If God Is Love: Rediscoveing Grace in an Ungracious Worldby Philip Gulley, James Mulholland
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After having expressed their theological belief that God will save every person, Gulley and Mulholland now go further to discuss how this belief should change our lives. In a time when the overriding attitude is one of apathetic tolerance of others' beliefs, Gulley and Mulholland argue that what one believes is dangerously important and drastically affects the way we live and interact in the world. Divided into three different sections looking specifically at our personal lives, our socials lives, and our spiritual lives, they explore what our world would look like if we based our lives on the foundational truth that God loves every person. Proposing great change and revolution, they argue that "since grace is true, nothing else should remain the same." Gulley and Mulholland beautifully invite us to enter into this new age -- the age where grace is allowed to reign.
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If God Is LoveRediscovering Grace in an Ungracious World
By Gulley, Philip
Why Beliefs Matter
When I was younger, I thought beliefs were a private matter. I had the right to believe what I believed, and others could believe what they wanted. As long as people didn't force their beliefs on me, I was happy to allow them to think things I considered ridiculous. Beliefs weren't dangerous. It was attitudes and actions that caused harm.
In the summer of 1986, I discovered this was a naive belief. That June I was hired to pastor a small rural congregation. I'd been studying theology in college and was eager to put my newfound knowledge to work. That church allowed me to preach, visit the sick, and learn why the world won't be saved by a committee. They also taught me why beliefs matter.
My first couple of months with them went well. It was the proverbial honeymoon -- we each proclaimed our fondness for the other loudly and often. There was, on both our parts, some give and take. They preferred their hymns aged like a fine wine, and so I didn't suggest they clap their hands, buy a drum set, or sing lyrics projected on a screen. They discovered I was soft-spoken and bought a new microphone rather than insist I shout. We thought any other differences were minor and easily resolved. In the third month, we found we were wrong.
I can't remember my exact words, but somethingI mentioned in a sermon caused an elderly woman in the church to wonder whether I believed in Satan and hell. She approached me after worship and began questioning me. Lacking a well-honed ministerial radar and eager to prove my theological sophistication, I answered her questions directly and honestly. This was before I learned that answering theological questions directly and honestly is generally a bad idea, and that ministers go to seminary precisely so we can master the theological language necessary to bewilder people when pressed to provide answers they might not like.
I told her I didn't believe in Satan. Nor did I believe in a place where people were endlessly tormented. I then told her she was perfectly free to believe those ideas. I patted her hand and turned to speak to someone else, never realizing she and I differed on far more than Satan and hell. I believed then, and I believe now, that faith is a matter of inward conviction, not outward compulsion. She believed strict conformity was a requirement of faith. If I'd known this, I might have noticed the whispers during the pitch-in dinner after worship. Instead, my wife and I left church that day grateful God had called us to such a warm fellowship, unaware I'd soon feel its heat.
That week I immersed myself in my studies and sermon preparation and the next Sunday morning arrived at church brimming with excitement. It was Palm Sunday. I planned to speak on how quickly the crowd went from cheering Jesus to jeering him. It turned out to be a timely sermon.
The head elder approached me as I entered the church. "We're not holding church this morning," he said. "We'd like to meet with you instead."
A minister with a sermon in his pocket being an unstoppable force of nature, I told him we should worship before meeting to talk. This also gave me time to figure out what I'd done. I quickly eliminated all the usual pastoral indiscretions. I hadn't had an affair with the church secretary. We didn't have one. I hadn't visited the local tavern. I couldn't afford to drink on what they were paying me. I hadn't used church stamps for personal correspondence. I had no idea why they wanted to speak with me, but suspected anything that would cause them to cancel worship on Palm Sunday must be serious.
The head elder reluctantly agreed to postpone our meeting until after worship. When the last hymn was sung and the closing prayer offered, I filed downstairs with him and sat at a folding table in the church basement. The elders were grim-faced.
"This is an awkward matter," the head elder said, "but I'm afraid we're going to have to let you go."
I asked if I had done something wrong.
