The Evolution of Faith: How God Is Creating a Better Christianity

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Philip Gulley, famous for his own controversial theology that affirms universality, urges us in The Evolution of Faith to let go of our tightly held beliefs and start the journey toward a dynamic faith. Faith should always be seen as a work in progress, and this accessible guide will be a must-have tool for those interested in where the Christian faith is going today.

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The Evolution of Faith: How God Is Creating a Better Christianity

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Philip Gulley, famous for his own controversial theology that affirms universality, urges us in The Evolution of Faith to let go of our tightly held beliefs and start the journey toward a dynamic faith. Faith should always be seen as a work in progress, and this accessible guide will be a must-have tool for those interested in where the Christian faith is going today.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
No one familiar with Gulley's earlier, controversial nonfiction (If Grace Is True; If the Church Were Christian) will be surprised to find that the Quaker pastor has gotten even more progressive. He argues here, among other things, that there have been "God-bearers" other than Jesus; a focus on heaven, hell, and the afterlife is theoretical and damages the credibility of Christianity; Jesus was not a means of salvation by his death but an archetype of salvation—and so on, heretically for many. If Gulley has any evangelical Christian fans left, their numbers will again shrink. But the low-key Quaker from Indiana does not himself shrink from speaking truth—an essential Quaker practice—derived from well-sifted pastoral and personal experience. The thoughtful pastor displays more of a Christian spirit of charity toward those who disagree with him than do his theological critics. (June)
Library Journal
The cover of Gulley's new book is a witty spoof on the "Darwin" walking fish decals, as well as the "Jesus" decals sans feet: it shows a footed fish graced with an emoticon-style smile. Gulley speaks, in part, for a community too seldom heard from—Quakers. The author of Front Porch Tales and host of "Porch Talk" on Indiana public radio's Across Indiana, Gulley, a former Catholic, champions the idea that Christianity itself is changing and must change yet more—by celebrating inclusion, modeling community, cherishing the emulation of God's beauty and grace, and distancing itself from the distractions of over-focus on the afterlife. VERDICT The verve and clarity of Gulley's writing underscore the welcome nature of his message to many thoughtful "unchurched" or alienated Christians; Gulley gives focus to the liberal movement of many denominations and believers, and his book should be of interest to individuals and church study groups.
Diana Butler Bass
“No one raises provocative questions about Christianity more kindly than Philip Gulley. ”
Archbishop - Desmond Tutu
"In our ever changing world, Gulley’s book is much needed. An important book for any person of faith."
Phyllis Tickle
“Every serious Christian ought to read this book, ponder it,wrestle with it, but above all, be grateful for its presence in today’s urgent conversation about what we are and are becoming as a people of God.”
Dan Barker
“If I were forced to pretend to believe in God again, I would choose Philip Gulley’s God: a deity who cares not whether you worship him, but how you treat other people.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“In our ever changing world, Gulley’s book is much needed. An important book for any person of faith.”
“Because of the gentle intelligence of his storytelling as much as his homely, experiential theology, he may convince many that they are progressive Christians, too.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060736606
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/7/2011
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,508,810
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip Gulley is the bestselling author of Front Porch Tales and the acclaimed Harmony series, as well as If Grace Is True and If God Is Love, coauthored with James Mulholland. He and his wife, Joan, live in Indiana with their sons, Spencer and Sam.

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Read an Excerpt

The Evolution of Faith

How God Is Creating a Better Christianity
By Philip Gulley


Copyright © 2011 Philip Gulley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780060736606

