Parchment and Pen has done it again – this time it offers a list of “essentials for salvation” followed by lists of other types of essentials and then non-essentials. What is most striking is that the essentials are a list of doctrinal beliefs. According to the New Testament, Jesus himself taught that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor. Yet the list that is offered makes no mention of that. You must believe God exists, but love for God is not mentioned (doesn’t the Letter of James spring to mind?)
The next most striking thing is that most of the beliefs that are viewed as essentials are supported primarily or exclusively by appeal to the Gospel and Letters of John. Just about everything on the list is at the very least viewed through a Johannine lens. How can one claim as essential a doctrine which many New Testament authors failed to articulate clearly and unambiguously? Were these other authors not aware that they were being reckless, not emphasizing or even clearly stating the “essentials” and thereby presumably putting the souls of their readers at risk?
Admittedly this articulation of doctrinal essentials in a way that allows some texts to trump others is characteristic of Christian attempts at defining orthodoxy down the ages. Yet ironically, it is at the same time the reason why Christians have historically disagreed about their definitions of orthodoxy just as consistently as we have sought to define it using an approach of this sort.