We Evangelicals talk a lot about essentials and non-essentials. Rightly so. We talk about distinguishing between those areas in our faith—those doctrines—which are central or “cardinal” doctrines, and those which are not so important. However, we often have trouble when someone asks us to define, distinguish, and defend this whole “essentials/non-essentials” distinction.

Evangelicals: We can and we must distinguish between sssentials and non-essentials better. Draw our circles too tightly, and we slip into fundamentalism. Draw our circles too wide, and we slip into liberalism.

I have written on this many times, but I am going to attempt to be somewhat comprehensive here. That means: “long article forthcoming.” But I think that this exercise is representative of a pressing issue in Christian discipleship. So put on your seat belt. It is going to get bumpy.

At the Credo House of Theology (our headquarters in Edmond, Oklahoma), right when you walk in the front door you will see written on the wall in Latin the words in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. Translated into English, this means, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This phrase (often wrongly attributed to Augustine) comes from an otherwise obscure German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century named Rupertus Meldenius. It has served as a place holder for a sort of Evangelical credo (statement of faith—hense, it is the first thing you see at the “Credo” house). It expresses the idea of orthodoxy and grace existing together. It reminds us that there are essential Christian beliefs and there are those matters of lesser importance.

I remember hearing a pastor once say concerning doctrine, “You are either one-hundred percent right or one-hundred percent wrong. There is no in-between and there are no gray areas. God is not confused or unsure. Why should we be?” While this might be true concerning God, for us things are different. For now, we see in a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12).

Paul spoke about those things that are “of first  importance [protois]” (emphasis mine). Christ spoke about straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matt. 23:24) and the “weightier things of the law” (Matt. 23:23). The very existence of creeds and pithy statements of faith in the Bible evidence the assumption that there are many issues that are of “first importance.” Here are a few examples of biblical creeds and succinct statements of faith:

Deut. 6:4: Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone.

1 Cor. 12:3: Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor. 15:3-7: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Phil. 2:6-11:  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

1 Tim. 3:16: Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

Heb. 6:1-2: Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, with instruction about ablutions, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

1John 4:2: By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.

As I said, this is one of the things that (should) distinguish us as Evangelicals. We are those who unite around those things that we believe are the weightiest, the things that are the most important, while we (should) give liberty in the non-essentials. I often tell people that there are some things that I believe that I would die for; there are some things that I believe that I would lose an arm for; there are some things that I believe that I would lose a finger for; and then there are some things that I believe that I would not even get a manicure for.

Like in all areas of life, we need to learn to choose our battles carefully. But in order to do this, we must first come to know the difference between essentials and non-essentials.

But (as the criticism goes) it is not that easy to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. More importantly for now, many Evangelicals have simply never been exposed to this and therefore practice their theology in a much more legalistic way, believing every conviction that they have to be representative of a hill upon which they should die.

Here I want to elaborate upon and expand the discussion a little bit. While we need to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, we also need to recognize that there are different types of essentials. Along with this goes my belief that there are different ways to “break fellowship” based on our beliefs. In other words, not all essentials are equal. Some are essential to the very foundation of Christianity, but some are only essential to a particular denomination or expression. This will require different types of breaks in fellowship.

Let me start with a chart, then I will briefly break it down:

click on chart to enlarge

Essential for salvation: These are the most essential doctrines of all essentials. This includes what every Christian should always be willing to die for. In essence, if someone does not believe the doctrines that are “essential for salvation,” they are not saved.

What I include:

  • Belief in God (there is no such thing as an atheistic Christian)

Issues pertaining to the person and work of Christ:

  • Belief in Christ’s deity and humanity (1 John 4:2-3; Rom. 10:9)
  • Belief that you are a sinner in need of God’s mercy (1 John 1:10)
  • Belief that Christ died on the cross and rose bodily from the grave (1 Cor 15:3-4)
  • Belief that faith in Christ is necessary (John 3:16)

As with all of them, I am sure that there are some ancillary matters that could be included, but this gives you the key doctrines. Without these, you simply don’t have any sense of what it means to be a Christian present.

Essential for historic Christian orthodoxy: These include beliefs “essential for salvation” but are broader in that they express what has been believed by the historic Christian church for the last two thousand years, no matter what tradition. This is expressed by the Vincentian Canon (434 A.D.): “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” The exception of fringe movements has never been valid for this canon. It is simply asking, “What have all Christians everywhere always believed?”

