Find the right hills

Finding the Right Hills to Die On (Book Review)

Gavin Ortlund’s book on theological triage is an important one for UK church leaders at all kinds of levels.

I found this book underwhelming. Not a very positive start, you may think.

But read on, for I also found it very, very good. Now you might be even more confused!

Read on.

Gavin Ortlund’s new book is called Finding the Right Hills to Die On. It’s a short, yet clear and thorough book detailing the use of theological triage - a term first coined by Al Mohler from Southern Seminary. It comes with a ringing endorsement of a foreword from Don Carson, and numerous other endorsements too.

And it’s a very, very good book. Gavin makes a cogent case for thinking about theological issues in different categories – he chooses four - and then making decisions about church life and collaboration on the basis of those categories.

Real life theological triage

Along the way there are some worked examples and he explains why some issues fall in some categories and some in others. He tackles some of the presenting issues in the US (six-day creationism and the millennium) to show how the system works. With all books like these, it’s always useful to see practical examples worked out and I’m very grateful for that.

I’m also grateful for his acknowledgement that making these triage decisions is not the same as determining what your own church’s basis of faith may be. This is a complex issue and – to be fair – not really within the remit of the book. It deserves a longer treatment elsewhere. Ortlund readily acknowledges that the fact, say, a new Christian doesn’t understand every element of your church statement of faith should not preclude them from active membership.

However, it’s collaboration with others where this process really helps.

And this is where I come to the underwhelming nature of the book. I have used the term provocatively to get you reading and I now owe you an explanation.

Theological associations

Gavin’s book is essentially a manifesto for our fellowship at FIEC. It is precisely the basis on which we associate together, drawing careful distinctions between matters of different import, but standing firm on theological issues.

He is describing what has defined our fellowship since its inception. It’s underwhelming in the sense that I want to say…. Yes! We always knew it!

But it is very, very good. I think he has articulated what we have taken as read for many years. I might even say he has articulated it better than we have done (taking a longer form) and therefore here is a book which serves our constituency brilliantly.

In purely pragmatic terms, it makes a case for joining and staying in and contributing to a fellowship like ours.

In leadership terms, it helps leaders make a case to their members for active belonging to a fellowship like ours.

In practical terms, it helps churches make decisions about local and national initiatives that they might want to be involved in and partnerships they may want to foster.

In ecclesiological terms, it helps elders make wise decisions about how to frame their foundational documents.

I might have wanted a little more on how we deal with disagreements over categorisation, but that is perhaps for volume two.

Foundational truths

I guess it surprised me that so many of the reviews were “wow – this is amazing” when I was thinking “this is what we’ve believed for ages.” On reflection, I wonder if this issue is especially prescient as the church declines. In that sense, the UK is well ahead of the US and so we’ve had to wrestle with the issue of theological triage for 100 years. The US church is (sadly in terms of size and influence) catching up with us.

At all kinds of levels, I’m very grateful for an excellent book.

It clearly articulates the foundational truths behind the setting up of the FIEC in 1922 and its continued existence. It will help church leaders apply these truths themselves and help their members understand them. It may be underwhelming in the sense of ‘old news’ in the UK, but this is a very, very good book.

And it is very, very welcome.

Read it.

You can order a copy of Finding the Right Hills to Die On from 10ofthose.com for £9.99 (RRP £14.99).

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