Being in ministry—being in theological ministry—the passions run high. You are going to say some wrong things and you are going to have some wrong things said about you. Such is ministry. One needs to develop some thick skin if they seek to surf these waters.
As a consequence of being misunderstood, you get mislabeled. One label that has been recently tapped on my back with red crayon is “minimalist.” What does that mean to be a minimalist?
One who sees Christianity as a system of belief that only recognizes the least common denominator. In other words, let’s just find out what all those who call themselves Christian believe and say that this is true Christianity and then let’s not talk about anything else. Talking about what divides, well . . . divides. And division is bad, bad, and double bad. Therefore, let’s just all get along.
Many of those in Pop Evangelicalism, the Emerging Church, and the Emergent church take this perspective.
From the standpoint of those who call me a minimalist, I represent a branch of Evangelicalism that compromises truth for conciliation in the name of ecclesiastical unity.
Stepping back and looking at this criticism, I can see where it comes from. I understand how people would get this impression. I do tend to encourage people to focus on the things that unite. I do tend to plead with people about the danger of talking past each other. I am even sometimes critical of militant apologetic methods that seem to deepen chasms, hardening others in an apologetic position that only focuses on what they are against, thereby losing perspective. However, I would not classify myself as a minimalist.
Let me introduce some similar terms that will help get a grasp on this issue.
One who seeks unity only with those with whom there is maximal agreement. Any disagreement, no matter how small it is perceived to be, does not take away from its importance. All issues are equal, or at least close to it.
Roman Catholics, some Eastern Orthodox, and Fundamentalists would normally share this perspective.
One who seeks unity by finding areas of compromise. Taking the dialectical method, opposing positions are rarely correct, but the truth is found in a compromised center.
Many in the Emergent and liberal Church share this perspective.
One who starts with the center of Christianity and believes that it provides the anchor from which all other conversation will find its ground. A centralist is focused on the most important elements of the faith so that the other issues can be seen in light of the perspective it provides.
Most in the Historic Evangelical church, some emergers, and some Eastern Orthodox hold this perspective.
It is in this camp that I can be found roasting marshmallows.
What is the “center” of the faith?
The doctrine of the Scripture? The doctrine of truth? Helping those in need? Social action? No. None of these in my opinion are the center of the faith. The center of our faith is Christ. If you want to say “the doctrine of Christ,” that is good as well. It is the person and work of Christ that is the center of Christianity. “Who do men say that I am?” is the most important theological question there is. If you get this wrong, all else will not only come undone, but it will be meaningless. If you get this right, there is a foundational unifying factor that we must recognize and in light of which all other issue must find their place.
Those who say that Christ is the eternal God-man who died for our sins and rose from the grave have more common ground with each other than they often care to admit.
Here are some differences between the four positions:
Maximalist: Let’s find all denominators.
Minimalist: Let’s find the least common denominator.
Centrist: Let’s create a new denominator that is somewhere in the middle.
Centralist: Let’s find the most important denominator.
Maximalist: We will militantly divide over all issues since all issue are of equal importance.
Minimalist: Issues that people disagree upon unnecessarily divides, therefore, let’s not discuss disagreements.
Centrist: Let’s all move more toward the middle ground, then we can get along.
Centralist: If we are united around the centrality of Christ, let all other issues find perspective in this agreement.
Maximalist: The truth is in the maximum.
Minimalist: The truth is in the minimal.
Centrist: The truth is in the middle.
Centralist: The truth is in the central.
Maximalist: Approach to Church history: All traditions that do not completely agree with us are anathema.
Minimalist: Approach to Church history: Find the minimal areas of agreement and form a new tradition.
Centrist: Approach to Church history: Use the dialectical method understanding history as a stepping stone to the evolution of truth.
Centralist: Approach to Church history: Find the central areas of agreement and recognize this commonality.
Maximalist: Non-essentials = essentials (there is no such thing)
Minimalist: Non-essentials = non-importance
Centrist: Non-essentials = everything
Centralist: Non-essentials should be put into their relative positions of importance to the degree that they affect the central issues.
I don’t believe in a minimalist or centrist approach to truth. Minimizing Christianity undermines the truth and strangles revelation. Finding middle ground compromises the truth.
Minimizing Christianity to the Glory of God? No. Impossible.
Centralizing Christ to the Glory of God? Absolutely. By definition, when we center on the person and work of Christ, God will be glorified.