Is Everything Equally Important?
by Reinder Bruinsma, September 11, 2015: No, not all things in life are equally important. We often say: “The main thing is to be healthy!” And, fortunately, most people rate family and friends higher than all sorts of material things. Life becomes very difficult if one does not know how to differentiate between things that are really important and the things that should have a lower priority.
The same applies to the sphere of church and spiritual life. The “higher” church organization (in the Adventist church: General Conference, divisions, unions, conferences) certainly has a role to play, but the local church is the place where the rubber hits the road. A good understanding of theological issues is important, but a close tie with God and a faith that keeps you going in daily life are much more essential.
Is everything in the Bible equally important? It may be risky to ask that question, for who am I to say what parts of the Bible are more or less essential? In times past, church leaders and scholars decided what writings to include in the Bible and what not to include. Catholics (and also Lutherans) made a decision that differs from what Protestants have agreed upon.
Protestants tend to be satisfied with a biblical canon without the apocryphal books. The Bible is an authoritative book for them. But even most of those who claim to take everything in the Bible literally (as it “plainly” reads), tend to have something like a canon within the canon. Not everything in the Bible carries the same weight. Many Bible readers feel (to mention just one example) that they get more out of the Gospel of John than from the book Ecclesiastes, and that they find Psalms more helpful than the book of the prophet Ezekiel. This is also true for me. There are parts of the Bible that I read and re-read, but I must confess that there are also segments in the Bible that I have not read in recent years.
But, are we allowed to extend his argument even further? May we, for instance, say that some doctrines are more important than other doctrines? Adventists recognize “28 Fundamental Beliefs.” Are all of these equally “fundamental”? How in the world can they all be really fundamental, i.e., foundational? Often I hear people say: It is all part of the truth, so we cannot say that something is unimportant or less important than the rest. But, let’s be honest: that is not how reality functions. Most (maybe all) Adventists sense that particular points define their being Adventist, while other points do not fall into that same category. I believe it is useful for all of us to draw up a short list of what is really “fundamental” for us, and what might, in fact, be more in the periphery. Next week I intend to say more about this and will share my own short-list of what I consider truly “fundamental.”
P.S.: A few years ago I did a presentation for fellow Adventist theologians about the question of whether all doctrines are equally important. A little later I rewrote the text of this presentation and submitted it as a chapter in a Festschrift for Dr. Jon Dybdahl—a much valued friend and colleague, with whom I worked closely at Andrews University for a number of years. Jon (now retired) was (and is) a gifted teacher and for some time served as the president of the Adventist Walla Walla University in Washington State (US).
For those who are interested: the text of this chapter, entitled “Is All Truth Truth?” may be found on my website: https://reinderbruinsma.com/are-all-truths-truth-2/