Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Review: If the Church were Christian

Throughout this book, it becomes obvious that Philip Gulley lives in the love and grace in which Christ lived and of which he taught. Though the whole book is a critique of the church, none of it is done in a harsh, in-your-face way. The entire approach is incredibly graceful. In almost every chapter, he includes an extremely vulnerable account of his own shortfalls in the subject the chapter discusses. He sincerely confesses his own experience with what he talks about. Because of his experiences, he understands the mindsets he is critiquing and is able to provide good solutions in a very Christ-like way.

The whole book is made up of stories he uses to convey his points--examples of Christians or churches who have failed to live the Gospel (including himself), and examples of Christians who live the Gospel in an undeniably Christ-like manner.
That all being said, you should know that Gulley is a liberal theologian. In fact, Gulley is as liberal as one can be within Christianity (can he be considered an actual Christian?). This Quaker Pastor does not believe in the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, or in Christ's sinlessness. He doesn't believe in the inspiration of Scripture. His belief about the Bible (or at least the Gospels--he doesn't talk about his views on the other books) is a combination of the theories of Schleiermacher and Bultmann. Actually, he's like Schleiermacher in a lot of ways. There's reason to believe that he doesn't believe in miracles. He doesn't believe in anything that doesn't make sense to modern beliefs. He is also a universalist and doesn't believe in hell or Satan. He doesn't think homosexuality is a sin, I'm sure he's a theistic evolutionist, and he doesn't believe in the doctrine of the Trinity.

However, on average, he only says something once a chapter that would rattle the orthodox Christian cage. So don't think the entire book is one giant liberal theology rant. But at times, his beliefs are somewhat confusing. For instance, he says that "ancient people, moved by their encounters with Jesus, sought to convey their appreciation for him in the only language they knew--miracle stories, parables, and wisdom sayings." Does this mean he believes Jesus didn't actually say what the Gospels said he did? Yet, a couple pages later, he quotes Jesus--and continues to quote him throughout the book. He sometimes says things that contradict other things that he claims. For example, he believes God is going to save every person, yet he says a couple of times that Heaven is a place no one knows even exists, suggesting that maybe he doesn't believe in Heaven--so what does he mean when he says God saves them? It seems to me that he should have either not voiced his liberal theology in order to make his opinion valid to more Christians, or he should have provided an introduction to his belief system that would make reading his book less confusing.

All of that being said, I don't want to put him in a bad light or suggest that you shouldn't read the book. We can all learn a lot from Gulley. In fact, I would say anyone in ministry--especially in church ministry--should read this book. He has a lot of great things to say from which we can learn a lot. We just have to read the book with a grain of salt. I definitely recommend it. It is very thought-provoking, challenging, convicting, and inspiring.

Below are the book's chapter titles which finish the statement "If the Church were Christian..."
I agree with all of them, except I would say, "Jesus would be a model for living, not JUST an object of worship" (but he doesn't believe in the divinity of Christ so it makes sense that he would word it the way he did).

“If the church were Christian, Jesus would be a model for living, not an object of worship.

If the church were Christian, affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness.

If the church were Christian, reconciliation would be valued over judgment.

If the church were Christian, gracious behavior would be more important than right belief.

If the church were Christian, inviting questions would be more important than supplying answers.

If the church were Christian, encouraging personal exploration would be more important than communal uniformity.

If the church were Christian, meeting needs would be more important than maintaining institutions.

If the church were Christian, peace would be more important than power.

If the church were Christian, it would care more about love and less about sex.

If the church were Christian, this life would be more important than the afterlife.”

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