How to deal with theological differences

Christians are divided over many issues, which is the (at least original) reason behind different denominations within the Evangelical confession.

Often these differences become exacerbated and lead to actual divisions of fellowship and an overall loss of the love that should characterise relationships between Christians. Reacting to this, (usually a generation or so afterwards), some Christians try to “break down the barriers” between denominations, especially in para-church ministries. The idea that is often to “put aside those things that divide us and focus on the things we agree upon”.

What follow are some thoughts on the issue.

1. It is important to distinguish between major and minor differences. Is there a division over a major doctrine (e.g. the nature of God, nature of Christ, biblical attributes, Trinity, gospel, atonement etc.) or a minor, “secondary” doctrine (e.g. church polity, service content, eschatological details, Church/State relationships etc.)? In the first case, there is a biblical mandate to separate fellowship (Rom. 16:17; Galatians 1:8-9; 2 Thes. 3:6, 14; Titus 3:10; 2 John 9-11). But this does not extend to difference of opinions that are, as far as their proponents can see, biblically sound.

2. Minor differences may reflect differences in greater doctrines. For example, although we might think of ammilenianism and premillenianism as a minor difference, they often originate from very different views concerning the relationship of national Israel and the Church.

3. One way of addressing theological differences is to avoid/deny/minimise them altogether. But this  approach is short-lived benefits because it only allows for shallow, “restricted” fellowship. Sooner or later, differences will crop up again and again in practice, prayer, and teaching emphasis. This is unavoidable because healthy Christian fellowship requires the full extent of biblical truth.

4. The best way to deal with theological differences is to openly clarify them and humbly debate them. This has the multiple effects of

  • a) informing believers of a particular denomination what they actually believe and why; this leads to more biblically-critical thinking and less unqualified emotion – more light, less heat
  • b) informing believers of a particular denomination what “the other side” actually believes and why
  • c) promoting in-depth searching of the Scriptures (cf. Acts 17:11)
  • d) edifying one another (1 Thes. 5:11)
  • e) often casting the differences into their real light as either major or minor, or even as different angles on the same view.

Eight preacher types to avoid


i) I have been guilty of most of these the few times I’ve ever preached. But even though I can think of a specific example for each one of these types, this list is for humorous purposes only. If they go beyond humour, I leave it to the reader to decide why.

ii) There are tons of other types we could add here. There are tons more to be said about these types. I’m just trying to be broad and brief. If you think of anything to add, then comment and we’ll draw up another list. Remember, this is filed under “Humour”.

  1. The seminary grad. You can almost see him practising in front of the mirror last night. You can almost see the homiletics textbook he’s using. Alliteration, three points, attention to fine points of theology unrelated to the sermon. Tries too hard and ends up flustered. If only he’d gone for simplicity. Result: You feel like you’ve been to a theology PhD defence.
  2. The scholar. Lots of grammar. Lots of Greek, Hebrew, 16th century German/French and Latin. Without translation. Some Ugaritic thrown in for good measure. Quotes obscure fellow scholars. Laughs at esoteric field jokes. Goes off on quiet mumbles. Takes notes of new thoughts while he speaks. Result: you feel like the student who didn’t study for the test.
  3. The drill instructor/coach. Lots of “on your feet, soldier”. Lots of war/battle metaphors. Heavily focused on human responsibility and much less on God’s grace. Grace is for sissies. Little sympathy for those who are down. They just need to, well, “get on their feet”. He’d have the congregation up and marching if he could. Result: you feel a few inches further away from God than before the sermon. Also, your face hurts for some reason.
  4. The supernova. Burns bright and hot, but blinds everyone in the process. Lots of shouting. Lots of emotion. Crying. Laughing. Dancing. Breaks into spontaneous song. Lots of “let me hear you say amen/hallelujah/other Hebrew word. Result: Blind and burnt.
  5. The stand-up. Lots of jokes and “amusing anecdotes”. Everything is sunny-side up. Does imitations. Can’t read half a passage without crackin’ a funny. Things like sin and holiness and other killjoy matters don’t register on the radar much. Result: You feel like you’ve been to a comedy club. And it wasn’t good. It wasn’t good.
  6. The relevant. Pop culture references abound. Even references to pop culture that no-one gets. Peroxide hair. Thick-rimmed glasses. Casual. Might hold Venti latte. Open MacBook Air while he speaks. More Hollywood that Holy Word. He’d juggle live alligators while riding a unicycle if he thought that would lend validity to his message. His message? Jesus be cool y’all. Or something like that. Result: Huh? Sorry, I was tweeting the whole time.
  7. The politico. As far as he’s concerned, Jesus came to earth to promote Fair Trade coffee, address social injustice, free Tibet and boycott Nestlé. The Bible was written to empower us for social change. Doesn’t matter what social setting we’re in; there’s always something wrong with the world. Lots of hot-button issues. The ultimate exegesis for every passage always leads mysteriously to something in the news. Result: Angry mobs. Either way.
  8. The postmodern. It’s all about the meta-narrative. The purpose is the journey, not the destination. Truth is relative. No absolutes, except that there are no absolutes. Inherent contradictions ignored. It’s all good – if there was such a thing as good. Result: There’s no such thing as a result. Results are so modern.