If The Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus Paperback – Jan 21 2011
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“Filled with memorable, insightful and revealing stories. I recommend it.” (Marcus Borg)
“Philip Gulley separates wheat from chaff, experience from explanation and purpose from function in this book. He calls the Jesus message into a new vision - one that has both power and integrity.” (John Shelby Spong, author of Eternal Life: A New Vision)
“Gulley puts the Christ back in Christian. This manifesto is a call not just to worship Jesus, but to follow him. It asks the daring question, “What if Christians actually began to take their Christ seriously?” The answer to that question could change the world.” (Shane Claiborne, bestselling author of The Irresistible Revolution.)
“Gulley has done a fine job pinpointing the flaws of the Christian churches and suggesting transformative paths to follow.” (Spirituality and Practice)
“[Gulley’s] effortless and uncomplicated style allows for easy reading over some heavy material.” (Library Journal)
“Gulley’s newest book is thoughtful, insightful and a joy to read.” (Indianapolis Star)
From the Back Cover
While many denominations claim to be growing, the largest group in American religious life is the disillusioned—people who have been involved in the church yet see few similarities between the church's life and the person of Jesus. In the midst of elaborate programming, professional worship teams, and political crusades, they ask, "Is this really what Jesus called us to do?"
While the church has dismissed these people as uncommitted and lacking in faith, perhaps the opposite is true. Their commitment to authentic spirituality over institutional idolatry might be the very corrective the church needs. These people respect Jesus, but question what Christianity has become.
In If the Church Were Christian, Quaker pastor and author Philip Gulley explores how the church has lost its way. This eye-opening examination of the values of Jesus reveals the extent to which the church has drifted from the teachings of the man who inspired its creation. Many Christians might be surprised to discover how little Jesus had to say about the church, and that he might never have intended to start a new religion.
But the church is here to stay, and Gulley is determined to help the church find its soul. If the church were Christian, Gulley argues, affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness. If the church were Christian, inviting questions would be valued more than supplying answers. If the church were Christian, meeting needs would be more important than maintaining institutions.
These simple statements return us to the heart of what Jesus cared about during his ministry. Gulley provides a profound picture of what the church would look like if it refocused on the real priorities of Jesus.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition. See all Product Description
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Here are the chapter headings in this work:
If the Church were Christian...
1) Jesus would be a model for living rather than an object of worship
2) Affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness
3) Reconciliation would be valued over judgment
4) Gracious behavior would be more important than right belief
5) Inviting questions would be valued more than supplying answers
6) Encouraging personal exploration would be more important than communal uniformity
7) Meeting needs would be more important than maintaining institutions
8) Peace would be more important than power
9) It would care more about love and less about sex
10) This life would be more important than the afterlife
Following the conclusion is an outline of three discussion questions for each chapter and an invitation to the reader to suggest other aspects of the church that may need to change in recovering the ethic of Jesus.
I was stunned and surprised by Gulley's honesty and forthrightness in presenting his material as he carefully laid bare certain of the church's pervasive shortcomings. In the sixth chapter, for instance, Gulley alluded to the tendency of some churches to replicate their theological DNA, thereby promoting and securing a type of spiritual inbreeding that can lock out a given congregation from healthy growth in faith (page 108).
Gulley refers to his Roman Catholic upbringing and Quaker background as enlightening his thinking on this matter. At the second lecture I attended, I asked him what informed the selection of his ten themes. The Quaker pastor revealed hearing many expressions within these aspects from congregants throughout his ministry.
If you are evangelical/fundamentalist Christian in your persuasion you read at your own peril and possible healing. Gulley quickly comes clean that he no longer interprets certain traditional views like heaven and hell, for instance, as he once did. However, he is no cynic and expresses neither bitterness nor rancor in his measured prose.
My personal spiritual journey has taken me through three different denominations. I have attended seminary and have been a minister. I find that Pastor Gulley is spot on in his insights, assessments and solutions. This is one of the most profound works I have read in recent years that evaluates the church at large in the light of the life and experience of Jesus--a rarity in the genre. I plan on adapting this book's contents for use in discussion groups in the church I attend.
If the church were truly Christian, it would focus on this life more than the afterlife; on following the example of Jesus more than believing creedal statements about Jesus; on loving whole human beings without reserve or judgment. Gulley covers these and many other points in a conversational, easy prose that communicates some profound thoughts without seeming heavy.
To me, Gulley seems to be describing a church that would fall somewhere between the liberal end of Christianity and the Unitarian Universalist world. Having spent time in both, I think his thinking would be welcome in either, but much less so in the more conservative strands of Christianity.
Gulley, along with John Shelby Spong, Scotty McLennan, Marcus Borg and a few others is pioneering what I think may eventually become a new shape of religion. For those of us who have a strong religious impulse but can't fit well into the traditional church, it's an exciting time to be paying attention.
I think that it is time to "resurrect Jesus", not in the Easter sense, but to reclaim what he preached and how he acted. This book, along with the others mentioned, is a step in that direction. All people who are tired of strict beliefs and rigid rules and really want to act on the teachings of Jesus should read this book.
The overall premise of the book is that the church has lost its way. The author believes that the picture of American religious life is one of disillusionment. He contends that it is difficult to see many similarities between the church's life and the person of Jesus. He unpacks this thesis in 10 chapters, each beginning with the words; If the Church were Christian . . .
1. Jesus Would Be a Model for Living Rather Than an Object of Worship
2. Affirming Our Potential Would Be More Important Than Condemning Our Brokenness
3. Reconciliation Would Be Valued over Judgment
4. Gracious Behavior Would Be More Important Than Right Belief
5. Inviting Questions Would Be Valued More Than Supplying Answers
6. Encouraging Personal Exploration Would Be More Important Than Communal Uniformity
7. Meeting Needs Would Be More Important Than Maintaining Institutions
8. Peace Would Be More Important Than Power
9. It Would Care More About Love and Less About Sex
10. This Life Would Be More Important Than the Afterlife
So far so good. (Except that I would have tweaked a couple of the chapter titles.) I am pretty much in agreement with the author's assessment of the institutional church in America. There is much about the life of the church that has strayed from the teachings of Jesus.
However, I found most of the examples the author uses to highlight just how the church has strayed less than helpful. He seems to conjure up the most extreme examples of fundamentalism in the church to make his point. For me, the numerous stories illustrating the worst of evangelical Christianity became tiresome. Furthermore, I didn't find it to be a fair or balanced approach to criticism.
Most troubling, however, is the Jesus the author describes, particularly in the first two chapters, is really no different than any other "religious" leader in history. For example, in the introduction, the author expresses doubts about the divinity of Jesus, saying that Jesus was a Jew "who did not see himself as divine. He saw himself as a rabbi, probably a prophet." If this is the case, then the author could have just as easily sub-titled his book, "Rediscovering the Values of" Buddha, or Confucius, or Gandhi, or the Dali Lama, or maybe Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens) ;-)
Bottom line: Does the author present legitimate problems in the current state of the church in America? Absolutely. Does he do so with a sense of fairness, or evenhandedness that is helpful? I for one, do not think so. Does he provide a way for the church to be empowered (biblically and/or theologically) to move in the right direction? Based upon the author's view of Scripture and Jesus Himself, I would say no.
While others have obviously found Gulley's writings to be helpful (as noted by the other reviews of this book), I believe a reader would be better served by reading a book like "Death by Church: Rescuing Jesus From His Followers" by Mike Err.