"Non-Negotiables" Anyone?

I've admitted before that I'm generally uninterested in language regarding “non-negotiables,” because in a blurry, gray world, I don’t know that we’re really expected to have them. How can we be willing to stake everything on a particular propositional truth?

I'm willing to stand firm on love, even on relationship. And for me, both of those are Christ. But things get fuzzy after that...

However, as I have been reflecting on my recent "doing church" post and some subsequent dialogue concerning it, I think I am coming to a point where I am willing to a choose a non-negotiable. Not because I think it's a genuine theological non-negotiable, or because I think salvation rests on it. But I am coming to a point where I find myself choosing egalitarianism as a serious focal point in my understanding of Jesus.

I have a hard time imagining the Kingdom of God as congruent with inequity. I have a hard time reconciling suppression, repression and oppression over and against freedom in Christ.

Scripture is inconsistent in this area, at best. There are all sorts of examples in both OT and NT where the "pious" and the "orthodox" inflict subjugation on others. Men to women. Free to slave. Jew to Samaritan. Israelite to Amalekite. The list goes on.

But if something is truly wrong, truly oppressive, then I don't care to defend it because it's in Scripture. In the Church, we've been guilty of this counter-intuitive, often-vulgar behavior, far too often.

So I don't care if Paul thinks Onesimus should go back to his master. Yes, there are all sorts of efforts made to contextually justify "problem verses," and that's all well and good. But if we, as spirit-filled followers of Christ, can't discern the truth of something like slavery or misogyny or bigotry without Scriptural support, then the Church has a much bigger problem than outdated hymnals.

As an egalitarian, I'll hang my hat on love, trusting in the Holy Spirit. How about you? What do you hang your hat on? What are your non-negotiables? Feel free to disagree with me, I don't mind!



Benjamin Ady said...


you rock.

Anonymous said...

Non-negotiables: Imagine negotiating about the truth. Negotiating implies opinion, or difference of opinion, and the ability to arrive at compromise. Are there other things that we are unwilling or should be unwilling to compromise. Negotiations take place when people are trying to solve some sort of conflict. Does God negotiate with us? Should we negotiate with "false" views of God? But then, how do we REALLY know what is a true view of God outside of revelation?

I understand the difficulty with non-negotiables, for the idea implies a bit of pretentiousness, as if I could really interpret all revelation quite correctly and irrefutably. I don't have that ability....


wilsonian said...

I'm not a scholar, and had no idea how little of my framework of belief I'd thought through until this last week (sad, I know).

I read a different (to me) telling of the book of Acts, and quickly came to see that I really had no idea what those early apostles were saying about Jesus during all those trips. I know what my religious tradition says, but I don't really have any clue.

And then I came across an article on non-violent atonement. And my little brain went "pop". I haven't read very far into it, but what I've seen resonates so strongly. I even hesitate to write this, as I'm just figuring out (that for other reasons too) I probably don't fit under the evangelical umbrella anymore, and am not quite ready for the label heretic.

If I had read this post two weeks ago, I would have just clicked on by. Today? :) Yea, there are far more negotiables than I'd ever have thought possible.

Peter said...

Ben, always great to see you!

Pete, my friend - I'm giddy to see your name here again ;) You're right, there's no "negotiating" with the truth. But I think we need to be self-aware: we DO negotiate. With understanding. With theology. With praxis. Even with God. We just don't admit it (or perhaps realize it).

Wilsonian, great to see you back, too! Self-awareness is a LONG and ultimately ongoing process.

You said, "I even hesitate to write this, as I'm just figuring out... I probably don't fit under the evangelical umbrella anymore, and am not quite ready for the label heretic."

I hear you, sister! This can be scary stuff - blessings as you wrestle, hope and dream!

Brandon K. Baker said...


I'm with you on this one. To be certain, I am tired of litmus test Christianity. You've got to believe this or you can't be a part of our club. It seems very Pharisaic to me.

If there is one thing Jesus taught us (institutional religion) in the Gospels it is this: the Kingdom of God does not look like what you think it looks like. It's a pesky weed, it's the Samaritan who stops to help his mortal enemy, etc.

It's almost as if Jesus' rule of thumb is, "when you've discovered a non-negotiable. Toss it out and start again." Samaritan's can't be part of the Kingdom of God? Throw that out, start again. Stoning a woman caught in adultery? Throw that out, start again. Which one of you will be greatest? Throw that out, start again.

I don't think that certainty and non-negotiables are inherently evil. It's the idea that we have the ability to discern those certainty and non-negotiables that get us into trouble.

Then we counter with, "well it's not us, it's in scripture." Yet Jesus pointed out that we've missed the boat on scripture a lot of the time, "you've heard it said... but I tell you..."

