Being Afraid of God…. (Part 2)

This is a continuation of the previous post about being afraid of God. It is a precursor to undertanding the underlying message of the book we are reviewing:

If Grace is trueOf course, her final question reveals the deeper issue hidden in any discussion of ultimate human destiny. Who is God? Is God a gracious, loving father waiting long through the night, with the light lit and the door open, confident his most defiant child will one day come home? Or is God a harsh judge eager to pass sentence, eager to punish and destroy all who do not satisfy him?

I hope you will consider the possibility that God is gracious beyond your expectation. I hope that in reading this book you’ll have an experience with God that will transform you. I hope you’ll hear God’s voice. I hope you’ll believe the very best about God. I hope you’ll not be so afraid you’ll shut this book and read no further.

I assure you that since I have come to believe in the ultimate triumph of God’s grace, no lightning bolt has struck me, no plague has cursed my children, and no earthquake has destroyed my home. But then, the God I’ve experienced never does such things.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 46-47). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The idea of universal salvation strikes fear in many clergy leaders in the church today. They believe that if you take away God’s anger and replace it with his love that they will lose control of their congregations.  So, to me much of this fear is the fear of humans losing power over others.  Being afraid of God is so endemic in too many churches.

I read the words of Jesus on a daily basis and in those words I see God’s love  much more so than His wrath. As Mr. Gulley states in the end it comes down to who is God?  I will put my eternity on the line to align with the God of love who wants us to experience his grace first-hand. He has an agape love for all of us and I do mean all. I believe the very best of God.

While I am not done with the review of this book I think I have given you enough to pray that you get a copy and consider the idea of universal salvation. It is not as radical as some of your clergy will try to convince you it is. God doesn’t take pleasure in cursing his children but in loving them. If agape love and grace is true then why wouldn’t God have a plan to save every person?

Many mock the idea of universal salvation but I think maybe they do that out of fear rather than sincerity. God clearly said he loves all of us and wants all of us to be saved. I am beginning to understand that he is capable of doing just that if we humans quit trying to put conditions on him.

God’s Wrath vs. God’s Grace…….

If Grace is true“How can you believe that God’s grace isn’t sufficient, that many of God’s children will languish in hell forever, that they’ll never be restored to their Father, that evil will claim victory in so many lives? How can you believe that?”

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 89-90). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Some think the idea of universal salvation is a new thing but in reality it goes back to the founding fathers of the church. Origen and Gregory of Nyssa believed in the salvation of all people. But of course we know that the champions of God’s grace were often silenced by future theologians especially by those who followed King Constantine several hundred years later. Much like the old saying that “history is written by the victors”, much of Christian dogma was written by those who charged their opponents with heresy and got that claim to stick.

As I have mentioned before I am still wrestling with the idea of universal salvation. It is easy to show with pride how I am saved while so many are damned to hell for eternity.  Like the return of the prodigal son I don’t want to admit that some who have led totally broken lives will  somehow sit alongside me in God’s presence.

In the end I simply will not diminish God’s grace in order to sustain the belief of God’s wrath.  I want to finish the post with some final words from the book that took hold of me and shook me.

I insisted we were free to reject God’s grace. It never occurred to me that God might be free to reject our rejection.

Who is more powerful God or human will? I think I know the answer to that question….

To Those Who Need It The Most…..


If Grace is trueFor what good is grace—this unconditional love of God—if it is not extended to those who deserve it the least but need it the most? God is love. Holiness and justice are not competing commitments. God has not chosen to turn his back on us or to punish us as our sins deserve. God has chosen to redeem us. Nothing requires God to condemn us, so God has not. Rather, in his sovereign freedom, he waits patiently for the day of our redemption.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 87-88). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The above quote comes at the end of a chapter entitled “The Character of God”. I must admit that I have had many of the same painful questions about the character of God as Mr. Gulley.  When I was told to believe that absolutely everything in the Bible is literally and in absolutely true I simply could not reconcile much of the god of the Old Testament to the person of Jesus. Until I was willing to weigh scripture the dichotomy of a vengeful God vs. Jesus of “love your enemy” I was racked with doubt about all things the church pronounced. When I fell in line with the idea of the “infallible words of God” my two views of God were irreconcilable.

I must admit that the God of the Old Testament scares me.  When he supposedly in the tenth chapter of Joshua told the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child in the town of Libnash this horrified me. This simply didn’t sound like the God of Jesus I had come to know in the New Testament. I heard various explanation trying to reconcile the two gods. One was that God was trying to protect the Israelites from the corrupting influence that intermarriage would have caused. Like Mr. Gulley mentioned about this story to me it sounds much like what Hitler used for destroying the Jews.