Some of what I include:

  • The doctrine of the Trinity as expressed at Nicea
  • The doctrine of the Hypostatic Union (Christ is fully man and fully God) as expressed at Chalcedon
  • The belief in the future second coming of Christ
  • A belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture
  • A belief in eternal punishment for the wicked
  • A belief in God’s transcendence (his metaphysical distinction from the universe)
  • Belief that Christ is the only way to the Father

To be sure, some of these doctrines “develop,” but their development is only in relation to their seed form which preexisted their more mature expression. (For more on this, see here.)

Essential for traditional orthodoxy: Again, these will necessarily include all of those from the two previous categories, but add some distinctives of their own. Essentials here will include all of those that are foundational to one of the three main Christian traditions: Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism. These are beliefs that distinguish one tradition from the next, but are not absolutely essential from the broader Christian worldview expressed above.

Some Protestant distinctives would include:

  • General belief in the major pronouncements of the first seven ecumenical councils (325-787 AD)
  • Belief in the necessity for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ 
  • Belief that justification is through faith alone on the basis of Christ alone
  • Belief that Scripture alone has ultimate authority on all matters of faith and practice
  • The canon of Scripture made up of 66 books (excluding the Deuterocanonical books)

Some Roman Catholic distinctives that would include:

  • Belief in transubstantiation (the bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Christ)
  • Belief that justification is through faith and works
  • Belief that both Scripture and unwritten tradition have ultimate authority as they are interpreted by the Magisterium
  • Belief in the authority of twenty-one ecumenical councils
  • Belief that the Pope is the infallible vicar of Christ
  • Belief in the Marian dogmas
  • Belief that the canon includes the Deuterocanonical books

Some Eastern Orthodox distinctives that would include:

  • Belief in the infallibility of the first seven ecumenical councils (325-787 AD)
  • Belief that the liturgy of the Church is part of the Gospel
  • Rejection of substitutionary atonement and the imputation of Adam’s sin 
  • Salvation by grace through faith as God works these out through our unification with Him (theosis
  • Traditional inclusion of the Deuterocanonical book (although there is some debate about this)

Essential for denominational orthodoxy: This will be similar to the above, but one step down in importance, dealing as it does with the particular and peculiar denominational expressions by the various Protestant traditions.

Some examples:

  • Credo-baptism, i.e., Baptism is only for believers (Baptists)
  • Infant baptism (Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans)
  • Unconditional election (Reformed and Presbyterians)
  • Arminian theology (Methodists, Nazarenes)
  • Belief in the continuation of the Charismatic gifts (Pentecostals, Church of God)

Important but not essential: These are those beliefs that do not describe any particular tradition necessarily. They are important, but not that important.

Some examples:

  • Beliefs about particulars in the creation debate
  • Belief whether the books of Jonah and Job are historical accounts
  • Beliefs about the inerrancy of Scripture
  • Beliefs about the authorship of 2 Peter
  • Belief about particular end-time schemes (i.e. premillennial, amillennial, post-millennial)
  • The order of books in the canon
  • Which translation of the Bible to use from the pulpit
  • Which Gospel was written first
  • How often one should celebrate the Lord’s supper
  • Whether or not Christ taught in Greek or Aramaic

Not Important: These are beliefs that people have concerning Christian doctrine that are not important for any expression and do not affect Christian devotion or spirituality.

Some examples

  • The date of Christ’s birth (Christmas)
  • What kind of music to play at church
  • Whether to use real wine or grape juice at communion
  • Whether to hold Saturday night services
  • Whether or not John the Baptist was an Essene

Pure speculation: That is just what these are—speculation. We just don’t know one way or another, nor does it matter.

Some examples

  • Did Adam have a belly-button? (yes, they did…it would just look funny otherwise)
  • Belief in the eternal destiny of pets? (except I know my dog Rocky is going to heaven)
  • What was God doing “before” creation? (decrees)
  • Will there be meat to eat in heaven? (we can all hope)
  • Will there be sex in heaven? (we can all hope more)
  • How long was it before Adam and Eve fell? (didn’t I just write on this?)

