The essence of biblical covenant relationships is found in the Hebrew word, chesed. When people enter covenant, chesed—which is often translated as “loving-kindness” or “steadfast love”—is established between them. Trust is implicit to the covenant relationship and suggests that we intend to behave in certain faithful ways toward each other while expecting the same in return. The beginning assumption is peace, not conflict; trust, not suspicion.

The church today needs a greater degree of trust in at least three different areas.

Generational Trust

An older generation needs to trust the missional spirit of a younger generation as they seek to reach their changing world. The pessimism about the younger generation is not valid. Our youth are in touch with the same God who found us early in our lives and dreamed through us the church as it became under our leadership.

We must trust the coming generation to do the work of God in the world—with the hope that our trust in them will engender the kind of mentoring relationship that will make them wiser than they otherwise will be.

A younger generation needs to trust the critical response of an older generation. Our many years give us wisdom. And we want to trust you; we just need some assurance that you are open to hear us—even if you decide to do it your way.

University/Church Trust

The church needs to trust the Christian college to do its thought-work in a complex world. Colleges have labs, libraries, Web connections, access to the world’s research, and think tanks. Colleges have professors who have dedicated their lives to the study of specific fields and are proficient at examining the findings in these fields through the lens of their faith. The Christian university is a unique place. Yet it is often under attack for the very act of investigating, researching, and exploring.

Those who have already reached their final conclusion about important issues—including creation, politics, the environment, and social justice, to name a few—make their demands that the university side with their position or suffer the consequences. They wish the university to be the defender of their position and to indoctrinate the coming generation with their ideas.

This strategy contains two fundamental problems:

  1. The college years are essential to the human development process known as self-differentiation.
  2. This kind of protective education would not be in a conversation with the rapidly changing world. It would instill fear of all that is new.

The Christian university should be placing highly skilled, professionally trained, thoughtful Christians in every field of endeavor. To operate at this level requires that they be conversant with the latest theories, literature, and technology. We do the service of God a great disservice by keeping our students from exploring their world.

But it must also be said that the university must trust the church. Higher education is not an excuse for arrogance toward a local congregation, a homeschooled student, or a concerned parent.

Trust in the Nonessentials

If we are to have “in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity,” the million dollar question is—what is essential and what is nonessential?

I would suggest the essential things include a saving experience in which the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are the sons and daughters of God. I would also include the core of Christian faith as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed and the stated doctrines of the church. (For me this is my denomination’s sixteen Articles of Faith rooted in historic Methodist and Anglican belief.)

And that’s about it.

My nonessentials list is a lot longer—creation theory, political party, hawk or dove, role of government, method of befriending the homosexually oriented, church music preference, preferred eschatology, favorite authors, method of baptism, church architecture, budget priorities, whether there is one or three authors/chronologies of Isaiah, interpretation of Gen. 1, the death penalty, the right of a woman to preach (although this comes close to being an essential for me), social drinking, reading from the early church fathers, yoga, blessing pets in the church sanctuary, speaking in tongues, Catholic theology, real wine or Welch’s at Communion, casual or coat-and-tie on Sunday, Left Behind opinion, national health care, and so on.

I have my opinions about these things, and reasons for most of my opinions. I care about some more than others. I think these are important issues. But none of them call for de-Christianizing someone. None of them need to separate brothers and sisters in Christ.

I like to think of the day when God, in Christ, makes all things new. This great eschatological move will restore the heavens and earth as God intended them to be in creation.

On that day, all debates will end. My guess is that we will all be utterly amazed, and our opinions will melt into worship of the Creator.

I think those among us who dug in their heels over nonessential issues will finally be able to lay down the burden of needing to be right and will be able to embrace those they fought unnecessarily.

So why not now? Can we love enough to trust? Within the boundaries of unity in essentials, can we find grace and charity in the nonessentials? Can the kingdom begin to break in today?

Today’s post is an excerpt from A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us.


  1. This is right on target in my opinion! So often we waste huge amounts of time arguing about stuff that will not matter in the end. I wish we could come together more often and stand firm together on the essentials and leave the non-essentials for intellectual stimulation and healthy debate but never let the non-essentials divide us. Well said Dan Boone!!

  2. Pam McGraner says

    Again, thank you, Dr. Boone, for your wise words. I am beyond grateful that my daughter, Caitlyn, is a student at Trevecca Nazarene University. I know that our nation has a great many wonderful institutions of higher learning where a young person can receive a quality education. My husband and I wanted more than that for our daughter. We wanted her to receive that education with Christian insight and be given the freedom to challenge her beliefs and the beliefs of others. We’ve seen enormous growth in her as a Christian, a young woman and a young adult.

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