Archives For Philip Gulley

Here we are at the end of my study into universal salvation as presented by Philip Gulley in his book “If Grace Is True”. It took a lot longer to get here than I originally thought but this is a very serious subject so I shouldn’t be surprised. I am still not totally in the camp of universal salvation but I am definitely leaning pretty severely that way. I guess the lingering doubt has to do with all the years that it was drilled into my head that Jesus’ sole purpose for coming was to die for me a sinner. That type of guilt trip is hard to counter. As I am reading  the Bible going forward I will do so with universal salvation in mind and see if that affects my thoughts.

On reason I am leaning toward universal salvation is I’m sure a push back against being told all those years that God viewed me totally as just a poor miserable sinner. I know the apostle Paul almost fixated on that but I really don’t remember many words from Jesus emphasizing it.  I grew up with a very low sense of self-esteem and I’m sure the “poor miserable sinner” mantra  being drilled into me contributed toward that feeling of incompetence. I have eventually come to see God not as a wrathful being but a God who has agape love for all his creation. Yes, he is likely disappointed in our obedience to his demand to love each other but since agape love is all encompassing he loves us despite that falling. Why shouldn’t God’s total and unending love be the primary lesson for all who grow up in a Christian family? Why do we need to fear God when He says he is all about love?  I wonder how much different the world would be if more Christian kids were taught that God loves them and wants them to accomplish great things in their lives?

What if universal salvation is true? What are the consequences? To me they are many and significant. Christians spend so much time trying to get sinners to come to Jesus but if that has already been taken care of then we seem to be wasting our time doing something that is already a done deal. If we want people to understand who Jesus was then the best way to do that is to live our lives as Jesus taught us. He gave us that message more time than I can remember.

Of course if universal salvation is true then we can no longer believe that we will be the only ones in heaven. We can’t believe that the other 39,000 versions of Christ are wrong. We can’t make enemies of those of different faiths. Universal salvation makes the crusades and all the other murderous ventures that occurred in the church’s history totally senseless. It also takes  power away from the myriad of “fire and brimstone” religious leaders and put it back on God and His love where it belonged all along.

When it comes right down to it God said he wants everyone to come to him. Who am I to try and deny him that power??

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Are You Saved???

April 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

If Grace is trueOccasionally people knock on my door or hand me a tract on a street corner or strike up a conversation with the aim of asking, “Are you saved?” Even before I believed in the salvation of every person, I always answered with an enthusiastic yes. Often, rather than sharing my elation, my inquisitors would look me up and down with a dubious eye and ask another question. The second question varied depending on the person. Many asked, “Have you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior?” Some asked, “Do you belong to a Bible-believing church?” Others asked if I’d been fully immersed or baptized in the name of Jesus or filled with the Holy Spirit and spoken in tongues. My salvation hinged on how I answered their second query. Those most aggressive about determining my salvation were also most certain what it meant to be saved. They knew the sole formula. Claiming to be a Christian was never enough. I had to subscribe to their specific explanation for the human condition, the activity of God, the means and purpose of salvation. If not, I faced damnation.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (p. 155). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

We humans, and that includes everyone who is or has ever been in the church, put so many conditions on God’s grace where he seem to have put none. Putting an emergent twist on this topic, this has been the case for most of the church’s history. One theologian believes “X” and another believes “Y”. If they aren’t overpowered as a heretic then the church’s belief becomes “X+Y”. Over the ages this has resulted in a belief code that is almost as long at the U.S. tax code.  Much about the church has become what to believe rather than what to do.

I spent several years trying to sort all of this out. There are literally hundreds of published theologians around today and I studied many of them. In some ways they are kind of like expert witnesses at trials.  If you just look enough you can find one who will testify as the the truthfulness of whatever you want to believe. During those years of study I became overwhelmingly frustrated in trying to discern what God was really like. It was not until I heard a whisper telling me to not be concerned about what the theologians said  but instead to listen with my heart and soul.

