Tag Archives: Philip Gulley

Uncomfortable conversations

OK, I admit it, I’m feeling smug. See, as a Universalist I always feel a little smug when someone else finally figures out that the most powerful force in the universe is love.

I’ve just finished reading Gulley and Mulholland’s book from 2003 titled If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person. Gully and Mulholland are two evangelical pastors from Indiana who finally spoke out publicly in this book as proponents of universal salvation — as universalists. While they have been savagely attacked for their views, their book is selling well, has even made it into paperback.

Needless to say, their universalism differs substantially from mine. Their God is entirely male, their book is the Bible, their vocabulary is that of conservative North American Christianity. As for me, it’s impossible to assign gender to transcendence, my books include Hebrew and Christian scriptures as well as the Analects, the Bhagavad Gita, and the I Ching, and my vocabulary is definitely Unitarian Universalist.

Yet while I found much in their book I do not agree with, I am glad to have found the book. As a Unitarian Universalist, I really am committed to opening up dialogue across faith boundaries. As a Unitarian Universalist living in this part of Illinois, I often have to try to explain my faith to evangelical and fundamentalist Christians — and these tend to be uncomfortable conversations for someone like me who doesn’t quote the Bible chapter and verse. I’m always looking for a place to meet such folks halfway — a place where we can at least start a conversation. Gulley and Mulholland’s book might just provide such a place.

The power of Universalism

No doubt you’re already aware that this is a big year — the 200th anniversary of the first edition of Hosea Ballou’s monumental Treatise on Atonement, still the most influential of all books of Universalist theology. But you may not realize that Universalism still has the power to stir up quite a ruckus. Turns out two evangelical Quaker pastors from western Indiana, Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, published a book titled If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person back in 2003.

Just as happened with Hosea Ballou, Gulley and Mulholland’s thoughts on God’s love provoked lots of hate. Chuck Fager tells about the ruckus Gulley and Mulholland have raised in a review of their book in the online journal “Quaker Theology.”

I know you’ll want to read the whole article, but to whet your appetite, here are the opening paragraphs:

“Almost two hundred years ago, Hosea Ballou foretold what would befall two Quaker pastors in Indiana, Philip Gulley and his good friend James Mulholland, in 2002: ‘To profess universal salvation,’ Ballou wrote, ‘will subject some to excommunication from regular churches; others to the pain of being neglected by their neighbors; others to be violently opposed by their companions . . . and a man’s enemies will be those of his own house.’…

“Ballou wrote this about his own time, and the controversy generated by the ideas contained in his magnum opus, A Treatise on Atonement. In it Ballou, an early New England Universalist, made a case that Unitarian-Universalists [sic] today claim as one of their founding classics.

“That was in 1805. But Ballou’s words were indeed prophetic: Since Gulley and Mulholland put forth their work, all hell has broken loose in the Hoosier state….”

I’ve just ordered If Grace Is True, and their new book, If God Is Love, just out last year. Needless to say, I bought both books from the Seminary Coop Bookstore — thus supporting co-ops and independent booksellers!