When I first met Danny, he said, "Preacher, you need to know that I'm an atheist. I don't believe the Bible. I don't like organized religion. And I can't stand self-righteous, judgmental Christians."
In spite of Danny's avowed atheism and my devout Christian beliefs, we became close friends. Over the next year Danny and I engaged in numerous conversations about God, religion, and faith. During that time Danny softened his stance on atheism. One day, after a long conversation, he announced with a laugh, "I've decided to upgrade from an atheist to an agnostic." Several months later Danny said, "I've had an epiphany. I realize that I don't reject Christianity. Instead, I reject the way that intolerant Christians package Christianity." A few weeks after that conversation, Danny said, "Martin, you've just about convinced me on this religion stuff. So I want to know—what's the least I can believe and still be a Christian?"
"What's the least I can believe and still be a Christian?" What a great question! This little book represents my best effort to answer that question. Part 1 presents ten things Christians don't need to believe. In short, Christians don't need to believe in closed-minded faith. For example, Christians don't need to believe that Jews are going to hell or that it's heresy to believe in evolution. Part 2 presents ten things Christians do need to believe. They need to believe in Jesus—his life, teachings, example, death, and resurrection. A great benefit of these beliefs is that they provide promising answers to life's most profound questions including: Where is God? What matters most? What brings fulfillment? What about suffering? And is there hope?
Like Danny, many people in the twenty-first century hunger for an alternative expression of Christian faith that's different from the judgmental and narrow-minded caricatures they see on religious television and in the news. This book offers such an alternative. It articulates centrist, mainline Christianity in a way that's fresh and easy to understand. It also offers authentic Christian insights that speak to our deepest human needs. So turn the page, and let's begin exploring Danny's interesting question, "What's the least I can believe and still be a Christian?"
Part 1: Ten Things Christians Don't Need to Believe
- God Causes Cancer, Car Wrecks, and Other Catastrophes
Although God can and does bring good results out of tragedy, God does not cause tragic events to occur.
- Good Christians Don't Doubt
Doubt is not the enemy of faith but part of authentic Christianity.
- True Christians Can't Believe in Evolution
Science and faith are fully compatible, and theistic evolution is a perfectly acceptable Christian belief.
- Women Can't Be Preachers and Must Submit to Men
Women are fully equal with men in marriage, in church, and in society.
- God Cares about Saving Souls but Not about Saving Trees
God cares about personal salvation and social justice and so should God's church.
- Bad People Will Be "Left Behind" and Then Fry in Hell
Left-behind rapture theology is neither a biblical nor a historical Christian belief and should be left behind by mainline and moderate evangelical Christians.
- Jews Won't Make It to Heaven
The ultimate destiny of non-Christians is in God's hands, and God can be trusted to do what's right.
- Everything in the Bible Should Be Taken Literally
Although we must always take the Bible seriously, we don't always have to take it literally.
- God Loves Straight People but Not Gay People
All persons, including homosexual persons, are welcome in God's church. However, beyond that, mainline and moderate churches are not of one mind on this issue. For now, "welcoming but not affirming" best describes most mainline churches, and the discussion goes on.
- It's OK for Christians to be Judgmental and Obnoxious
True Christians leave judgment to God.
Part 2: Ten Things Christians Do Need to Believe
- Jesus' Identity (Who Is Jesus?)
Every person needs to grapple with Jesus' question to his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Christians believe he is "the Christ, the son of the living God."
- Jesus' Priority (What Matters Most?)
Relationships—with God and others—matter most.
- Jesus' Grace (Am I Accepted?)
Even with our flaws, Jesus loves and accepts us as beloved children of God.
- Jesus' Work (Where Is God?)
Although God is not limited to working through people, God primarily works though human instruments.
- Jesus' Example (What Brings Fulfillment?)
True fulfillment comes from serving others.
- Jesus' Death (What about Suffering?)
Although God does not prevent suffering, the crucified God fully enters human suffering and works to redeem that suffering.
- Jesus' Resurrection (Is There Hope?)
Jesus Christ's resurrection gives us hope for life and even hope for death.
- Jesus' Legacy (Is the Church Still Relevant?)
In spite of its flaws, the church is still God's primary vehicle for doing God's work, and every Christian needs to belong to one.
- Jesus' Promise (Who Is the Holy Spirit?)
The Holy Spirit is God's empowering presence in our lives, in the life of the church, and in the world.
- Jesus' Vision (What Is God's Dream for the World?)
The "kingdom of God" is God's dream for the world, and we are called to help make that dream a reality, both in our personal lives and in society.
- Do Mainline Christians Believe in Getting Saved?
Studying This Book in Your Church