Conversations, VOLUME 6

Philip Gulley – Living the Quaker Way [Interview]

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0307955788″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”106″]Page 4: Philip Gulley Interview


Bob: That goes along with another question I have, one that’s more from a pastoral perspective. One of the struggles I keep finding in a number of Quaker meetings, and also in yearly meetings, is that extreme focus on doctrine and statements of faith. Throughout your book, it was clear to me that you were asking us to move from doctrines and statements of faith, into a way of life. Do you have any advice for ministers on how to help people in churches move from being so doctrinally focused to a more lifestyle-driven ministry?


Philip: (Laughing.) I swore when I started writing that I would never answer a question like that. I haven often wondered the same thing, though, because sociologically—and this is just a religious fact—great spiritual moments, or what Maslow called “peak experiences,” always end up becoming religions. Which always end up becoming institutions. Which always end up as doctrine. And for good reasons! They are an effort to reclaim the spark and the power and the insight of that initial moment. It’s just inevitable.


The answer to your question is that this is what I’m working on in my next book. It’s called The Awakened Soul, and I’m just starting to do the reading for it. The book will look at the ideas Abraham Maslow had about peak experiences and the people who live out the energy and insight gained in the transcendent moments. We’ve all had those transcendent moments, where we feel more deeply connected to others and delighted with the world. Maslow said these were peak experiences. And he said that people who were spiritually well lived out the energy and insight of these experiences. That got me thinking: What do these people look like? What qualities do they have?

*** [easyazon-link keywords=”Philip Gulley” locale=”us”]Books by Philip Gulley[/easyazon-link]

I’m starting to research those questions. I’m talking to people I know who strike me as spiritually healthy, and I’m trying to see what they have in common. I’m hopeful that if we can identify these qualities, then maybe we can start cultivating them in our lives and in our congregations.


Bob: You write in the chapter on Integrity, “To seek truth is to commit oneself to the deepest reality, no matter where it leads, whether it affirms our religious beliefs or proves them wrong.” What do you think it is that causes the religious in our day and age to be so fearful of seeking the truth, especially among those who consider themselves conservative Christians?


Philip: Oh, probably because we all grew up listening to television preachers who tell us that if we believe the wrong thing we’ll go to hell. If you listen to John Hagee all the time, and to fundamentalism, it soaks into you. Even if a part of you is saying, “Well, I really don’t believe that,” the certainty with which Hagee and others speak to these huge audiences they have, can easily make someone fearful of launching out into deeper waters. So the church, for a variety of reasons, hasn’t encouraged that. But think of all the people we admire who have launched out. We don’t admire them when they’re doing it, of course. We admire them after they’re dead…after we’ve killed them for doing it.



Bob Henry lives out his calling as a Quaker minister at Silverton Friends Church in Silverton, OR.  He recently earned a doctorate in Leadership & Spiritual Formation.  Bob enjoys spending time with family, painting, and blogging at


(Special thanks to John Pattison, for transcribing and editing this interview with Philip Gulley.)

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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