Most discussions about Biblical issues in Christian circles fall into one of three categories: (1) soteriology — that is the discussion of salvation; (2) ethics — that is, how then shall we live in light of salvation; and (3) irrelevant and silly — that is most of what Christians fight about.
Obviously this is a bit of an over-simplification. Other important issues are things like hermeneutics, ecclesiology and missiology. But the truth is that all of those are subsumed in discussions of salavtion and ethics. Hermeneutics (how we interpret scripture) is foundational to both. Ecclessiology (theology of church) gets lived out in an understanding of what the saved community IS (salvation) and what this community is supposed to DO (ethics). Missiology (theology of evangelism and missions) is also foundationally about salvation and ethics.
So these are key issues…
But they are separate issues…
And it is important to remember which we are talking about when…
My hypothesis is that if we had a better understanding of which we were talking about when, we would fight a lot less and have a lot more productive discussions.
For Christians, salvation issues are a big deal. Heaven and hell hang in the balance. Getting these issues correct is a pretty big deal. The nature of salvation includes some pretty big theological issues (such as the nature and work of Christ, the reality and consequence of sin, the character of the Father, the work of the Holy Spirit, free will, election, grace, justification, sanctification, glorification, etc). Volumes have been written on these issues. Which is good, because they are important.
Then there are ethical questions and issues. The essence of Christian ethics is this: once saved, how should I live.
As followers of Jesus, this is where we live (or should live).
Ethics is also something that sometimes is quite clear, but often is quite complex. Sometimes scripture speaks directly to an issue, sometimes we must infer based on Biblical principles. Within the realm of Christian ethics, there can be (and often are) multiple faithful answers. But not always.
What does “multiple faithful answers” mean? It means that equally faithful and committed Christians can come to different ethical conclusions about an issue, without one being “more Christian”, “more faithful” or even “more right” than the other person. Most ethical questions fall into this category, but not all. The Bible is full of some clear back-and-white ethical commands. But the truth is that the vast majority of ethical issues we face in our day have not been spoken to directly in the scriptures. Or f they have, it is with more “gray” and nuance than many of us are comfortable with.
Why is this important?
Because when dealing with ethical issues, we need to both take scripture seriously while also being careful to not make black-and-white what scripture leaves gray (or is silent on). We must follow our convictions, but also respect others. We can disagree without resorting to name-calling or questioning people’s salvation or faithfulness.
Anyway, I think it is worth knowing (and noting) which issue(s) we are dealing with when…