Essentials and Non-Essentials: How to Choose Your Battles Carefully

We talk a lot about this: essentials and non-essentials. In fact, at the Credo House of Theology (our headquarters), right when you walk in the front door you will see written on the wall in Latin the words in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. Translated into English, this means, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This phrase (often wrongly attributed to Augustine) comes from an otherwise obscure German Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century named Rupertus Meldenius. It has served as a place holder for a sort of Evangelical Credo (statement of faith). It expresses the idea of orthodoxy and grace. It reminds us that there are essential Christian beliefs and there are non-essentials.

I remember hearing a pastor once say concerning doctrine, “You are either one-hundred percent right or one-hundred percent wrong. There is no in-between and there are no gray areas. God is not confused or unsure. Why should we be?” While this might be true concerning God, for us things are different. For now, we see in a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12).

As well, Paul spoke about those things that are “of first  importance [protois]” (emphasis mine). Christ spoke about straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matt. 23:24) and the “weightier things of the law” (Matt. 23:23).

This is one of the things that (should) distinguish us as Evangelicals. We are those who unite around those things that we believe are the weightiest, the things that are the most important, the essentials, while we (should) give liberty in the non-essentials. I often tell people that there are some things that I believe that I would die for; there are some things that I believe that I would lose an arm for; there are some things that I believe that I would lose a finger for; and then there are some things that I believe that I would not even get a manicure for.

Like in all areas of life, we need to learn to choose our battles carefully. But in order to do this, we must first come to know the difference between essentials and non-essentials.

But (as the criticism goes) it is not that easy to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. I have written on this before. More importantly for now, many Evangelicals have simply never been exposed to this and therefore practice their theology in a much more legalistic way, believing every conviction that they have to be representative of a hill upon which they should die.

Here I want to elaborate upon and expand the discussion a little bit. While we need to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, we also need to recognize that there are different types of essentials. Along with this goes my belief that there are different ways to “break fellowship” based on our beliefs. In other words, not all essentials are equal. Some are essential to the very foundation of Christianity, but some are only essential to a particular denomination or expression. This will require different types of breaks in fellowship.

Let me start with a chart, then I will briefly break it down:

click on chart to enlarge

Essential for salvation: These are the most essential doctrines of all essentials. This includes what every Christian should always be willing to die for. In essence, if someone does not believe the doctrines that are “essential for salvation,” they are not saved.

What I include:

  • Belief in God (there is no such thing as an atheistic Christian)
    All issues pertaining to the person and work of Christ:
  • Belief in Christ’s deity and humanity (1 John 4:2-3; Rom. 10:9)
  • Belief that you are a sinner in need of God’s mercy (1 John 1:10)
  • Belief that Christ died on the cross and rose bodily from the grave (1 Cor 15:3-4)
  • Belief that faith in Christ is necessary (John 3:16)

As with all of them, I am sure that there are some ancillary matters that could be included, but this gives you the key doctrines.

Essential for historic Christian orthodoxy: These include beliefs “essential for salvation” but are broader in that they express what has been believed by the historic Christian church for the last two thousand years, no matter what tradition. This is expressed by the Vincentian Canon, “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” (The exception of fringe movements does not count). Not only must the church have belief in it, but it must also explicitly have confessed its centrality (e.g., belief that Matthew wrote the book of Matthew does not, I believe, qualify here).

Some of what I include:

  • The doctrine of the Trinity as expressed at Nicea
  • The doctrine of the Hypostatic Union (Christ is fully man and fully God) as expressed at Chalcedon
  • The belief in the future second coming of Christ
  • A belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture
  • A belief in eternal punishment for the wicked
  • A belief in God’s timeless existence
  • Christ is the only way to salvation

Essential for traditional orthodoxy: Again, these will necessarily include all of those from the two previous categories, but add some distinctives of their own. Essentials here will include all of those that are foundational to one of the three main Christian traditions: Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism. These are beliefs that distinguish one tradition from the next, but are not absolutely essential from the broader Christian worldview expressed above.

