“Theological Triage”: Recognizing Doctrinal Priorities

For many students of theology, one of the last lessons to be mastered is the ability to discern how and when to engage in theological debate. On the one hand, some simply don’t know how to disagree amicably with those who have different perspectives. Too often, students become so abrasive and caustic that no one wants to listen to them, no matter what they are saying. When I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, I remember seeing three students arguing over the so-called “lordship salvation” controversy. One of the “free grace” advocates became so incensed at his opponent that he nearly punched the “lordship” advocate in the face. Though I’m sure he felt “free” to attack his poor brother, I’m glad that he chose not to. Instead, he stormed off in a huff, fists clinched and red-faced. It was clear to me that this guy had not mastered the how of theological discourse.

On the other hand, too many do not discern properly when debate is advisable and what the pitch of such dispute should be. I have known many who become more excited about the order of events on their prophecy chart than they do about the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. They do not seem to understand that error with respect to the former results only in division while error with respect to the later results in condemnation. This inability to discern a taxonomy in doctrinal priorities is one of the hallmarks of theological immaturity.

It is for this reason that Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has recommended a “theological triage” to govern theological dialogue. In his essay, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity,” Mohler sets forth the necessity of identifying first order, second order, and third order doctrinal issues. He argues that the mature theologian will be able to distinguish each of the three from one another. I highly recommend that you make it your priority to read this short essay for yourself.

“A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity” – by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.


  • coley

    just wanted to be the first to boost your ego and say: great job today in the lion’s den. i appreciate your ability to not just answer headstrong but also with wisdom. i totally agree with the idea that students of theology need to care more about the diety of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, etc. (and be able to adequately defend those) before they go off debating on the origin of the soul, if baby’s go to hell or not, and other things that don’t “really matter”. anyways i appreciate your knowledge and love for the Word of God and us, the students of good ‘ol TCC.

  • nathaniel adam king

    I do not think the link is correct, at least it is to Mohler’s blog, but I could not find the said article. Although I think I remember you speaking about this triage in class before. Trinity and incarnation being first; things like post/pre/mid trib being last (I must confess I don’t remember the middle ideas).

    I also must confess I was somewhat humbled today. You spoke of being too critical toward worship. I really understand now the idea of difference between poetry and doctrine statements. We cannot necessarily take every work of poetry as literal and attempt to derive straight doctrine from it.

    Hey! This is alot coming from the ‘Worship Nazi’.

    I would appreciate if you took a gander at my blog and tell me of my summary regarding Calvinism. I am discussing it with some dude I have never met. We wanted to discuss something, back and forth, and Calvinism seems to be the primer for all future theological discussions…why not start there.

    However, I would like it if you did something regarding Replacement Theology on your blog, if you have time. I would confess that I am attracted to it, but wanted to be guided correctly before I venture further.

  • SocraticFool

    Dear Dr Burk,
    (Criswell Student)
    I read the wonderful article which I am grateful you recommended by Albert Molar, I agree for theological maturity among the students should be encouraged at all cost and I agree that no one should break fellowship over doctrines such as “the origin of the soul” or “eschatological views” the model that Molar proposes is a good idea, but the only dangerous precedence seems to me who has the right to put what doctrines in what level of the Triage? The seems to be an uneasy Balancing act between fundamentalism and evangelicalism, I was wondering how you can establish which doctrines, go where and by what right we put them there? It seems to me unless this established the Triage model would collapse. I seem to be left with finding the essential biblical doctrines by finding a theologian who is rightly interrupting the Bible but how can I know who is a rightly interrupting unless I know the right biblical doctrines?
    God Bless and I eagerly await your reply

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