Tuesday night, at “Coffee and Theology” at the Credo House, I taught what might very well be the most important lesson I have ever taught for “Coffee and Theology.” It was over the necessity of creating a hierarchy of belief, helping people learn to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, cardinal beliefs and non-cardinal beliefs, those things that we should be willing to die for and those things that are less important.
My goal during people’s initial exposure to this subject is not to tell them what the essentials and non-essentials are, but to help them understand that these categories exist in Christianity. Beliefs matter very much in our faith, but not all beliefs matter equally. Part of the discipleship process of any Christian is to begin to work through these differences.
Here is the basic “Concentric Circle of Importance” that I often teach from. I have used it here many times on this blog.
The very center circle represents those issue of the faith that are “of first importance.” Paul spoke in such terms in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. “Of first importance” for Paul was the person and work of Christ. Who Christ is and what he did come before all else.
Instead of filling in this chart with all that I believe fit in each circle (an impossible task to do exhaustively), I want to show this how this chart might look in differing traditions. I hope that the graphs explain themselves without too much controversy. Please understand, I use the words “Fundamentalist” and “Liberal” here more as adjectives than nouns. And it should be obvious that I am using “Evangelical” in an idealize form here.