Some Protestant distinctives would include:

  • General belief in the major pronouncements of the first seven ecumenical councils (325-787 AD)
  • Belief in the necessity for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ 
  • Belief that justification is through faith alone on the basis of Christ alone
  • Belief that Scripture alone has ultimate authority on all matters of faith and practice
  • The canon of Scripture made up of 66 books (excluding the Deuterocanonical books)

Some Roman Catholic distinctives that would include:

  • Belief in transubstantiation (the bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Christ)
  • Belief that justification is through faith and works
  • Belief that both Scripture and unwritten tradition have ultimate authority as they are interpreted by the Magisterium
  • Belief in the authority of twenty-one ecumenical councils
  • Belief that the Pope is the infallible vicar of Christ
  • Belief in the Marian dogmas
  • Belief that the canon includes the Deuterocanonical books

Some Eastern Orthodox distinctives that would include:

  • Belief in the infallibility of the first seven ecumenical councils (325-787 AD)
  • Belief that the liturgy of the Church is part of the Gospel
  • Rejection of substitutionary atonement and the imputation of Adam’s sin 
  • Salvation by grace through faith as God works these out through our unification with Him (Theosis) 
  • Traditional inclusion of the Deuterocanonical book (although there is some debate about this)

Essential for denominational orthodoxy: This will be similar to the above, but one step down in importance, dealing as it does with the particular and peculiar denominational expressions by the various Protestant traditions.

Some examples:

  • Credo-baptism, i.e., Baptism is only for believers (Baptists)
  • Infant baptism (Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans)
  • Unconditional election (Reformed and Presbyterians)
  • Arminian theology (Methodists, Nazarenes)
  • Belief in the continuation of the Charismatic gifts (Pentecostals, Church of God)

Important but not essential: These are those beliefs that do not describe any particular tradition necessarily. They are important, but not that important.

Some examples:

  • Beliefs about particulars in the creation debate
  • Belief whether the books of Jonah and Job are historical accounts
  • Beliefs about the inerrancy of Scripture
  • Beliefs about the authorship of 2 Peter
  • Belief about particular end-time schemes (i.e. premillennial, amillennial, post-millennial)
  • The order of books in the canon
  • Which translation of the Bible to use from the pulpit
  • Which Gospel was written first
  • How often one should celebrate the Lord’s supper
  • Whether or not Christ taught in Greek or Aramaic

Not Important: These are beliefs that people have concerning Christian doctrine that are not important for any expression and do not affect Christian devotion or spirituality.

Some examples

  • The date of Christ’s birth (Christmas)
  • What kind of music to play at church
  • Whether to use real wine or grape juice at communion
  • Whether to hold Saturday night services
  • Whether or not John the Baptist was an Essene

Pure speculation: That is just what these are—speculation. We just don’t know one way or another, nor does it matter.

Some examples

  • Did Adam have a belly-button
  • Belief in the eternal destiny of pets (except I know my dog Rocky is going to heaven)
  • What was God doing “before” creation
  • Will there be meat to eat in heaven (we can all hope)
  • Will there be sex in heaven (we can all hope more)

In conclusion to this rather long post, my purpose has been to stimulate a deeper level of thought about the difference between essentials and non-essentials. I know that there are a lot of unanswered questions that might have been stimulated, such as, “Can someone be saved without believing in the exclusivity of Christ or the doctrine of the Trinity, as expressed at Nicea?” Or, “What about homosexuality and the ordaining of women?” I will leave some of these for the discussion to follow. I hope that, at the very least, some of my Calvinist and Baptist friends will see that some of the things that are held most dear in their traditions, while important, are not really defining factors in historic Christianity.

I am not an ecumenicist, but I don’t think that we should have ill-will or break fellowship with people unnecessarily. I hope that thinking through these things will make both our unity and diversity more meaningful and less reactionary.