Here is a quote from Mr. Gulley relative to weighing scripture when it comes to these sort of opposite visions:

Weighing Scripture allows for the possibility that some descriptions of God and his behavior are inaccurate. It is not merely counting how many Scriptures say “this” about God and how many Scriptures say “that” about God and believing whichever one receives the highest score. Weighing Scripture is what Jesus taught when he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” If Jesus had believed that all Scriptures were of equal worth, he would have answered, “All the commandments are equally important.” Instead, he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). Then Jesus added a pivotal footnote. He said, “All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). In other words, these two verses exalting love are as heavy as the rest of the Bible. Jesus tipped the scales irrevocably in favor of love.

When we finally reject the idea of every word in the ancient text is absolutely true and applicable for eternity then this contradiction between two gods goes away. I, as Mr. Gulley quotes above, believe  Jesus showed us that all scripture is not equal or inerrant.  There are just too many places where he taught us a different way than was recorded in the Old Testament.

I don’t spend much time in Old Testament lessons anymore. I know there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the experiences of those before Jesus but I choose to concentrate on Jesus and his lessons at this point in my life.

Having It Both Ways…

If Grace is trueWe can’t have it both ways. We can’t honor the words of the men and women of the Bible while ignoring their example. They trusted their experiences with God more than the words of those who preceded them. They believed in a God of fresh words. How can we canonize their words but ignore their radical obedience to the voice of a living God? We have become people who read well but listen poorly.

Yet, if we were to read Scripture carefully, we would discover an interesting truth. Of the nearly four hundred and fifty times when Scripture speaks of the “word of God,” only a handful of references imply any written document. In Scripture, the “word of God” is almost always spoken or heard. The word of God is a voice. It is experienced.

Time and again, those who opposed Jesus would quote Scripture. They would remind him of the Sabbath law, the requirement to fast, the provision for divorce, and the penalty for adultery. Jesus seemed unimpressed with a person’s ability to quote Scripture. His interest was in a person’s ability to hear God’s voice. He said, “He who belongs to God hears what God says” (John 8:47). To limit the word of God to the written word is to muzzle God.

This doesn’t mean I reject or ignore the Bible. It means I remember that the God I am reading about is looking over my shoulder, whispering in my ear. 

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 40-41). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t say that God told us everything he needed us to know two-thousand years ago and then say that God doesn’t speak to us today. But that is just the dichotomy that many Christians put themselves in so that they can believe that the Bible is literal and inerrant and the final word.  As the quote says “we have become people who read well but listen poorly”. I think that is the case with most Christian denominations today. My Quaker friends, of which the two authors above are members, might be an exception to that general thought but there seem to be few others. It is very interesting to see the quote above about the use of the biblical phrase “word of God” being a spoken word not a written word.

I don’t know about those of Jewish faith if any of them believe in the literal truth in their holy documents but certainly many Christians are told to believe in the literal truth of the Old Testament which is based on the Torah. Jesus again and again throughout his time on earth told us not to believe in things that were considered law by the clergy of his day.  I remember vividly the places where Jesus said “you have heard it said… but….” It seems that Jesus did more discounting of the then Scripture than he did backing it.

As Mr. Gulley said that doesn’t mean that we are to reject or ignore the Bible. We must understand that much of that text was more about passed down stories of ancient times than they were about lessons for today.  God continues to whisper in our ears but he also speaks to me through through these ancient stories…  Yes, as my once clergy friend says I have to be aware that some things I might hear are not from God. But I must also be aware that some things I read in the ancient text are just stories. Jesus told me that much….

Suspicious of Experiences With God…..

If Grace is true

This is an ongoing post about the book “If Grace Is True” by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland.  Here are the words for today.

Many people are suspicious of experiences with God. The believers in Jerusalem were suspicious of Peter’s experience. You may be suspicious of mine. Some argue that such experiences aren’t trustworthy, that infallible Scripture is the only safe guide in our search for truth. They forget the Bible contains the accounts of hundreds of experiences with God. Again and again, God came to individuals and spoke to them….

