Categorical Expansion
By Anthony Casperson

The types of video games I usually play are often broken up into main quests and side quests. The main quests are those story-based encounters that drive the game to a conclusion. Essentially, the things you have to do in order to win the game and see those end credits. The side quests, then, are everything else.

But this understanding of the game often relegates quest lines like companion quests, of which the completion might mean the difference between receiving the “good” or “bad” ending, to be in the same category as the fetch quests that only give some money to your character. And I’m not talking about a character that barely gets by, but one that has literal millions of unspent money by the end of the game.

The concept of “side quest” covers a wide variety of mission types. From quests that can give you items, talents, or abilities that are not necessarily required to complete the game, but make it far easier and more fun. To small vignettes of otherwise unimportant story, but that happen to humanize and ground your character in ways that the main quest won’t. And even to random encounters of which a single player might not ever experience all. The term side quest encapsulates a wide variety of missions above and beyond that tenth request for 15 of a certain item.

To a lesser degree, main quests have similar differences. Like when the player need only complete 4 of 5 missions to continue down the story’s path. Does that final main quest, that now no longer needs to be completed, get downgraded to a side quest just because you chose to do the others first? Or is it always a main quest regardless of the fact that it might not always fit the usual definition of a main quest?

And what about when there are branching paths that become unavailable once you choose the other option? It’s not even something that you’ll ever experience in this single playthrough. Is it even a quest anymore, let alone a main quest?

Sometimes our categorizations lump things together that are very different from each other. It can raise the importance of something above what it should be merely because it obviously doesn’t belong in the other category. And it can minimize the impact of other things because it’s placed in the same category as the trivial.

This broadening of categories to a point of misapplied importance happens in many areas. One that I hear often is in the area of theology.

In this case, we tend to place everything into the categories of majors and minors. (As a side note, do these categories take the connotation of majors and minors in sports, collegiate education, or music? Because what exactly those terms mean in each sphere does differ.) Basically, this breaks theology down into “the big important theological perspectives” and “everything else.” And often disagreements rise concerning into which category certain ideas fall.

I believe that much of these arguments arise because the categorization process fails to help in the discussion. Just because a theological perspective isn’t required for a person to become a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean that it is of the same importance as matters of opinion with no real practical importance.

Like just because you don’t have to have a complete and proper understanding of the origin of the universe to accept Jesus’ sacrifice for eternal life, it doesn’t mean that it’s of the same classification as the exact ordering of events whenever the people of God gather together to worship him.

We do a disservice to certain theological ideas when we place them into one of only two categories. And we confuse many people (both among followers of Jesus and those outside) about the significance of certain perspectives at the same time.

When I was in college, beginning to hear these terms used, I thought about breaking them down a little further for clarification in my mind. Granted, making two categories into four still doesn’t allow for the full range of nuance that is needed, but it helps me think about it easier.

At first, I used very confusing terminology that maintained the major and minor words. I broke each of the categories down into a further major and minor: “major majors,” “minor majors,” “major minors,” and “minor minors.” While those terms helped my mental perspective, it was difficult to explain to others.

I’ve recently come to term them differently. Some clarification will still be required, but it’s less confusing than trying to remember whether a major minor or a minor major holds higher status in theological importance. The new terms I use are: “musts,” “shoulds,” “coulds,” and “opinions.”

The “must” category is the smallest of the four. These are the truths that a person must accept and believe in order to be a follower of Jesus. In my video game metaphor, this is the bare minimum you have to experience to finish the game, regardless of the goodness of the ending, and see the credits roll. And you will miss out on much of the experience created for those who partake in it.

By and large, “musts” fall into some of the understanding of: who and what God is; who and what Jesus is; human relation to sin; and how God overcomes the problem of sin through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. In theological terms, these are: theology proper; christology; hamartiology; and soteriology. But, thankfully, we don’t need to understand (or even pronounce) those specific terms. Basically, Jesus the Son of God came to die so that he could save us from the consequences of sin. (See Romans 10:8-13.)

“Shoulds” rank next in importance of having a clear understanding of the bible’s word. They are the things that should be taught, explained, and believed by a growing follower of Jesus. People can be fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus without agreeing with the items in this category, but there are drastic implications to the understanding of theology as a whole if left unchecked. These are the truths that either are closely ties to the “musts,” or connect to so much of the interpretation of the bible that an improper perspective will skew a person into dangerous theological territory.

As a bit broader of a category, I can’t lay out every item here, but some examples might be helpful. For one, the inerrancy of Scripture. Some might want to argue with me about not placing it in the “must” category because this topic is of great importance to evangelicalism as a whole. But even my own twinge of evangelical pain doesn’t make this belief a requirement of salvation. On top of that particular topic, the “should” category includes truths like God’s creation of the universe and the virgin birth.

The “coulds” come next in the theological hierarchy. There are two different directions I’d like to take the word “could” here. “I could be wrong,” and “This could affect practical applications.” They’re certainly not required for salvation. And while certain aspects of these beliefs interact with specific interpretations of the bible, they’re not as drastic as the “shoulds” when misunderstood.

These are areas that many would consider matters of opinion. However, there are changes of biblical interpretation when taken into account. For instance, the beliefs surrounding the end times (eschatology) make us lean one way or another in interpreting certain biblical promises. We’re not heading for full on heresy if we take one perspective or another, but it does have differing interpretive applications.

Likewise, beliefs about church polity (who are the leaders, how they’re placed in that role, and how they run the local congregation) can be an example of this “could” category. We can use the words “bishop,” “presbyter,” “elder,” and “pastor” to describe various people at differing levels of leadership, or consider all of these words to be synonymous of the same individual. There’s a practical difference depending on one’s view, but it is not something that will lead to some extreme error while interpreting the bible.

Though, either of these two directions of “could” do maintain an importance to theological perspectives that are higher than the final category.

And this is the moment we come to the “opinions.” These are beliefs that either find the bible silent concerning them, or that people will cherry-pick a verse or two out of their original context to give credence to their perspective. This is where cultural differences and personal preference come to play.

Examples here include the exact manner of gathered worship experiences, how one should dress during them, and what type of music should be played. You’re not going to find a bible verse that tells you how long a sermon should be. Or that the order of service must always follow the same pattern. And you certainly aren’t going to find a passage saying that a man needs to wear a buttoned-up shirt and tie to worship. Even the concept of leg coverings that we call pants was alien to 1st century followers of Jesus who wore the robes they were going to go to work in when the gathering came to a close (because Sunday was still a workday in many parts of the Roman Empire at that time).

Merely breaking down theology to majors and minors doesn’t allow for the fullness of understanding that certain truths and beliefs require. Such a perspective can lead us to place unnecessary loads of theological training on people who have yet to accept the sacrifice of Jesus. All the while it can cause some to equate beliefs that could lead to terrible heresies with a simple difference of opinion.

Our discussion of the great things of God should expand beyond simple majors and minors.