Home > Books > Thielen: What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?

Thielen: What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?

Martin Thielen’s book What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian is available free at the moment as a Kindle e-book [link]. This is a question that is much on my mind, so I decided to give this book a read. And of course it was attractively priced.

It bothers me somewhat when groups of obviously devout Christians square off against one another, each suggesting that the other isn’t really a Christian, over an issue that appears to me to not be a core element (e.g. an essential doctrine or practice) of Christianity. One of the solutions to this problem that tempts me from time to time is to embrace a kind of “Mere Christianity,” a kind of doctrinal formulation of Christianity that, not to be confused with the C. S. Lewis book of the same name [link], tries to separate the essentials from the inessentials and allow devout and sanctified but differing Christians some sort of charitable communion [link]. Unfortunately this is a difficult thing to define. If you steer clear of the socially oriented definition (“Mere Christianity is the collection of doctrines that all Christian groups have in common”) you eventually have to make some difficult choices.

But I digress. Thielen isn’t really trying to answer this question; he’s answering another one. This book has three parts:

  • Ten things Christians don’t have to believe
  • Ten things Christians do need to believe
  • A coda on special topics

Thielen’s personal story is that he was apparently a bigwig in the Southern Baptist Convention, but at some point left and chose to become a United Methodist as opposed to Episcopalian or Presbyterian. The book reads like it was written by his post-departure self as a travel document for his pre-departure self. In other words, I get the sense that he’s giving himself permission to have made the jump from SBC to UMC, and this is a summary of that permission. I think he’s actually proposing answers to the question “How Can I Be a Christian and Not Be One of Those?”

In a way this is a defense of a kind of liberal Christianity, one that quotes Marcus Borg approvingly but that can still call itself Christian, with some sort of reference points in common with a kind of conservative Christianity.

There are a handful of ways to do something like this. One is to start with Scripture and build a theological framework; another is to start with cultural non-negotiables; a third is to tell stories. Thielen mostly tells stories. In a later post I’ll pick up with his list of ten things a Christian doesn’t need to believe.

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  1. April 13, 2011 at 9:56 am

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