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How Should Christians Think About Theological Differences? Concentric Circles of Theological Questions

What follows is the product of Watermark Church in Texas. They offer it to their people and to the public to give guidance how to think "Christianly" regarding the issues Christians have argued and debated for centuries.I was impressed when I read them and hope you will consider their counsel.

How should we handle differences in beliefs? Every theological issue falls somewhere within a "bullseye" with rings radiating out labeled Essentials, Convictions, Opinions, and Questions. Christians may disagree about which “ring” an issues falls into. Depending on the issue, believers can come to biblical and well-informed conclusions while disagreeing with one another. Disagreements should be handled differently depending on whether it is an essential, a conviction, an opinion, or just a question. Essentials - What we know is true.

Definition: Essentials are what all Christians believe. They are essential to the faith; if you don't agree with an essential, then you are not a Christian. Examples: There are six core truths that Christians believe:

  1. Trinity - There is one God that eternally exists in three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

  2. Sin - Humanity rebelled against God and therefore deserves judgement.

  3. Deity/Humanity of Jesus - Jesus is both fully God and fully man. 

  4. Atonement- Jesus's death paid for sin and is applicable to man through grace.

  5. Resurrection - Jesus physically rose from the dead and is alive today.

  6. Resolution - God will make all things right when Jesus physically comes again, eradicating evil and restoring creation.

Handling Essentials: If someone disagrees with the essentials, then they are not a Christian, and the most loving thing you can do is share gospel truths with them.

Convictions - What we are convinced is true.

Definition: Convictions are impertant beliefs, based on biblical evidence and often grounded in church history, which have a big impact on Christian life and the ministry of the church. Convictions are very important, but not truly essential. Believers can hold to differing convictions while maintaining unity in the gospel. Disagreements on these issues often lead to believers worshiping in different congregations or denominations.

Examples: How and why baptism is performed, how churches are governed, and details of how the Lord's Supper is handled.

Handling Convictions: If you disagree about convictions, you can be bold in communicating what you are convinced of (Romans 14:10). But keep in mind that, even if you disagree on some things and perhaps go to different churches as a result, you can still both agree on what is essential to Christianity.

Opinions - What we think is true.

Definition: Differences in belief that do not have major impact on daily life and the ministry of the church are classified as opinions. Besides being less important than convictions, opinions tend to vary more while having less concrete biblical evidence. People within the same church can have widely varying opinions, but these issues should not be a reason for conflict or cause denominational division (Romans 14:1).

Examples: The six days of creation, the exact order for every "end times" event, and details regarding miraculous spiritual gifts (such as the gift of tongues or prophecy).

Handling Opinions: Beliefs on opinions and questions will vary between Christians. Show charity, respect in these disagreements, and remember that they are not important enough to cause division in the local church.

Questions - What we guess is true.

Definition: Questions are issues that Christians will never know for certain, regardless of research. These vary widely among believers throughout history.

Handling Questions: When discussing question issues, be open-minded and forgiving of different viewpoints. Do your best to ground your own conclusions in Scripture and give well-reasoned answers. But also remember that some things are simply not revealed to us (Deuteronomy 29:29), and we must be okay with that.

Example: Dinosaurs - the Bible doesn't clearly address dinosaurs at all; it is not a textbook, nor is it concerned with detailing prehistoric beasts. Because there is no clear answer, it remains a question.

I’m impressed with Watermark’s explanations. If Christians actually lived out these ideas instead of fighting over ideas that are not core essentials to Christian faith more non-Christians might take us far more seriously.

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