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Essentials of the Faith – or Not

C. Michael Patton has written a post on doctrinal essentials which is quite interesting. James McGrath responds.

I find this a very useful discussion even when I disagree on what is essential. For example, while Patton states that he is writing about doctrine, and that another post could be written on essential practice, I would suggest that whether or not the primary essential of salvation is belief in doctrines or certain practices, a combination of the same, or indeed none of the above, is itself a rather important doctrinal question. And since the question is on just what, doctrine and/or practice, is essential for salvation, it is doubtless an essential question, at least.

I use a different method of dividing these issues in my post Unity, Diversity, and Confusion. There I am not trying to state what beliefs are necessary for salvation. In fact, I find the idea that someone must successfully believe certain propositions to be a form of salvation by works. But in creating a community, one must define what it means to be in the community and not in the community, even if one does not assume that “in the community” is equivalent to salvation.

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  1. Hi, I’m going to comment without having read Patton’s post (though I do read his blog but missed that one).

    There are certain things that are essential and in fact, without it, there can be no salvation. One must believe that Jesus is God. If we believe He is other than God, then we are placing our faith on someone we believe is not God and yet that person can forgive us our sins against God. That opens a whole can of worms because scripture states that only God can forgive sin. We must believe He died and rose from the dead. We must believe He was born of a virgin. These are only a few but are essential otherwise we might as well toss out our bible.

    That being said, there are things that are not essential that I already know that you and I disagree on BUT that does not mean either of us is a better or lesser Christian or has anything to do with our salvational standing before the Lord (i.e. I’m a monergist & you’re a synergist).

    1. What I think Mike Patton did exceptionally well was distinguish the different things for which a particular element was essential, such as essential for church fellowship, essential for being saved, essential for being orthodox, and so forth. “Essential” must always be qualified, as you did, by a “for”, as in “essential for ____.”

      Where I tend to disagree with Patton is that I would place a much greater emphasis on the fruit, i.e. on praxis over doctrine. I have a low opinion of mere (or inactive) belief.

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