Chapter One

Several years ago, at the invitation of a friend, I attended
his childhood church on the Sunday it celebrated its
one-hundredth anniversary. The pastor, in an exuberant
moment, spoke of the enduring proclamation of the church,
how since the time of Jesus the unchanging Christian gospel
had been proclaimed throughout the world. The congregation
nodded in agreement, even affirming their assent with
robust "Amens." As a student of church history, I knew the
pastor's claims were inaccurate, that over the past two
thousand years, the church's message had undergone significant
change, influenced by pivotal figures and movements. I even
suspected that this specific church had experienced considerable
theological change over its hundred years, reflecting the
varied perspectives of its leaders.
I thought of the diverse mutations of Christianity I had
encountered in my life—the Roman Catholicism of my
mother, the Baptist leanings of my father's family, the Church
of Christ tradition of a brother and sister, the Methodist
perspective of another brother, the Presbyterian community of
yet another sibling, and my own Quaker tradition. Each of
those expressions emphasized a particular facet of the Christian
experience. Each understood the mission of the church
differently, employed differing styles of worship, and did
not agree on how God could be known. They were not in
harmony about the priorities of Jesus, and they did not share
a common understanding of what it meant to be Christian,
what it meant to please God, or how the church should be
governed. Though they all bore the Christian name, their
differences in belief were so considerable that one could
reasonably conclude they represented different religions
altogether. And that was just Christianity in the Western world.
Were we to have stirred into the mix the many strains of
Eastern Orthodoxy, the differences would have been staggering
Though I disagreed with the pastor's claim of an unchanged
church, I understood his motives for making such
an assertion. The church's authority rests on its declaration of
doctrinal purity and her ageless, unchanging truths. Pastors
who acknowledge the church's changing truth must convince
congregants he or she nevertheless speaks with authority, a
hard enough task in a culture already suspicious of
institutional power.
At first glance, the title, The Evolution of Faith: How God
Is Creating a Better Christianity, may seem presumptuous and
egotistical, as if God were using me to liberate Christianity
from its ancient moorings and carry it forward. But on
a closer look, it makes perfect sense that if there are many
versions of Christianity, that if Christianity has mutated and
evolved over the centuries, it's reasonable to conclude it will
continue to do so. It is also reasonable to conclude God might
inspire a number of people to shepherd that process, that I
might be one of them, just as you might be, and that a fitting
response is to share our insights with others. Therefore, to
speak of an evolving Christianity isn't to undertake a radical
and unilateral overhaul of the faith, but to suggest a possible
way forward that not only honors the ethos of Jesus but is
conversant with our time and culture. For while it is clear
that Christianity has changed and will continue to do so,
what is less clear are the forms it might take.
What are the cultural factors that make an evolving
Christianity inevitable? At the Quaker meeting I pastor, a woman
of the Baha'i faith joins her Quaker husband in meeting for
worship. Another attendee, a Jewish man, teaches an adult
Sunday-school class; a young man in the congregation met
a woman of the Muslim faith while in college; they married
and are warmly welcomed into our meeting. Another man,
intelligent and deeply caring, speaks openly about his leanings
toward atheism. Imagine my standing at the pulpit and
pronouncing these people spiritually lost, urging them to
accept Jesus as their Savior. Not only would my sense of
decorum prohibit that, but so would my appreciation for their
obvious virtues. They are, to a person, loving, gracious, and
wise. For me to suggest they are spiritually inferior would be
not only unkind, but untrue.
At one time I thought such diversity was rare, but as I
speak with my colleagues in ministry, I've discerned that
more and more people are marrying outside their childhood
faith, that those couples find joy and meaning in other
spiritual expressions, and that many churches have incorporated
these persons into their fellowships with sensitivity and
warmth. This widespread openness to diverse religious
traditions points to an evolving Christianity more tolerant than its
In addition to this spiritual diversity, the pervasive
acceptance of scientific advancements has significantly altered
Christianity, especially those kinds of Christianity predicated
on an outdated worldview. It is no longer possible for people
to reject the scientific evidence of evolution without seeming
ignorant. Nor is it possible, given what we know about
homosexuality, to sustain a Christianity that asserts one's
sexual orientation is chosen or inherently sinful. Add to this
the stunning social changes brought about by the Internet,
making spiritual and cultural isolation nearly impossible.
Narrow religions can only be sustained when and where
information is limited and controlled, when people are able to
be "not of the world."
Case in point: at the urging of my publisher, I began a
Facebook page. I have several thousand Facebook "friends"
from a variety of geographical and religious backgrounds.
Nearly every week, I post a theological or spiritual question,
inviting responses. Given the diversity of my friends, the
answers widely differ. I expected this. What I did not expect
was the extent to which my Facebook friends would engage
one another. Almost without exception, those exchanges have
been cordial and sincere, with persons expressing much interest
in the views of others, saying such things as, "I see your
point. It makes a lot of sense. I'll have to rethink this."
The church's monopoly on Christian instruction is over.
People feel quite free to join in theological discourse without
the buffer of the church or its clergy. Were I in a religious
tradition that emphasized the supremacy of a professional
religious hierarchy, I would worry for my job, for it is apparent
that more and more people are looking to spiritual resources
beyond the conventional ones offered by the church. Whether
people turn to a Facebook friend, or a TV talk show, or a
neighbor, or a bestselling book, they are seeking religious
counsel and spiritual insight outside the church. As they do,
the church's authority, already weakened by scandal, abuse,
and irrelevancy, will, I believe, evaporate altogether.
These cultural factors—religious diversity, advancements
in science, expanded communication, and the church's
diminishing role as the sole religious authority—are making
the next stage of Christianity not only possible, but inevitable.
Ironically, the more the church resists this evolution, the more
likely it will hasten the change, for its efforts to preserve the
status quo will only emphasize its more negative strategies of
rigidity, control, and fear, thereby alienating the very people
it wishes to influence.

