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What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?


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 knowÑwhat's the least I can believe and still be a Christian?"

That question eventually led to a seven-week sermon series at my church. In the first sermon, I laid out several things Christians don't need to believe. In short, Christians don't need to believe in closed minded faith. For example, they don't need to believe that it's heresy to believe in evolution or that women can't be preachers. Over the next six weeks, I preached on what Christians do need to believe. They need to believe in JesusÑhis 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: What matters most? Where is God? What brings fulfillment? What about suffering? And is there hope? A brief overview of the series follows.

"What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?" A Guide to What Matters Most

Week 1: (Don't) Give Me That Old-Time Religion
Texts: Matthew 19:3-9 and 16-17, 23:13-15 and 25-28
Synopsis: Some "old-time religion" can and should be discarded.

Week 2: Jesus' Priority: What Matters Most?
Text: Mark 12:28-34
Synopsis: Relationships—with God and others—matters most.

Week 3: Jesus' Grace: Am I Accepted?
Texts: John 8:1-11, Matthew 9:10-13
Synopsis: Even with our flaws, Jesus loves and accepts us as beloved children of God.

Week 4: Jesus' Work: Where Is God?
Text: John 1:1-5, 14
Synopsis: Although God is not limited to working through people, God primarily works through human instruments.

Week 5: Jesus' Example: What Brings Fulfillment?
Text: John 13:1-5, 13-17
Synopsis: True fulfillment comes from serving others.

Week 6: Jesus' Death: What about Suffering?
Text: Matthew 27:27-31
Synopsis: Although God does not prevent suffering, the crucified God fully enters human suffering and works to redeem that suffering.

Week 7: Jesus Resurrection: Is There Hope?
Text: Matthew 28:1-7
Synopsis: Jesus Christ's resurrection gives us hope for life and even hope for death.

This sermon series, which was chock full of stories and real life examples, electrified our congregation, brought in tons of guests, and netted numerous new members. Several years later I turned the series into a book and seven-week, congregation-wide initiative. A free, sixty-six page online Leader's Guide for leading the initiative, including worship and preaching ideas, promotional materials, and detailed small group lesson plans can be found at http://thielen.wjkbooks.com

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