We can have very little certainty about most theological issues. When we've reached certainty, it might be best to throw it out and start again.

Peter said...

BRANDON! Couldn't have said it better myself:

"We can have very little certainty about most theological issues. When we've reached certainty, it might be best to throw it out and start again."

Now tell me about Bo last night: did he and Scott come to theologically-driven violence?

Anonymous said...

If nothing is certain, then you can be certain that nothing is certain? Please.

I think people misconstrue that Jesus was throwing out the old and instituting something new. A careful read of the Hebrew Scriptures (OT to Christians) will demonstrate that God had already said everything Jesus was saying. Jesus reminds us that all along He, God, had been entreating Israel that sacrifice was not as desired as compassion/mercy.

Remember the certainty with which Jesus said the following (paraphrased): Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, you will not see the kingdom of God.

If we come to understand God's word, and we certainly are bid to do just that, it doesn't then mean we throw it all out.

Remember, too, Jesus said, with absolute certainty, It is the one who does the will of the Father who will enter the kingdom of heaven.

You need to be careful about how certain you are about the whole idea that one can never be certain about scripture and theological issues. Jesus taught us we can be certain about a great many things, among which is that His will is knowable, His plan for our lives is knowable, we live not by bread, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (and scripture is God inspired and filled with His word -- a certainty), He will return, He will judge between the sheep and the goats, and that we will be brought to account for every word we speak.

Of these I am absolutely certain.

Brandon K. Baker said...


I'm not sure I've communicated my point clearly. I don't believe Jesus was throwing out the "Old Testament" (Hebrew Scriptures). I do think we was throwing out some of the theological certainties that the Pharisees had developed from the Hebrew Scriptures. I think Jesus was promoting a meta-narrative of the scriptures. He was saying, "look at the arc of God's word, it points toward love and compassion not condemnation and legalism."

On a larger issue, why is acceptable for you to be certain about the certainty of scripture but not acceptable for others to be certain of its uncertainty? I think what Peter and others (including myself) are promoting is to step lightly and approach scripture humbly.

Al said...

Well said, Peter and Brandon, Your gentleness of spirit and heart are a great demonstration of truly endeavoring to live by your non-negotiable of love and relationship. They will know we are Christians by our love, not our intransigence.
As you well know, it isn't comfortable living with few absolutes. It is much easier to take a stand, and build everything on it.
I really appreciate reading your fresh understanding of Jesus' teachings, and your deep desire to be honest in your interpretation.

Peter said...

Al, YOU truly have a gentle spirit and I'm continually blessed by your insights and encouragement. Thanks for keeping in touch here!

pancreas said...

Glad to have stumbled upon this dialogue. Tomorrow night I'm going to be teaching about non-negotiables, looking at Paul's understanding of Christian freedom, the NT understanding of the Law, and examples of cultural engagement biblically. The question in my mind is this: given what I see in scripture with respect to how Christians should engage the surrounding culture (what I see is a nuanced, case-by-case, contextualized engagement where opposition, compromise, and wise engagement are all applied in careful discernment) are there some non-negotiables? Are there things that no Christian should do and things that every Christian should do?

So far, here's a working list. Let me know what you think:
Should nots:
1. illegal drugs
2. drunkenness
3. pornography/objectification
4. sex outside of marriage
5. gossip/slander

1. generosity
2. peace/justice issues
3. disciple-making/evangelism

Obviously, both lists elicit a number of other questions (what do I mean by 'evangelism', for instance). So here's my follow-up thought:

Give me the benefit of the doubt on the lists and comment on them without getting caught up in the particularities. What would you take off each list? What would you add? As Christians engage the surrounding culture, what are the non-negotiables that should and shouldn't mark our interactions?

Peter said...

Very nice, I'm actually SURPRISED by how much I like your list.

That said, there are still some places for gray area (as in: pornography vs. art, or marriage as defined by the church, or by the state?) but as you requested, I won't nitpick. I like the spirit behind it.

I'm comfortable with evangelism because I don't view evangelism as something demanding a pre-packaged "salvation plan," but rather loving, outwardly focused living in the real world, that sometimes names God, and sometimes names goodness and truth (which conveniently overlap).

I'm comfortable with disciple-making because it tends to presuppose a relationship - hopefully one based on mutual respect.

I'll have to get back to you on additional "shoulds." Your comment and subsequent thoughts may make for a great post on its own.

Martijn said...

Interesting discussion. Currently the church I minister at (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) is involved in a discussion about non-negotiables. I believe non-negotiables can help, but can also be dangerous. Far too often, N-N become 'those theological issues we don't talk about anymore because we decided to agree on them'. So believe in God is a NN, let's not talk about that anymore. Shame.

One more thing: should NN's be either theological or ethical or both?

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