So far, my purpose has been to stimulate a deeper level of thought about the difference between essentials and non-essentials. Really, I just want to convince you that there are essentials and non-essentials. 

Now (take a deep breath), let’s move on and talk about the criteria which makes a doctrine essential.

Four Tests

So far so good? I can hear the objections:  “This all sounds really nice. But who decides what are essential doctrines and non-essential doctrines? The Pope? Your local church pastor? The SBC? Al Mohler? (Didn’t Al Mohler just anathmatize yoga?) Or is it my private interpretation of the Scripture? Alas, with such a question, the divisions start all over. “In essentials, unity.” Sounds nice, but impractical.”

I don’t think we have to be so pessimistic about this. I actually think that there are certain criteria that most thoughtful people can agree constitutes the foundation of our faith—the essentials. I have them narrowed to four in no certain order. It is important to note that I am persuaded that all four must be present for a doctrine to be considered essential. These criteria would pertain to the first two circles: 1) Essential for salvation and 2) Essential for historic Christian orthodoxy.

1. Historicity: Does the doctrine have universal historical representation?

This first criteria is one of historical agreement. This is a form of “consensual faith” (consensus fidelium). This criteria of universal consensus follows the canon of Saint Vincent of Lérins mentioned above: quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus, “that which was believed everywhere, always, by everyone.” In other words, an essential cannot be something new like the doctrine of the Rapture. Neither can it be something that has lacked historic unity by Christians across time like the perpetual virginity of Mary. As well, it cannot have limited geographic representation, like certain Eastern liturgy. The question here is, Have all Christians of all time everywhere believed it?

2. Explicitly Historical: Does the history of the church confess their centrality?

This is like the first but differs in an important way. Here we are saying that if the history of the church has not confessed this as a central issue, then it is not. For example, the history of the church may confess that the Christian worldview includes a firm confession of a belief in the historicity of the Flood narrative, but it has never been a part of the central teachings to the degree that a denial of such is a damnable offense. When combined with the first criteria, the exception cannot define the rule. The point here is that we take seriously God’s work in the history of the Church through the Holy Spirit. If the church has universally believed that a certain doctrine is both true and central to the Christian faith, that doctrine deserves serious consideration as being among the essentials.

3. Biblical Clarity (Perspicuity): Is the doctrine represented clearly in Scripture?

One of the principles that the Reformers sought to communicate is that of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture. The Reformers did not believe that all of the Scripture was clear (a misunderstanding of the doctrine of perspicuity), but that all that is essential for salvation is clear. In short, if something in Scripture is obscure, then it is not essential. Augustine even held to such a principle stating that one must not build doctrines on obscure passages (On Christian Doctrine). For example, one should not build essential doctrine on what the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 16:19) are or what it means to be “baptized for the dead” (1 Cor. 15:29). Unfortunately, both the Catholics and the Mormons have done just that. If a passage is obscure, no essential doctrine can be derived from it.

4. Explicitly Biblical: Does any passage of Scripture explicitly teach that a certain doctrine is essential?

The Scriptures speak about a great many things, but they are often explicit regarding that which is of essential importance. For example, Paul says to the Corinthians, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4; emphasis mine). The “of first importance” tells us that Christ’s death and resurrection “for our sins,” from Paul’s perspective, are essential components of Christianity. Without such, according to Paul, there is no Christianity (1 Cor. 15:12ff). As well, the Gospel of John speaks about the importance of faith. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).

Again, these four criteria, I propose, must all be present. I think I am committed to this. If one or more is lacking concerning a particular doctrine, I believe that it is not possible for one to legitimately argue for its core necessity. As well, all four feed off each other and are somewhat self-regulating. In other words, if someone doubts whether something is clear in Scripture, all he or she has to do is look to history.  If something is not clear in the Scripture, we will not find that it passes the test of historicity. This is why it is of vital importance that Christians not only be good exegetes, but also good historians.


For some of you, this is the first time you have been exposed to this way of thinking. I pray that you consider the major points of what I am saying even if you do not agree with the details. I am not an ecumenicist, but I don’t think that we should have ill-will or break fellowship with people unnecessarily. I believe that we have the right and obligation to define what it means to be “Christian.” But I don’t think we should overdefine it to the point where our circle of fellowship is so small that it only includes “you and those two.”

