Theological Triage (Re-visited)

Dr. James White:

*Note* “MB” refers to Dr. Michael Brown

I wrote two pretty lengthy notes this morning that are hidden away in comment threads (even took me a while to find one of them). Please allow me to post them so I don’t have to rewrite them (or search for them) over and over again. Both written to fellow believers—well, at least I accept THEM as believers, whether they return the favor is, these days, unknown.

Let’s set the record straight, shall we, brethren?

What I am defending is not the charismatic movement. I have no desire to see NAR concepts advance, join them to orthodoxy, or anything else.

What I am very concerned about is the willingness on the part of many on “our side” to quite simply *add to the gospel* a particular view of spiritual gifts. We can pretend cessationism is as clear in Scripture as the Trinity or justification, but brethren, it isn’t. I will defend it, but it is far more in the realm of, say, ecclesiological issues as far as biblical clarity and certainty is concerned than it is the realm of the Trinity or the resurrection.

I surely cannot dismiss someone from Christian fellowship over the issue—though let’s be honest, MANY on “our side” do that, whether they admit to it or not. As such, they are making a view of spiritual gifts *basic and fundamental* rather than disputable. Given the rise of the “only Calvinists are Christians” movement in our day, we should be very sensitive to anything that adds to the gospel.

I am likewise very concerned about the simple issue of honesty here. On my program MB denied being a NAR apostle. He plainly admitted that he has met with, talked with, agreed with, and disagreed with, men who ARE properly identified with NAR. But anyone who listens to him regularly, reads his books, etc., would plainly see the arc of his thought and teaching being quite different. Being a Charismatic his entire adult life, he does not have the concept of separationism, so prevalent in the thought of fundamentalism, on the theological level (from the world, yes, but fundamentalism historically includes the concept in the theological realm, even to the point of the eschatological realm as well). Why do we allow non-Charismatics the freedom to differ, but deny it to Charismatics? We can have conferences with Reformed Baptists, Presbyterians, New Covenant guys, even conservative Anglicans and Lutherans, and “it’s all good.” But not those nasty Charismatics! Nope, evidently, those spiritual gifts are more basic and fundamental than….well, baptism itself, church government, and even sacramentalism! Really? Seems pretty inconsistent there, doesn’t it?

Next we have the allegation of the “ignorance card.” MB’s focus is Jewish evangelism, missions, etc. I have spent time with him, so I know his schedule and he does not sit around watching TBN. Again, because of the difference in background, it is not a part of his thinking, “Hmm, I better check up on what everyone else is teaching at this upcoming conference.” As he said on my show, if someone pointed to, say, a Trinity denier or the like at a future conference, this would cause him to withdraw, but he simply does not feel the compulsion that *we do* (to some extent—I have not looked at every sermon by every man speaking at G3 in a couple of weeks) to be “careful of the optics.” The idea that “you implicitly endorse and promote every person who speaks at every conference you speak at (maybe even if it was the year before or after!)” is not a part of his thinking. You may wish it was, but it isn’t. He wants to get his message out, whether it be his message of holiness, against the concept of hyper-grace (funny how “our side” utterly ignores how he is spot-on on that topic, since that is basically the charismatic version of non-Lordship salvation teaching), his moral and ethical emphasis (homosexuality, transgenderism) or Jewish evangelism. He really doesn’t care too much about the pet projects of the other speakers. “But he should!” we scream. If that’s enough to send him off to hell, well, I better stop now so I can start examining every single thing every man at G3 has written and preached over the past decade.

I realize none of you know MB personally, have never met him, etc. Most of you have never cracked the binding of one of his books, listened to him debating homosexuals or rabbis, etc. and etc. All you can see is Brownsville or Benny Hinn—can’t even be bothered to listen to what he said about the Hinn encounter on the DL a few days ago. I know most of you just can’t even muster enough fight against your revulsion to go, “Yeah, OK, he pretty well slam dunked that grave sucking thing.” I get it. You are simply unable to get past your associationalism, your separationism, and the bad experiences you’ve had in the past with “them.” Got it. Can’t help you there.

But if you can listen to the beginning of the program where we went over the REAL fundamentals, the heart and soul of the faith (and later our discussion on Scriptural sufficiency), and then turn around and say, “Yeah, yeah, no big deal—he’s still on his way to hell because of his views on this topic over here,” are you really ready to defend your ADDITION of that topic to the gospel itself? This is my concern, as I have been many times excluded from the kingdom by others who make their particular pet peeve definitional.

I am uncertain why there seems to be such a bias in the minds of our listeners, though I am developing a theory about it. I believe MB’s confession of faith. I believe he is a Christian. Now, if you are straight up honest and say, “No Charismatics are Christians,” then at least you are consistent in rejecting MB’s confession of faith. But thankfully, most thoughtful Christians recognize the real problem there: it adds new parameters to the gospel, and, of course, would have been a meaningless standard in the apostolic age. I truly do believe the sign gifts were temporary, but can I prove that on the level I can prove the Trinity or justification?

