What’s the Least? 2

Martin Thielen’s new book has a provocative title, but the title only gets us to open the book to a very serious topic that is handled responsibly and pastorally. The title: What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most. (For how to use this book in the church, see this site.)

Last week we looked at the first five things Christian’s don’t need to believe, and we’ll add the next five today. Questions: Which of these has been an issue in your church context? How did you navigate these waters?

His book is cut in half. The first half looks at things Ten things Christians don’t need to believe, and the second half at Ten things Christians do need to believe.

His topics today, which are numbers 6-10 in his book (but I’ve got them 1-5 here), are more controversial and his aim is to distance these from the what is required to be Christian.

1. O my, as if this wasn’t already an issue, but it’s here again: Bad people will be “left behind” and then fry in hell. This is more concerned about left-behind theology than hell, but pre-trib rapture theology is not a part of the essence of the Christian faith. He points to biblical, historical, theological (about God), and social problems (distancing from social justice concerns). He makes four points about the Second Coming: Jesus will return, we don’t know the details, we need to be ready, we need to be busy working. And he covers some views on the final judgment: traditional view, and he points out its problems; “possible redemption” after death; annihilationism. His answer: we don’t know. God will do what’s right.

2. Jews won’t make it to heaven. The destiny of everyone, according to Thielen, is in God’s hands and God will do what’s right. All religions are the same; other religions are false (traditional view); other religions are to be respected.

3. Everything in the Bible should be taken literally. He advocates taking the Bible “seriously” vs. taking it “literally.” He starts off with the “O baldy” story in the OT and sees it as a campfire legend parents told their kids about respect for religious authorities — then looks at how people look at the Bible: all human, all divine, both human and divine. And here’s he’s equating “human” with fallible.

4. God loves straight people but not gay people. Thielen says “all persons, including homosexual persons, are welcome in God’s church.” He recognizes that this is still a discussion. This is a tough one and he looks at three views: nonwelcoming and nonaffirming, welcoming but not affirming, welcoming and affirming.

5. It’s OK for Christians to be judgmental and obnoxious. Thielen: “True Christians leave judgment to God.”

Next week we’ll look at what Christians do believe.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Emily

    What a perfect choice for a book title. A slightly irreverent way of posing a question I ponder a lot. I’m eager to see the other list and trust it’s related in some way to the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed (at least that would be my preference!).

    We got involved in our church before we realized how much it was influenced by dispensationalism. It can be pretty in love (at various times) with #1 and, not mentioned above, the six 24-hour day creation. Both of these teachings are related strongly to #3. I cannot count the hours of frustration this represents.

    But I’m guessing that we’ve continued to stay because the items on the next list are not only believed at our church, but lived and loved.

  • http://ninure.tk Ninure

    Another post that needs to be “shared”

  • John W Frye

    O my! You mean bad people *won’t* be ‘left behind’ and fry in hell? JPYL

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    In my last church I did not see #5 – judgmental – until I found myself on the outside. When I basically went along with them and did not express my opinion everyone is fine. But as soon as I had an opinion different than others I got to feel the full force of judgment. And Wow!, even now I have a difficult time believing the evil spew coming out of the pastor and some of the others. Shear fabricated lies meant to demean and hurt. It was terrible.

  • S.Schulz

    My church context? ….smile….as in a place I GO TO?
    The only context that matters is HIS context… the Lord called us out of
    the man-made church system several years ago. As He leads me
    through each day and brings me to those He would have me minister His
    life to, I share His context.

    His context to the first question is that His only begotten Son Jesus paid
    the penalty of sin and death and that we have now been reconciled to
    the Father. As in Adam all died, so in Christ all shall be made alive. (1Cor.15:22). All means all. This is the REAL good news!

    The second question as it relates to His context is that the House of Judah (the jews) will be greatly blessed! They will ALL come to know that the Messiah has come and His name is Yahshuah. They will have great riches in the Kingdom (Rom.11:12,15,26,32). They also will be joined with their christian brothers as ONE (Ezk. 37:19; Eph.2:15).
    All praise and glory to the Risen Lamb of God!

    His love & peace to you.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    The title of the book raises an interesting question, one that reminds me of the Motto of the Moravians;
    “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love.” Is one’s belief concerning the damnation of others an essential? I don’t believe so. And various people can be called to handle the Gay issue differently. There is a great diversity in the body of Christ that we should revel in and thank the Lord that He’s the one in charge.

    On the other hand, the title question fails to recognize that being a Christian is much more than merely a set of beliefs. To me, it’s primarily a real and vital life-changing relationship with Jesus. It’s also a discipline, being part of a fellowship of disciples of Christ. It’s seeking to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and body; and love one another as one’s self. And more so than “beliefs” it’s a core set of attitudes of humility, hunger for righteousness, mercy, love, grace, purity, etc. And it is revealed in one’s character being loving, giving, kind, joyful, peaceful, gracious, etc. I’ve come to “believe” that one’s character and how one practically treats others is more important than what one professes to believe.

  • Jeremy

    If one more person complains that the author wrote a book about elephants when they really think he should have written one about squirrels, I think I’m going to cry. Go hang out with some hardcore fundamentalists, talk doctrine, imagine a whole lifetime of that and then reconsider this book.

    It’s important, even if it never gets to what it means to be a good Christian. It probably won’t as it was never intended to. This is more “Letters from a Skeptic” than “One.Life”. Both are important for different reasons, yes? There are thousands of books on all aspects of living in Christ and not enough of them about what’s negotiable and what isn’t.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Ugh, I just walked out of a Bible Study where the group came down on the side that if someone is baptized as an infant they would not be saved. Ugh.

  • Watchman

    Hang Hannegraff once said that dispensational eschatology is not only full of errors and manmade presumptions, but it is also anti-Semitical. Being a former dispensationalist myself, I would have to concur.

  • Jonathanblake

    @#4 DRT
    I know exactly what you mean. When I dared to talk about alternatives to Dispensationalism there were plenty of attempts to hush me. I also naively and casually shared my political opinion once that’s when the vile began and occasionally I still here it via facebook or when I’m back in my hometown. These are definitely some things we can let go of and they won’t be missed :)

  • http://www.madpastor.com Mad Pastor

    I think there will be a lot of bad, gay, Jews in heaven. Let me rephrase that… everyone in heaven will have been bad, the rest will be gay and or Jews. There will probably be even more judgmental Christians. I’m sure there will be others too. Clearly, I’m irked by the idea of “I’m better than them so I am going to heaven and they are not attitude.”

    My point is, and I do have one, salvation is based on what Jesus has done, not what we do.

    Fun topic. I often preach what we do believe by stating what we do not believe.

  • Donalbain

    Didn’t some guys in a town called Nicea already cover this?

  • andrew

    This may not be the best place for this question but here goes. In light of Romans 1:26-27, how can we interpret homosexuality as anything but sin. I’m not talking the politcal aspect of gay marriage but Paul strongly states that homosexual relations are unnatural.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    “then looks at how people look at the Bible: all human, all divine, both human and divine. And here’s he’s equating “human” with fallible.”

    Scot, do you think “the Bible is fallible” is an orthodox position?


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