Determining what the “open-handed” and “close-handed” issues of Christianity were seemed increasingly arbitrary to me. This became clearer as I learned about documents like the Nicene Creed and couldn’t understand why we never used them. Did we have the same “essentials” of the early Church? Why could I call a Pentecostal a brother in Christ but not a Mormon? What if the Pentecostal didn’t affirm the Trinity? Why did respected evangelical pastors treat T.D. Jakes as a brother but Rob Bell as a heretic? Here’s one of my favorite “steps” from Christian Smith’s book.
3. “Notice the Bible’s inability to settle matters in dispute. . . You, a good evangelical, believe that the Bible is a divinely-inspired and infallible authority for the faith and practice of the church. . . No pope or other authorized teaching office of the church is needed to tell you what Scripture says. . . The obvious anomaly you run up against here is that lots of Christians believe the same as you about the Bible but, lo and behold, end up claiming that the Bible teaches very different and sometimes incompatible things on a host of primary matters. . .
In any case, the more you think about it, and the more you search for issues where Christians do not disagree on biblical grounds, the longer the list of biblical disagreements grows. Let’s see: views of baptism, the atonement, divorce and remarriage, the work of Christ, eternal security, the Lord’s Supper, divine foreknowledge, the nature of revelation, charismatic gifts, the millenium, creationism and evolution, the rapture, church and state, the eternal fate of the unevangelized, divine providence, sanctification, hell, proper worship protocols, the role of ‘good works’ in salvation, the fate of the Jews, the ‘headship’ of husbands, Old Testament law, the ethics of wealth, depravity and original sin, church discipline, birth control, tithing, alcohol, swearing others, and on and on. With each of these issues you know that there is arguably good ‘biblical’ basis for two or three positions. That is why sincere Christians believe them.”