The Bible was never intended to end the conversation, but to encourage it. God didn’t fall silent with the last chapter of Revelation. He continues to reveal himself. It makes no sense to glorify the accounts of our ancestors’ encounters with God while dismissing our experiences with him today. We who are Protestants should be especially conscious of this need to listen for the voice of God. We are the descendants of people who, based on their experiences with God, challenged the Church’s interpretations of Scripture and its long-held beliefs. Martin Luther, John Wesley, George Fox, and many others described such experiences. They believed they had received a clearer vision of God’s character and will. All these people respected the Bible. Indeed, it was often in reading Scripture that they began to glimpse God’s new word. But they were also open to God’s leading in their lives. They understood what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 37-38). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I believe that God has spoken directly to me on a few occasions in my life. The most recent one was when he told me to quit being worried about what all those Christian theologians say about him but to listen to his words  for myself.  When I have mentioned experiencing God in the past it has come under suspicion of some, particularly a Lutheran clergy friend I once had. He came right out and said “How do you know it was from God and not the devil?” These words shocked me as I think I could tell the difference.  This was the beginning stage of losing that friend due to theological differences.

I truly believe as Mr. Gulley stated above that the Bible was never intended to end the conversation, but to encourage it. I believe that my previous clergy friend’s staunch insistence that the Bible is the last and absolutely final words of God are depriving him of so much more than he realizes.  Dismissing the experiences with God for the last nineteen-hundred years makes absolutely no sense to me!

It seems ironic that my previous Lutheran clergy friend discounts direct experiences with God when the founder of his denomination claimed to have just that when taking on the pope more than five-hundred years ago. It is obvious that not everything Luther believed was from God. His absolute hatred of Jews was certainly not. His belief in the total inerrancy of King Constantine’s bible wasn’t either. But then again his wanting to completely throw out the book of James among others shows he really didn’t either.  I will say that his understanding of just how wrong the church had gone did come from God.

If God said he wants all of us to accept his grace then I will take his word for that…. He certainly has the power to make it happen in whatever timeframe he deems best.

If grace is true, it is true for everyone. – Part 4 If Grace Is True….

If Grace is trueI didn’t consider this for many years. I actually thought my experiences rare. I was one of the chosen. I was special. Now I know the truth. God whispers his love in every ear. He isn’t interested in declaring his love to a select few. He doesn’t limit his presence to Vatican City, to the halls of seminaries, to the offices of preachers, or to church altars. God doesn’t restrict his communication to the Bible. He doesn’t confine his presence to any single denomination or religion. God speaks to all people, even when they’re not inclined to listen.

Fortunately, God looks for the slightest yielding, the smallest opening, to make his love known. God doesn’t stand with his back turned until we ask for him. God doesn’t hide and expect us to seek him. God doesn’t keep his distance and await our call. God said, “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here I am, here I am’” (Isaiah 65:1). What God did for the children of Israel, God does for all. God stands at the door and knocks, and if we don’t answer, he looks for an open window.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 18-19). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The quote above is about the time that Philip Gulley first experienced God’s Grace.I too remember the specific time when I finally stubbornly admitted that I finally get it. I felt the Holy Spirit enter my soul. So you could say I was born again if that is your thing. God chose that particular moment and method to communicate with me maybe because my stubborn resistance was at a low point. It was a very emotional moment for me.   I felt like one of the chosen; one of the special ones. God found that smallest opening and made his love known to me. But what if it is really true that God does not choose among his children but has agape love for all of us and chooses us all?

I know there are places in the Bible that seem to say something contrary but if you really look at them with an eye toward universal salvation they also make sense in that venue.

  • What if we got this eternal damnation thing wrong?  After all it wasn’t really even formalized until the tenth century.
  • Are we wasting our time trying to get others to see Jesus when he already has a plan for revealing himself to each of us?  Could we be spending our time doing something that God has already worked out?
  • If grace is true then why isn’t it true for everyone?
  • Instead of trying to save souls maybe we should be teaching others about Jesus and how to follow his ways?
  • Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we all concentrated on doing the work that Jesus told us to do?

These are the questions I have been asking myself lately.  God doesn’t turn his back to us until we ask for him. He doesn’t lay back waiting for us to call his name.  He patiently keeps coming to us until we set aside our stubbornness and pride and see him as he truly is. God loves us all; I will leave universal salvation up to him to make that happen. I know he can if he wants to and he told us he wants all of us to have his love.

The Fullness of God’s Grace….. (Part 3 – If Grace Is True)

I was certain if I could preach the perfect sermon the altar would fill with people overcome by God’s grace. Now I realize there are many hindrances to experiencing the fullness of God’s grace—confusion, fear, prejudice, ignorance, and pride, to name a few. The removal of these obstacles ought to be the primary purpose of the Church.