Anyone who thinks they can is deceiving themselves, in my opinion. I explained at the start of the program my purpose: ChurchWatch attacked MB and said he has a defective Christology and a defective soteriology. So I invited him on to discuss those first and foremost, and we clearly documented that the citations given and the arguments made were grossly fallacious. Then we moved on to the NAR stuff, and surely the materials I have seen from people on that topic have once again demonstrated a massive willingness to use guilt by association arguments on the part of otherwise sound Christian ministries. Given that I am the target of such argumentation daily, I’m rather adept at noting it.

In any case, it seems like my friends cannot differentiate between “MB is a Christian with whom I share a common commitment to the Lordship of Jesus” and “MB is a Reformed Baptist scholar.” Even MB pointed out that he could never preach in my church. I am not trying to make him out to be a Calvinist, and we have been very open about our differences. But for many in my camp, it is simply impossible to accept that someone in the OTHER camp could be as smart as MB is, as well read as MB is, and yet not “see” what we “see.” So, he must be lying, must be two-faced, etc., when the reality is, he does not share our separationist presuppositions. He does not feel the need to examine the sermons of every person at every conference he attends—then again, I don’t either, but I would have a much higher concern about the topic than he does. He views it as “I am responsible for what I say, not what others might say” while I would have a much deeper concern about “that other speaker is dangerously off on topic X.” There is a spectrum here.

I know RB’s who will not speak at a conference with Presbyterians because they believe baptism is so fundamentally basic that they cannot stretch that far—and vice versa. Sadly, there are many appearing on the scene today who limit their associations completely to 5-point Calvinists. We hopefully can see the foolishness of such a position, but where you draw the line is going to be a matter of debate. I draw one line for cooperation, one line for ecclesiology, and one line for salvation. MB is on “my side of the line” for salvation (he plainly affirms the fundamentals of the faith) and cooperation (we can defend the Trinity together, debate homosexuals, etc.). But we can’t be members of the same church—there is a necessary distinction to be made at that point. Naive as I might have been, I used to think these distinctions were a given, but obviously, in today’s world, many are not willing to make said distinctions.

Theological Triage

Test: Ephesians 4:4-6

Medical Triage comes into play in the hospital Emergency Room as someone needs to work out who has priority in gaining medical attention. In the same way, some doctrines in the Bible are more important than others, and these form the basis of our unity in Christ, something we are called upon to maintain.

Theological Triage

2005, Dr. Al Mohler wrote the following article “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity” which has been widely read.

In every generation, the church is commanded to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” That is no easy task, and it is complicated by the multiple attacks upon Christian truth that mark our contemporary age. Assaults upon the Christian faith are no longer directed only at isolated doctrines. The entire structure of Christian truth is now under attack by those who would subvert Christianity’s theological integrity.

Today’s Christian faces the daunting task of strategizing which Christian doctrines and theological issues are to be given highest priority in terms of our contemporary context. This applies both to the public defense of Christianity in face of the secular challenge and the internal responsibility of dealing with doctrinal disagreements. Neither is an easy task, but theological seriousness and maturity demand that we consider doctrinal issues in terms of their relative importance. God’s truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail, but responsible Christians must determine which issues deserve first-rank attention in a time of theological crisis.

A trip to the local hospital Emergency Room some years ago alerted me to an intellectual tool that is most helpful in fulfilling our theological responsibility. In recent years, emergency medical personnel have practiced a discipline known as triage–a process that allows trained personnel to make a quick evaluation of relative medical urgency. Given the chaos of an Emergency Room reception area, someone must be armed with the medical expertise to make an immediate determination of medical priority. Which patients should be rushed into surgery? Which patients can wait for a less urgent examination? Medical personnel cannot flinch from asking these questions, and from taking responsibility to give the patients with the most critical needs top priority in terms of treatment.

The word triage comes from the French word trier, which means “to sort.” Thus, the triage officer in the medical context is the front-line agent for deciding which patients need the most urgent treatment. Without such a process, the scraped knee would receive the same urgency of consideration as a gunshot wound to the chest. The same discipline that brings order to the hectic arena of the Emergency Room can also offer great assistance to Christians defending truth in the present age.

A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world’s framework for medical priority. With this in mind, I would suggest three different levels of theological urgency, each corresponding to a set of issues and theological priorities found in current doctrinal debates.

First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.

In the earliest centuries of the Christian movement, heretics directed their most dangerous attacks upon the church’s understanding of who Jesus is, and in what sense He is the very Son of God. Other crucial debates concerned the question of how the Son is related to the Father and the Holy Spirit. The earliest creeds and councils of the church were, in essence, emergency measures taken to protect the central core of Christian doctrine. At historic turning-points such as the councils at Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon, orthodoxy was vindicated and heresy was condemned–and these councils dealt with doctrines of unquestionable first-order importance. Christianity stands or falls on the affirmation that Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God. Continue reading