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Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Comment: If the Church Were Christian

Gully, Philip, If the Church were Christian.  Rediscovering the Values of Jesus (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010)

Philip Gulley is a Quaker minister, writer, and television host.  He was born and raised as a Roman Catholic and won Emmy Awards in 2007 and 2009 for his work on Across Indiana for WFYI Public Television.

He contends that “we should never delude ourselves into thinking that today’s church sprang directly from the mind and witness of Jesus.”  In fact, he believes that the modern church doesn’t seem to share the same values as Jesus.

Gulley states that, “We can’t know what Jesus intended the church to be …” and that we can’t assume that the four gospels’ recounting of the Jesus story are historically accurate.  He points out that the over 39,000 Christian denominations all think that they most  faithfully follow Jesus.

Pastor Gulley represents the views of a significant and growing portion of those who describe themselves as Christian.  These people believe that large portions of traditional orthodox Christianity are outdated and irrelevant to modern life.  Of course, they think that they have the correct modern and relevant Christianity all figured out.

The name of this movement is Emergent Christianity and it is in line with the political movement known as Progressivism.  It is a continuation and extension of the Social Gospel movement begun in the mid-Nineteenth Century.  It is what the secular media now refer to as “mainline Christianity” or “mainline Protestantism” and is the religious understanding of many modern theologians.

The inclination of Evangelical conservative Christians (including those who don’t align themselves with “fundamentalism”) is to reject this version of Christianity as not Christian.  I, myself, do not believe that it is Christian.

Even so, they do have some valid criticisms of Christianity as it has existed over the centuries and as it exists today.

In a series of posts on this book, I will be giving a chapter-by-chapter response to Gulley’s book.  This is not a personal attack on Pastor Philip Gulley.  I’m sure he’s a nice guy.  Nice is great, but this isn’t about nice.  This is about considering challenges to traditional understandings of Christianity; acknowledging and responding to those which have merit  and rejecting those which are based on something other than Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Your job is to read the posts, and hopefully the book, and then to make up your own mind.

To just avoid the controversy is to add weight to the argument that traditional Christianity is anti-intellectual, and, besides, Pastor Gulley makes it abundantly clear in his book that he won’t lose any sleep if you disagree with him.

This is part of a continuing chapter-by- chapter response to this book.  More to come. 

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