There are these moments.
These situations where your conversation enters into the realm of debate.
The disagreement is clear. Debate ensues.
You hold one position, your friend another. On the inside, you are convinced of your position. You have studied the issue, read your Bible, formulated careful conclusions, and are ready to stand your ground. As the debate gets going, that’s what you do. You lay out your understanding of the issue with zeal as best you can.
This is a normal part of human existence. Disagreement is simply part of reality. If social media has made anything clear in our age, it is that we are an opinionated species. And our opinions are often not the same as the opinions of others.
Whether we disagree over how best to educate our children, or who to vote for during an election, or the best movies of the year, this life provides plenty of chances to meet those who hold different opinions. Sadly, we are not very good at disagreeing. Our emotions too often get the best of us.
Though the reasons this is the case are no doubt complex, I want to press one idea that may help us disagree in ways that love God and love people more faithfully. Namely, building on the popular idea of theological triage, I want to suggest that theological triage should find a partner in what I’m calling emotional triage. That is, when you move up or down theological tiers, your emotions should climb up or down tiers as well.
Theological and Emotional Triage
Christians have historically held that not every doctrine is as important as the next. John Calvin made this observation in his day, Albert Mohler articulated theological triage a few years ago (here), and Gavin Ortlund contributed most recently (here). The idea of theological triage is simply this: not every doctrine is as important as the next.
For Calvin, some doctrines were “necessary,” while others are “disputed.” When disputed matters were being discussed, charity was the order of the day. If necessary doctrines were threatened or perverted, then schism was perhaps unavoidable (see my post on Calvin here). It was Albert Mohler who coined the term theological triage. He writes the following.
“The word triage comes from the French word trier, which means “to sort.” Thus, the triage officer in the medical context is the front-line agent for deciding which patients need the most urgent treatment. Without such a process, the scraped knee would receive the same urgency of consideration as a gunshot wound to the chest. The same discipline that brings order to the hectic arena of the Emergency Room can also offer great assistance to Christians defending truth in the present age.
A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world’s framework for medical priority. With this in mind, I would suggest three different levels of theological urgency, each corresponding to a set of issues and theological priorities found in current doctrinal debates.”—Albert Mohler (here)