Being in ministry—being in theological ministry—the passions run high. You are going to say some wrong things and you are going to have some wrong things said about you. Such is ministry. One needs to develop some thick skin if they seek to surf these waters.

As a consequence of being misunderstood, you get mislabeled. One label that has been recently tapped on my back with red crayon is “minimalist.” What does that mean to be a minimalist?


One who sees Christianity as a system of belief that only recognizes the least common denominator. In other words, let’s just find out what all those who call themselves Christian believe and say that this is true Christianity and then let’s not talk about anything else. Talking about what divides, well . . . divides. And division is bad, bad, and double bad. Therefore, let’s just all get along.

Many of those in Pop Evangelicalism, the Emerging Church, and the Emergent church take this perspective.

From the standpoint of those who call me a minimalist, I represent a branch of Evangelicalism that compromises truth for conciliation in the name of ecclesiastical unity.

Stepping back and looking at this criticism, I can see where it comes from. I understand how people would get this impression. I do tend to encourage people to focus on the things that unite. I do tend to plead with people about the danger of talking past each other. I am even sometimes critical of militant apologetic methods that seem to deepen chasms, hardening others in an apologetic position that only focuses on what they are against, thereby losing perspective. However, I would not classify myself as a minimalist.

Let me introduce some similar terms that will help get a grasp on this issue.


One who seeks unity only with those with whom there is maximal agreement. Any disagreement, no matter how small it is perceived to be, does not take away from its importance. All issues are equal, or at least close to it.

Roman Catholics, some Eastern Orthodox, and Fundamentalists would normally share this perspective.


One who seeks unity by finding areas of compromise. Taking the dialectical method, opposing positions are rarely correct, but the truth is found in a compromised center.

Many in the Emergent and liberal Church share this perspective.


One who starts with the center of Christianity and believes that it provides the anchor from which all other conversation will find its ground. A centralist is focused on the most important elements of the faith so that the other issues can be seen in light of the perspective it provides.

Most in the Historic Evangelical church, some emergers, and some Eastern Orthodox hold this perspective.

It is in this camp that I can be found roasting marshmallows.

What is the “center” of the faith?

The doctrine of the Scripture? The doctrine of truth? Helping those in need? Social action? No. None of these in my opinion are the center of the faith. The center of our faith is Christ. If you want to say “the doctrine of Christ,” that is good as well. It is the person and work of Christ that is the center of Christianity. “Who do men say that I am?” is the most important theological question there is. If you get this wrong, all else will not only come undone, but it will be meaningless. If you get this right, there is a foundational unifying factor that we must recognize and in light of which all other issue must find their place.

Those who say that Christ is the eternal God-man who died for our sins and rose from the grave have more common ground with each other than they often care to admit.

Here are some differences between the four positions:

Maximalist: Let’s find all denominators.
Minimalist: Let’s find the least common denominator.
Centrist: Let’s create a new denominator that is somewhere in the middle.
Centralist: Let’s find the most important denominator.

Maximalist: We will militantly divide over all issues since all issue are of equal importance.
Minimalist: Issues that people disagree upon unnecessarily divides, therefore, let’s not discuss disagreements.
Centrist: Let’s all move more toward the middle ground, then we can get along.
Centralist: If we are united around the centrality of Christ, let all other issues find perspective in this agreement.

Maximalist: The truth is in the maximum.
Minimalist: The truth is in the minimal.
Centrist: The truth is in the middle.
Centralist: The truth is in the central.

Maximalist: Approach to Church history: All traditions that do not completely agree with us are anathema.
Minimalist: Approach to Church history: Find the minimal areas of agreement and form a new tradition.
Centrist: Approach to Church history: Use the dialectical method understanding history as a stepping stone to the evolution of truth.
Centralist: Approach to Church history: Find the central areas of agreement and recognize this commonality.

Maximalist: Non-essentials = essentials (there is no such thing)
Minimalist: Non-essentials = non-importance
Centrist: Non-essentials = everything
Centralist: Non-essentials should be put into their relative positions of importance to the degree that they affect the central issues.

I don’t believe in a minimalist or centrist approach to truth. Minimizing Christianity undermines the truth and strangles revelation. Finding middle ground compromises the truth.

Minimizing Christianity to the Glory of God? No. Impossible.

Centralizing Christ to the Glory of God? Absolutely. By definition, when we center on the person and work of Christ, God will be glorified.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    7 replies to "Minimizing Christianity to the Glory of God"

    • John B. Richardson

      Centralist Christianity eh? Sounds pretty idealistic. Who is going to decide on what is the most important denominator?

      My vote is for Jewish Christians. Or Pentecostals.

      I mean, this sounds great on paper and it is something I worked on until my de-conversion from Christianity, but isn’t it sort of a pipe dream that would sound great in a sermon but has very little reality attached?

      Please take this sincerely, as I am not trying to ridicule (aside from my Pentecostal joke). I think a Christianity that is at least somewhat unified would at least give some credibility to the perceived truth of scripture – it would actually be quite amazing. I am simply wondering how the notion of “Centralist Christianity” wouldn’t be dropped at the first mention of divergent “centers.”

    • Don

      If people would stop trying to understand every thought of Jesus Christ, and concentrate on “who he was and what he did” there would be less confusion. These conflicting views didn’t originate in heaven, they came from the mind of Satan.

      Yes, I used the “S” word! If you don’t believe in Satan you don’t need Jesus.

    • Wm Tanksley

      “Roman Catholics, some Eastern Orthodox, and Fundamentalists would normally share this perspective.”

      Disagree. I don’t know about Eastern Orthodox, but I do know that for the Roman Catholics, that’s simply not the case. You definitely have to agree with the formally defined dogmas, but outside of that there’s a TON of flex; even inside the dogmas most Romanists informally allow plenty of flex (even though there’s no doubt about the importance of the dogmas formally). Behavior is far more important.

      Agreed for the fundies; I grew up with a few of them as close friends, and if you didn’t agree that every word meant what they said it meant… Well, you can hang out, but you’ll get _ministered to_. 🙂

      I have to agree with Rishardson — Centralism sounds awesome, but it’s completely devoid of distinction. Every single position you named is actually Centralist by that definition — every one has some central issues and focusses on them. The only question is how *big* you claim the center is, and who defines it. In fact, I think the question of “who defines the center” is the important one, and although you mention it, you don’t give it any coverage here.

      Who DOES define the “center”? For fundies, their pastor almost always does, with the condition that their pastor MUST be attested to by certain reference works, like the Scofield Notes. For Romanists, Rome. For liberals, modern consensus. For almost all denominations heresies, recent and ancient, help define the center by highlighting its edges, and heresies are seen equally by their consequences (splitting the church) as by their violation of established doctrines. I enjoyed OJ Brown’s “Heresies” text on this subject.

    • Adam

      Pass me a marshmallow, because I ‘got’ what you were saying.
      Pipedream?….not by a long shot.

      Devoid of distinction?!! Maybe I read a different post, nothing is more distinctive than Christ himself.

    • Wm Tanksley

      Adam (and Patton): oh, I get the point. Yes, Christ is the center of Christianity, and THAT is the center we must adhere to. Sorry, Patton, but I didn’t see that in your original discussion — I assumed that the next heading in your article was a different definition of Christian unity.

      So I agree now. 🙂

    • Eclectic Christian


      I really like this article. Would you mind if I repost it at Eclectic Christian?

      It is definitely in the spirit of some of the articles that I have been writing, but you have certainly provided some clarifying thoughts.

    • Eclectic Christian

      Thanks Michael,

      I have now reposted it.

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