Unfortunately, the Church has often erected more barriers than we’ve removed. Too many have entered our doors, only to experience condemnation rather than welcome. We’ve acted less like Jesus and more like his opponents.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 14-15). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

It is indeed hard to comprehend the fullness of God’s grace. Man puts many obstacles in the way of it and unfortunately as the above quote says the church which should be about removing obstacles seems instead puts many of them there. Many versions of church tell us that God can’t stand to look at us because we are just too sinful. They tell us that God sees us as no more than a piece of snot. Each individual version of church almost always tells us that they alone know the heart of God; everyone else just has it wrong in one manner or another.

They tell us that if we really want to be saved from God’s wrath then we must jump through all the hoops they put in front of us. If we dare to skip one or two or question why the hoop is there in the first place then we are told that we are not good enough to be with them.  Of course all these hoops and barriers are man-made; they are not from God.

When Martin Luther, a lowly monk, dared to question the practices of the church of his time the hammer came down hard. He was severely chastised and eventually kicked out.  The rules/hoops of those times mandated that you must pay indulgences in order to get your departed loved ones into heaven.  Martin Luther said no to that hoop.  You might think that he would have learned a lesson from this but that was not to be the case.

Luther decided to put his own conditions on church membership. For you to belong to his church you had to believe that the only way God can communicate with you is through the man-made document of the fourth century. You had to believe that everything in that document compiled under the eyes of a Roman emperor is literally true (or at least according to Luther’s understanding of literally true) and without the possibility of any error. If you don’t jump through this hoop then you were not good enough to be a part of his newly formed church. When Luther limited God’s communications with us to only a 1200 year old document he put in place a condition that was perhaps more harmful than the one he rebelled against.

It appears that I am picking on one particular denomination of the 39,000 different versions of church around today. For this post that may be the case but in reality the only thing that is different between most of the rest are the hoops themselves.

Confusion, fear, prejudice, ignorance, and especially pride get in the way of experiencing God’s grace.  All of these conditions are man-made, especially the last one. The church should be about getting rid of these obstacles. That should be its primary purpose.  Sadly that is not yet the case…..

God’s Wrath….

Many share my love for Jesus. We accepted him as Lord. We were baptized in his name. We became his disciples. We worshiped and adored him. Yet we’ve often divorced the words and actions of Jesus from the God he worshiped and adored. We’ve forgotten the very one Jesus came to reveal.

Those of us raised in the Church have a good excuse for this confusion. It’s what we were taught. The church of my childhood often glorified Jesus at God’s expense. Jesus was Savior. God was judge and executioner. Jesus was closer than a brother. God was distant—remote at best and hostile at worst. Many churches fail to emphasize that the love we experience in Jesus is the persistent grace of God.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 13-14). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I was raised for the first fourteen years in the Catholic church. Like most I was baptized in the first weeks of my life so by that act I guess I was accepted as a child of God. I was confirmed in the first grade and received my first communion. I later kneeled at the foot of the altar and spoke the latin words that was expected of an altar boy. I went to the first seven grades in a Catholic school. In school I was taught that only Catholic would be in heaven.  So , I was raised in the church so to speak.

I can’t say that I really remember much about what I was taught during those years. I knew that God and Jesus were two different things. God sat on a throne and passed judgements on everything I did and I was told he knew my every thought. That was kind of scary because I had some rather unusual thoughts.  So, to make sure I stayed a faithful member of his church I was to say my prayers every night before bed and confess all the “sins” I had committed during the week on Saturday morning.  I didn’t really have a good idea of what “sin” was so I usually used the same ones I had been taught over and over again.  It didn’t seem to matter to that mysterious person behind the screen. He forgave me every week and told me to say so many “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” as punishment. That was just the way life was; I really didn’t question it much.

As I then understood it, when I grew up that all of this stuff  such as prayer and confession would no  longer apply. My parents seldom went to church on Sundays; they just dropped us off and went home for some additional sleep; or so I imagined. They did invite the priests over for dinner on occasion so I assumed that was the grown-up version of confession and punishment.  It would be several years later that I really came to see Jesus as something more than the guy that hung on the cross above the altar.  It would actually take me abandoning church entirely for almost fifteen years before I came to actually even begin to understand  what being a follower of Jesus was really supposed to be like.

When I went back to the church it was to a Protestant version and that is where I was primarily introduced to God the judge and executioner.  But even then I was told that even though God was very vengeful, Jesus appeased his wrath by dying on the cross so I was covered. It would be several years after that before I took up the Bible myself instead of just being fed very selected verses by the cleric leader. But more on that the next time.

If Grace Is True…..

Gracae Book CoverI’ve never experienced a God of wrath. I’ve heard such a God preached. I’ve read of such a God. I’ve encountered wrathful people who claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. I’ve even allowed such sentiments to tarnish my view of God. Yet, in the midst of all these distortions, I never experienced a wrathful God.

