Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Hills Are Worth Dying For?

A Common Idiom Applied to Christian Theology

In military campaigns hills are often strategic locations from which to wage war. When the enemy has set up shop on a hill to gain an advantage the commander must decide whether attempting to force the enemy to abandon their fortress will be worth the lives it will cost to accomplish the task. In other words, is it a hill worth dying for? This idiom has been used in various ways, but I think it could also be applied to Christian theology.

Two Hills Worth Dying For

There are some doctrines that are indispensable to the Christian faith. Perhaps the most foundational of these is the belief that God exists. You don't get a divine savior of the world if there isn't anything divine in the first place. It's safe to say that the existence of God is a hill worth dying for in regards to the Christian faith. But theism is a good ways away from Christian theism. In order to get that you have to have Christ, and more specifically the resurrected Christ. So another essential component of the Christian faith is not so much a doctrine as it is an event: The resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there was a man who claimed that God would raise him from the dead and actually made good on that claim, then Christianity is looking pretty superior to other world religions, and Jesus' claim to be the divine savior of the world is looking very credible. The death and resurrection of Jesus is definitely a hill worth dying for. The belief in the existence of God and the event of the resurrection are like the engine of a car - you're not getting anywhere without them. They may not be the only hills a Christian should be willing to die for, but they are probably the most important.

Unnecessary Causalities of War

Unfortunately, some Christians can't seem to distinguish between the essential and second-order doctrines of the Christian faith. Though their intentions may be good the result of raising second-order doctrines on par with essential ones can be very costly. This can be observed when a teenager is taught her whole life that the belief in a literal 6-day creation is a hill worth dying for, and ends up pursuing a degree in science at a secular university. In her science classes she is convinced that the earth is billions of years old, which conflicts with her former belief that the earth was created in 6 days and has only been around for a few thousand years. Now if she still believes that young earth creationism is an essential tenant of Christianity, then at best she'll deny the doctrine of inerrancy. But it's also probable that she'll end up abandoning her faith all together, as many teenagers do once they leave their home church and go off to college.

A Word of Admonition

Of course these kinds of scenarios could be avoided if Christians were taught to keep all doctrines in proper perspective. The young woman described above didn't need to abandon her faith or even deny the inerrancy of scripture merely because she was persuaded that young-earth creationism is false. Had she been taught to take a more reasonable stance in regards to other views, she could have adjusted her beliefs about the age of the earth without the essential tenets of her faith being affected. But unfortunately there are many like her that end up throwing out the baby with the bath water and deny the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus just because they were convinced that an opinion they held about a second-order doctrine is false. The same can be said of non-believers who reject Christ, because well-meaning Christians have told them that they can't be Christians unless they affirm a particular view concerning a non-essential tenet of the Christian faith. This is tragic. As Christians we need to do a better job of distinguishing between the essentials and non-essentials so that we don't end up endangering people's faith on account of hills that aren't worth dying for.



Kevin Jackson said...

Good points. I try to keep this in mind with my children. :)

~Sarah said...

Thanks of the metaphor. I had never heard it before. I thought it was a really good post, because Christians do need to learn to prioritize beliefs related to our faith.