At that point I learned a valuable lesson and that is that God just can’t be defined by human logic or understanding. Mine or anyone else’s. The theologians throughout the ages are simply men like you or I who have an opinion which they hope will garner them some authority with the body of Christ and praise from men.  They like everyone else want to leave a legacy behind so they make up this or that rule or belief to add to all the others before them.  Do they do this with a belligerent intent? For the most part I don’t imagine so.

As a result we, as one of the 39,000 different versions of church, have piled belief and rules one upon the other where God had put only two. As the quote above inferred every version of Jesus’ church they have the sole formula for salvation. God in the person of Jesus made it pretty simple and that is to love God with everything you have and to love your fellowman. It couldn’t be simpler than that.  Why have we allowed so many since Jesus’ time to pile on so many other things?

Am I saved? If I believe in the agape love and grace of God then I can give you an emphatic yes as an answer. If I live by the piles of accumulated beliefs that answer is not so simple. I think I will choose Jesus’ simple words instead of man’s complicated ones.


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.

The primary reason there are 39,000+ Christian denominations is that each are trying to maintain “purity” of beliefs. Here is how that logic usually plays out:

” If we allow differences of opinions among us then we will soon reach a slippery slope where we will slide into heresy. For that reason we must be on the constant watch to exclude anyone among us who asks the ‘wrong’ questions or dares to disagree any of our creeds or beliefs.”

I have personally felt the stink of one of these churches. But what these church authorities espousing this view overlook is that they are looking at Jesus through the lens of many others who came before them. Things like their recent stubborn insistence that every word in the Bible came directly from God is putting themselves into a straight-jacket that is almost impossible to wear, and very uninviting to those outside their clique.

Of course institutional purity is not new to the twenty-first century. It has been going on since the time of Constantine in the fourth century and probably even before that. Here are some words from Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith:

 During the ensuing “Constantinian era,” Christianity, at least in its official version, froze into a system of mandatory precepts that were codified into creeds and strictly monitored by a powerful hierarchy and imperial decrees. Heresy became treason, and treason became heresy. The year 385 CE marked a particularly grim turning point. A synod of bishops condemned a man named Priscillian of Avila for heresy, and by order of the emperor Maximus he and six of his followers were beheaded in Treves. Christian fundamentalism had claimed its first victim. Today Priscillian’s alleged theological errors hardly seem to warrant the death penalty. He urged his followers to avoid meat and wine, advocated the careful study of scripture…

There are countless similar stories from the years following. One historian estimates that in the two and a half centuries after Constantine, Christian imperial authorities put twenty-five thousand to death for their lack of creedal correctness.  And of course we all know that in 1431 Joan of Arc was burned as a heretic. In the twentieth century she became a saint.

Here are some additional words by Philip Gulley in his book The Evolution of Faith about trying to maintain institutional purity:

Some Christians have thus concluded that we are our own worst enemies, that our best option for a viable future lies in our determination to embrace a rigid faith in order to stave off the adulterating influences of other cultures and religions. But I would contend that this has been tried repeatedly throughout our long history and always ends the same suspicion, intolerance, exclusion, division, and, finally, war. No, if the church has a future indeed if our world has a future it will rest in the church’s ability to honor and assimilate the best of each religious tradition,  just as Jesus found virtue in Samaritans, publicans, centurions, and Gentiles. How this good man came to be the focus of a creedalism that ultimately excludes others is a mystery for the ages. The incorporation of other traditions into our own will undoubtedly change us, but for the better, for it will lead us toward one another, which is also and always a movement toward the Divine Presence and the universal grace that Presence represents. 

Inspiring words indeed! We should not be locking and bolting the church door against others beliefs but instead should be embracing them if they celebrate the Divine Presence of Jesus Christ. In other words we should do as he did.  And that is what I hope the coming emergent church will bring about.

Here is a quote by Philip Gulley in his book entitled The Evolution of Faith – How God is creating a better Christianity that will be used for this discussion.

