Non-Fiction Review: What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most by Martin Thielen

With NaNoWriMo going on, I’m afraid I’ve postponed this review for several weeks. Shame on me. I do hope you’ll forgive me. So I picked this goodie up from NetGalley. The title totally intrigued me. I had to know… okay I wanted to know what Martin Thielen had to say about it. So the blurb from Goodreads:

Pastor and author Martin Thielen has compiled a list of ten things Christians need to believe—and ten things they don’t—to “qualify” as Christians. This lively and engaging book will be a help to seekers as well as a comfort to believers who may find themselves questioning some of the assumptions they grew up with.

Many people in the twenty-first century hunger for an expression of Christian faith that is different from the judgmental and narrow-minded caricatures they see on television or in the news. With an accessible style that’s grounded in solid biblical scholarship, Thielen shows how Christians don’t need to believe that sinners will be “left behind” to burn in hell or that it’s heresy to believe in evolution. And while we must always take the Bible seriously, we don’t always have to take it literally. At the same time, Christians do need to believe in Jesus—his life, his teachings, his death and resurrection, and his vision for the world. Thielen articulates centrist, mainline Christianity in a way that’s fresh and easy to understand and offers authentic Christian insights that speak to our deepest needs.

Let’s start this review off by providing a quote from the book:

I’ve had an epiphany. I realize that I don’t reject Christianity. Instead, I reject the way that intolerant Christians package Christianity.

I love that! Years ago, I refused the title of Christian for that very same reason. It’s odd though. On the inside and out, I was very much Christian orientated… a lot more so then than I am now. Yet instead, I would call myself a follower of the bible or a follower of Christ. I didn’t want to be known as a “Christian.” In my mind, taking on the title would mislead people into thinking I was one of the hypocritical mainstream Christians. And one thing for sure, I didn’t want to be associated with them. 🙂

Martin Thielen had a very engaging style, which made this work an enjoyable read. I will admit, there were times he was long-winded though, writing the same theme in various ways. It gave me the impression he needed words to fill the page rather than getting his point across in an effective method. Still, he kept me entertained.

Mr. Thielen broke the book into two parts: What folks don’t have to believe and What folks do have to believe. So I’m going to address each part separately.

Part One: What you don’t have to believe

One thing I didn’t like about part one, is the author tried to slant ideas to fit what he wanted to believe rather than what is actually in the bible. For example, explaining away all the unhappiness in the world, as if God had no hand in any of it. At some point, Mr. Thielen asked, “how can we serve a God like that?” referring to incidents people label as “acts of God,” like tornadoes, car wrecks, earthquakes, etc. I’m not saying God is up in the clouds wreaking havok. However, if we look at the history in the bible, God has been known to do just that. The Old Testament (OT) is full of “acts of God.” The New Testament (NT) has a few of its own also.

To say my God wouldn’t… or I couldn’t serve a God like that, is rather naive, in my opinion. Now I’m not out to make God a bad guy, and I agree folks are quick to pass blame to God when things don’t go right. However, I think it’s important to face the reality of what’s in the bible when trying to teach the bible.

Other times, Mr. Thielen takes modern ideas which are popular in society and applies them as biblical fact when they’re very much contradictory to the bible. For example, he says, “God doesn’t want people to be in the bondage of slavery. Nor does God want women to be submissive, second-class citizens. God intends for marriage to be a partnership, not a hierarchy.” Now I’m all for equality. I want it for myself. 🙂 Yet hierarchies and submissiveness is very much a part of the bible. Submissiveness is not a bad thing; it keeps order. And being submissive doesn’t necessarily make one a second-class citizen nor does it deny partnership. Likewise, being at the top of the hierarchy doesn’t mean one must treat those in submission poorly. I would even go as far to say, if one had a master or husband who truly walked the Christian lifestyle, being the slave or wife wouldn’t be such a burden.

That’s not to say I’m a proponent of slavery or want to take a step into the past and strip women of the rights they’ve gained. I am just saying, the bible says what it says even if we don’t want to believe it. If we throw out submissiveness to husbands and masters (employers for us present day people), where do we stop? Do we stop being submissive to Christ? Stop being submissive to God? Submissiveness has it’s place. We shouldn’t throw out a concept because some individuals abuse the power.

Here’s the thing. Women do have important, valuable roles in society. The problem isn’t submission; it’s the undervaluing of the gifts women possess.

I could go on with my objections about part one, but I’d rather not. Let’s just say, there was a lot in there which didn’t jive right. Still there were some inspiring pieces.

My favorite chapter by far was 5: God cares about saving souls but not about saving trees. Remember, these are things we DON’T have to believe to be a Christian. The idea behind chapter 5 was folks get so caught up in the battle, they forget there’s an entire war out there. For example, the issues of homosexuality and abortion. Honestly, it seems like Satan is pulling a slight of hand with a lot of folks who call themselves Christian. “Lookie over here!” Get Christians to focus all (most of) their energy on abortion and homosexuality, and they’ll miss the big picture: bringing folks to Christ through love.

As Mr. Thielen puts it “Exclusively private faith degenerates into a narrow religion, excessively preoccupied with individual and sexual morality while almost oblivious to the biblical demands for public justice.” God cares about saving souls. He also cares about other things, like trees, the hungry, world peace. 🙂 There’s no need to make God one dimensional.