What say you?

(If this has peaked your interest, I would encourage you to read my post on four tests for determining whether a doctrine is essential.)

68 Responses to “Essentials and Non-Essentials: How to Choose Your Battles Carefully”

  1. The order of books in the canon is important? You’ll have to clarify why. I must be missing something.

  2. I just stumbled across your blog a few days ago and I want to say how much I appreciate your gracious and well thought out posts. I come from a very legalistic background and it is refreshing to find someone who knows what they believe and is charitable in their delivery.

  3. The order of the books of the canon is important because it provides a built in commentary about the Bible. I’m thinking specifically of the OT here. The ends of certain books contain lexical parallels to the beginnings of other books. Certain themes present themselves within the order.

    For example, in the Masoretic text (the Jewish Bible or Hebrew OT) if you split the OT into three sections: Gen-Deuteronomy, Joshua – Malachi, Psalms – Chronicles (I and II are a single book) you see thematic and lexical ties across Gen, Joshua and Psalms as well between Deut and Joshua and between Malachi and Psalms. These themes are not visible in the LXX or the English translations of the OT.

    This isn’t really about whether or not the order is inspired (though some would argue it is) it is that whomever ordered the books did so with a certain message in mind and the order speaks to that message.

    Why is it important but not critical? The order doesn’t inform our theology, it confirms our theology. The same message that the order speaks to is conveyed in the text as well. What the order does is provide further confirmation to the message of the text. For me, it helped shore up certain theological points but it wasn’t a requirement for understanding those points. yeah, that’s vague. Sorry.

  4. I agree that in the Hebrew Bible you have narratives in the Torah and Former Prophets that cross over from one book into the next. And the LXX, unfortunately, interrupted the flow of Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings by sticking Ruth in there. But OTOH, the order of Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah makes much more sense in the LXX than the order in the Hebrew Bible. But the books originally were separate entities as we see Jesus reading from the scroll of Isaiah in Luke 4. It wasn’t a bound copy of all the books all under one cover like we have today.

    And on the NT, Luke-Acts really shouldn’t be separated since they were clearly intended to be read in succession… even though there’s not a single extant Greek NT ms that places them b2b (not even the Western Order of the Gospels does that). And the letters of John really offer an interpretation of the Fourth Gospel so they should stand together. But then you end up separating the four gospel canon which seems to have been standardized from at least the second century. And the letters of Paul are arranged by length, not by chronology or themes.

    So in other words, I don’t see the order of books, especially in the NT, as terribly important since there are important connections that go above and beyond the order of the books whether in the BHS, LXX, or NT.

  5. I understand that you are trying to illustrate a point and that people may disagree where a particular doctrine fits, so some will put end times more centrally and others more peripherally. But I must say that sex in heaven is not pure speculation. We know there is no marriage in heaven. Perhaps one could say “whether gender still exists” is in the speculation zone.

    To paraphrase Lewis, a child may not think sex is fun because it does not involve chocolate, but I am sure that God’s imagination exceeds ours.

  6. You could be right, but I would speculate that our pleasures here, whether laughter, love, pleasure of eating will not only be there, but be intensified. One could argue that there will be a relationship based pleasure that not only parallels sex, but far exceeds it. But then I would be purely speculating!!

  7. “The question here is, Have all Christians of all time everywhere believed it?”

    I think from your previous post, you have failed horribly and circularly at this point. What is a Christian? You have to first define Christian, and then once doing so you’ll either have one the spot defined the essentials of salvation, or you’ll have negated the entire Essentials v. non-Essentials as meaningless.

    Or you can step back from a secular view point and realize that it’s all fantasy anyway.

  8. Chris, sorry, that did not make any sense to me.

  9. Let me give you a concrete example.

    “Belief in God (there is no such thing as an atheistic Christian)”

    Here you define as an essential for salvation a criterion of a “true Christian”, since if there are no atheistic Christians, then belief in God, like the other essentials for salvation, is not only essential for salvation, but also by definition what makes up a Christian.