To be sure, if one believes Christianity is primarily about worshipping Jesus, a faith that incorporates other religious traditions will be considered heretical. But if one believes Christianity is primarily about following the example of Jesus, then it is easy to imagine a faith informed by men and women of goodwill, though of diverse traditions. If the future of the Christian faith is creedalism and believing the right things about Jesus, then other traditions will be viewed as the enemy at worst, or contaminants at best. It will be a return to the Age of Belief, and in that sense a spiritual regression. But if the future of the Christian faith is about taking the best from each tradition, while helping people negotiate their spiritual journeys with grace and dignity, then the church might well inspire a world made new. 

I admittedly am a big fan of Philip Gulley. Mr. Gulley is a Quaker and a Hoosier so that probably influences me to some degree.  If you haven’t figured it out by now I tend to gravitate to those authors who believe that the words and teachings of Jesus should be central to all forms of Christianity. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is in my mind much more important than reciting man-made creeds about him.

If we think that following the example of Jesus is primary then it just seems logical that we will celebrate other religious and even secular organizations that do likewise. If we put our creeds on the back burner then there is no reason to look at all others as the enemy of Christianity. We can celebrate what we have in common and as Mr. Gulley says here we could then inspire the world made new.

  • Following the examples and teachings of Jesus would naturally mean that we  would migrate from primarily occupying pews on Sunday to becoming involved in our communities seven days a week. That would certainly get the world’s attention.
  • Following Jesus would mean that we would have compassion for the “least of these” and fight any attempts to unravel our country’s safety nets.
  • Following Jesus would mean that we celebrate life in all aspects and be against death in all it forms. That includes: abortion, capital punishment, war, and allowing other to die from preventable causes.
  • Following Jesus would mean that we would become an immense force for good in the world.  It would mean that we would take back from our government much of the role of care-givers.  If that were to happen I am very confident that Christianity would take it place as a force for good in the world. It would mean a world made new.

Jesus said he is the way to heaven and therefore I believe that. To me that means that to get there you are to follow his examples and teachings. It does not mean that heaven only belongs to those who say the “right” creeds but instead it belongs to those who at least try to do what he commanded of us. I will not take the power away from Jesus to accept our Muslim, Hindi, Jewish, and other friends into heaven and I think in the end he will do just that.

Own Worst Enemies…

October 7, 2012 — Leave a comment

I am going to use a quote from one of my favorite authors and that is Philip Gulley from his book The Evolution of Faith: How God is Creating a Better Christianity:

Some Christians have thus concluded that we are our own worst enemies, that our best option for a viable future lies in our determination to embrace a rigid faith in order to stave off the adulterating influences of other cultures and religions. But I would contend that this has been tried repeatedly throughout our long history and always ends the same—in suspicion, intolerance, exclusion, division, and, finally, war. No, if the church has a future—indeed if our world has a future—it will rest in the church’s ability to honor and assimilate the best of each religious tradition, just as Jesus found virtue in Samaritans, publicans, centurions, and Gentiles. How this good man came to be the focus of a creedalism that ultimately excludes others is a mystery for the ages.

The incorporation of other traditions into our own will undoubtedly change us, but for the better, for it will lead us toward one another, which is also and always a movement toward the Divine Presence and the universal grace that Presence represents. To be sure, if one believes Christianity is primarily about worshipping Jesus, a faith that incorporates other religious traditions will be considered heretical. But if one believes Christianity is primarily about following the example of Jesus, then it is easy to imagine a faith informed by men and women of goodwill, though of diverse traditions. If the future of the Christian faith is creedalism and believing the right things about Jesus, then other traditions will be viewed as the enemy at worst, or contaminants at best. It will be a return to the Age of Belief, and in that sense a spiritual regression. But if the future of the Christian faith is about taking the best from each tradition, while helping people negotiate their spiritual journeys with grace and dignity, then the church might well inspire a world made new.

Mr Gulley got it perfectly when he said excluding others, especially Christian others, has been proven again and again to be a failed strategy.  When we quit fighting each other and instead welcome and celebrate our differences then, and only then, will our world and our spiritually be better. As usual it comes down to whether you believe that following Jesus’ words and examples takes priority over man-made beliefs and creeds about him. You know which side of the argument I reside in.

