My friend Dr Monte, whose "Satanic Calvinism" RT provided me with some blog fodder yesterday, raises a good point in the above tweet, at the end. Although to be honest, I think it is relatively easy answered. It does lead ultimately, however, unto another question, which is considerably harder to solve.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
First, Dr Monte's question i.e. who gets to decide which doctrines are essential and which are not? Stand alone quotes seldom do the job well. We must query "Essential to what?" Entrance into Heaven - denied to those who profess another gospel - or to a well constructed growth in grace?
If it is the former, then the answer should not be too hard to find. At least for working purposes. Suppose we constructed a formidable and very detailed list of Christian doctrines. Under the main heading of each doctrine, there is a list of various interpretations or explanations of that doctrine. For example, we take the doctrine of Christ's death upon the Cross. The interpretations below might read as follows:
1) Do you believe that Christ died upon the Cross?
2) Do you believe He shed His blood as an atonement for sin?
3) Do you believe He shed His bloodas a mere martyr?
4) Do you believe He shed His blood accidentally and with no fixed purpose
5) Do you believe He shed His blood merely as a good Example to others?
If you believe (2) that He died for an atonement for sin...
1) Was it as a ransom to God?
2) Was it as a ransom to Satan?
3) Was it as an atonement for the sins of all w/o exception (i.e. elect and reprobate alike)
4) Was it an atonement for the sins only of the elect?
Historic Fundamentalism - I distance myself from much of the modern variety - has united on the blood atonement for sin issue - yet only to a point. We repudiate the martyrdom/good example stuff. We believe Christ paid the ransom price to satisfy the demands of the law of God and that without the shedding of the atoning blood, there is no remission. Where we disagree is over the extent of that atonement. Many of us agree with Fundamentalists like CH Spurgeon, BB Warfield, Gresham Machen, RL Dabney etc., in claiming that Christ only atoned for the sins of the elect. He did not bear the guilt of the reprobate - which helps explain why the reprobates in Hell are doing so at this very moment. You can follow up our reasoning here and here, here on this matter.
If you are a Universal atonement man - are you prepared to damn us in Hell because we deny Christ bore the sins of Pharaoh and Judas etc.? Spurgeon preached this doctrine right to the end of his life. Did he leave this scene of time in Mentone in France to go to a damnable heretic's Hell?
Perhaps the thought horrifies you. But if Spurgeon had've preached all his life that Christ died only as a Good Example and a Martyr - without any atonement to God in sight - then you might not be so squeamish about it. Well, if so - there's the answer to the above question. You are recognising that it is essential to recognise one fundamental truth about the atonement and yet allow for differences (as far as salvation is concerned) in another part. You might well wonder how the doctrine of Particular Redemption affects the preaching of the gospel in a practical sense etc., - all good and natural thoughts - but unless you go consistently down the Satanic Calvinism line, then you are not prepared to damn in the deepest Hell the great men in Church History who held to it. IOW - as far as salvation is concerned - the atonement itself is the Essential. The current debate on extent of the atonement - although doubtless important - is Non Essential in that both sides of the extent debate refuse to damn each other. I certainly won't be damning John Wesley, HA Ironside or JC Ryle.
THE FLOW QUESTION
The flow question from the above (as said) is not so easily answered. How much knowledge of the Bible does a sinner need to be saved? I have always found this to be a stickier question. Certainly the "Essentials/Non Essentials" issue above will impact it. If you think that it is equally important to believe in autonomous church government, baptism by immersion only, and a very precise blow by blow account of what will happen in the end times in order to be saved, then you were always going to have fun with the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. Paul obviously thought that "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" was a sufficient answer. (It was.) It may well be argued that much had gone on before the question was ever popped- the two men had probably witnessed to the jailer and they had sang hymns which doubtless contained great doctrinal truths. But to suppose that the jailer could've sat a basic (What is "basic?") first year doctrinal exam is probably pushing the boat out a bit too far. It is likely that the jailer came with very little theological baggage to Christ. We usually manage to portray him as a heartless thug who enjoyed beating up Holy Joes who didn't smoke or drink or read Sunday newspapers. But suppose, he had been a Jehovah's Witness or a good Mormon, where would that have left the conversation?
When I came to Christ as a 16 year old back in 1978, I knew relatively little about the gospel. My background was one of nominal Christianity. I took a lot of things on trust back then. If an Ulster Protestant had told me that "We believe that Jesus Christ is God" and that "We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God" then I would not have not have argued with you. After all ,this is what "we" believed. I was the sleeping member of a company of people (Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, IOW Protestants) who happened to hold to basic (that "essentials" like word again) Christian truths. All these truths did not come flooding back to me on the night I was converted. Under God, I spoke to the right man who made the right assumptions and told me the right things. Grace providentially kept me out of the claws of those roving cults who used to knock our doors looking for converts when I was concerned about my soul. Perhaps these fundamental truths I was taught were buried deep in my subconsciousness and soon to have a glorious resurrection as I grew in grace. Or maybe I was really learning them experimentally for the first time in the first two years of my Christian life. I sometimes wonder it would have been like to have grown up (say) in a JW home and had to shake off their multiple heresies. Obviously had I seriously approached someone outside my supposed JW or Mormon or RC faith about salvation, then I was de facto rejecting it.
Is it then a case that if you are generally pointing in the right direction, then we accept that the new convert is genuine even if he has a lot to learn? He might struggle with certain doctrines but he learns to accept them over time. Grace ultimately preserves him from straying into damnable heresy, even if he does get confused, because the sheep hears the Shepherd's voice and the voice of a stranger holds no attraction to them. (I remember going on holiday to England when I was about 6 months in grace and innocently knocking the door of a Christadelphian church to ask for free literature. In our conversation, the elderly man told me (with kindly voice) that there was no Hell in the Bible. That didn't sound right and so I didn't look out the Belfast congregation of the same cult when I got home. Truly "Grace tis a charming sound")
Just a few of my thoughts. Feel free to share some of yours.