    Therefore by listing the “essentials of salvation” as what makes up a Christian, you have already defined what is a true Christian, and then appealing to these same Christians for what makes up the essentials for salvation is an exercise in circularity. Essentially, “These are the essentials for salvations because these ancient Christians said so. We know that these ancients were Christians because they adhered to these essentials for salvation.”

    By doing so you have limited Christianity to what *you* personally think, and excluded various Gnostics, Marcionites, Arians, etc… from your definition of Christian, otherwise you couldn’t have “Have all Christians of all time everywhere believed it?” as a criterion of what makes up essentials of salvation, because those groups would have disagreed with the list you made, and therefore negating what is essential for salvation for you altogether.

    To keep it concrete, a Marcionite would disagree with the idea that Jesus was human, and if you do not a priori exclude Marcionites from the definition of what is a Christian, then the idea that Jesus *was* human is no longer an essential of salvation. But you weren’t including Marcionites in your list…why? Because they didn’t adhere to your list of essentials.

    That’s why this whole thing is all circular logic. Make better sense?


  10. Not really because you have to assume I am being circular to make your case! It is circular!

    Really, I don’t get what you are saying at all…

    But if you are talking about the other post, you should go post over there and post, I don’t want this post to turn into a discussion about that post. People will get confused.

  11. We can do it Socratic style if you really don’t get it.

    How did you come up with list of essentials for salvation?

  12. As I said, that is for the other post. But, just to repeat what I said there and then you can go over there and comment:
    Scripture: Is it explicit stated and is it clearly presented
    History: Is it explicit stated and is it clearly presented

  13. I wholeheartedly disagree. This has direct bearing on what you’re doing in this very post. But if that’s where you want me to go, we can return here I guess when we come back to this topic.

  14. Impressive and Hilarious !

  15. So, Michael, the belief in Trinity is not essential for salvation?

  16. The issue of marriage/romance/erotic relationships in heaven is a matter of speculation. Nonetheless, it may be an important pastoral/emotional issue for some people who do contemplate the next life.

    I have found a reference by Fr Meyendorff (a somewhat prominent figure in the Eastern Orthodox church) where he states the eternality of marriage (he does account for the marriage pericope of Mt 22 etc). For those who are interested, please visit my website (by clicking on my name) where I cite this reference, and where a separate detailed positive case is presented for the existence of male-female relationships similar to marital bonds in the resurrection. This may then also imply a romantic, physical and/or even sexual and procreative aspect in such a relationship.

  17. How come trusting in Christ alone as your only hope, apart from any kind of works system, NOT part of the Essentials?

  18. Not Black & White but Gray December 9, 2009 at 9:27 am

    So where does Rob Bell fit in this list?

  19. Fadie: My perspective is from a Baptist background. I believe in the trinity and understand it fairly well, though at times it’s easier to define trinity by stating what it is NOT! Within my church many believers have a poor understanding of the trinity, yet are mature, bible reading, caring christians. I have on many ocassions discussed with various members the proper concept of the trinity which I actually learned through the theology program here at reclaming the mind. It was someting I too at one time was ignorant of. So I believe that the proper understanding is very important and needs to be addressed, but it in NO way undermines the salvation these brothers have in Christ our Lord.

    We all have the areas in our lives where we need to eat of the meat of the word not just the milk….this does not have anything to do with santification. At least in my opinion.

    Great Post…..looking forward to all the comments. Thanks Mike

  20. CMP: Thanks for the post. Of course one of the essentials I guess might be agreeing on what the essentials are that should unify… :)

    In general I would add to the salvation essential set:
    * Christ is the only way to salvation

    If one believes that Jesus is just one of many ways than they pervert the gospel by believing another gospel is possible which
    confuses others to eternal condemnation (Gal 1:6-10).

