Last week, in our interview with award-winning filmmaker Helen Whitney, she argued that the world is getting better. Throughout most of history, world leaders have never felt they needed to apologize for crimes against humanity. Might made right until our modern era dating from Nuremberg to the fall of Communism, Apartheid and now the Arab Spring.
THIS WEEK, we welcome back beloved Quaker novelist and provocative theologian Philip Gulley, who is arguing that our religion also needs to get better. Our understanding of thelogy needs to evolve, he writes in The Evolution of Faith: How God Is Creating a Better Christianity. Here’s the best part! We’ve all got a role to play in this. Gulley takes a very dim view of people who think that theology is just for specialists with a doctorate degree. (Of course, if you’ve enjoyed Gulley’s series of Harmony Novels, then you already know that he places great faith in wisdom discerned in the grassroots.)
EXCERPT FROM THE EVOLUTION OF FAITH BY PHILIP GULLEY
In this passage, which appears early in his new book, Gulley writes about stumbling across a lengthy theological thesis he wrote in his final year of graduate studies. He was startled to find how much his religious views have changed in 17 years! From his book …
I felt energized by my theological journey, believing it revealed a vitality and passion often lacking in my more orthodox days. I had pitched my tent in a new, yet unexplored land, was pleased to be there, and wanted to investigate it further and map that territory for others by writing books such as this one.
Even as I reflected on the theological evolution in my life, I was also conscious of the language of my thesis, noting it was incomprehensible to anyone who hadn’t studied theology. I obviously wanted to show my professors I was well versed in theological jargon. Of course, one purpose of higher education is to teach a student the specific language of a given field. Medical students learn the language of anatomy and medicine. Law students become conversant in legal terminology. Those of us who study God learn the language of theology. But unlike the fields of medicine and law, people who haven’t formally studied theology feel not only perfectly equipped, but duty bound, to engage in religious discourse. This is a compliment to our vocation—that those not schooled in the field wish to engage it. Unfortunately, we’ve not always made their participation easy, using language they neither know nor speak. Consider one of the more influential theologians of he past hundred years, Karl Barth, whose signature work Church Dogmatics was 13 volumes containing over 6 million words. He worked on it for 36 years and when he died still wasn’t done. Many words can be said about Barth’s work, but “accessible” isn’t one of them. One has to wonder whether some who work in theology erect such barriers for the express purpose of excluding others, preferring the rarified air of theological speculation over a helpful, accessible spirituality.
The harm this causes is obvious—by excluding so many people from theological exploration, we increase the theological ignorance of our society, making people especially vulnerable to bad theology and unscrupulous purveyors of self-serving religion. …
I would like to think that a well-reasoned theology, and the more enlightened aspects of religious tradition, can provide a helpful way forward for those of us who seek transcendent meaning, spiritual community and joy.
For too many years Christianity has been more about constraint and less about liberation. Bound by dated creeds, traditions and doctrines, the Christianity of the past has held too many of its disciples back, not carried them forward. This book is an invitation for you to consider your faith in a fresh way, informed by common sense, positive tradition, and personal experience. It represents, in a very real sense, an evolution of Christian faith.
Care to read more about Quaker author Philip Gulley?
VISIT PHILIP GULLEY’S OWN WEBSITE: In partnership with his publisher, Philip Gulley provides lots of information on his own website.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.