Generally, I'm not too receptive to people handing me a book they think I should read. I have stacks of books on two desks that I intend to read, plus my Kindle, so I have plenty to keep me busy. Plus, I prefer to make my own choices of reading material.
Exceptions, naturally, do occur. I picked up a book this week that someone, in effect, "assigned" me to read, but only because a class in our church was considering it for a study. My opinion was solicited.
The book is What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most , by Martin Thielen. I have to admit the title was a real turn-off for me when I initially was told of the book, because the person who mentioned it only gave the first part. I thought, "Wonderful. Another attempt to dumb-down the faith and encourage people to look for easy, quick, pat answers to deep and complex issues."
Truly, this is not a complicated book, but it is readable and holds a certain appeal. The first half (ten succinct chapters) examines conventional notions about Christianity that often are embraced, but which do not hold up under biblical or theological scrutiny. Included are such ideas as "God Causes Cancer, Car Wrecks, and Other Catastrophes;" "Women Can't Be Preachers and Must Submit to Men;" "Jews Won't Make It To Heaven;" and, others. The author makes it clear that such beliefs are not essential to the Christian faith.
The second half of the book focuses on "Ten Things Christians Do Need to Believe," all of which center around Jesus. Included, among others, are: "Jesus' Identity: Who is Jesus?" "Jesus' Priority: What Matters Most?" and, "Jesus' Resurrection: Is There Hope?"
Thielen is not Marcus Borg, or Paul Tillich, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is, however, someone who has thought cogently and written concisely about matters important and not so important to being a Christian. Thielen is a refugee from the Southern Baptist tradition, now connected to the United Methodist Church. So, he did some discernment and made some choices along his spiritual journey.
I think the book is helpful and potentially can lead to worthwhile discussion. My preference, though, still is to think of the faith less as a set of "beliefs," and more as a relationship to which a person gives his or her heart.