Thursday, August 24, 2006

"Milking" Triage

First off, kudos to Micah Fries for calling my attention on his blog to a Baptist Press article just released by Al Mohler entitled A call for theological triage & Christian maturity. I believe that Micah correctly assesses the importance of the ideas expressed by Dr. Mohler as a framework from which to base a good bit of the discussion related to "parameters of cooperation," especially as it relates to current issues in the SBC.

I would recommend you to read Dr. Mohler’s article in its entirety here before proceeding. But if you prefer to save the time, I will summarize what it says as follows…

Basically, when dealing with controversial theological issues, we do well to divide between the relative urgency of each in relation to the effect they play upon the foundation of our faith.

According to Dr. Mohler…

First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture… These first-order doctrines represent the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself.

The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident… Christians across a vast denominational range can stand together on the first-order doctrines and recognize each other as authentic Christians, while understanding that the existence of second-order disagreements prevents the closeness of fellowship we would otherwise enjoy.

Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations… Christians may find themselves in disagreement over any number of issues related to the interpretation of difficult texts or the understanding of matters of common disagreement. Nevertheless, standing together on issues of more urgent importance, believers are able to accept one another without compromise when third-order issues are in question.

Since these ideas also play into a good bit of what we have been talking about on this blog, and relate to the main topics of this blog (i.e. missiology and ecclesiology, and especially how the two relate to each other), I would like to "park" here a little while, and try to "milk" this for what it’s worth (which I believe is quite a lot).

First off, while I appreciate Dr. Mohler’s observation that "the mark of true liberalism is the refusal to admit that first-order theological issues even exist" and that "liberals treat first-order doctrines as if they were merely third-order in importance" as well as that "the misjudgment of true fundamentalism is the belief that all disagreements concern first-order doctrines" and that for the fundamentalist "third-order issues are raised to a first-order importance, and Christians are wrongly and harmfully divided," I think a lot of the issues that face us today in the SBC have to do with where we draw the line between second and third-order doctrines.

I would also ask where, along this spectrum, do we as Southern Baptists place the doctrine of the unity of the church. Early Christians held it in high enough esteem as to be among the few key doctrines included in the Apostles’ Creed: (I believe in… the holy catholic church, the communion of saints). As Baptists (and I believe, rightly so), we do not interpret this phrase the same as others, such as the Roman Catholic Church. Some among us, most notably the Landmarkists, would perhaps change this phrase to "I believe in the local church." What I am afraid of, though, is that we often, in practice if not in theory, sweep this crucial doctrine under the carpet in interest of promoting the more convenient practice of denominational unity.

Two thousand years of church history have created some situations that make it very difficult for us to go back to pure New Testament ecclesiology. Some, such as Watchman Nee, have proposed idealistic church models that would be difficult to put into practice, given the context of the vast array of denominational groupings dotting the ecclesiological landscape of the West. But, at least from what I gather, it is working fairly well in China.

What is the alternative for us? In my opinion, it is accept reality for what it is for the time being, but be as careful as we can to not make issues for which biblically we have no warrant to consider as any more than "third-order" doctrines into "second-order" doctrines.

This is getting long, so I’ll have to leave further "triage milking" for another post. But, in the meantime, I’d be interested to hear your reactions and responses to this…


volfan007 said...

i think dr. mohler hit it out of the ballpark with this one. what he said was right on target.

btw, your dad was one of my heroes of the faith. i appreciated him so much.


Bryan Riley said...

I quickly read it at Micah's website yesterday, and thought it a very good article. I need to go back and read it again more carefully. But, I would say this: while none of us can put together a single unified church, I believe in a God who can. I'm not sure why we would settle for less than what He intended.

Paul said...


I think your point about unity is a really important one. I think we treat it as a third-tier issue (if not sometimes a fourth-tier issue in practice), and I believe the Scriptures would place it much higher.

I've been struck by some of the things N.T. Wright has written in that regard - he puts it way up there as well. In fact, while I might tend to agree somewhat with what Mohler says about liberals not having any first-tier doctrines, I often think some whom we might consider liberals actually do have some and would include unity as one of them, which is why they often seem to show a lesser regard for other doctrinal matters.

David Rogers said...


I think if "first-tier doctrines" are truly "first-tier doctrines," we cannot just pick and choose between them. Absolutely all of them are essential. Unity is important. But a unity that comes at the expense of other "first-tier doctrines" is not true unity, but rather false unity based on error.

Paul said...


I agree. I was just trying to make the point that often liberals do have at least one first-tier doctrine (for them) and that is unity. I'm not saying it is good to only have one and that one. Just an illustration about how many prize unity.

I'll stop now because I think I just confused myself.

David Rogers said...

Thanks Paul,

I assumed that was what you meant as well. But I did not want to leave room for misinterpretation, seeing as how there is so much of that going on these days.

Gordon Cloud said...

It's amazing you would write about this, as I was having this very discussion with a deacon in my church this past week.

The gist of our conversation is that unity, while certainly important to God, is rarely a reality in the church. (Our conversation was in the context of the local church, but I believe the principle would apply to the church at large, as well).

