Review: Finding the Right Hills to Die On by Gavin Ortlund

by Apr 5, 2022Books, Theology

Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage (The Gospel Coalition)Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage by Gavin Ortlund
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gracious, clear, accessible. Extremely well done. I nearly docked him a star for being ever-so-slightly in a different place than I am on creationism (though I still found his thoughts very helpful), but that didn’t seem right! I do simply feel that the effects of old-earth views on theology are not commonly reported by proponents, but what can I expect? YEC weaknesses aren’t reported by YEC proponents.

One thing I found very interesting and insightful was the way that Ortlund acknowledged that second-order issues can have ties to first-order ones.

The Gospel Coalition sometimes faces criticism for affirming complementarianism in its foundation documents but not taking a position on, say, baptism. Isn’t it inconsistent to seek to be “gospel-centered” and yet have a position on issues that separate you from others who also love the gospel? Not necessarily. These are decisions of theological triage grounded in the fact that, as we saw in chapter 2, doctrines can be important to the gospel though not essential to it. Therefore, seeking to make the gospel central is not necessarily at odds with affirming the importance of various secondary issues. The TGC Confessional Statement affirms, as parallel examples, double imputation, a propitiating model of the atonement, divine election, and biblical inerrancy—doctrines that are disputed at times by other Christians within the boundaries of orthodoxy. Consider this analogy: Suppose you are starting an organization that purposes to re-center American legal practice back on the Constitution as the supreme law of the nation. Does this entail that your organization must be neutral on all issues related to constitutional law or subsequent American legal history? Of course not. Any effort to refocus on the center will inevitably engage at least some of the periphery. Similarly, it is false to think that just because an issue is distinct from the gospel, it has no bearing on the gospel. This is at the heart of the recognition of second-rank doctrines as a category.

Another great quote:

Some Christians are eager to defend sound doctrine. Well and good. But is the unity of the body of Christ one of those doctrines we jealously guard?


One note of caution: some of the most divisive issues among Christians concern not theological matters per se but cultural, wisdom, and political issues. For example, should Christians send their children to public schools or private schools or do home schooling? Under what circumstances, if any, may Christians drink alcohol? When and how (if at all) should reference to current political and cultural events be made in a church service? These are all important questions, but in this book I am focusing more on specifically theological matters.

Everybody is some kind of fundamentalist: everybody separates, has lines of demarcation around a set of acceptable views, lines that keep out unacceptable ones. Everybody, I think, stratifies doctrine, from the irascible discernment blogger who seems to treat every doctrine as of first importance to the liberal who makes it all negotiable. The concept of theological triage is very important, precisely because I got that phrase “of first importance” from the Bible. Also, Jesus said that there are “weightier matters of the law.” Some kind of thoughtful stratification is required. I know of no better model than the one provided by Ortlund.

Highly recommended.

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