The age of the Spirit is a central theme of Mr. Gulley’s book here and it is also adopted into the emergent movement that is happening today. When we quit arguing and continuously splitting over just what we are supposed to believe and start celebrating our diversity of thought about what God wants us to do then, and only then, does the church stand a change of surviving as we go further into this new century. Thank you Philip Gulley for having just the right words to help me communicate that belief.

About My Sources…

June 11, 2012 — 2 Comments

This post is about some of my sources of info for the study I am presently undertaking on church history and how we got to where we are today.

I have read scores of books on church history the last few years and continue reading them for this study. I have mentioned already there is one that influenced me greatly and it is one of the reasons I am doing this study. That book by Harvey Cox and is entitled Future of Faith. Here is a small bio of him found from Wikipedia:

Harvey Gallagher Cox, Jr. (born May 19, 1929 in Malvern, Pennsylvania) is one of the preeminent theologians in the United States and served as Hollis Research Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School, until his retirement in October 2009.  …

Cox was ordained as an American Baptist minister in 1957, and started teaching as an assistant professor at the Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts. He then began teaching at the Harvard Divinity School in 1965 and in 1969 became a full professor.

Two books that introduced me to the concept of the “emergent ” church were Christianity after Religion by Diane Butler Bass and The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle. As we will find in this study, especially for the future section, the phrase emergent church has been tagged onto a wide variety of different concepts. The one presented in these two books seem to offer the brightest possibilities. Of course there are dozens of other books that go into the details of church history and where we might be going in the future. Some of those authors include Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Robin Meyers, Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Richard Stearns, Leo Tolstoy, and Robert Ingersoll. I thank them all for enlightening me in one area or another. Although I don’t intend to go into the theology details studying other books focused on the early theologians was also good background for this study. Those early writers will likely add a few additional brushstrokes to the portrait presented in this study. Last but absolutely not least in my source is the Book of Acts in my Bible. It continues to be a source of information as well as inspiration.

Other authors have who have influenced my walk with Christ and whom I frequently read are  Greg Boyd, Philip Gulley.  These two guys in particular helped me know that I was not alone in the thoughts I have about modern day Christianity. They will both likely continue to be mentioned frequently here.

I have also been reading quite a bit of cross-denominational things. All of them have influenced me to one degree or another. I discard none of them because of their particular affiliations. I will conclude this post by telling you that Quaker foundational thought, if they even admit to that, is where I am now in my walk with God. And in my humble opinion their non-creedal and non-exclusion stances are probably a critical part of the foundation of the future church.

I do not expect to be capable of completing this task by my own strength so I pray that theHoly Spirit guide me through this study.

Until the next time, I bid you peace….

Is the Church Christian?

February 13, 2011 — 1 Comment

Here is an excerpt from a book entitled “If the Church were2-13-2011 10-08-10 AM Christian” by Philip Gulley.

Several years ago I visited a museum and saw the skeleton of a dinosaur. As I read the plaque, I learned only a handful of the bones were original, that the remainder had been fabricated based on a paleontologist’s extrapolation from the authentic bones. In many ways, this is similar to what the church has done. There are only two passages in one gospel (Matthew 16:18 and 18:17) where Jesus mentions the church, and even those references are dubious. Many scholars suspect the Matthean verses were not original to Jesus but were written back into the text by persons hoping to bolster their theological and ecclesial positions by placing them in the mouth of Jesus. From those two verses, we have built a vast institution based on these “hints” Jesus gave us. But we should never delude ourselves into thinking that today’s church sprang directly from the mind and witness of Jesus. All we have is extrapolation, a few bones upon which have been erected a larger organism. If Jesus intended to create the church, he did a questionable job. He left no clear directions about its structure or purpose.

Mr. Gulley seems to come down in the camp that today’s Christian church was fabricated by Jesus’ followers (ie. Paul and a few others) and not Jesus himself. By his actions and not his words, Jesus set in place the cornerstone and left it up to us to build the structure.  I’m not sure I really buy into this entirely but it is interesting speculation.