I believe the only way true unity will be achieved in the second and particularly third-tier issues, is for both parties to have a willingness to seek the truth of God's Word under the guidance of the Holy Spirit without trying to impose our own presuppositions and agendas on the outcome.

Even then we may not come to full agreement, but I believe with that spirit, we can still agree to fellowship and cooperate.

God bless.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother David,

I agree with you that Dr. M's definitions of "liberal" and "fundamentalist" were very helpful.

Love in Christ,


sbc pastor said...


I have read your blog several times but I believe that this may be the very first time that I have posted on it. Your dad was truly a hero of mine. As a pastor, my wife and I always thought of him as "our pastor." He was truly a great man of God!

I too agree with Dr. Mohler's comments in regard to theological triage. However, those who cite Mohler’s article as an objection to the inclusion of what they believe to be “non-essentials” (as Wade Burleson does) in the BF&M 2000 must be unaware, or have conveniently forgotten, that Mohler served on the committee that penned the BF&M 2000 (which your father chaired). Furthermore, Mohler has even been referred to as the “Thomas Jefferson” of the BF&M 2000 because of his contribution in writing the document.

Interestingly, the Preamble of the BF&M 2000 clearly states that the contents of the confession “are doctrines we hold precious and as ESSENTIAL to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice” (emphasis mine). Thus, it would appear that none of the contents of the BF&M 2000 would be viewed by him (as well as the entire committee and the overwhelming majority of the messengers that voted to adopt it) as “non-essentials” (tier 3), but rather as “essentials” (tiers 1-2). Wouldn't you agree?

Thanks and God bless!!!

In Christ,

sbc pastor said...


You might also want to check out my latest post in regard to Baptists, the BF&M, and accountability. It is an article published by James Smith entitled, "Baptist Confessional Accountability." I think that it will help to clear up some of the misunderstanding previously brought about by moderates and liberals and now by one signer of the Memphis Declaration. Thanks and God bless!!!

In Christ,

David Rogers said...

Jeremy (sbc pastor),

First off, thank you for your comments about my father. I am very proud of him, and honored that you would count him as a hero.

Next, let me say that, upon receiving your comments, I have been provoked to go back and read more carefully the recent posts of your blog, and, to some extent, the various accompanying documents you reference. I must congratulate you for "doing your homework." You definitely bring some interesting and relevant points to light.

Now, into the "meat" of your comments...

1. I cannot remember for sure at what point Wade Burleson (or anyone else in recent blog posts)specifically cites "Mohler’s article as an objection to the inclusion of what they believe to be “non-essentials” in the BF&M 2000." I am not claiming that this did not happen. I am just saying I don't remember where. Could you help refresh my memory?

As best I can make out, the reference to Mohler's article is made acknowledging the usefulness of the triage concept in sorting out between "essential" and "non-essentials." But nowhere do I find anyone even insinuating that Mohler is opposed to the content of the BFM 2000.

2. I think it is important we make a clear distinction between "essentials" of the Christian faith (tier-one) and "doctrines essential to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice" (tier-two). Just because it may be deemed that someone's values, beliefs and/or practices in any one particular area make them unfit or "out of place" in our SBC "ministry project support group," does not mean that we cease to have Christian fellowship with them (see Unity in the Body of Christ and Unity in the SBC).

I would agree with you that the SBC, through its various boards and agencies, has the authority and prerrogative to use the BFM 2000 as an "instrument of doctrinal accountability" for those who are receiving Cooperative Program funds.

However, as Marty Duren points out (see Essentially Speaking), there are points within the BFM 2000 that are still a bit inconsistent and ambiguous, and others that are generally "winked at." If the various boards and agencies want to "rule with an iron hand" and enforce these points "to the letter of the law," I believe it is technically within their right to do so. But I am not so sure it always expedient.

As I have publically acknowledged earlier on this blog (see Coming Clean ), there is a particular point of the BFM 2000 that I am not in agreement with (i.e. "closed communion"). From what I have read (sorry I can't remember the source right now), it is likely the majority of SBC churches are out of line with the BFM 2000 at this point. I am glad that, as a result, the IMB BoT has not requested my resignation. If that time were to ever come (as I point out on the Coming Clean post, I will have to cross that bridge when I come to it.

In the meantime, I, for one, think it is a positive thing that we in the SBC are not "clamping down" anymore than what we are already on some of these more dubious matters. I think the issues Wade Burleson brings up on his Theological Triage Test post, while not included in the BFM 2000, are good examples of areas where it is not expedient for the SBC boards and agencies to "clamp down."

From what I understand, my father recommended to some that the IMB BoT not demand that already employed missionaries (who had already signed the BFM 1963 upon appointment) be required to sign the BFM 2000. However, due to BoT pressure, IMB administration eventually gave in, and asked the missionaries to do this.

My point? Yes, the BFM 2000 is an "instrument of doctrinal accountability." But there are more expedient and less expedient ways of using it within the Convention. Some (e.g. the signers of the Memphis Declaration, and others), including myself, are concerned that there is a trend among some to use it in what we would consider a "less expedient" manner.

