This post from Ray Ortlund, Certainty, Openness and Theological Wisdom, is excellent. This is an echo of how I begin every lecture addressing theology when I teach TEDS MDiv students the course EFCA History, Theology and Polity. After going through various ways of discerning and distinguishing essentials from non-essentials, which is foundational for understanding the Christian Theology in general, and the EFCA in particular, I encourage these students to consider seriously doing this same exercise with their elders when they are called to a local church as the pastor, the undershepherd.
Some Christians seem “all certainty.” Maybe it makes them feel heroic. But they see too few gray areas. Everything is a federal case. They have a fundamentalist mindset.
Other Christians seem “all openness.” Maybe it makes them feel humble. But they see too few black-and-white areas. They have a liberal mindset — though they may demonstrate a surprising certainty against certainty.
The Bible is our authority as we sort out what deserves certainty and what deserves openness. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, for example, defines the gospel of Christ crucified for our sins, Christ buried and Christ risen again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, as “of first importance.” Here is the center of our certainty
From that “of first importance” theological address, we move out toward the whole range of theological and practical questions deserving our attention. The more clearly our logic connects back with that center, the more certain and the less open we should be. The further our thinking extrapolates from that center, the less certain and the more open we should be. When a question cannot be addressed by a clear appeal to the Bible, our conclusions should be all the more modest
The gospel requires us to have high expectations of one another on biblically central doctrines and strategies, and it cautions us to be more relaxed with one another the further we have to move out from the center.
A church or movement may desire, for its own reasons, to define secondary and tertiary doctrines and strategies as important expectations within their own ministry. That’s okay. But then it’s helpful to say, “We know this isn’t a dividing line for Christian oneness. It’s just a decision we’ve made for ourselves, because we think it will help us in our situation. We realize that other Christians will see it differently, and that’s no problem for us.”
May we become more certain where we’ve been too open, and more open where we’ve been too certain, according to Scripture. And where it seems helpful to provide further definition on our own authority, may we do so with candor and humility.
We in the EFCA ought to resonate with this articulation of essentials, secondary matters and theological wisdom.
I also encourage you to do the same exercise with elders and leaders that I recommend to the MDiv students. If you need some resources to help you to do this, please let me know. If you have some resources you use to do this, please let me know.