All Christians have a credo. That is, all Christians believe something. Some think theology is bad, without realizing that that position is a theological statement. Others say, â€œThe Bible is my creedâ€ without grasping that the Bible needs to be interpreted; after all, not all interpretations are created equal. Those who have more training recognize that a number of beliefs need to be articulated for oneâ€™s credo. Itâ€™s this last group that I wish to address in this blog.
Those who know what they believe generally fall into two distinct groups. First are those who hold to what I would call a domino view of doctrine. Such people construct their doctrines like so many dominoes, interlocking in such a delicate pattern that the whole system rests on the viability of one block. The problem is this: if one domino falls down, they all fall down. The system depends on the strength of every single subpoint.
I used to hold to this view several decades ago. When a theologically-trained relative of mine said that he didnâ€™t believe in inerrancy, I thought to myself, Oh no! My uncle is going to hell! My whole system depended on every aspect of it being true, and I assumed that those who didnâ€™t embrace the same system en toto were doomed to the fiery pits.
So, I timidly asked him, fearing for the worst, â€œWhat do you think of the deity of Jesus Christ?â€ His response was that if Christ was not God, we are all dead in our sins. That response turned my world upside down.
I soon came to construct my theology with building blocks that did not resemble dominoes, that did not all go flat when one of them stumbled. There were core values and peripheral values in my credo. And I began to construct it so along the lines of four criteria:
- What is essential to believe for the life of the universal church?
- What is vital to believe for the health of the universal church?
- What is important to embrace for the pragmatic working of the local church?
- What is non-essential in any sense and should not cause division among Christians?
Now, admittedly, this matrix is not perfect. Some theologians would want to nuance things much more carefully. But itâ€™s a good starting place. If you think of concentric circles, with the core values at the center, with less important doctrines circling out from there, you have an idea of how this looks. I call it the concentric circle view of doctrine. I know, itâ€™s a lousy name, but itâ€™s the best I can do for now. Besides, Iâ€™ve been more concerned with what it means than with how it sounds. And what it means is that there are certain doctrines that are insulated from attack, that are at the center of what we embrace as true. There are truths that I will die for, and beliefs that I wonâ€™t let my little toe get cut off for! Most are in between these extremes.
In the discussions weâ€™ve been having the last few weeks, I am convinced that part of the reason some folks have been talking past each other is that we have a different set of doctrinal priorities. Some hold to domino doctrines; others have far more doctrines in their â€˜essential for lifeâ€™ list than others do. Perhaps now is the time to air some of these beliefs, so that we can see where we all stand. As for me, Christâ€”his deity, his death for my sins, and his bodily resurrectionâ€”stand unswervingly at the very core of all I embrace as true. To be sure, there are other first-tier doctrines, but this is at the top of the list. So, hereâ€™s the question: What else would you put in that list? What would you put in the tier two doctrines, the â€˜health of the churchâ€™ list? Whatâ€™s your credo made of?