Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Tertiary" Does Not Mean "Unimportant"

The much-ballyhooed and over-discussed topic of theological triage has received as much attention in Southern Baptist blogging as any other topic in the past five years. In the preponderance of treatments that I have read (and I've read a lot of them) the most popular "for example" listed in the category of tertiary doctrines has had to do with the particulars of eschatology. I agree that a person's opinion of the sequencing of rapture, millennium, judgment, etc., belongs in the category of doctrines for which diverse opinions can and should easily coexist within a particular church. This is indeed a tertiary issue.

And yet, I fear that some people equate "tertiary" with "unimportant." As though, the tertiary issues are those on which preachers shouldn't preach, the convinced shouldn't advocate, believers shouldn't trust, and scholars shouldn't bother to publish. God forbid! "Theological triage" is hopefully not unrelated to the importance of particular doctrines, but neither does that particular man-made schema even allege that it is a means by which to measure the importance of doctrines.

This is nowhere more evident than as it regards pretribulational, premillennial eschatology. One's millennial position, one's understanding of the Great Tribulation, and associated doctrinal questions like the acceptance or rejection of dispensationalism can have far-reaching impact upon a believer's entire system of theology.

We do well to remember that the Bible is not a textbook of Systematic Theology. In saying so, I do not mean to indicate that the Bible does not teach us Systematic Theology—in that sense it is not merely A textbook of Systematic Theology; it is THE textbook of Systematic Theology, for there is no good systematic theology that is not taught in the Bible. Rather, I am trying to indicate that the Bible does not come to us with chapters on Revelation, Epistemology, Theology, Anthropology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, etc. The Bible comes to us with its various doctrines intricately and inextricably interwoven, often transpiring within the stories of people's lives. Whatever we might make of this, it at least means that the theological tenets of the Bible, whatever they are, are not easily separated into discrete categories. Any of them that is important makes the others important as well.

All of that was an introduction to the following link (if you didn't want wordy introductions, you came to the wrong site). Drs. Steve Lemke and David Allen have coordinated the efforts of several scholars to bring us The Return of Christ: A Premillennial Perspective. This excellent volume treats and advocates the pretribulational, premillennial understanding of eschatology. It is an important work on an important doctrine. I recommend that you read it.

Dr. Lemke has participated in a Q&A session that has been published at That interview is available here.


Christiane said...

For people who can feel a bit 'over-whelmed' by all the complexities and levels and inter-relationships of important Bible doctrinal teachings,
here is a prayer that brings us back to where we need to be when we approach the sacred texts:

“Lead us toward
an encounter with You
each time we read in Holy Scripture.
For Your Presence,
Your power,
and Your glory
are ever present among us
now and forever.

From the ages to the ages,
Amen “

Rick said...

Was your Barthian prayer on purpose? lol.

Dave Miller said...

As one who has advocated theological triage fairly extensively, I agree strongly with what you are saying. The question for me is not whether a doctrine is important, but what is the appropriate response toward disagreement.

If someone disagrees on an essential, fundamental doctrine, then we must view them as outside the Christian community. There are other doctrines which do not affect salvation but do affect the ability of churches and people to partner for gospel causes. Other doctrines (eschatology is a good example) are still important, but there is no reason that people cannot fully partner together which holding different views.

I'm one of those pre-trib dinosaurs, but one associate is a historic premil and the other doesn't really know what he believes about the subject. We still work together on the same church staff.

But I agree that assigning doctrines to second or third level does not mean that they are unimportant.

Christiane said...


What is a 'Barthian' prayer ?

I assume you reference Karl Barth (sp?)

Happy to interact with you about this, but need to understand your comment,
which I suppose means that the answer to your question is 'no'.

Rather, my prayer is more in line with a Lukan phrase, this:

St. Luke's Gospel 24:45
"Then He opened their minds
so they could understand the Scriptures."

In the midst of the complexities of sacred Scripture, we need the leading of the Lord to help us understand their meaning.

There is 'precedence' in St. Luke's Gospel.
The prayer I gave firmly points to the Source of that good help.

The Holy Spirit who inspired the sacred Scriptures when they were written also illuminates them to aid our understanding today. :)

Anonymous said...


I wrote on this issue a couple of times. Tow brief statements. First, the so-called 'triage', while a practical tool, cannot be taken seriously as a hermeneutical norm. It simply cannot take the weight of a robust biblical theology; that is, it collapses if one uses it in any type of consistent way. For my part I do not understand how learnd theologians (e.g. Mophler & Akin) try to promote this tool as some type of standard interpretative principle.

Second, you're exactly right about the second coming. Most--if not all--examples of "triage" usage is applied toward the second coming. Usually, that's as far as it gets in applicability.

With that, I am...

Anonymous said...

Nor do I understand how I can misspell so many words in one short comment. Sorry.

With that, I am...

David Rogers said...


I agree that eschatology can have very important implications. For some, such as the Evan. Free Church, premillennial eschatology is a 2nd-tier issue, included in their official statement of faith.

One's position on eschatology, in many cases, has a very important effect on their general approach to missions and the mission of the church. For some reason, in SB circles, we have been able to avoid big disagreements in regard to cooperation on the mission field with those having a different eschatological position.

A related question is how do we define the gospel. Though not water-tight, there are tendencies along the lines of millennial positions to define the gospel a certain way.

Wes Kenney said...

"if you didn't want wordy introductions, you came to the wrong site"

Truer words have never been written...

Bart Barber said...


I comment much less frequently on my blog posts these days, but I have something urgent that I must say to you:

Happy Birthday.