The God I’ve experienced is the God of Jesus—a God of unlimited patience, infinite love, and eternal faithfulness. Jesus described a God who waits long through the night, with the light lit and the door open, confident his most defiant child will one day realize his love and turn toward home. Jesus revealed a God who loves the unlovable, touches the untouchable, and redeems those thought beyond redemption. He said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). My earliest experiences were with the love of Jesus.

I want to start off this mini-serious around the book by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland entitled If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person with a quote from the beginning pages. Being I buy most of my books from Amazon I can review a few pages to decide whether I want to purchase the book.  When I read these words I knew this was a book I wanted to learn more from.

I must admit that most of my church experiences have not aligned with the assumption that God will eventually reconcile all souls back to him. Especially from my Protestant years, I was taught  that I was to fear a wrathful God who would send me to an eternity of pain and suffering if I didn’t do what the church leaders told me to do. I was told to fear the power and wrath of God or risk eternal damnation. I was told that God only viewed me as worth no more than a piece of snot but he loved me anyway.

I was told that all the bad things that have happened in my life was probably just God getting back at me for things I had done in my life. It was his retribution for not being perfect. But even with all this rhetoric about a vengeful God I, like the quote above,  can’t say that I have ever really experienced a God of wrath.  I have encountered wrathful people inside and outside the churches I have attended over the years. They insisted on telling me week after week that people like us, that is those who made a declaration of faith in the beliefs they espoused and attended their particular version of church were saved from God’s wrath but just about everyone else would not make the cut.

When I dared to go off on my own and study the words of Jesus without those fearful words being chanted in my ears I discovered a different God. Now I will admit that there are some words attributed to Jesus that I can’t yet understand (I will have to do another series on that topic) but the vast majority that I do presently understand is about a God of love. One who has an agape, that is unconditional and infinite, love for me and all those he created.  With this new view of God I am beginning to align with Mr. Gulley’s notion that God will save every person.  How he is going to do that is not up to me and my petty understanding of him.  I just know that he is an all powerful God and if he loves us as the Bible proclaims then he will eventually bring us all back to his fold.

Much more about this and the book in the following posts.

The History of the Church….

What matters to those who look to history for important lessons is that something was lost in the fourth century that permanently changed the nature of Christianity. If we do not recover that spirit of loyalty to the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount as opposed to saluting the Nicene Creed, the decline of the church will continue. If we persist in arguing across our theological divides in a perishing world, then the church deserves its fate. If we cannot reverse the move away from praxis and toward doctrine that was sealed by Constantine, the church will become, and deserves to become, the relic of another age.
It was post-Constantine theologians who gave us the doctrine of original sin (an inherited disease for which the institution that makes the diagnosis also claims to have the only cure) and the blood atonement, the belief that Jesus came to earth solely for the purpose of dying for our sins, a doctrine not fully developed in the church until the tenth century.
Are we born bad and must be saved, as conservatives assert, or are we born good, as liberals maintain, but have forgotten where we came from, where we are going, and to whom we belong? Was the death of Jesus on the cross necessary for the salvation of the world, or is this the ultimate form of Child abuse?

The words above are from a book entitled The Underground Church by Robin Meyers. I must admit that this book along with the book by Harvey Cox entitled The Age of Faith have fundamentally changed my perception of what the church should be. The words above were an “aha” moment for me. When I discovered that much of what I thought was from Jesus but in reality came many years later from man it changed my perception of what being a follower of Jesus really meant.

When I took the time to study early church history it opened my eyes to some truths that were hidden from me and from so many others today.  When I realized that for the majority of its history Christianity has been in a constant conflict about its theology it made me realize that some of what I am told to just take as truth may actually just be the version that won out in a previous church conflict.

As the quote above states a major shift happened in the Church when Constantine changed it from being groups throughout the empire who followed the words of Jesus to a State mandated religion it changed the church in a very basic way. The power that came along with this dictate was corrosive to the church leaders and thinkers.   In order to rescue the church from the mistakes made during these periods we must get back to the pre-Constantine  church.  Simply parroting the doctrine of past theologians will no longer hack it with many who are looking for a more spiritual foundation for their faith.

The emergent movement that is taking place today within the church says that it is ok to believe that some of the things from past leaders could have been wrong hearted. It is ok to say we don’t fully understand the heart of God. In other words it is ok to say that we and all those who preceded us are human beings with human foibles and weaknesses and just may have gotten some of it wrong. That inevitably include the past leaders and theologians. Yes, even the popes.  I’m sure even Martin Luther would agree with that last part….