In my previous post, I address the topic of the Virgin Birth and how important it is to Christian faith. In response to the controversy generated by the statements made by Andy Stanley, lead pastor of Northpoint Community Church, I suggested that the importance we attach to the Virgin Birth is based upon how we value different sources of theology: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Overall, however, I personally drew the conclusion that Stanley is not wrong to suggest that the resurrection is more central than the virgin birth, but I hedged that to say the Virgin Birth plays a critical role in maintaining the faith that Jesus is the Son of God. In this distinction, I made an implicit distinction that different beliefs serve different purposes. In line with the Apostle Paul’s proclamation in Romans 10:9 that salvation comes through a confession and belief that together contain only two propositions, there is a necessity in understanding the relationship of this central confession to the rest of the Gospel material in Scripture and, since I believe the early church traditions have something important to say about faith, the early creeds.
One might boil this down another way: what is bare minimum necessary for salvation and what do we do with the rest of beliefs that are not necessary? However, I would suggest this draws a too sharp dichotomy between salvific beliefs and other beliefs; this is especially problematic if one puts the label of optional” on the “non-essentials.” Why? The different ideas we hold in faith are not separate concepts that are isolated from each other; they interact together. They reinforce and rub up against each other. Faith as it is actually lived in human life operates as a system of interlocking urges, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. What I think about the creation impacts what I think about God who created. No single doctrinal idea exists in a vacuum, separate from other ideas.
I alluded to this in the previous post. I suggested that the reason the story of Jesus’ virgin birth got included in Matthew an Luke was because of the importance of reinforcing the idea that Jesus is the Son of God by denying the idea that Jesus was adopted as the Son of God as His baptism. I didn’t treat the virgin birth as an essential for salvation, but as important for maintaining an essential confession of faith, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Lord. Belief in adoptionism would render Jesus as the Son of God more so in title and even in authority rather than really in nature. If one held simultaneously to Jesus as the Son of God and to adoptionism, one’s belief about Jesus as the Son of God could potentially be radically changed where Jesus would be treated as a human who rose to a divine title in order to be consistent. If Jesus is simply an exemplary human who God later adopted, then the center of faith and salvation rests in human action rather than in God’s initiative. This may then manifest in how one’s life will be lived, focused on one’s own effort rather than trust in the loving provision and power of God. Even if something isn’t an “essential” it can impact the way we interpret the “essentials” so that we may use and affirm the same language but we mean something very different1 and thus direct ourselves in a different direction.
However, note that I place emphasis on the word “potentially” and “may.” While certain beliefs may be inconsistent, it is possible to hold inconsistent beliefs that do not dramatically impact each other. On the one hand, all orthodox Christians believe the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity, and yet, at the same time, many of them regard and speak about the Holy Spirit as a force and not a person; the Trinitarian belief remains because the inconsistent idea of the Spirit as a force is not given much analysis or importance. Inconsistency of faith does not lead to an inevitable change.
So, with this in mind, the beliefs that are not “essential” may still impact the “essentials” so as to radically change the meaning, but this is not inevitable or automatic. Paul’s minimal confession for salvation and the Nicene Creed, for instance, have an important relationship to each other but they sere different purposes. One purpose, amongst others, of the Nicene Creed is to protect the integrity of the central, salvific confession and faith. Trusting that Jesus is Lord who will save would be challenged if you think he is merely human; likewise, trusting that Jesus was raised from the dead can be undercut if you think Jesus is God merely appearing to be human.2 Orthodox beliefs do not bring a person into God’s salvation, but they do protect the integrity of saving faith.
So, to add more to what I said previously regarding the Virgin Birth, while I can agree with Andy Stanley that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is more important central than the Virgin Birth, if there is no discipleship that teaches and affirms the orthodox confession, the significance of the resurrection of JEsus showing He is the Son of God will potentially be undermined.