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 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.