C. Michael Patton on Essential Creedal Expressions for Christian Salvation

C. Michael Patton has come up with a list of essentials that true Christians must believe along with a chart that supposedly distinguishes what is non-essential from unimportant beliefs. Here are the essentials according to him:
Essential for salvation: These are the most essential doctrines of all essentials. This includes what every Christian should always be willing to die for. In essence, if someone does not believe the doctrines that are “essential for salvation,” they are not saved.

What I include:

* Belief in God (there is no such thing as an atheistic Christian)
All issues pertaining to the person and work of Christ:
* Belief in Christ’s deity and humanity (1 John 4:2-3; Rom. 10:9)
* Belief that you are a sinner in need of God’s mercy (1 John 1:10)
* Belief that Christ died on the cross and rose bodily from the grave (1 Cor 15:3-4)
* Belief that faith in Christ is necessary (John 3:16)

As with all of them, I am sure that there are some ancillary matters that could be included, but this gives you the key doctrines. Link.
Got it? Here's his chart:

James McGrath notices two striking things about Patton's list of essentials:
What is most striking is that the essentials are a list of doctrinal beliefs. According to the New Testament, Jesus himself taught that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor. Yet the list that is offered makes no mention of that. You must believe God exists, but love for God is not mentioned (doesn't the Letter of James spring to mind?)

The next most striking thing is that most of the beliefs that are viewed as essentials are supported primarily or exclusively by appeal to the Gospel and Letters of John. Just about everything on the list is at the very least viewed through a Johannine lens. How can one claim as essential a doctrine which many New Testament authors failed to articulate clearly and unambiguously? Were these other authors not aware that they were being reckless, not emphasizing or even clearly stating the "essentials" and thereby presumably putting the souls of their readers at risk? Link
I myself find it extremely strange that God will judge any of us for what we believe such that doing so is absurd to the core. We do not choose our beliefs for the most part. Most of us were simply raised in a culture where we were taught what to believe and now we cannot believe differently, or we learned what we did from some lecture or book or experience, and so that's what we think now. This is obvious to me.

Furthermore, these are all just words that Christians agree on expressing. Using the same words does not mean that the faithful who use the exact same words agree with what those words mean. I think most Christians are ignorant about the implications of this. What does it mean to say the word "God" for instance? What precise understanding must one have about this word "God" to be saved? Must a believer adopt the social- or the anti-social trinitarian understanding of the word "God" to be saved? That's just one example of many. Must a believer understand what it means to say he or she believes in something described by the word "God"? Or what it means to use the word "Jesus"? Or "Christ"? Or is it simply enough to express those words with belief? Yes or no?

I do not think Christians know what they mean when they express such words. It all sounds fine and dandy to them, but it's not. Christians think they all mean the same thing when expressing the same words, but they don't, and they are ignorant to say otherwise. Most of them are completely ignorant about what theologians mean by these words. For instance, which theory of the atonement is required when saying Jesus died on the cross for our sins? Will God reward the mere expression of these words of belief if these words have no content to them, or very little? How much ignorance will God allow? If he allows a child's understanding of these words when he or she is almost assuredly wrong about what these words mean, then God apparently allows most everyone who expresses these same words to be saved even though they are wrong in their understandings, or don't have a clue what they are expressing.

Actually language is a game we make up. Words mean what I define them to mean. If I want to communicate I must use the meaning of words that people generally accept in the language of my community--English for instance. But I could create my own private language by infusing these same words with a private meaning and then express the same words Patton thinks are essential for salvation, even though my private definitions of these words are completely different. And I too could be saved even though I'm an atheist, contrary to what he claimed. ;-)

2 comments: