This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series: ‘If the church were Christian’ (Gulley)
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – intro
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 1
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 2
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 3
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 4
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 5
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 6
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 7
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 8
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 9
- ‘If the church were Christian’ – 10
If the church were Christian, then, according to Philip Gulley, ‘inviting questions would be valued more than supplying answers.’
Gulley says that he has come across ‘many’ Christians who are content to rest their faith on some decision, made years before, to ‘invite Jesus into their heart’. They have no desire desire to explore, question, or deepen their outlook beyond that. They are encouraged in this apathy by intellectually lazy pastors, teaching dogmatic truth as a package that must be accepted in its entirety without demur.
It seems, to Gulley, as though such people are not being allowed to ‘blossom’ spiritually. Place them in another church situation, where spiritual exploration is encouraged, and their lives are infused with a new joy.
Unfortunately, this kind of maturing experience is not common. Yet:-
But tightly held religious views do not stand up well in the face of the struggles of life and death. They provide only shallow answers, that are ultimately unsatisfying. Why are Christian pastors so reluctant to say, “I don’t know”? Why so afraid to encourage questioning?
We have to conclude that the church is ‘more concerned with perpetuating the party line than the vigorous exploration of truth.’ But people – especially young people – will not accept this any more. In order to be relevant, the church now needs to ‘earn our allegiance not by demanding it, but by earning it, by demonstrating its willingness to pursue truth beyond the worn and rutted paths it has traveled in the past.’
A church that fulfilled these new expectations would be welcoming, non-judgemental, and community-orientated. Rather than impose beliefs on people, it would encourage questioning and exploration. It would value ‘exploration over exhortation’.
How many churches are dying, because they take the attitude, ‘We would rather retain a view of God many people find meaningless and irrelevant, even if it kills us, than consider a view of the Divine Life that would require us to change or grow.’
On the other hand, there are many churches that are ‘filled to overflowing with people, teeming with life, and making a vital difference in their communities. Invariably, it was the result of courageous leaders, in the pulpit and pew, who had worked prophetically and creatively to overcome the homeostasis of the institutional church.’
In Luke 15, Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin prompt the listener ‘to reconsider the parameters of God’s love…In a religious culture that tended to limit God’s affections to the religious insiders, Jesus’s questions revealed a divine fondness for the spiritually estranged. This theme of inclusion was a recurring one in the ministry of Jesus and called into doubt first-century Judaism’s presumption of divine favor.’
The response of Jesus’ audience was to scoff. ‘This is often the response of the religiously entrenched when urged to reevaluate what they thought were timeless truths.’
Michael Kruger describes the premise of this chapter in Philip Gulley’s book as a ‘genuine classic’:-
It’s a caricature. As with all caricatures, there is an element of truth in it. It’s not hard to find rigid fundamentalists who think they know all the answers, and yet who are unwilling, or unable, to engage in any serious intellectual engagement with the underlying questions. But to brand Christians generally (apart from yourself and your friends) as anti-intellectual pushers of propaganda is very wide of the mark. And very judgmental.
It’s irresponsible. In everyday life, we would not dream of celebrating ignorance as a generally ‘good thing’. Rather, we would carefully distinguish between those things which ought to be accepted as universal truths and those things that are unknown. And we would plot lots of other things at some point between these two extremes. Any fool can say, “I know”. And any fool can say, “I don’t know”. The wise person knows when to admit ignorance, when when to express confidence. An agnostic mindset has a veneer of humility about it, but the underlying arrogance soon becomes apparent towards those who don’t embrace such thorough-going agnosticism.
It’s inconsistent. It follows from what has just been said that the habitual doubter is inconsistent. He is certain that the heartfelt convictions of the other person are a symptom of spiritual immaturity, but it doesn’t seem to occur to him to critique his own doubts.
I would add to Kruger’s thoughts (summarised above), that Gulley bases his case almost entirely on personal experience and anecdote. Assuming that the stories of bigotry are told without undue bias, I doubt that they are typical examples of American church life, and am sure that they are not typical of British church life.
There is, in this entire chapter, just one reference to Bible. That reference is to the teaching of Jesus in Luke 15 (mentioned above), which has little or nothing to do with the point that Gulley is trying to make. Gulley writes, at one point in this chapter about the ‘search for truth and enlightenment’. If there is one phrase in this chapter that gives the game away, it is this one. For it demonstrates that, in contrast to orthodoxy, Gulley is advocating (to borrow an expression from Machen, in his Christianity and Liberalism) not only a different religion, but a different kind of religion. No wonder he can find so little support for it in the Christian Scriptures.
Gulley, Philip. If the Church Were Christian. HarperOne. Kindle Edition.