    Also I would clarify that the salvation essential “Belief that faith in Christ is necessary” would preclude “justification is through faith and works”. That too would distort the gospel the way it is worded here.

    While I do agree with the Trinity and Hypostatic Union as defined in later councils (4th and 5th century) I also agree that adhering to the definitions per the councils is not essential to salvation since these are man’s attempts to theologically define the truths about Jesus as man and God (which is an essential).

  21. Since I have become a christian, and the more I have studied the history of christianity, my questions only seem to increase…
    Right now I am at the point where if it isn’t printed in RED, I question it.

  22. Manu, it is on the Protestant essential. Most of church history until the 16th century believed in baptismal regeneration. That is at least one work that they added to their salvation. I am not willing to say that 1600 years of church history was not saved or even not orthodox.

  23. Patton, I also had the same question, and having studied, came with different answers, such as: Did or did not Augustine teach baptism is necessary for justification throughout his life? In fact no one has read all of Augustine’s writings. It is also evident that the early church tied baptism and salvation closely, since it was at times an immediate act of the believer, but however they distinguished it as well. Whatever the case from history, don’t you think it is clear in the scriptures; especially from Romans and Galatians? Namely: that Justification is through faith alone? If Paul argued that any work (not to get into NP here) which is added to the gospel, actually perverts the gospel, and rendered it “no gospel at all”, then shouldn’t we also declare that Justification through faith alone, is an essential to the Christian faith? What about those who fully reject the doctrine? Could they be said to have the true Gospel? I think we would both agree that the Gospel is essential. Or do we?
    These are just my concerns

  24. I can support this list. Good job CMP ! But then again, I think I’m being indoctrinated by the TTP ;-)

    One item, and I’m with NewLeaven in post #16 on the second list.

    A belief in eternal punishment for the wicked

    Michael, I’d love to see your explanation and/or support for that one. I’m a little vague on where it would fit into the historic Christian orthodoxy. If asked I’d put it in circle 3 or 4.

    There’s definite dogma in the RC about the eternal punishment, so it definitely fits into “level 4” for that denomination. Considering it’s also accepted by protestant and EO, you can argue a case for putting it under the traditional orthodoxy. I’m just struggling with putting it under the historic Christian orthodoxy part.

    So please, if I dare ask, illuminate me ;-)

    In Him

  25. As one places doctrine into the traditional orthodoxy/denominational orthodoxy buckets I think these could essentially be combined into the “important and essential/worth dividing over” bucket.
    This seems to be where the divisions tend to take place and thus are where unity is broken.

    For example the doctrine held by the RCC – bucketed as “traditional” and stated as “[b]elief that both Scripture and unwritten tradition have ultimate authority as they are interpreted by the Magisterium” is certainly not an essential belief for salvation (or historic though the RC would disagree) but is certainly important enough to break unity over since the source of authority (Scripture or Magisterium), the nature of authority (infallible or not), who has authority (elders or Pope/Bishop) and even the source of truth are not held to be the same. This would naturally make governing and teaching the church in unity a near impossibility.

    Where are your proposed “dividing” lines?

    [Read more in blog]

  26. CMP-

    “Most of church history until the 16th century believed in baptismal regeneration. That is at least one work that they added to their salvation. I am not willing to say that 1600 years of church history was not saved or even not orthodox.”

    They may not have considered that a “work”, especially the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church would also define “salvation” somewhat differently than the RC or Protestants would (ie. not in legal terms).

    I must say, with much of church history holding to certain, unified viewpoints that some of us Evangelicals traditionally do not hold, we should not dismiss those viewpoints too easily. We certainly need to seriously consider the teachings of the early church, even if they go against our current views, before we brush them off as “too RC” or “too Orthodox” (my paleo-orthodoxy is showing).

