Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Essentials and less-essentials

I like Albert Mohler's concept of "theological triage" and yesterday at internetmonk.com I encountered a post that, in the course of advocating better Christian education, catechesis, describes much the same approach. The quotation immediately below is attributed to "17th century Lutheran theologian, Rupertus Meldenius":
In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In all things, charity.

This concept of “essentials” and “less-essentials” is clearly set forth in one of the best chapters in the book, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett. They call this part of their book, in which they urge a renewed ministry of catechesis in the evangelical church, “Drawing Lines and Choosing Sides.”
By drawing lines, we mean, first, that good catechesis helps believers distinguish primary doctrines from those that may be considered secondary or tertiary. Not all things that the church teaches are equally important. Simply making this point is, in and of itself, a potent act of teaching. A second sort of line drawing that catechists engage in is pointing out that what we believe at each level of importance—primary, secondary, and tertiary—needs to be distinguished from what others have taught. We believe this as opposed to that. Hence, our line drawing also involves choosing sides.
They offer a wise and irenic way of teaching believers that can help us pursue unity with all believers while at the same time recognizing that our unity is a harmonious oneness that includes a great amount of diversity.

Drawing Lines
Packer and Parrett suggest that the teaching ministry of the church (its catechesis) should be recognized as having four layers:
  1. Christian Consensus: This the Faith, that which others have called, “Mere Christianity” or the “Great Tradition”—the Good News of the Story of our redemption and the basic contours of the Christian way.
  2. Evangelical Essentials: The authors, as evangelical Protestants, define this second level as those distinctives which set us apart from the other historic Christian traditions (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, etc.). An example of this would be the so-called Five Solas of the Reformation.
  3. Denominational Distinctives: These are the doctrines and practices that distinguish various Protestant groups from one another.
  4. Congregational Commitments: Even within a specific tradition or denomination, particular congregations will have a “vision, values, and practices” specifically shaped by their own unique callings, giftings, and cultural settings.
In our teaching ministry, these four layers must be appropriately “weighted” so that believers can learn to discern the relative importance of each level of commitment. .... [more]