The Non-Negotiables

Over on Facebook, I’ve been asking readers what they think are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith. The discussion thus far has been really helpful, so I wanted to bring readers here into the discussion as well:

What, in your mind, are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith? What are things that, if you don’t believe them, are indicators that you might be outside the faith and what things can you be severely wrong on but still probably scrape through as though snatched “out of the fire”? 

Some of the points that have been hit so far include the nature of God, the person & work of Jesus Christ (this encompasses things like the virgin birth and his life of perfect obedience), justification by faith alone and the Bible as the only inspired and authoritative word of God. So what I’d like to know from you is what else?

Is there anything would you include that hasn’t been included? Anything you’d take away? Do you believe there are such things as non-negotiables at all?

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  • http://elehack.net/jennifer/ Jennifer Ekstrand

    I think that is a difficult question to answer. What did the thief on the cross believe? I would be surprised if he was a completely persuaded Trinitarian (had he even heard of the Holy Spirit?). Yet many of the early church decisions about heresy related to the Trinity.

    Is there a difference in what qualifies as non-negotiable depending upon circumstance? Is a western seminary-educated person surrounded with commentaries held to a different standard than the first convert of a people-group that doesn’t yet have a translation of Scripture in their language? 

    Can I ask, what is the motivation for this question? Is it just meant as a philosophical exercise or do you think that answering will impact lives? Does it provide a checklist like “I believe these so I’m safe”, “They believe these things, so I can fellowship with them”, or “They don’t believe one of these doctrines, so I must treat them as an unbeliever”?  Does the answer set a minimal bar for what is required for church membership? Is it trying to make sense of Belcher’s Deep Church?

    Beliefs are part of faith, but faith is more than just belief (James 2:19: “even the demons believe”).

    I would also say it might be easier to think about some non-negotiables in terms of what Christians are not allowed to believe. Denying a doctrine (say, the virgin birth) is different than failing to affirm it.  God gave me faith before my parents gave me enough of the “birds and bees” conversation to understand what the virgin birth meant; a child not understanding the virgin birth is quite different from a theologian understanding and denying it.

    With that in mind, I would say that Scripture would say Christians are not allowed to believe that they have completely stopped sinning: 
    “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8 ESV)

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Great responses, Jennifer. The primary reason for the question is that I’m working on a new book that includes a chapter on the “non-negotiables”, specifically from the perspective of what do we actually have to fight charitably but vigorously for? 

      Much of what you’ve said in your comment actually makes up the majority of the preamble, by the way :) Thanks for taking the time to write a very thoughtful response!

      • http://elehack.net/jennifer/ Jennifer Ekstrand

        I’m excited that you’re writing a new book :-)

        • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

          Me too! Looking forward to making a formal announcement in the near-ish future :)

  • http://www.craighurst.wordpress.com/ Craig Hurst

    I came from a fundamentalist background so I am very familiar with the 5 theological points of Fundamentalism. While the doctrines they defended were important, it eventually came at the expense of militantly defending and articulating others like the trinity. It is not enough to defend the nature of God we must also defend, as an essential tenet of the Christian faith the doctrine of the trinity as expressed in essence and personhood. Without the trinity there is no gospel.

  • http://www.craighurst.wordpress.com/ Craig Hurst

    Jennifer I think this would go with what you are saying – on the essentials of the faith Michael Wittmer (and others) put it like this – there are doctrines that are not required to be believed at the moment of salvation (say the trinity or inspiration of scripture) but that upon hearing them after salvation no true believer can reject them. So there is a difference between what must be affirmed at salvation in order to say one has believed in the gospel and what one cannot deny later as the believer learns about and grows in their faith.

  • http://sightregained.com Louis Tullo

    There are definitely non-negotiable elements of Christianity. The ones you hit on all qualify, but I think you would also have to add a statement regarding the nature of man as inherently wicked. While statements regarding God and salvation are all prominent, without admitting that human beings are in need of God any statement about salvation would lack the importance it possesses.

  • Ben Thorp

    I’ve been mulling this over in the back of my mind since you pasted it on Facebook, and Jennifer seems to be echoing my question “non-negotiable for what (or in what) situation?). 

    When it comes to salvific (is that the right word?) non-negotiables, I think that belief in Jesus is non-negotiable, and your belief should be underlined in your actions (ref James). 

    When it comes to doctrinal orthodoxy, then I think we’re talking trinity, inerrancy of Scripture, Christ as the only way to the Father, God as the omnipotent creator, physical resurrection. (Actually, probably the Nicene Creed is a good starting place for much of this ;) )

    Mark Driscoll outlines a grading of doctrinal decisions which is, IIRC, Die, Divide, Decide, Discuss – things I would die for (ie, your non-negotiables), things I would divide for (I still think you’re a Christian, but you cannot be part of our church), things I would decide for (we have made a particular decision on this matter, and you don’t have to agree to be part of our church, but you need to understand that we’ve made up our mind) and things to discuss for (ie we can have the discussion, but there are differences of opinion even amongst our church). I’m probably misquoting badly, but it’s something like that, and I think that’s quite helpful. (IIRC it’s from Vintage Church, if you’re hunting for it)

  • Chris

    Using Jennifer’s point about the thief on the cross, justification by faith is absolutely central and essential.  But I would add “by God’s grace” to the end of that because without God’s work in us we could never have faith.  Salvation is an absolute gift of God’s grace as is our ability to even come to recognize the beauty of both the gift and the Giver.

  • http://www.chrispoblete.net Chris Poblete

    Off the top of my head? The other-ness of God. The fear of the LORD (of course ;) ). The sufficiency of Christ. His propitiatory work on the Cross. His glorious Resurrection. The Trinity.