I hope that thinking through these things will make both our unity and diversity more meaningful and less reactionary. Most of all I pray that this type of thinking will present a renewed conviction for both grace and truth.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    72 replies to "Evangelicals: We Can and Must Distinguish Between Essentials and Non-Essentials Better"

    • anon

      Why do you list divine timelessness as Essential for historic Christian orthodoxy? I understand that it’s pervasiveness is the ground for categorizing it in this way (is this universally held?). However, could it be the case that there are some beliefs that have been held pervasively by the church but that should not therefore be considered essentials for orthodoxy? Another related question: do you think those such as William Lane Craig and Nicholas Wolterstorff thus fail to qualify for Christian orthodoxy because they hold to (different forms) of divine temporality?

    • Ed Kratz

      Anon, it would probably be labeled “Divine Transcendence” or metaphysical holiness. Timelessness is really a subset of this as well as divine simplicity. However, you are right about some people not making the “cut” here. But I am not writing this to make sure all the people I like would come out clean, if you know what I mean.

      Yes, I do think that it is outside of historic orthodoxy to deny the atemporality of God simply because of the assumption factor. Though no major council or creed have ever felt the need to explicitly define God in such terms (that I know of), there are certain things that can be argued to be a part of the ambiance of orthodoxy. This, I would argue, is one of those things.

      “Ambient Orthodoxy” is an interesting concept. While I do think that there is value in challenging all orthodoxy (as opposed to accepting it uncritically because it is labeled “orthodox”), I think ambient orthodox issues are going to be put under the light with more legitimacy than others that have never been challenged. It does not make an opposing position right or any less unorthodox, but it does make the challenge more understandable.

      Hope that makes some sense.

    • Ed Kratz

      Rick, while this was not motivated by the article (and while I did mention Mohler), it certianly does have relavance here. This whole blog is something that I work and rework all the time. This particular post is the latest incarnation of my thoughts with a lot of new stuff added.

    • John Umland

      I think orthopraxy needs to be in this discussion. Homosexuality does not fit in these circles, but it is dividing the church, which IMHO it should. Certainly it’s more significant than alcohol, but not as much as cards and movies. Someone can be orthodox in their doctrine, but not in their praxis. So what does that make them, no better than the devil and his angels? But they claim “charity” and “grace” for their new understandings. Who defines orthopraxy? Each congregation?

      God is good

    • Leslie Jebaraj

      John Umland:

      IMO, orthodoxy defines orthopraxy. While alcohol, cards, movies are not sin, homosexuality is. Orthodoxy has always taught that sex is enjoyed between man and woman, and in marriage. So, I personally think, no one could honestly claim to be orthodox in doctrine while sinful in praxis. Claiming “charity” and “grace” is mere hypocrisy, IMO.

    • C Skiles

      Michael, concerning the meat and sex thing in heaven, you get a thumbs up from me. We can only hope.

    • Greg Gibson


      This is very helpful. (Link forthcoming.)

      How would you answer Covenant Theologians who claim that the the gospel/justification is undermined by those who deny…

      1. The Covenant of Works
      2. The imputation of Christ’s active obedience
      3. Sabbatarianism


    • John Umland

      Hi Leslie,
      It is simple for believers in orthodoxy and orthopraxy. But I know believers who are orthodox, and do not believe the Bible condemns monogamous gay marriage. Those defenses are easily found on the web, if you can’t find them, ask me. They understand our disagreement with them, because of our reading of the Bible, but they feel it is not an essential, just an non-essential.
      God is good

    • Michael

      I agree with most of what you have done. Although I would say the creation debate speaks more to innerancy than most realize, and therefore should be more central. Speaking of innerrancy, did I miss it or did you include it somewhere? If you didn’t, where would you include it?

      Are you including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox simply for illustration, or are you implying they are evangelical in the true sense of the word?

    • Ed Kratz


      I would place inerrancy (depending on how one defines it) in important but not essential and in some denominational orthodoxy.

      I do not see Catholics and EO as Evangelicals in the true sense of the word.

    • Cadis

      #8 or Greg, ha! if you dig that deep ..kick your back feet til you cover it in sand. 🙂 Reality has a way of kicking butt.

    • Glenn Leatherman


      In thinking through the concentric circles in this paradigm should one rename “Essential for denominational orthodoxy” to “Essential for Ecclesiastical Orthodoxy” since these doctrines affect the philosophy of Ministry of local church issues?

