Theology is not a popular topic today. Compared to other trendy subjects, basic doctrine draws few fans. Yet life, as it unfolds on a daily basis, is intensely theological. You live what you believe. A. W. Tozer captured it well when he said, “What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (“The Knowledge of the Holy,” p. 7). 

Therefore, while not glitzy, a core theology must be carefully hammered out by anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Since we operate with the same instructional manual, the Bible, it should be possible to agree on a doctrinal core. If we agree on sound hermeneutical principles, we should arrive at a similar list of theological truths that are foundational to our faith. Some of us may come to different understandings of secondary doctrines, but it is reasonable to assume we can identify and delineate a core theology that ought to be shared by every true believer.

What is that doctrinal core? What doctrines do we really need to know? Although it is over a century old, I believe the five basic doctrines identified by R. A. Torrey and A.C. Dixon in “The Fundamentals,” a set of essays written from 1910-1915, still provide the correct theological banks to the river. The five listed are: 1) The Trinity: There is one God in three persons, with each person possessing all the attributes of deity and personality; 2) The Person of Jesus Christ: Jesus is the unique God-man, possessing full humanity with undiminished deity; 3) The Second Coming: Jesus will one day personally return to the earth to rule and judge; 4) Salvation: Man is saved by faith alone in Christ alone; and 5) The Scripture: The Bible is the inerrant Word of God and therefore sufficient for all Christian life.

While this represents a short list, I am not suggesting this is an easy collection to master. Anytime you bring the infinite in touch with the finite, our limited minds blow some circuits. Three persons yet one God? A deep dive into Trinitarian studies is not for the faint of heart. The Trinity remains the main stumbling block for Muslims today when considering Christian beliefs. Or God incarnate? It took the early church four centuries to forge an acceptable understanding of the person of Jesus Christ. Deviant views still exist today. A book written by man but inspired by the Holy Spirit? Plenty of other “holy” books circulate the earth today, but we believe the Bible is fundamentally different from all of them. Yet the process of inspiration is not always easy to articulate or grasp.

So, the doctrinal core is not simplistic; but it is the core. If a person believes these five truths, we can warmly embrace them as part of the family of God. If a person departs from any of these five, it is difficult to understand them as a fellow believer. Theologians love to explore more, and such pursuits are worthy of their efforts. But as evangelicals, these are the doctrines we really need to know. And know well.

This article originally appeared in the NAE Insight.

J. Paul Nyquist
Paul Nyquist is the ninth president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Previously, he served as president and CEO of Avant Ministries from 2001 to 2009. He has also served as a senior pastor of two different churches and as an adjunct professor at Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska, and Phoenix Seminary in Scottsdale, Arizona. Nyquist studied at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and later received a Th.M. and a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Dallas Theological Seminary.