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3 Categories Every Christian Should Know to Understand Theological Issues

You’ve probably experienced triage if you’ve ever visited an emergency room. . . . medical triage: assigning degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide in what order to treat a large number of patients. 

Triage is the action of sorting according to priority and urgency. We understand that sometimes we have to prioritize. Some things are more pressing and more important than other things. . . . 

Did you know that this is also the case with truths that the Bible teaches? We could call it theological triage.

Some Bible teachings are more important than other Bible teachings. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.” The words “first importance” imply that although everything in the Bible is important, not everything is equally important. Some doctrines are more important. To simplify things, we could think of three levels of theological triage:

First-level theological issues

First-level issues are most central and essential to Christianity. You can’t deny these teachings and still be a Christian in any meaningful sense. For example, there is one God in three persons; Jesus is fully God and fully human; Jesus sacrificially died for sinners; Jesus rose bodily from the dead; we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; Jesus is coming back.

Second-level theological issues

Second-level issues create reasonable boundaries between Christians, such as different denominations and local churches. These issues will have a bearing on what sort of church you are part of. For example, what’s your view on baptism or church government or God’s sovereignty in salvation or the role of men and women in the church and home? You don’t have to hold one particular view to be a Christian, but it’s challenging for a church to have a healthy unity when its leaders and members disagree on these matters.

Third-level theological issues

Third-level issues are disputable matters (also called matters of indifference or matters of conscience). They might involve how you interpret particular passages of the Bible. For example, who are “the sons of God” in Genesis 6? There is more than one viable view. Third-level issues also include many practical questions. For example, how should Christians view the “Sabbath?” . . . Disputable matters aren’t unimportant, but members of the same church should be able to disagree on these issues and still have close fellowship with each other. Disagreement on third-level issues shouldn’t cause disunity in the church family.

It’s easy for third-level matters to become deeply ingrained in someone’s conscience. . . . We all have different perspectives, backgrounds, personalities, preferences, thought processes, and levels of understanding truth about God and his Word and his world. . . . 

Glorifying God despite differences

We should expect disagreements with fellow Christians about third-level matters, and we should learn to live with those differences. Christians don’t always need to eliminate differences, but they should always seek to glorify God by loving each other in their differences. 


This post is adapted from Conscience: What It Is: How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley. The title and headings are additions of the author.

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