Essentials, Non-Essentials and Theological Wisdom

Greg Strand – January 18, 2016 Leave a comment

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.

Ortlund begins,  

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.

He concludes,

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.


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.

No Comments

Be the first to start the conversation.

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>