Books

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

What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters MostWhat’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most by Martin Thielen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve been looking for a book I could use with folks in my church that might also attract some interest from the community, and the challenging title of this book caught my eye. A Willow Creek satellite nearby has drawn people of all ages in part because of worship style but also because of children’s programs. If people don’t know our theology is different, namely more accepting, why would they come here instead of going there? I turned to this book hoping it might attract some attention if we publicized a book study.

Martin Thielen is a United Methodist pastor who framed this book in response to the question in the title. He presents ten things you don’t have to believe followed by ten you do, but he lost me after Thing Nine in the former section: “God loves straight people but not gay people.” Clearly, he wasn’t saying this was true. He was making a different case. He describes conservative churches as “Now Welcoming and Not Affirming” and liberal churches as “Welcoming and Affirming,” then makes the case that the broad swath of the mainline is “Welcoming but not Affirming.”

He’s defending people who like individual gay people but don’t want to have to think about the broader issues of rights, and saying since that’s where most of the mainline is, you don’t have to be afraid of them. It’s a very strange little chapter. He’s being super-careful to assure the reader that God doesn’t hate gay people, but hedges on acceptance and also seems to be joining in the careful chorus that wishes liberals would shut up already about the gay rights, because it’s upsetting to people and dividing denominations. To me it’s a revolting point of view. I wouldn’t in good conscience be able to use the book in my church and wouldn’t want community members to think I might be lukewarm about them because of their sexual orientation. Pah! Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I spit you out of my mouth!

I’ll admit that I did not then go on to read in detail the ten things you must believe, but I did note that the book ends with a question about salvation and invites people to pray a version of the Sinner’s Prayer, which would also be a little Evangelical in my context. So this book is a great idea in theory that disappointed in actuality.

I requested a review copy of this book on behalf of RevGalBlogPals, which was supplied by Westminster John Knox Press, and I did not receive any other considerations from them.

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8 thoughts on “"What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?"”

  1. Thanks for posting this. I just got this book, but I'm going to move it further down my "to read" list. What a bummer. It sounded like a good concept. Like you, I was hoping to use it with some of the "feeling like outsiders", but it sounds like it won't help.

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  2. I picked this up as a Kindle freebie and immediately noted that the author has been a pastor in small town Tennessee, deep fundamentalist Bible Belt county and my home state. I also felt that his stance on the church and homosexuals hedged. However, I've learned from conversations with my fundamentalist friends that speaking with great caution about homosexuality allows a dialogue to develop. I felt that was the rationale behind some of his choices, and that it was the weakest part of the book.

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  3. He's a Methodist. This has been the United Methodist mantra for decades, and it's getting very tired, very shrill, and very false. Most of my family is still Methodist, so I don't by any means hate that particular denomination. But as churches like the ELCA and PCUSA (and much of the Episcopal church) have recently joined the UCC in being both welcoming *and* affirming, the Methodist chunk of the mainline is getting increasingly paltry.

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  4. "wouldn't want community members to think I might be lukewarm about them because of their sexual orientation."You shouldn't assume it's 'lukewarm' to not be affirming. If such behavior is sinful, then you should welcome the sinner but not affirm the sin. This is not lukewarmness. Many conservative churches have been hostile in the past. This was wrong, but to be welcoming and not affirming is just how Jesus behaves. He dines with publicans, yet convinced Zaccheus to stop his sins and make reparations.

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  5. Anonymous, and I think it's interesting that you're choosing not to identify yourself, I don't think being other than straight is a sin, and that is why I have a concern about using the book. I think we're born the way God made us and all loved by God. The example given in Thielen's book is of a church where the congregation welcomes and loves an out gay couple who they know personally, but do not want to affirm gay people in general. To me that's hypocritical and lukewarm.

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