There has been a lot of conversation recently on the question of "What do Christians believe?" This question has intensified over the past several months due to the Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidency of the U.S. coming from unorthodox religious backgrounds. President Barak Obama, the Democratic nominee, spent 20 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ under the teaching of Jeremiah Wright. Trinity is denominationally associated with the United Church of Christ and has embraced "Black Liberation Theology," many theologians would argue that this perspective has led the church away from a pure Biblical Theology.
The Republican nominee Mitt Romney is a Mormon, which is a religion that sees not only the Bible, but also the Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants as authoritative. The prominence of these two men has led a lot of Americans to ask the questions, what do Christians believe? When has someone gone beyond what it means to be a Christian?
One of the most helpful documents I have found on this matter is an article written by Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in 2006 entitled, "Theological Triage." In this article, Mohler suggests three different levels of theological urgency. In the first level, Mohler draws the line between Christian and a belief system outside of Christianity or non-Christian. He said, "First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of scripture." The church has traditionally called people who landed outside of these theological positions heretics, as these were essential to the Christian faith. Mohler said, "The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers.
"When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident." These second order issues include differences in understanding of the mode and meaning of baptism, the meaning of the Lord's supper and church governance.
In Covington, for example Christians from different denominations have joined together because of common belief in first-level theological issues, even though they may have come from different churches and denominations dividing on second order issues. Finally, Mohler writes, "Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations."
These include differences in understanding in anything from the Millennial Reign of Christ, to the relationship between God's sovereignty and human free will. At First Baptist, for example, we have Calvinist and non-Calvinists, premillennialists, amillennialists and post-millennialists who all congregate together in good faith and unity.
Conversations about conviction and belief are important, and very beneficial as long as people can partake in these conversations without letting their emotions take over. You have more than just an intellectual attachment to your core convictions. This is what American Theologian Jonathan Edwards called "the affections" and having affections driven by convictions is one of the true marks of genuine faith. However, when conversing with people who disagree with you it is important that you, keep the emotions that are stirred by your affections under control and respect the person with whom you find disagreement.
Over the next several weeks, we will be looking at each of these three levels of Theological Triage in depth. Alongside this series of articles, First Baptist will be airing four podcast interviews that I had with local pastors.
This week's podcast is an interview with Dr. Doug Gilreath, the pastor of the First Methodist Church in Covington. Dr. Gilreath and I talk about the similarities and differences between Southern Baptists and United Methodists.
I appreciate his forthcoming nature and gentile spirit. You will find in this interview that though we hold different convictions on several key issues, we also agree on much and can work together in many ways for the sake of the glory of Christ.
To access these interviews, please visit firstbaptistcovington.com/Media/Audioblogs.aspx.
Jason Dees is a grateful follower of Jesus Christ, the husband of Paige and the father of Emery Anna. He is also the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington and a Ph.D. candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.