Martin Thielen’s contention is that the solution to bad religion — marked by anger, judgmentalism, divisiveness, etc — is not no religion, or the religion of the Nones, but instead good religion. But what is good religion? Let me say that Thielen is a master storyteller and this book is filled with gracious stories. Filled with them. I love his story of the lady who put on a small wooden cross on the stacks of things she had to do to remind how to live as a Christian.
Thielen sketches the following ten marks of good religion, that is, religion that is Christ-focused:
1. Good religion impacts the way we live. It’s got to do more than re-arrange our Sunday schedule. I have to admit that I have tired of the theologians who contend that Christianity is not about what we do but about what we believe, or the one in whom we believe, and that preaching the imperatives of the Bible is sinful — as if God didn’t know how to talk to us well or as if Jesus didn’t know how to preach or as if the apostles should have cut their letters in half. Orthodoxy without orthopraxy mocks Jesus.
2. Good religion prioritizes love. What’s the point? The Jesus Creed!
3. Good religion engages in service.
4. Good religion provides a prophetic voice. Mandela, Tutu, consumerism, environmental irresponsibility — and Thielen provides a brief sketch of a theology of the environment (pp. 90-93).
5. Good religion builds community.
6. Good religion is hope filled.
7. Good religion keeps an open mind.
8. Good religion practices forgiveness: it’s hard work, takes time, does not condone bad behavior, does not always lead to reconciliation, and is for our benefit.
9. Good religion promotes gratitude.
10. Good religion practices evangelism: lifestyle, relational, invitational.