      As a pastor in a church that is friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), I know that there is not one group of essentials for denominational orthodoxy but several in the convention – Arminian, Calvinist, Revivalist, Charismatic, Emergent, etc.. While there is a small number of Baptist essentials for orthodoxy (like regenerate church membership, believers baptism, priesthood of all believers, etc.), a pastor’s philosophy of ministry at the local church level that is in cooperation with a broader groups like the SBC dictates other essentials for ecclesiastical orthodoxy in the local church philosophy of ministry and teaching ministry. I know the every local church is different and that pastors like myself will give up an arm because we are convicted by biblical truth that there must be a vision and direction that God has given them from Scripture. For instance, my philosophy is all about fulfilling the Great Commission through the local church rather than through a parachurch philosophy. To accomplish this I will have certain Biblical beliefs that are essential for us to carry out this command, which would disqualify someone else for leadership in our particular expression of Christianity.

      An example is I know that is hard for a convinced believer in the Doctrines of Grace (like myself) to work with a convinced Arminian (like Dr. Roger Olson). I am not making a judgment on his salvation, but I believe his theology is harmful to the church and to the Great Commission Philosophy of Ministry. Spurgeon

      Would you substitute the word “Denominational” for “Ecclesiastical” in that particular level of belief circle?
      If not, would you add one more circle and name it “Essential for Ecclesiastical Orthodoxy”?

      Thanks for your help in this. I have been struggling with this for several years – on how that I can hold strong doctrinal convictions in a local church as a pastor and work with people that may not affirm everything I hold to. I think this kind of theological triage needed even at the local church level, but there comes a time when believers have to part company in ministry for their spiritual growth and the health of the church.

    • Curt

      “if someone does not believe the doctrines that are ‘essential for salvation,’ they are not saved”

      Really? Is that speculation? Do you know for sure that one must have correct theology on these 4 items to be saved by God?

      * Belief in Christ’s deity and humanity
      * Belief that you are a sinner in need of God’s mercy
      * Belief that Christ died on the cross and rose bodily from the grave
      * Belief that faith in Christ is necessary

      What if someone places his trust in Christ for salvation but is uncertain concerning Christ’s humanity? Does God keep him out for not believing this essential for salvation?

      Could God not save someone who incorrectly thinks Christ’s resurrection was only spiritual?

    • Bible Study

      If we do not confess that Christ has come in the flesh, the bible teaches us this is the spirit of antichrist. We must believe the word of God which tells us the word became flesh. If we don’t believe that Jesus became flesh, the humanity of Jesus, then we are in unbelief in the word of God. We cannot be saved without faith.

    • MzEllen

      By your definition, Mormons are saved.

    • MzEllen

      Also, where do Jehovah’s Witnesses fall? Christ is a deity, but inferior to the Father.

    • Steve Cornell

      Good discussion. We need to properly distinguish “tests of Christian orthodoxy”— but also those things that should or should not be “conditions of Christian fellowship.” Too often, we (the Church) have done poorly on the second. Upon what grounds should we separate from others? What types of things should be condemned as wrong for Christian living and testimony? I have written a good bit addressing this aspect of distinguishing essentials from non-essentials. Many of the principles overlap nicely. Perhaps some of it will prove helpful:

      Unity When Christians disagree

      Relating in Unity When Christians disagree

    • William Birch


      We at the Society of Evangelical Arminians are seeking permission to reprint this article and display it on our website, granting your name and site attached, and also a link to your site.

      For further, private, correspondence, please e-mail me at [email protected]

      God bless,
      William Birch

    • david carlson
    • Ed Kratz

      Mormans and JWs do not have the person of Christ right. They don’t believe that he is God (i.e. transcendently and eternally divine).

    • MzEllen

      Yes, BUT…

      Mormons DO believe in the deity of Christ…but they believe that he is an exalted created being (as the Father is.)

      JW’s DO believe in the deity of Christ…but they believe he is a “lesser god” than the Father.

      With “belief in God” and the “deity of Christ” defined loosely, these other religions fit neatly into “Christianity.”

      I personally) move “A belief in God’s timeless existence” and the doctrine of the Trinity into the innermost circle.

