For many students of theology, one of the last lessons to be mastered is the ability to discern how and when to engage in theological debate. On the one hand, some simply don’t know how to disagree amicably with those who have different perspectives. Too often, students become so abrasive and caustic that no one wants to listen to them, no matter what they are saying. When I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, I remember seeing three students arguing over the so-called “lordship salvation” controversy. One of the “free grace” advocates became so incensed at his opponent that he nearly punched the “lordship” advocate in the face. Though I’m sure he felt “free” to attack his poor brother, I’m glad that he chose not to. Instead, he stormed off in a huff, fists clinched and red-faced. It was clear to me that this guy had not mastered the how of theological discourse.
On the other hand, too many do not discern properly when debate is advisable and what the pitch of such dispute should be. I have known many who become more excited about the order of events on their prophecy chart than they do about the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. They do not seem to understand that error with respect to the former results only in division while error with respect to the later results in condemnation. This inability to discern a taxonomy in doctrinal priorities is one of the hallmarks of theological immaturity.
It is for this reason that Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has recommended a “theological triage” to govern theological dialogue. In his essay, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity,” Mohler sets forth the necessity of identifying first order, second order, and third order doctrinal issues. He argues that the mature theologian will be able to distinguish each of the three from one another. I highly recommend that you make it your priority to read this short essay for yourself.
“A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity” – by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.