How Do You Distinguish Between Essential Doctrines and Non-Essential Doctrines?

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I think the centrality of certain
doctrines compared to others will be evident in a couple of ways. One will be
by the emphasis placed upon them in the biblical text. For example, the existence
of God is just everywhere presupposed and affirmed throughout the Bible; this
could hardly be a peripheral doctrine. By contrast, the doctrine of baptism is
rarely spoken of in the biblical text. But in addition to that, it’s not just
the number of times that it’s mentioned, but it is how deeply ingrained it is in
the structure of one’s beliefs. If a belief, if abandoned, would greatly affect
the Christian faith, then you know that you’re dealing with a doctrine that is
right at the core of our web of beliefs. For example, if you were to deny the
atoning death of Christ, it’s hard to see how anything could survive of
Christianity; what would be left if it were not true that Christ died for our
sins? By contrast, if you deny that in the Lord’s Supper we actually consume the
body and blood of the Lord, I don’t think that would have much impact at all upon
the Christian religion. So whether a doctrine is central to the core of
beliefs will be obvious I think by the kind of reverberations that it would
make if it were denied, and on the other hand by the implications that it has by
being affirmed.


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