    • Ed Kratz

      God, by definition, to historic Christianity, is eternal. Therefore, when I said belief in Christ’s deity, I was assuming such. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

      “A belief in God’s timeless existence” is another way of saying God’s metaphysical transcendence. Denying such would be to redefine God from God to the most powerful being in our present universe (kinda like a superhero).

    • MzEllen

      I know – but I am currently debating with a Mormon and cannot send them here…they would go down that inner circle list and agree with every point.

    • Ed Kratz

      I changed it from God’s timelessness to his transcendence.

    • Dave Z

      I think anything in the “essential for salvation” circle would also have to apply to Old Testament saints, since I believe the “standard” of salvation does not change. Therefore, I’m not sure about including an understanding of Christ’s dual nature or belief in his death and resurrection.

      Based on Luke 18:13, I think I’d go with:
      1) recognition of God
      2) recognition of one’s own sin
      3) plea for mercy

      I think there can be a difference between what is essential for salvation to occur (which includes the deity/humanity of Christ, the atonement, etc) and what an individual must believe in order to be saved.

    • Ed Kratz

      Dave, I think you would be right only if we were writing this in OT times. The whole idea of progressive revelation plays a part here. That is why I think that Christ could define salvation in terms of belief in himself without having to think inclusively about those who had gone before him.

    • LUKE1732

      I do not see Catholics and EO as Evangelicals in the true sense of the word.

      What is “the true sense of the word” and why don’t Catholics and EO qualify?

      Just wondering.

    • Ed Kratz


      Most importantly, I am defining it as a 20th century Protestant movement that was birthed out of Fundamentalism which had its roots in the Reformation. This is the standard definition historically. Therefore, EO and RC are necessarily excluded.

    • Ed Kratz

      Here is a chart I made about Evangelicalism: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/evangelicalism-sm1.jpg

      Notice in the “head” section…Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide are defining characteristics. EOs COULD make such confessions (and have with regard to Sola Scriptura here and there) but it is not part of their formal tradition. Catholics would not be Catholics if they followed suit.

    • Hodge

      I think we should throw out the “essentials/non-essentials” distinction altogether, and instead, replace it with whether a person is submissive to historic orthodox Christianity. We can debate what that is, and someone may just be wrong, or not yet informed (e.g., the OT saints), but still be teachable to God, and seeking to serve God with what is true, as an evidence of the HS in their lives due to a genuine conversion. If someone holds to that entire list, yet is rebellious toward every other aspect of orthodox doctrine, then I would strongly hesitate to call them an evangelical.
      The problem with fundamentalist isn’t that it didn’t distinguish between them. The problem is that it itself was not always submissive to historic Christianity, which led to all sorts of made up cultural rules and cultic thinking. Simply because one moves the bar a little further, but not as far as a liberal, doesn’t really mean they’ve preserved the faith where the other two have failed. It just means that it’s a hybrid of the two.
      In the end, we’ve bred generations of evangelicals/emergings, who are rebellious toward Christianity itself, but still retain the name simply because they believe in the deity of Christ, etc. The fear of God and humility it brings to doctrine has gone the way of the Dodo because we think we’ve paid our club dues in signing off at a couple beliefs at the door.

    • LUKE1732

      Thanks for the definition. As to the diagram, how can you have both “Sola Scriptura” and Nicea/Chalcedon? I’m pretty sure that the evangelicals I know (non-denom, megachurch) would, if they had heard of them at all, consider them “Catholic” things.

      Also, the creed mentions the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”. OK, I get catholic with a small C – not a brand name, but what about “one”. Is the unity “invisible” or should we be working towards actual organizational unity?

      Just a visiting Catholic who appreciates the disciplined tone of discourse on this blog…

    • ScottL

      So you are telling me it is possible for both Roman Catholics and those in the BioLogos Foundation to be Christian?! 😉

    • Dave Z

      CMP…progressive revelation? How very dispensationalist of you, what, did you go to DTS or something? 🙂

      I think Hebrews 11 establishes the essential element – faith. Through progressive revelation, I think we understand more details, but I’m not sure the details change the actual standard of salvation. But I could be wrrr…, uh….wrooo, wait…wronnnn…

      Wow, just can’t seem to say it…

    • Kim

      “Yes, I do think that it is outside of historic orthodoxy to deny the atemporality of God …”

      How about substituting atemporality with eternity and leave open whether that is to be construed as timeless or temporal or some hybrid?