But all these, in my opinion, are "in-house" SBC matters. More important, beyond all this, is the overall unity of the Body of Christ, for whom He died and shed His blood.

TheMDude said...

As I read many of these comments and debates I wonder how many the the SB blogosphere that respond are:
1. Pastors/Ms with an advanced theology degree
2. Seminary students
3. Just normal SB members.

Because, just because, it seems to me that most of you/us/them fall into the #1&2 catagory (I don't - I am closest to #3 but to a man on the street I would be just a normal follower of Jesus without labels or, Wade's, tinted glasses)

I friend of mine has designed an interesting website he is another Okie

David Rogers said...


Just wondering. Does "M-dude" mean missionary dude, or something else?

In any case, I would guess you are probably right. Most people on the blogs would fit your categories 1 & 2. Category 3 people are surely welcome. But sometimes the language and concepts talked about is a little more "user-friendly" to category 1 & 2 folks. I don't think there's necessarily any "elitism" intended, it's just kind of the nature of the beast. The things being talked about do have to do with some concepts that some amount of theological education would normally be helpful in order to process them.

Paul Burleson said...


Great posts as usual and greatly appreciated by this old traveling preacher. You have been prayed for this week. Just want to continually remind you of that fact.


IN HIS NAME said...


You are your Father's Son of whom I know God is Proud. I think our God the Father is smiling as he leads you in the missions field..

((( I ask Jeremy L. Green

Where have all the Christians gone. You gotta have Heart.

A Christian is one Who follows Jesus Christ and displays His Love, not Hate.

I don't think Jesus was on a Witch-hunt, do you? )))

A Brother in Christ

David Rogers said...

Wayne (In His Name),

I think you are probably being a little too harsh with Jeremy. I believe his intentions are good, and he makes a lot of good points. There are a few things where it looks like I don't completely agree with him. But to infer he is not a Christian, or that he is showing "hate" in what he posts, is going to bit too far, don't you think?





You are right, that was not a very good witness for Christ in my other comment. God gave me a gift to see Hearts, and I have tried to discern Hearts of the Bloggers. Sometimes I have a problem seeing Hearts and I comment to those that display the lack of Heart.

I started Blogging as a result of hearing about the problems with the IMBT and Brother Wade. So I started following all the Blogs. Brother and Sisters were sharing their Love and some disagreement in the Spirit of Love.

All of a sudden out of the woodwork came something in the way of Attacks on Brothers and Sisters Blogs. When one looks at from where it comes you find a tie to SEBTS and SWBTS.

Having lived and Worshipped with Seminary Professors, Students and Missionaries for 12 years I don't see the same Love for Jesus as I saw before the SBC Convention in June. So forgive me for taking on these followers that were sent because of the election of one not of their own.

A Brother in Christ Wayne

Ken Sorrell said...

I also believe as you have so well stated that the major issue faceing the SBC today is the confusion of which is third or second tier doctrinal issues. And therein lies the issue. What is a deal-breaker position for me may not be for you. To believe that we can somehow develop a list for each tier that everyone will agree with is as likely as the pope converting to Islam.

I like Al Mohler's suggestion but the implementation is where there seems to be a significant breakdown when moving from principle to practice. At the same time I do not have a better plan to suggest.

Keep on milking!

A concern I have felt for some time now, that you allude to as well, is the growing chasm of the expression of church between the U.S. and the rest of the world. We have different churches and denominations all around us, but our differences do not keep us from simply fellowshipping or even celebrating together significant events, i.e., church anniversaries.

Ecclesiastical unity is a doctrine not spoken of much. We would rather divide over issues of polity and form which can be important but tend to lead to more disuntiy rather than unifying.

Ken Sorrell said...


I'm not sure what happened but when I published the comment, my paragraph order was scrambled. An added bonus of figuring out my train of thought.

Bryan Riley said...

I appreciate your heart, David. As I think I have shown, I struggle at times with understanding what appears to be by many an allegiance to the SBC that is greater than the allegiance to Christ. Would it be fair to say that anytime we begin to discuss things in an un-Christlike way or promote divisions in the Body of Christ for the sake of a disputable doctrinal point or a rule that is extra-biblical that we are actually being more loyal to that doctrine or rule than we are to Christ's call to each of us to love one another, to seek first His kingdom, to deny ourselves, etc.? I'm not asking that rhetorically. I'm trying to spot an issue here or clarify one. I think. :)

IN HIS NAME said...


We sometimes forget what God Created us for. To worship and Glorify Him Forever. Then when he came down to die for our forgiveness of sin, he gave us the Great Commission. You and David are on that front line and we should be supporting that work for his Glory.

A Brother in Christ

David Rogers said...


I think you are probably on target. Yesterday, my sermon text was Proverbs.4.23: Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. I think it is significant it does not say: Above all else, guard your doctrine. Yes, of course, we should guard our doctrine. But, above all else, we should guard our heart.