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An excellent article from Kevin DeYoung from the June 2011 issue of Tabletalk.

First, we are not always gracious in the way we talk about secondary issues. Most Christians speak kindly and calmly about their convictions. But sadly it often feels like the less important the issue the more intensely someone will hold to it. We make up for the lack of gravity surrounding the issue by promoting that issue in the gravest possible terms. And even if we are right and someone else is dead wrong we should still correct our opponents with gentleness and grace (2 Tim. 2:25), not with hand grenades.

Second, some of us have never considered that certain issues in the Christian life belong in a Romans 14 category. Don't get me wrong, I believe in polemics. I believe in dying on some hills. I believe in standing fast on doctrine, even on "non-salvation issues." But on some matters we should say with Paul, "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). And sometimes we must ask, "Why do you pass judgment on your brother?" After all, "we will all stand before the judgment seat of God" (14:10-11). It's okay on some matters (not all!) for Christians to agree to disagree (even if you know you're right like Paul did!). It's not a failure of theological nerve to recognize that some good believers we'll make different decisions than other good believers. The mature Christian can hold strongly to his opinions without insisting strongly that all other Christians do the same.

A third problem is that some Christians inquire too early and too often about their particular hot-button issues. When a brother visiting the church for the first time asks where I stand on Rushdoony, I'm a little freaked out. It's like taking a girl out on a first date and asking if her parents have digital cable. What?! Don't you want to know a few other things first? In checking a church I hope you'd be interested to hear about the role of prayer, the importance of missions, the understanding of the gospel, the integrity of the leaders, their view of Scripture, and a dozen other things before launching into the rareified air of Rushdoony. Besides, I would also hope visitors, as a matter of courtesy, would not land at a church ready to insist on items 16-25 on their theological checklist.

Finally, we must be careful our passions are not out of proportion. There is no problem with Christians who feel strongly about schooling, the placement of the congregational prayer, or the frequency of communion. The problem is when our passion for these issues exceeds our passion for the gospel, for the cross, for the lost, for the afflicted. Not every issue matters as much as every other issue. Not every position deserves out fieriest passion. Save the big guns for the big ones. Get the heart pounding for the doctrine of the Trinity or penal substitution or God's sovereignty. If your "thing" is Christmas trees or the kind of beverage in the communion cup, it's time to get a better "thing." The Christian life allows for lots of passion, discourse, and detailed application--as long as we don't get everything out of whack.

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8 thoughts on “Getting Secondary Issues All Out of Whack”

  1. jo evans says:

    Thank you Mr. DeYoung!

  2. David Shedden says:

    What are primary issues and what are secondary issues? Can we maybe start listing them? I mean, the problem is not that people cant be gracious about differences of opinion, it’s that people can’t agree what the primary issues are. So, is baptism primary or secondary? Is church government primary or secondary? At least one of those areas is very much a gospel issue… and, if we are all for total truth, then every issue is in some way connected to the primary issue(s).

  3. looselycult says:

    and, if we are all for total truth, then every issue is in some way connected to the primary issue(s).

    Wow. The case in point couldn’t have been illustrated any clearer than by the implications of this comment.

  4. mark mayers says:

    as Pastor Scotty Smith might sa, “So very amen”

    As an encouragement to you, Kevin, my 21 year-old son likes reading your blog!

    Grace 2u,

  5. Shane Ammons says:

    I agreed wholeheartedly with this, until the mention of schooling as a secondary issue. I can absolutely see how and would probably agree that it is a secondary issue, except for the fact that I have FIVE children right now and how and by whom they are educated is maybe the most pressing thing on my heart and mind right now. I know He is Sovereign and can and does cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, so if they were poorly educated (as I was) then He can work through that. But, I also know that I have a great responsibility as a parent to provide a Biblical and Christ-centered education for my children so that they might be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, as do ALL Christians. So, while it may be a secondary issue in the Church, my question is “should it be?” It sure feels primary in my household. Thanks for your time and for your great insight.

  6. In response to Shane, I don’t think kids have to be in Christian schools. Ideally, if you can afford it, you should have your children in Christian education. Training your children to live for Christ starts when you are young. If your children can learn to live for Christ in the public school system, they will be better equipped to live for Christ when they enter the workforce.

  7. **Not every issue matters as much as every other issue. Not every position deserves out fieriest passion. Save the big guns for the big ones.**

    How do we decide which issues are “the big ones”? It’s not as simple as invoking the Bible because many Christians invoke the Bible and come down on the issues differently. Complementarians like John Piper think women in the church and home is a big issue; egalitarians like John Stackhouse and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen do not. Young-earth and old-earth creationists like Albert Mohler and R.C. Sproul think evolution and the historical Adam are big issues; evolutionary creationists like Francis Collins and Karl Giberson do not. Exclusivists like Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor think hell is a big issue; inclusivists like C. S. Lewis do not.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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