An Evolving Christianity Requires an Emerging Theology

There has never been a significant shift in the church's
structure that wasn't accompanied by or inspired by a
theological change. When Martin Luther initiated the Protestant
Reformation, he jettisoned many elements of the prevailing
theology, including the means of salvation, the authority of
the pope, and the necessity of priestly intervention for the
forgiveness of sins. Whether a changing church is inspired by an
emerging theology, or a new theology materializes as a
consequence of changes in the church, one is never seen without
the other. For change in the church never happens unless we
have convinced ourselves that God prefers that change and
thus have constructed a theology that justifies the changes
we've made.
I am no different. In my case, my experience of the
Divine Presence called into question many of the church's
practices, particularly the issues of institutional governance,
doctrinal authority, the scope of salvation, and the power of
grace. I have spent a good deal of my adult life constructing
a theology that rationally supports the spiritual values I
first embraced from instinct. Some Christians have reacted
strongly to this, accusing me of heresy. What they fail to realize
is how their own views, now considered traditional and
orthodox, were at one time deemed revolutionary, if not
heretical. A hundred years ago, their Christianity was the new

A Preview of a Future Christianity

The theology in which many of us were raised fit hand in
glove with the prevailing understanding of the church. It
was exclusive, rarely acknowledging the merits of other
religions. It emphasized a God above and beyond us, mirroring
the ecclesial structure of the day that elevated leadership
and concentrated power in the hands of an exalted few. It
was decidedly privileged in nature and view, reflecting the
cultural mores of the richest nations. Its God took their side,
blessed their priorities, and helped secure their wealth and
status. When Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian priest, criticized
the church's alliance with the wealthy and powerful, he was
accused of Marxism and silenced by the Roman Catholic
Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led
by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become
Pope Benedict XVI. Under pressure from the Vatican, Boff
eventually surrendered his priestly orders. This was all too
common in a Christianity of dominance and control, but it
will not stand in the emerging Christianity, whose philosophy
will focus less on power and self-preservation and more
on ecclesial modesty and service. Perhaps the evolved
Christianity will ironically go back as it moves forward and will
more accurately reflect the servant spirit of Jesus of Nazareth
and be less concerned with worshipping Christ the King.
For where the primary focus of a spiritual community is
the worship of its central figure, the patterns of hierarchy
become established, formalized, and perpetuated, eventually
demanding unthinking conformity and unquestioned
My hope is that an evolving Christianity will reflect the
egalitarian spirit of Jesus, not the elitism of an entrenched
church. It will no longer presume that having male genitalia
uniquely equips someone for leadership. Nor will it assume
heterosexuals are capable of ministry in a way homosexuals
are not. It will listen carefully to its young people, letting
their enthusiasm and yearning for authenticity inspire a
passionate and relevant faith. It will console the brokenhearted,
speak for the voiceless, befriend the weak, challenge the
powerful, and call to leadership those who handle power well—
not for selfish gain but for selfless service.
An evolved Christianity will not insist we believe the
absurd, affirm the incredible, or support a theology that
degrades humanity. It will be a friend of science, working
joyfully alongside the best minds in the world on a common
mission to embrace and enhance life. This Christianity will
talk less and act more. I recently attended a church gathering
in which a committee had been asked to draft a resolution
against torture. They had spent an entire year writing a short
paragraph on which everyone on the committee could finally
agree but no one else would likely read. When a woman
rose to suggest they actually do something to prevent torture
rather than just write words against it, she was criticized for
not cooperating. People no longer listen to the church's
pronouncements. No one waits with bated breath for the church
to wade in with its perspective. We craft missives, epistles,
and minutes that are first ignored, then forgotten. Nor do
governments change their policies because Christians have
collected on a street corner to sing "We Shall Overcome." But
when ministers are bold and prophetic, when Christians rise
from their pews and work and sweat and invest their lives,
people take notice and lives are changed.
The richness of an evolved Christianity won't lie in
slavish obedience to antiquated claims but in a vigorous
commitment to care for the marginalized and an honest search
for meaning and truth, no matter where it might lead. It is
exciting beyond words to stand on the threshold of such a
movement, to watch it unfold and flower, to watch it not only
restore the church—which it just might, though that is not its
purpose—but refresh and restore our world.
In the chapters ahead, I'll use as my framework the
traditional areas of concern for Christian theology. Though that
conventional structure is still an appropriate one, it is long
past time its assertions were reexamined and reinterpreted
in light of our changing world and expanding consciousness.
Perhaps you have not been accustomed to viewing faith from
the vantage point of these topics, believing such matters are
best left to theologians. But I believe these subjects have a
tremendous influence on our personal spiritual journeys, helping
us negotiate and navigate a more meaningful life. Just as
the prophet Ezekiel saw a valley of dry bones stirring to life,
so, too, can new life be breathed into our moribund faith, and
God might say to us, as God said to those bones, "I will put
my Spirit in you and you will live" (Ezek. 37:14 NIV).


Excerpted from The Evolution of Faith by Philip Gulley Copyright © 2011 by Philip Gulley. Excerpted by permission of HarperOne. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword vii

1 The Evolution of Faith 1

2 Revelation: On Knowing God 11

3 God 31

4 Jesus and Jesus-Types 55

5 The Living Spirit 77

6 Who Are We? 89

7 Suffering and Evil 109

8 Salvation 131

9 Prayer 151

10 The Church 171

11 The Afterlife 191

12 An Altar Call 201

Questions for Small-Group Discussion 207

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