Theological Triage

In my context overseas I’ve heard it said that we should only partner with those with whom we share the same theology and methodology. This statement falls short for at least three reasons. First, it assumes that theology and methodology are equally important. Second, it fails to recognize that within theology and methodology are different levels of varying importance. Third, it practically means that if you draw such a tight circle as your prerequisite for partnership, you’ll hardly be able to partner with anyone. It’s only a matter of time before you discover some difference in theology or methodology. When that happens, this mantra leaves you poorly equipped to do anything other than part ways.

Far better to recognize that we can partner with others in various ways according to our theological and methodological likemindedness. This is where the concept of theological triage comes in.

The word triage comes from the French word trier, which means “to sort.” Thus, the triage officer in the medical context is the front-line agent for deciding which patients need the most urgent treatment. Without such a process, the scraped knee would receive the same urgency of consideration as a gunshot wound to the chest. The same discipline that brings order to the hectic arena of the Emergency Room can also offer great assistance to Christians defending truth in the present age.

A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world’s framework for medical priority. With this in mind, I would suggest three different levels of theological urgency, each corresponding to a set of issues and theological priorities found in current doctrinal debates.

Al Mohler

Mohler, in this article, calls the church to a mature approach whereby doctrine is ranked in primary, secondary, and tertiary importance. Issues of primary importance are gospel issues. These issues divide orthodoxy from heresy, e.g. doctrines like the Trinity. Secondary issues are issues by which Christians cannot disagree and be part of the same church in a healthy way. This would include topics such as the proper subjects of baptism. Tertiary issues are those which believers can disagree with and still be part of the same church, such as differing views of the millennium.

Interestingly, Mohler points out that the error of liberalism is to deny that there are any first-level issues while the error of fundamentalism is to make everything a first-level issue.

What I have not seen done yet is for someone to take this helpful concept of theological triage and to apply it to the mission field and to methodology. We are in desperate need also of methodological triage. The sad truth is that many evangelical missionaries overseas are operating as methodological fundamentalists or liberals. Issues of strategy and methodology have become of first-level importance, without acknowledging whether the scriptures themselves give said method that kind of weight. Or methodology is treated as a neutral endeavor where there’s no connection between form and meaning and into which the scriptures really do not speak. Either way, this should not be.

Read the full article here.

Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

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