  27. I think that Justification by faith alone is a clear biblical teaching. It is one thing if someone does not understand the doctrine or never heard of it. However, if a person or denomination denies the doctrine, I don’t understand how that would not divide us. I think Faith Alone is clear dividing line between heresy and truth, especially to those who knowingly reject the doctrine. How then can we say that the gospel is not a dividing line essential?

  28. I do believe that the doctrine of salvation by faith alone is worth dividing over. That is why I am a Protestant!

  29. It might be significant that passages such as Eph 2 do not say “for by grace you are saved through faith alone, and that not of yourselves . . .”

    Perhaps faith in Christ for salvation is both necessary and sufficient. If more is added on – whether baptism or works of any kind – it is not the pure gospel but it is still a salvific gospel.

    But then there’s that whole anathema thing that Paul got so worked up about . . .

  30. I’m confused by the extra ‘belief’ in this statement.
    “Belief that faith in Christ is necessary.”
    I can understand ‘belief in Christ is necessary’ (or ‘faith in Christ is necessary’), but where does this meta-level belief in belief come from?

  31. I strikes me that this is a doctrinal list. Could a similar list be made for practices?

  32. Your equivocating. Of course it divides you from Rome. That is why you are protestant. But there are many protestants who think for exmaple that Rome has the gospel. But is faith alone part of the true Gospel? And if it is, then Rome does not have the true Gospel. This is what I mean by the dividing line. Either faith alone is an essential, or it is not.

  33. I think that one could make a distinction between breaking fellowship formally and institutionally vs. informally and personally.

    I think that a formal and institutional break with RC is justifiable, but I do not think that we should shun individual RCs. I think that on a one on one basis we should pray, etc. with RCs and recognize their individual faith in Christ as real, but I do not think that that holds at an institutional level. That is, protestants do not have to accept the authority or validity of the RC church structure and its theological views.

    An institutional break does not, however, necessitate no cooperation. Different institutions can work toward common goals without giving up their distinctives.

    I do, though, reject such projects as evangelicals and catholics together, or joint worship services, etc. So long as the RC church anathematizes protestants and refuses to give protestants communion, refuses to allow RCs to receive communion in a protestant church, and refuses to recognize protestant baptism, it is the one that has broken the fellowship in a way and for reasons not justified by our Lord. Protestants should not go tit for tat (as happened in the reformation) but should forgive and be accepting of RC communion and baptism. Protestants should not, however, pretend that, or even act as if, the institutional break does not exist.

    As for core doctrine that would be worth separating over, I think that only what is stated in the Bible as core is sufficient. Consequently, since the Bible does not speak directly to the nature of the trinity or to the nature of Christ as God/man, I don’t think that one should break over modalistic views of the Trinity (tritheism is a different matter because the Bible states that God is one). Nor do I think that it is worth breaking over Arianism per se, so long as the “Arian” does not reject any statement in the Bible. It is Christ Himself who is effective to save, and that is true regardless of our understanding of the union between God and man.


  34. Could God not save one who doesn’t understand Christ’s humanity or have a proper understanding of the resurrection?
    What about a child on the mission field who places his trust in Christ as God, but hasn’t been fully informed about his humanity?
    Is a liberal Christian who does not believe in the bodily resurrection, but fully believes in Christ’s redemption in his life saved or not?
    Why is proper doctrine even a requirement if one’s heart is repentant?
    Why would God be limited by our failed understandings?
    Would God limit his grace based on our cognitive mistakes?
    It seems too much like St.Pete giving an trig test at the pearly gates.

  35. Speaking about Rome, it would be best, I think, to move to my next post.

  36. All posts lead to Rome.

  37. I hope Michael responds to the points of ch. The whole notion of essentials seems to violate the sola fide principle; that is, it’s faith plus correct doctrine. Of course, it’s not surprising that theologians are intensely interested in doctrine on a theological website.