"There have been concerns raised that you don't believe in Satan and hell," he said.
"That's right," I said. Then, eager to display my theological prowess, I asked if they wanted to know why.
They declined my offer to enlighten them.
I began to panic. The job didn't pay much, but I was concerned that being fired after only three months might not look good on my résumé. "I do believe in the love of God. Isn't that enough?"
I realize now what I didn't understand then -- beliefs matter. Beliefs are not harmless. They have the power to shape our world, for good or ill. Some beliefs unite us in a great and common good, while others divide us, reinforcing prejudices and diminishing our humanity. Religious beliefs are especially potent, shaping how we think of and act toward God, others, and ourselves.
I'd thought the idea of Satan and hell negotiable. They didn't. They considered a belief in a demonic personality and eternal damnation essential. They thought those who didn't believe in hell were deceived by Satan and destined for the lake of fire. Fearing I'd lead them astray, they fired me, giving me fresh insight into the origins of that expression.
After the meeting, I walked out to the car where my wife was waiting.
"What happened?" she asked.
"It's good news."
"What is it?"
"We get to sleep in next Sunday."
We drove home and ate dinner, then I lay down on the couch to take a nap. The phone rang later that afternoon. It was an elder from another small rural church near our home.
"We'd like you to come be our pastor," he said. "Are you available?"
"As a matter of fact I am," I told him ... Continues...
Excerpted from If God Is Love by Gulley, Philip Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Philip Gulley is a Quaker minister, writer, husband, and father. He is the bestselling author of Front Porch Tales, the acclaimed Harmony series, and is coauthor of If Grace Is True and If God Is Love. Gulley lives with his wife and two sons in Indiana, and is a frequent speaker at churches, colleges, and retreat centers across the country.
James Mulholland, author of Praying Like Jesus, is a theologian with ecumenical experience in the American Baptist, United Methodist, and Quaker denominations. He lives in Indianapolis, where he is active in neighborhood development.
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Truly an amazing read and perspective on the Christian faith. As a Divinity School student, I would consider this book to be one of the most influential on my studies than any other book (excluding the Bible, of course). But this book, in ways, takes the Bible and defines it and our faith in a way that I imagine Christ would have. Certainly, I admit that it is a controversial and difficult perspective to maintain---but it's absolutely beautiful and one hundred percent inspiring to me on my daily walk of faith.
An heart-opening, life-changing book revealing God's own heart for all people. It has influenced me to be different and to see differently, in all my spheres of experience and relationship: as a wife, mother of grown children, sister, nurse, colleague, mentor. The authors have confirmed to me what I've felt all along, that God loves extravagantly all of his children, and condemns no one to hell-fire.
As a pastor, I appreciate finally hearing of God's grace and mercy and how that graceful living can impact everything we do. Too many books nowadays focus on hell or on rightful living, always with the threat of punishment behind them. Gully and Mulholland take a different approach...and explain together how they arrived at that approach. The approach is one of grace. Grace that infiltrates everything we do...from how we do church and worship to how we live out our everydays. I agree with 80% of what they present here. I too am a universalist...however I disagree with HOW that grace is given to the world. In my book, Jesus is the conduit of God's grace. Jesus saves the world in his death and resurrection. That is a fact. A fact for the Christian as well as the Hindu and the Muslim and everyone else. The fact that we believe differently doesn't make that fact not true. I don't believe Gully or Mulholland see Jesus as pivotal as this...and so they eventually arrive at a different "reason" for this grace. Grace is grace...given to all, free to all, given by Christ. I can't take out that Christ part...and still be Christian. Excellent book though...one that would be dangerous to speak of in mixed circles. Read this book with care and share it with care...or be prepared to be called a heretic...or worse!
It has been my experience that if you apply this book and its predesessor "If Grace is True" to your daily life you will "see" AMAZING results. The only true test of spiritual concepts are how they are "demonstrated" in your life. Not how I speculate things to be based on popular opinon. As the writers state, "can i possibly go wrong by over estimating GOD's Love".....