107 of 112 people found the following review helpful
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I stumbled upon the author and this book when a Quaker acquaintance recently mentioned the author was coming to our area to speak about his latest work. Intrigued, I attended one session by the author, acquired this book and then set about selecting several chapters to devour prior to hearing him a second time the next evening.
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.
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
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In his first two theology books, If Grace is True and If God is Love (both co-authored with Jim Mullholland), Philip Gulley looked outward, to the theological questions that define the divine. Now, in his latest work, he looks inward, to the institutions and practices that define the religious life.
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.
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Dutch J. Maris
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In collaborative efforts with Jim Mulholland ("If Grace is True" and "If God is Love"), the two writers managed together to open a window in an otherwise stuffy edifice. So I've been looking forward to the release of this solo treatise by Philip Gulley for a number of months. And while I approached "If the Church Were Christian" with high expectations, I must say that Gulley has greatly exceeded those expectations! He's managed to "open that window" a little more. This book is a breath of fresh air! Be prepared to put aside any preconceived notions based on the impression the title may give, put on your thinking cap, and pay close attention. You may not agree with every conclusion Gulley draws, but it would be a shame to miss the message of this book. It echoes the call of the rabbi from Nazareth . . .
71 of 87 people found the following review helpful
Bradley J. Brisco
- Published on Amazon.com
Two or three times a month I receive requests to do book reviews on a blog that I manage. Depending on the author, publisher, and/or book title I sometimes say, "sure" and other times, "not really interested." A couple of weeks ago I said "sure" purely on the book title. The book was "If the Church Were Christian." However, it was the sub-title of the book that intrigued me, which was "Rediscovering the Values of Jesus." I wasn't familiar with the author, who was Philip Gulley, but I was in agreement that we need to "rediscover" the values of Jesus.
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.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Dr. John, Ph.D.
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Wow! What a great book. Not for everyone: those who are rigidly into Christian dogma, creeds and beliefs will not like this book. It is for those who wish to follow the real message of Jesus. It is admittedly hard to pull out what Jesus taught and the example he provided from its hiding place beneath the christology. Gulley does a good job. His book joins other great books along these lines. I will list a few examples. "A New Christianity for a New World", John Shelby Spong; "The Scandalous gospel of Jesus: What's so Good about the Good News?", by Peter Gomes; "Jesus Was a Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All", by Scotty McLennan; "The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus' Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted", by Obery Hendricks, Jr.; and "Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus", by Robin Meyers. It is a case of this choice: do you really want to follow the example of Jesus or worship the Christ figure?
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.