Part one ends with what I think is the biggest turn off for non-Christians. Judgmental attitudes. Mr. Thielen tells a story about a friend struggling with his personal life who is later hounded by a judgmental Christian about returning to church.

One day she asked my friend, “Don’t you want to go to heaven?”

In weary exasperation he responded, “not if it’s full of people like you.”

Haha. How many of you out there have had the same thoughts? Mr. Thielen’s bottom line is “True Christians leave judgment to God.”

Overall, Mr. Thielan had some great points in Part One. Other times he turned the bible into a smorgasbord where one can pick and choose what works best for his/her lifestyle. Mostly, I think it’s important to understand that True Christianity is about what’s in the bible, not necessarily the way people who call themselves Christian present Christianity to the world.

Part Two: What you do need to believe

I’m not going to go deep in Part 2 because most of it I’ll say was irrelevant. Mr. Thielen seemed to go off on tangents, which did not focus on the the questions “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” Yes, he answered the question, but it could have been done in 1 chapter versus the 10 chapters he used to do it. Perhaps he was trying to make the two parts even: Ten don’t needs and ten do needs. Like I said, 1 chapter (chapter 1 specifically) answered the question. After that, we hit some nice to know information. Other information I’ll say was specific to the teachings of his church (mainstream Christians even), because they don’t support my understanding of the bible.

Though not an item in part 1 or 2, Mr. Thielen concluded the book with a bit of evangelicalism in chapter 21. I found it to be an excellent addition. While Part 1 & 2 dealt with the nitty gritty assertions (even though I didn’t support all of the findings), the last chapter addressed the most important issue in a person’s life (according to Christians): Salvation.

My bottom line for What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? — It’s an engaging read, has a lot of instructive information, but is also full of fallacies.

As I tell my husband, commentaries and such are great, but people really need to get into the Word so they can decipher what is true and not true when information is presented to them.

Would I recommend What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? Yes and no. If you’re unfamiliar with biblical teachings, I wouldn’t recommend reading this work solo or for using as a basis for Christianity. However, it would be a nice book to study with someone who is knowledgeable about the bible. I also think it’d make an excellent book for a study group. Why? Because either of the latter two scenarios would provide the opportunity for discussion. When readers hit the areas which are questionable, they can talk it over, compare notes, and look up scriptures to determine if the bible supports Mr. Thielan’s ideas or not.

What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most by Martin Thielen is available at: Barnes & Nobles andThe Book Depository

Sunday Showcase #18

I got a newsletter from Netgalley featuring some non-fiction Christian works. I bit. 🙂

Pastor and author Martin Thielen has compiled a list of ten things Christians need to believe—and ten things they don’t—to “qualify” as Christians. This lively and engaging book will be a help to seekers as well as a comfort to believers who may find themselves questioning some of the assumptions they grew up with.

Many people in the twenty-first century hunger for an expression of Christian faith that is different from the judgmental and narrow-minded caricatures they see on television or in the news. With an accessible style that’s grounded in solid biblical scholarship, Thielen shows how Christians don’t need to believe that sinners will be “left behind” to burn in hell or that it’s heresy to believe in evolution. And while we must always take the Bible seriously, we don’t always have to take it literally. At the same time, Christians do need to believe in Jesus—his life, his teachings, his death and resurrection, and his vision for the world. Thielen articulates centrist, mainline Christianity in a way that’s fresh and easy to understand and offers authentic Christian insights that speak to our deepest needs.

This is an ideal book for individual, group, or congregational study. A free leader’s guide that shows how the book can be used in these various settings is available at wjkbooks.com.

Why I picked it up: Mostly curiosity. What does the author have to say for the bare minimum Christians? Hmm… we shall find out, won’t we?

Available at: Barnes & Nobles and The Book Depository

Fea offers an even-handed primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many evangelicals assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the title’s question from a historical perspective, helping readers see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. Readers on both sides of the issues will appreciate that this book occupies a middle ground, noting the good points and the less-nuanced arguments of both sides and leading us always back to the primary sources that our shared American history comprises.

Why I picked it up: I hear so many people say America was founded on Christianity. I’ll be honest. I don’t believe it. Sure, many of those who signed the Constitution and such might have been Christian, but my understanding is many were not. Basically, I want to read what this author has to say about the issue.

Available at: Barnes & Nobles and The Book Depository

N. T. Wright has undertaken a tremendous task: to provide guides to all the books of the New Testament, and to include in them his own translation of the entire text. Each short passage is followed by a highly readable discussion, with background information, useful explanations and suggestions, and thoughts as to how the text can be relevant to our lives today. A glossary is included at the back of the book. The series is suitable for group study, personal study, or daily devotions.

Why I picked it up: Research mostly. I’ve been considering a post-apocalytic like book based on Revelations. I’m hoping this work will make some connections for me. We’ll see. 🙂

Available at: Barnes & Nobles and The Book Depository

I read very little non-fiction books. Some aspects of Christianity really pique my interest. I’m what one would call an information whore on that topic. I like to examine what other people believe… see how it matches up with what’s actually in the bible. I guess it’s rather morbid… maybe even judgmental. <sigh> It’s a flaw.

What about you? When you get into non-fiction, what topic absorbs your interest?