  38. I’m OK on the essentials for salvation (excluding infants etc.).

    But I didn’t make it through “Essential for historic Christian orthodoxy”
    I guess thats the kind of problem that one face, these things are interesting in theory, but in practice its tough . For me the most difficult thing with Christianity is dealing with the practical implication of people whose theology is all over the map.

  39. The whole notion of essentials seems to violate the sola fide principle; that is, it’s faith plus correct doctrine.

    Huh, I must be missing something there.

    Faith is a conscious acknowledgment of our own unrighteousness and ungodliness and on that basis a looking to Christ as our righteousness. The object of one’s faith should be book-ended by what CMP calls the essentials; on Christ alone, in what He is and what He has done. Christocentric. Notice I did not say a complete understanding of the object of our faith. But as one grows in maturity so grows their faith.

  40. I don’t think you’re missing anything. It’s clearly faith along with doctrine. For a Calvinist, God does not grant faith to one who has not the right belief.

  41. I made a comment just prior to your site problems, so it may have gotten lost.and So I apologize if I double-post.

    I appreciate your article. And I agree that Trinity is not essential required for justification. But how did the complete humanity and deity of Jesus (hypostatic union) get on the list?

    The Romans Road and 4 Spiritual Laws, for example, do not spell this out. Is our “gospel” inadequate?

    Based on John’s epistles, I could see requiring the complete humanity of Jesus, coming in the flesh (contra the gnostics.) But deity, equality with the Father?

    Don’t get me wrong, I affirm both the Hypostatic Union and the Trinity. But neither are part of standard gospel presentations.
    In light of this, would it be fair to exclude JWs and Mormons from being justified? Could they not both affirm the Romans Road?

  42. Rayner Markley,
    “For a Calvinist, God does not grant faith to one who has not the right belief.”

    Where in the world did you get this idea? God grants faith to an unbeliever, who may not know anything about doctrine, but has only heard the message of trusting in Christ, and not in anything or anyone else. Please back up what you say before you say them, almost no Calvinists believe such a statement.

  43. @JohnB5200

    “And I agree that Trinity is not essential required for justification. But how did the complete humanity and deity of Jesus (hypostatic union) get on the list?”

    Actually the hypostatic union is not on the essential for salvation list – it is “filed under” historic orthodoxy. What is under the essentials is the complete humanity and deity of Jesus – which allows for some flexibility in resolving that theological tension of who is Jesus w/o adhering to any particular councils definition (ditto for Trinity).

    The deity of Christ would be required to fully reconcile the idea that you are a sinner in need of God’s mercy and the following corrallary that you cannot save yourself because all of mankind are sinners (Mark 10:27; Rom 3:10,23). If Jesus were only human than how would he be qualified to die for the sins of others?

  44. Great post! Al Mohler wrote a great (shorter) article in the September 2009 Tabletalk magazine from Ligonier. That can be found here:

    These issues are critical to think through and discuss. Small, non-essentials rip visible churches apart all the time, while important doctrinal issues are all but ignored. These things should not be so.

  45. MikeB –

    I agree with your reasoning and appreciate the elucidation.
    I was incorrectly conflating the H.U. with the looser statement affirming the humanity and deity of Jesus.

    However, I think my point regarding evangelism still stands.
    Should we not abandon the Romans Road, Bridge to Life, Steps to Peace with God, 4 Spiritual Laws in favor of a more fully fleshed out and nuanced presentation? I am not sure that the common evangelistic tools and methods of the past 60 years are adequate in light of this essentials list.

  46. @JohnB5200

    Sorry did not address your point regarding common evangelism methods today. I am not familiar with all of the ones you listed here. I am familiar with the Roman Road and 4 Spiritual Laws. I like the Roman Road as it gives me a framework for presenting the gospel. I understand your point regarding it not necessarily covering all of the essentials listed here in this blog entry, however as one uses any technique I think the conversation and questions from with the person involved helps flush out and address points not completely handled in the method.

  47. I get an error when trying to access the chart.

    Great artcle!

