessing what is only a minor disagreement over the relationship of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility in the process of salvation. In other words, plenty of evidence exists of individual congregations for whom Calvinism is indeed classified as a third tier issue.
On the other hand, one must also admit the existence of numerous fellowships whose experience is exactly the opposite. Many churches have found that this doctrine is “essential enough” that they must choose one way or the other regarding Calvinism in order to support a harmonious philosophy of missions, worship, ministry, outreach approach, child evangelism efforts, evangelistic invitations, parachurch affiliations and other matters. These churches have indeed split over the issue, providing clear and convincing evidence of the tier two status of Calvinism, at least among many of our churches.
How many people do you think view this issue as a tier two doctrine as opposed to a tier three? What happens if Calvinism “sheds a tier” from category three to category two in Southern Baptist life? Perhaps another way of looking at this question is to ask, “Are there merely Calvinist and Non-Calvinist individuals or are there not also Calvinist and Non-Calvinist churches?”
Perhaps the most shocking conclusion of all emerges when I consider that Mohler seems to classify Calvinism as a “tier three” concern while I lean toward considering it as a “tier two” concern. Therefore, the issue of Calvinism is evidently more important to me than it is to Al Mohler, an observation which now ranks at the very top of the list of things I never thought I would write.