For the summer, the Sunday School class I usually attend has decided to go in with another class, which was just about to begin discussing the same book we’d talked about using. We started yesterday, and (rather than wait and read the book week by week) I ended up going through it yesterday and today.
The book is What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most by Martin Thielen. Thielen has been pastor of First United Methodist in Lebanon and will move to what we jokingly call “The Metho-Dome” –Brentwood UMC – in July. He’s a former Southern Baptist preacher, and this book talks frankly about that and about issues that prompted him to move.
The stated purpose of the book is to talk about the essentials of Christianity – the core issues on which we can all agree. I’m not sure that’s what Thielen ends up doing; he ends up more often talking about his own specific beliefs and the faith journey that took him from being a Baptist to a United Methodist. But the book, if mislabeled, is still eminently readable, valuable and a great basis for discussion. (There are a couple of chapters that should lead to quite interesting discussion in our Sunday School class.)
The book is broken into two halves. In the first half, Thielen discusses things you definitely don’t have to believe to be a Christian: negative, divisive or destructive statements that some groups believe but which Thielen says are definitely not part of the core of Christianity. The second half of the book talks about what Thielen considers the various core beliefs of Christianity.
A couple of people in Sunday School had encountered Thielen before, or been to his church. But I noted in the book that he was a friend of the late Rev. Michael Welch, who was pastor of First Christian Church here in Shelbyville before becoming a United Methdodist, and who was killed with his wife and two of their children in an automobile accident. Apparently, he and Welch had lunch together on a regular basis when they were both pastoring churches in the same area.
As with the last popular theology book I wrote about here, “Love Wins,” you don’t necessarily have to agree with every single point to gain from the book – in fact, the book may be of more use if it prods you a bit to think about what you believe on some of the mentioned issues.