Thielen: What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?
Here’s the list of ten things Thielen says a Christian doesn’t have to believe:
- God causes cancer, car wrecks, and other catastrophes
- Good Christians don’t doubt
- True Christians can’t believe in evolution
- Women can’t be preachers and must submit to men
- God cares about saving souls but not about saving trees
- Bad people will be Left Behind and then fry in Hell
- Jews won’t make it to Heaven
- Everything in the Bible should be taken literally
- God loves straight people but not gay people
- It’s okay for Christians to be judgmental and obnoxious
I’ve already said that I get the feeling that Thielen is dealing with some personal issues in this book, and I think that comes through most clearly in points 5 and 9 above. The title from #5 comes from a personal anecdote Thielen tells from a pastors’ meeting, where he puts those exact words in the mouth of another preacher. It’s an exercise in lame storytelling, and I’m left wondering if he didn’t have a better story to tell than one that conveniently happened to himself and doesn’t include any identifying information. In #9 he lays out the distinctions between churches that are “welcoming” and churches that are “affirming.” Thielen makes it clear that he personally wishes the United Methodist Church (and other, similar, mainline churches) were “affirming” as well as “welcoming.”
Apart from that this is an odd list; it isn’t the mainline list that I’d expect to see, exactly. There’s no mention of whether individuals can be saved, or only communities. Thielen opens the door to Universalism but doesn’t deal with any of the complications. His treatment of women in the church is shallow at best; he quotes Galatians 3:28 out of context as a proof text. He doesn’t deal with any of the problems raised by his stance in #1, let alone countenancing the Open Theism elephant in the room once he’s staked out his position. And in #8 he doesn’t deal with the obvious question of what exactly should serve as the standard for interpretation once he stakes out the position “The Bible is both human and divine.”
I might humbly suggest that it would be helpful if he were to give a similar treatment some of the modern liberal articles of faith. Surely he can’t be as hidebound a United Methodist as he once was a Southern Baptist. Etc.
This list is a mess, but I might suggest that it’s a potentially helpful mess. The problem of pain gives Thielen pause in a way that it doesn’t me, and for that reason alone I found reading this part of the book helpful. It’s always helpful to ask when one has a pat answer for a difficult question just how helpful that answer is, and that was the case here. I’d encourage the reader to make a similar list; it’s a helpful exercise in being a discerning consumer of messages to ask from time just how much of what we say we believe we affirm out of habit, or because it is usually connected to things we definitely believe (yeah; I’m thinking of Bill Bishop here) rather than because it is actually true, or because we actually believe it.