‘Finding the Right Hills to Die On - The Case for Theological Triage’ by Gavin Ortlund

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A recurring theme of Gavin Ortlund's ‘Finding the Right Hills to Die On - The Case for Theological Triage’ is the overall effect of doctrinal concerns. Not principally theological, but rather practical questions are asked by him here, like about what is going to be impacted in the life of the Church or individual Christians if a disagreement is allowed to stand or expand without being properly categorized and resolved.

We cannot go to the extreme in the ways Ortlund is describing. If we do, we will become mercenary and godless, picking our battles based on what is going to move the needle on our expanding and maintaining influence and that ever-elusive but much-sought-after material known as "relevance."

Speaking of triage, loving the Lord our God with all our being is the first and greatest commandment. The second - loving our neighbor as we love ourselves - is like it, and related, but it is not the first.

Yet in loving God first, best, and most, we ought to take care how we handle doctrinal disputes with fellow believers. Not all disagreements are created equal. And inherent to the title is the claim that there are hills worth dying on. Ortlund's second chapter in particular does a fine job explaining the danger of what he calls "Doctrinal Minimalism," as well as how prevalent it is today.

'Pick your battles' is both a truism and a true piece of advice, worth repeating and believing. Or, to quote Solomon in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, "Be neither too good nor too wise, for why should you destroy yourself?" And with such admonitions in mind, Ortlund asks us to consider some practical questions before we wade into the fray of theological disputes with brothers and sisters in Christ.

  1. How clear is the Bible on this doctrine?
  2. What is this doctrine’s importance to the gospel?
  3. What is the testimony of the historical church with regards to this doctrine?
  4. What is this doctrine’s effect on the church today?

Now a note is needed here. Just like we can have disagreement which leads us to asking these questions, we can definitely also have disagreement as to the best answers to these clarifying "theological triage" questions.

Take Young Earth Creationism, for instance. Gavin and I disagree on how clear the Bible is that the six days of creation in Genesis are to be read as literal days instead of ages of the Earth. We also, I sense, disagree as to how important YAC is to the gospel. There's the first two already.

When we come to his third and fourth questions, then, Ortlund enlists Augustine, Aquinas, Spurgeon, and Machen in making the case that there has been some honest head-scratching as to what to make of the first few chapters of Genesis, even among the most respected Christian leaders of the past two millennia. Furthermore, Ortlund concludes that the effect of various positions with regards to the age of the Earth and literal versus figurative interpretations of Genesis is pretty negligible.

Just so, I suspect Ortlund would discourage overmuch delving into debate about Creationism. So also, yet with less evidence, he categorizes disagreement about the ordination of women as being of tertiary importance. So also, he enlists Machen to put eschatological doctrines in the tertiary category.

Love, humility, and unity, however, Ortlund puts in a place of chief importance. And perhaps this needs to be so, yet without some conclusions necessarily following. For instance, I fail to see why 'Finding the Right Hills to Die On' should be read primarily by pastors and leaders. Also, I should hate to see this book used to the end of short-sighted censorship and gatekeeping in the Church.

Though the Devil is thus in the details and definitions, I found this book well-written, and I think it can be useful as a personal guide generally if Ortlund's qualifiers are applied carefully.

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