      It is kind of strange that you recommend so many authors and scholars who in your view are unorthodox or not Christians in the historic orthodox sense.

      Fx. I would guess that around half of the authors in your “top 15 apologetics books” would deny that God is atemporal. (The rest are inconsistent 🙂 )

    • Ed Kratz

      Kim, I only know one who would: William Craig. And even then, it is more of both/and approach. I would not have a problem saying that he is outside of the historic Christian faith with regard to this issue alone. There are many people that I respect that are challenging or outside of one issue or another. The question becomes one of Christocentric relationship. Does it affect he view of who Christ is and what he did. I don’t think it does. But if one of these issues does have a strong Christocentric relationship, being unorthodox is much more serious.

      I respect William Craig a great deal even though I do say that he is outside of the Great Tradition in his view of God’s transcendence.

      Historic Christianity is unique in that we believe that God is immanent and transcendent at the same time.

    • Ed Kratz

      Dave, you can’t say it because you are not wrong! Faith is always the issue. The content of that faith is dynamically dependant on God’s revelation.

    • Ed Kratz

      Scott, yes, it is POSSIBLE. 😉

    • Ed Kratz

      Thanks Luke,

      Glad you stopped by. I think that you are right that there is a segment of fundamentalistic Christianity who would say “No Creed but the Bible” (which is silly since it is a creed!), but Evangelicals should never see themselves outside of the historic church. It is one of our major problems. While scholars in Evangelicalism would not make such irresponsible statements, most of the laity have what Eastern Orthodox theologian Bradley Nassif calls “Historical Amnesia”!

      Our ministry hopes to change that perception and the attitude of Evangelicals toward history. Evangelicals are Nicene and Chalcedonian Christians. While we don’t believe such creeds to be infallible, this does not mean we should be any less convicted about their truthfulness. The holy spirit has been working for 2000 years and we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

    • Michael T.


      I think Bill Craigs view on the issue is that God entered into time upon the creation of the universe, but prior to this was atemporal. So it is a both and perspective. This view is necessitated because Craig holds to a A theory of time.

    • Bible Study

      The only essential to salvation is faith in Jesus Christ. Once this occurs from the heart, repentance and everything else in the bible is taken care of.

    • Ms. Jack

      I’m too lazy to read the comments right now, so maybe I’ve missed this, but where would beliefs regarding the place of women in ministry go?

      Personally, I’d put them somewhere in the vicinity of “Denominational Orthodoxy” and/or “Important But Not Essential.”

    • […] 4. Explicitly Biblical: Does any passage of Scripture explicitly teach that a certain doctrine is essential? read entire post here… […]

    • […] Evangelicals: We Can and Must Distinguish Between Essentials and Non-Essentials Better […]

    • John Barron

      I dont know that the essentials are difficult to obtain from the Scripture. The difficulty arises when some get into the mindset of isolating negotiables. That because there is a command to believe something, or participate is a certain ordinance, that it becomes an essential. I worte an article on this very subject not long ago and was able to conclude there were only 5: Monotheism, the Deity of Christ, Salvation by grace alone, the physical resurrection of Christ, and the gospel. Everything else is not framed in a “must hold” manner.

    • Leslie Jebaraj

      Hi John Umland:

      #9 – Yes, please do let me know of sites where homosexuality is condoned. I would like to be informed of their defenses. Only recently did I come to know that Cliff Richard thinks homosexuality is ok; he thinks commitment is the key, and not the gender!

    • John Umland

      I’d start here, http://www.gaychristian101.com/ then go here, http://www.soulforce.org/

      God is good

    • Antioch

      In Acts 10, Peter marveled that gentiles were receiving the Spirit just as the Jews had. Acts 10:47 – “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” That, to me, speaks volumes on the matter of doctrine and tradition.

      I don’t really care what doctrine says about who is really a Christian and what the ‘essentials’ are supposed to be. A brother/sister in Christ is one who has been baptized with the Spirit. And how do we know who has been baptized? Acts 26:20 helps – those who prove their repentance by their deeds.

    • Leslie Jebaraj


      So, you are really saying that there are no such thing as ‘essentials’?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.