The term “Theological Triage” was introduced in 2005 by Albert Mohler1A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity. It is a “system of prioritization”2Gavin Ortland, Finding the Right Hills to Die On: the Case for Theological Triage, 2020 . Since I have spent most of my life in theological education, on one side of the desk or the other, this is an important issue for me. Distinguishing the relative importance of theological issues has been a very practical task in navigating relationships with others in ministry. Furthermore, the metaphor of triage resonates from the time I spent serving as a volunteer EMT for many years. So, when the Gospel Coalition published Finding the Right Hills to Die On: the Case for Theological Triage by Gavin Ortland earlier this year, I added it to my reading list. Though the book does not directly address missiological issues, its relevance to cross-cultural workers is underscored by the cross-cultural examples mentioned by D. A. Carson in the preface.3Ortland, 11-14.
In the Introduction, Ortland spells out the categories of his fourfold ranking for theological triage:
- First-rank doctrines are essential to the gospel itself.
- Second-rank doctrines are urgent for the health and practice of the church such that they frequently cause Christians to separate at the level of local church, denomination, and/or ministry.
- Third-rank doctrines are important to Christian theology, but not enough to justify separation or division among Christians.
- Fourth-rank doctrines are unimportant to our gospel witness and ministry collaboration. 4Ortland, 19.
Why Theological Triage?
The book is divided into two parts: 1. Why Theological Triage? (chapters 1-3) and 2. Theological Triage At Work (chapters 4-6). The first two chapters address the danger of doctrinal sectarianism and doctrinal minimalism respectively. We tend to two extremes: every issue is a hill to die on or nothing is worth fighting for. He urges us to find our identity in the gospel, not our theological positions, hence the need for theological triage. 5Ortland, 42. Second-rank and third-rank doctrines preserve, picture, protect, and pertain to the gospel.6Ortland, 57.