  48. I get that idea from the center of the chart, where we find doctrines ‘essential for salvation.’ I agree that salvation is a matter of trusting, not a matter of doctrine. There seems to be an inconsistency somewhere.

  49. Great article. We had a good discussion on my site on the topic of inerrancy. We’re presenting both pro and con perspectives for discussion. But it’s interesting to see how passionate people are about inerrancy…treating it as an essential, while I agree with you…it’s important but not essential for salvation.


  1. Essentials of the Faith – or Not « Threads from Henry's Web - December 8, 2009

    […] Michael Patton has written a post on doctrinal essentials which is quite interesting. James McGrath […]

  2. NEW LEAVEN - December 9, 2009

    Essentials and Non-Essentials: How to Choose Your Battles Carefully…

    I suppose no well-read or learned believer dare to challenge the first list, Essential for Salvation. But I’m not too certain about the second list, Essential for historic Christian orthodoxy, for I have in mind “A belief in eternal punishm…

  3. Essential « Apprentice2Jesus - December 9, 2009

    […] links to Pen and Parchment for the discussion. There are some good […]

  4. The Divine Conspiracy Blog » Blog Archive » Essentials and Non-Essentials - December 9, 2009

    […] the rest here. Posted in Religion, Theology | No Comments » Leave a […]

  5. How to Pick Your Own Battles « Absolute Truth in a Relative Generation - December 10, 2009

    […] How to Pick Your Own Battles 10 12 2009 Sometimes in ministry one has to make a judgment call if an issue is of primary importance, or is of secondary or tertiary importance. Often, we pick the wrong battles to fight. C Michael Patton wrote a really good article on how to pick your own battles in theology here. […]

  6. Essential beliefs for salvation and more « Diglotting - December 10, 2009

    […] beliefs for salvation and more 10 12 2009 Over at the Parchment and Pen blog, there is a post in which the author seeks to lay out the essentials one must believe for […]

  7. Essentials & Nonessentials in Christian Beliefs « Daily Illumination (Jeremy Berg) - January 11, 2010

    […] beliefs.  I used 3 broad categories to break down each question: dogma, doctrines and opinions.  Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen discusses breaks things down even further with the following chart. […]

  8. Fluency » In blogosphere - January 12, 2010

    […] Essentials versus non-essentials (long but well done) Share and Enjoy: […]

  9. flotsam & jetsam (1.16.09) : EX vilis CATHEDRA - January 16, 2010

    […] challenge the ones that do, and the wisdom and knowledge to know the difference.”  More help for discerning here.  HT: Reclaiming the […]

  10. trinities - Modalism required (Dale) - February 16, 2010

    […] find it interesting – and very disturbing – that this is considered “that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all [real Christians]“. […]

  11. Christian News New Zealand » Blog Archive » Essentials and Non-Essentials: How to Choose Your Battles Carefully - March 13, 2010

    […] Essentials and Non-Essentials: How to Choose Your Battles Carefully 13 March 2010 No Comment… […]

  12. Essentials and Non-Essentials: How to Choose Your Battles Carefully | - March 13, 2010

    […] Nano-Blog link here:… […]

  13. 38,000? (part 1) « Apologia and the Occident - June 18, 2010

    […] or at best, heterodox.  For a good overview of what constitutes Orthodoxy, see this post and this post by C. Michael Patton at the Reclaiming the Mind blog (full disclosure-I am most likely […]

  14. SECONDARY OBJECTIONS: Faith and the Quest for Knowledge « A Civil Discussion - October 15, 2011

    […] **For an excellent discussion of essential vs. non-essential Christian beliefs, click here.   […]

  15. Today’s Church Becoming Too Cool? – Changing the Face of Christianity - July 2, 2012

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  16. Hermeneutical Essentials | Faith Autopsy - March 11, 2013

    […] addition to what I quote above, Patton has another post here that looks at how this plays out with specific issues, with specific denominations, etc. You can […]

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