7 Sine Qua Nons of Classic Christianity

I am really behind in my podcast listening. I just can’t keep up. In fact, I am more than a year behind on my Stand to Reason podcasts by Greg Koukl. Up until mid-2015, Koukl did a weekly 3-hour show, and I can typically only get in two hours on the weekend. So, I’m constantly falling behind. (Nowadays, he does two 1-hour ‘casts each week, which will be more manageable, once I “catch up”.) I tell you this in partial explanation for why a few months ago I finally managed to listen to Koukl’s show from 9/9/2014.

str-greg-kouklIn this particular show, a caller asked Koukl something along the lines of “How orthodox does a person have to be in order to be saved?”. The following is Koukl’s thoughts on it, which I found to be quite helpful in at least beginning to consider matters of orthodoxy. (Naturally, I have paraphrased and added some to it.)

There is a Latin term which is applicable here, and I used it in the title above: sine qua non. This translates literally to “without which not” and refers to what we might call a bare essential. If one is talking about X, there are certain qualities, conditions, or other requirements which X entails, such that without them, X can no longer be called or described as X. Not just things that are normally true about X — for example, dogs normally have fur, but if a particular dog has its fur shaved or burned off or contracts a condition that causes the fur to fall out, it is still a dog. One can remove other parts from the creature and it is still a dog. Regardless of what breed it is, there are certain parts of its DNA that mark it as a member of Canis lupus familiaris (i.e., the domestic dog).

Similarly, there are specific aspects of worldviews — including religions — that identify and distinguish them. Some features may be unique, while others are shared. But, each worldview has a particular combination of features that mark it as itself. The same goes for traditional, historical Christianity. Despite its variations, there are certain characteristics that combine to make it “Christianity”. Take any one of them away, and you can’t legitimately call that belief system “Christian” anymore. These would be the sine qua nons that make up the most basic foundations of Christianity.

Koukl identifies seven….

1) God: Specifically, a personal God. (I would add “singular and eternal”.) This helps separate Christianity from things like deism, pantheism, and panentheism.

2) Man, Nature of: He (i.e., mankind) is made in the image of God, yet also “fallen” (i.e., in rebellion against his Sovereign). Thus, he is both beautiful and morally broken (and culpable). Without this, without Adam falling from grace, nothing that follows after Genesis 3 makes any sense, which is why (some forms of) Theistic Evolution is/are theologically dangerous.

3) Jesus: God’s rescue plan for Man hinges on the Incarnation of the Word. It is a unique feature of Christianity that the God who exists, in order to save the Man (i.e., people) that exists, became a man Himself — the God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth. Of course, this entails the broader understanding of the Trinity, which includes the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Trinity.

4) Cross: After living a morally perfect life, Jesus made a trade with the Father. He died in our place on a Roman cross, taking on the punishment for our crime (i.e., our sins) and covering us with His goodness. The theological term for this is “substitutionary atonement”. It seems pretty clear that this cannot be dismissed or diminished without “losing” Christianity.

5) (Bodily) Resurrection: Jesus first, later everyone else. Without the resurrection of Christ, we have no confidence of the victory of the Cross or of our own future resurrection (I Cor. 15: 12-19). We will all be raised up to face judgement, either to perfect justice (i.e., punishment for non-believers) or perfect mercy (for believers).

John_1Note that these first five make up the “Credo” sequence that Greg teaches about. But, as he points out, there are a couple more concepts that are implied, because they are logically prior to the rest. That is, without these last two, the first five don’t work.

6) Objective Morality: I don’t remember Koukl saying so, but this is grounded in God. Without it, good & evil are relative and “guilt” is meaningless; there is only a variety of opinions, preferences, likes & dislikes. If that is true, there is no true “sin”, thus nothing to be saved from and no need for a Savior.

7) Human Soul/Spirit: I.e., the disembodied, immaterial self that can consciously exist without the body. If we were “meat all the way down” (i.e., merely physical), then those whose bodies are destroyed prior to the resurrection are gone forever; any “re-creation” of their bodies prior to judgement is really just making copies, but it isn’t “them” anymore. In order for it to “be” that person, then what makes them unique (i.e., mind, will, emotion, normally with memories and personality attached) must have survived without the body for a time.

Simply put, one must begin with these seven in order to stay “within the pale”, i.e., affirm classic Christianity. “Heresy” is a departure from an essential, so a “heretic” is one who denies any of these seven. (I think I would insert the qualifiers “consciously and with a fair degree of comprehension” here. Not sure.)

If you are like me, you may be wondering if Koukl left out any essential doctrines or philosophical groundings. (For instance, I think the presuppositions of Objective Reality and Objective Truth are also necessary for the system to “work”.) Of course, one might wish to tweak and/or add a little to one or more of the seven. Also, I’m sure we can think of other things that seem very important (e.g., virgin birth, inerrancy of Scripture, eternal damnation, God’s omniscience) but that are not actually at the foundational level of the above. “The foundation of the foundation,” as Koukl put it. I’ll save further examination of such things for another post.

Do you agree with Koukl? Disagree? If so, why? I look forward to your comments below….

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