I talk with people about theology a lot. I even use it as my evangelism strategy. I’ll ask people what they think about God, if they think God is good, if they think God is just, etc. With that in mind, I recognize the irony of this blog post. If you read this and wonder how to differentiate what is worth exploring deeper theologically, as opposed to what’s not, I have two words for you – doctrinal taxonomy. Other than being snarky, I’d love to get coffee and chat about it. If you want to do that, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
With the preface out of the way, here’s the crux of the issue I’ve found in so many places in church life. I have happened upon so many Christians fighting with other Christians over theological issues that I don’t think are worthy to fight over.
Let me be clear, I think struggling through difficult doctrines is a necessary aspect of developing our theology. Struggling, even with others, however, is not the same as fighting.
When I use the term fighting, I mean willing to end fellowship. There are clearly certain doctrines that are worth fighting over. The nature of Christ, and whether he is God, is worth fighting over. The Gospel of Christ is worth fighting over. Beyond all those things, however, are issues that we constantly fight over that are really not worthy of a fight, but are definitely worthy of a struggle.
HOW VS THAT
It seems like the quintessential theological conversation I hear whether I’m in the halls of the seminary or the halls of the church goes something like, “That’s not how predestination works.” Or, “It says days, that means literal days!” Or, “No, no, no, there will be a trumpet, we will rise, then reign for 1,000 years. What do you mean amillenialist? Is that like being atheist?”
What if those discussions didn’t have to be fights? Again, they are very worthy of our time as Christians and very worthy of a struggle and discussion with other believers, but a struggle and discussion doesn’t have to end in a fight. In fact, I think it is outright sinful that it so often does.
I’ve used this little distinction over the years to help calm storms and maybe it’ll be useful to you. I call it the “how vs that” distinction and I’ll use three areas of theology to show how it works.
We fight about Calvinism in the SBC. We ought to struggle with it, but not fight. Let me try to convince you of this: that predestination exists is more important than how predestination works.
In Ephesians 1, Paul lays out the work of the Godhead in redemption history. The Father predestines, the Son redeems, and the Spirit seals. We need not know the full mystery of each of those works to be encouraged by them. Paul included that piece of theology, not to give rise to fights over its meaning, but to encourage the recipients that God has a master plan that extends from before creation to the end of this age and beyond.
The important point in the controversy here is this: how we are predestined, no matter the full meaning behind that, is not nearly as important as that we are predestined. That we are predestined means comfort because we have a God who has had a plan from before creation and He’s carrying it out to its fullest extent. Predestination was not included so we could split churches over the finer meanings of the word. Further, whether we are predestined in Christ in the Calvinistic or Traditionalist or Arminiam or Amyraldian (shout-out to my Amyraldian homies out there) or any other sense, we can find comfort in what we know to be communicable meaning from the text: God has a plan and we are a part of it. That, to me, is much more theologically significant than my Amyraldian conception of predestination.
In that same vein, I've heard fights over how Christ will return at the end of the earth. But how Christ returns is not nearly as important as that Christ returns. Again, I've heard and had so many fights about how God created the universe, but how God created the universe is not nearly as important as that God created the universe.
Hear me pure - predestination, creation, and eschatology are very important discussions to have, but they ought not be major points of contention that split friendships, thereby splitting the church. We must order our theology in a way that the that supersedes the how in tertiary matters of doctrine. If you want to chat about any of this, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com
Steve Morgan is a graduate student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Morgan also serves as the Digital Communication and Marketing Coordinator at NOBTS.