Theological Triage

In a weblog editorial over at, Albert Mohler argues the need for Christians to practice theological triage by identifying essential Christian doctrines that need defending from the ongoing onslaught of secularism and from internal Christian doctrinal bickering. Here’s what he says about first-tier doctrines:

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.

His set of second-tier doctrines, such as the mode of baptism, tends to mark off denominational boundaries but these doctrines aren’t themselves essential to the core of Christianity. Then the third-tier issues “are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations.”

Naturally, the question comes up : What are the essential Mormon doctrines that would show up behind Door No. 1? I’m not sure there is a Door No. 2 in Mormonism, but I would be quite happy to see Door No. 3 (things we can disagree on but still be good friends and good Mormons) populated with several doctrinal and historical positions that conservative Mormons put squarely behind Door No. 1. So what doctrines or Mormon historical touchstones would you like to have the behind-the-scenes stagehands move over to Door No. 3?


  1. Caffeinated soda – definitely a door 3 issue.

  2. Hm.

    Dave a few initial comments from the article..

    1. “triage–a process that allows trained personnel to make a quick evaluation of relative medical urge.” I don’t know if any of us, from FARMS geeks to Sunstone fans can be considered “trained” personnel. So…can your proposal even be done?

    2. “In recent years, the issue of women serving as pastors has emerged as another second-order issue. Again, a church or denomination either will ordain women to the pastorate, or it will not.”
    -I agree that the LDS Church can’t really have 2nd order problems. However, if this is his idea of a 2nd order problem…I don’t know if his classification is helpful in the LDS context.

    3. “Fundamentalism, on the other hand, tends toward the opposite error. The misjudgment of true fundamentalism is the belief that all disagreements concern first-order doctrines.”
    -Rev. Mohler’s continuing comment that “thinking Christians” must overcome this fake fundamentalism is…at worst insulting & heresy (only the 15 & God can define what is first order) or at best displays a bias that poisons the well in favor of adapting Christianity to the modern age…a mistake that occured during the Great Apostacy as the Doctrine of Jesus Christ of Galileo was polluted with Greek philosophy, church concilars, etc.

  3. I think polygamy is already a Door #2 thing.

  4. Lyle, certainly liberal Protestants and fundamentalists/Evangelicals would differ in what they would put behind Door No. 1–and Mohler would fall on the Evangelical rather than the liberal side of that divide. But even someone who lines up as a conservative Christian needs to decide what exactly those “essential doctrines” are–it can’t be everything.

    Nor can it be everything the Big 15 says in Mormonism. And they say so many different things . . .

  5. Kristine says:

    lyle–Jesus Christ of Galileo? That could be interesting!

    Dave, it’s such a good question, and I can’t for the life of me come up with an answer to propose. I think Mormonism already has a lot of things behind Door #3, just because of the non-point-source nature of doctrine in the church. I think the biggest difficulties in Mormonism are around styles of belief, rather than particular doctrines–for instance, both lyle and I would say we think it’s essential to “sustain” the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, but we mean something almost entirely different by “sustain.”

    I can imagine the legalization of polygamy in the U.S. leading to some interesting Door #2 possibilities…