Doctrinal Controversy

Greg Strand – June 9, 2014 4 Comments

In the follow-up to the debate and discussion regarding TGC and Tullian Tchividjian (he has apologized for the way he responded, which reflects in practice the gospel he preaches with his lips), many have wondered about unity among Christians and doctrinal purity.

How pure does doctrine need to be to ensure there is true unity among God’s people? How does one weigh doctrines or discern essential from non-essential doctrines? And essential for what? For epistemology (knowledge/belief), for salvation?

Though theological debate is necessary, there are also accompanying Dangers of Theological Controversy. Nicholas Batzig identifies the following:

There is a danger of infecting others with false teaching – even while trying to refute it.

There is a danger of infecting believers with a hyper-critical spirit.

There is a danger of overreaction to an error and falling into an opposite error.

There is a danger of dumbing-down the severity of error on the opposite side of the debate.

There is a danger of falling into a self-righteous spirit when combating an opponent’s position.

Do you agree with this list? What would you add? What would you subtract? What would you edit?

How do you assess purity and unity, both in doctrinal principle and pastoral practice?

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

4 responses to Doctrinal Controversy

  1. Essential for what? Ah, that is indeed the question. EFCA is known for trying to place emphasis on the “major doctrines” while allowing freedom within minor areas of disagreement – but…what is a minor area of biblical interpretation? I’ll say this: I have grown in my application of grace. In terms of the errors – it’s easy. Don’t talk about it to anyone else – that is stirring up dissension anyway. Go to the source of the alleged error, humbly and with a teachable spirit. Ask if you might have misunderstood. Gain clarification. If it still applies, state why you believe there is a problem with that stand. If emotion is removed from the issue, everyone stands a much better chance of both clarity and unity.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I often think of John Newton’s excellent letter written to a minister of the gospel who had asked him about responding to a fellow minister who he was concerned about his lack of orthodoxy: The Works of John Newton, Letter XIX “On Controversy.” There is a great deal of wisdom in this letter!

  2. Randy Sortino June 10, 2014 at 8:27 am

    I would add: There is a danger of acting/reacting outside of love because of zeal.

    Anytime we deal with controversial topics, we need to do a love check on ourselves. Are we motivated by the love of God in our exchange of ideas and positions. Paul withstood Peter to the face, but he did it in love. Paul corrected the Corinthian church rather firmly, but it was done in love. When the Lord corrects us, He does so in Love. Faith, Hope and Love, the greatest is Love.

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