This entry is part 5 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
In chapter 4 of If the church were Christian, Philip Gulley contends that in such a church ‘gracious behavior would be more important than right belief’.
This is, of course, the old ‘Jesus versus the Pharisees’ thing. The Pharisees were sticklers for theological orthodoxy, yet their behaviour lacked grace. Jesus, on the other hand, was relaxed about doctrinal correctness, but exuded love and compassion.
The valuing of belief over behaviour doesn’t just affect the doctrinally conservative:- ‘It happens wherever and whenever people insist that their way to the Divine is the superior path.’
The problem occurs not only in individuals, but also in institutions. For ‘orthodoxy’ itself is a sign of spiritual immaturity. For,
Not only so, but the Bible itself is an incomplete and unreliable guide, because it is ‘theologically inconsistent’ itself, being composed so many different authors, with so many different worldviews.
Thus it is that we are imprisoned by our orthodoxy:-
Gulley complains, rather bitterly:-
The Gospels show that Jesus had respect for the religious life of the day. Yet, in his controversies over the Sabbath with the religious leaders of the day, he struck a wise balance between law and grace. This balance ‘might well be the start of religious wisdom, discerning when rules must be followed, and when they must be laid aside so a greater good can be accomplished.’
After all, the law itself can be boiled down to love: love for God, and love for neighbour.
As Michael Kruger remarks, there is, at first sight, room for considerable agreement here:-
However, there are a number of problems with this.
Is good theology really the enemy of good behaviour? The idea that behaviour is more important than belief sells well in today’s world, because people ‘already have the idea that people who care about theology are divisive, narrow, dogmatic, and even mean.’ But it’s a stereotype, and one that Gulley attempts to reinforce by comparing those who care about doctrine with the Pharisees, with their ‘misguided quest for theological purity’. The problem with this stereotype is that it doesn’t fit the facts. Jesus never rebuked the Pharisees for desiring theological purity. Rather, he criticised them for (among other things) not not having a theology that was pure enough! They twisted God’s priorities, and cherry-picked from God’s law. “You err,” he said to them, “because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” The problem, then, was not theology. It was bad theology. Bad theology harms and oppresses people. Good theology comforts and liberates them.
Is this not a false dichotomy anyway? Actually, it is fallacious to claim that belief and behaviour can be separated in this way. Note the irony: ‘Right behaviour is more important than right belief’ is itself a statement of belief! The truth is, behaviour stems from belief, and belief leads to behaviour. Good beliefs will lead to good behaviour. Behaviour is only ‘good’ if it fits with God’s character and will.
Does ‘less concern about belief’ lead to ‘greater concern about behaviour’? We are back here to the moralistic basis of Gulley’s religion. And was is not the Pharisees, rather than Jesus, who were interested in moralism? Kruger concludes:-