God Wins Chapter 6 – No Questions, Yes to Paradoxes, but don’t look at them

Click to Order

At the end of this chapter-by-chapter response to God Wins, I will post a review in which I will try to find some redeemable qualities of this book. Thus far, in six chapters, I have found few. Laden with missed opportunities for real discussion, mischaracterizations of Bell’s work, and a fine showing of an inept understanding of Christian theologies as well as current biblical scholarship which is, no doubt, in Bell’s mind, God Wins is little more than a better written tract which you find in a fast food restaurant. Chapter Six, entitled Hell and Judgment, combines the deficit of the previous chapters into one giant intellectual fiasco filled with the very best clichés of Christian apologetic; however, there are several points with which I will agree with Galli, but they are few.

The chapter opens with Galli comparing the Christian who wants answers (questions seem to be almost a sin, if not so, with the author) to General Patton, the notoriously bravado-filled general of World War II. I am unsure if this is the best comparison, for a variety of reasons, but the more so since Patton generally cared little for answers or questions, but was only adamant of winning. What this analogy does, however, is to reinforce the idea that questions are bad, although as I have demonstrated, questions are indeed biblical, not to mention that Galli gets Bell’s scope of questions wrong. In this opening salvo, he goes on to note the incoherency of Bell’s thoughts on hell in Love Wins. He assigns this to Bell’s misunderstandings “about what the Bible means by certain words and ideas, and partly from assumptions that drive the discussion itself. As we shall see, Galli rarely knows the actual meaning or context of the “what the Bible means” and relies heavily up assumptions to drive his doctrine on hell.

The first section of the chapter, Hell, begins by noting that the “Greek word that we translate as “hell” is Gehenna.” Yet, this is actually false. There are at least two other words in the Greek New Testament which regularly find themselves translated as ‘hell’, especially in the older translations. First, ταρταρώσας which is found in 2nd Peter 2:4 and second, there is the familiar one, ᾅδης, which is found throughout the Greek New Testament, most noticeably in Luke 16.23, which Galli actually, erroneously, labels ‘hell’ when he is speaking about Bell’s interpretation of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. While Galli is accurate about Gehenna not being a ‘garbage dump’ as our medieval interpreters would have us believe, I find it ironic that he has allowed himself to question that centuries old interpretation but doesn’t carry himself to the next step and then hypocritically criticizes those who question other words in the Biblical use, although arguably, he doesn’t say he questioned anything. He goes on to say that “it can be safely assumed from Scripture that hell is just as everlasting as heaven (see Matthew 25.46).” Of course, I would then push him to note the difference in parabolic and hyperbolic speech as opposed to literal dialogue, but that may not be necessary, as we will later see. Galli falls into the classic fallacy which we know of scriptura scripturam interpretatur, although he willingly allows “Greek dictionaries” in from time to time. There is a huge problem of “safely assum(ing)” anything from Scripture, in that it is based on subjectivity rather than objectivity (as much as possible). In this, he misses the rediscovered meaning of “everlasting”, which we will get to later.

He goes further to comment “There is no talk anywhere in the New Testament of people ever leaving hell.” Except that there is. In 1 Peter 3.18-19 and 4.6. Further, there is Paul’s imagery in Ephesians 4.8-10 which uses Psalm 68.18. Or from the Prophets, Zechariah 9.11 which may in fact be used as a companion piece to the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Further, Isaiah provides back drop to Revelation 21-22 when the words of the prophet declares that after a certain time spent in prison, the sinners will be visited by the LORD Himself. Further, there is a long standing Christian Tradition among the oldest of the Communions which relate to the Harrowing of Hell, based in Scripture, based among the earliest Apologists. For such an  important topic, Galli’s section on Hell is as short as Bell’s proscribed stay in such a place. Here, here is where Galli again shows his ineptness of Christian Theological Tradition and I’m afraid, an exegetical prowess. He ends this section by noting that this doctrine “comes packaged with other ideas” but I have to wonder if we, regardless of the facts, are the ones actually packaging these ideas together.

Ironically, after Hell comes Judgment. He begins up acknowledging God as the judge of the whole earth, as well as he should, but goes on to state, “the New Testament intensifies the Old Testament ideas of judgment” (italics mine). He never fully explains this view, leaving us open to make assumptions that Galli sees the New Testament about Judgment to the exclusion of Grace. I am unsure as to the Scriptural support for such a statement, as he doesn’t provide any, but for the theme of the Last Judgment, he draws heavily from parables leaving me wonder if he would actually pluck out an eye if it caused him to sin. There is a danger in drawing out doctrine based on a literal reading of a segment of Scripture not meant to be taken literally. Of course, this idea of understanding genre and the proper way to read the Scripture is a pitfall of Galli. For example, he quotes Romans 1.18-32 as a sign that God is allowing sin to multiply in intensity, although a proper reading of Scripture shows that this passage is set in Romans as a means for Paul to argue against the Jewish understanding (ironically, the view expressed in Romans 1.18-32) that Gentiles weren’t able to be saved. If this passage is about judgment, then it is Galli who is being judged for holding a viewpoint which Paul has already condemned as invalid through Christ.

He ends this section by nothing that this and the previous section is a “basic overview of the biblical teaching of hell and judgment.” Yet, there is only a smattering of verses, no exegesis, no sourced foundation and no real clear teaching of any kind, except to restated centuries only errors masquerading as truth. Ironically, and again, Bell and Galli are closer than he thinks, he notes that there are “nuances and differing interpretations,” calling them secondary matter. He goes on to note the different images of the eternal torment in Scripture which are sometimes exaggerated, but says that the sames teaches which he espouses have been held from the beginning, although he quotes from the Creed of 381 (not the Nicene Creed as he calls it), which was a reformulation of the actual Nicene Creed. While it is nice to say that the same beliefs which we hold now are those held for 2000 years, but as scholarship as shown – and not just scholarship into the New Testament thought world, but into early Christian history as well as the Church Fathers (for example, Athanasius was pre-Chalcedonian), it is impossible to actually say that.

In the next section, A Judge We Can Trust, he opens by stating that the teaching, which I guess is the teaching he just gave us although I think that partial regurgitation of half-thought ideas based on bad exegesis should not be regarded as teaching, makes Christian feel uncomfortable. He is correct, that  Christians react differently to the more difficult doctrines, and he is correct that this should not cause us to shy away from it, but I do react to his idea that to teach something different than the traditional view of hell is to somehow soften up the bible. I have to wonder if perhaps the message of Revelation is missed in that the Kings of The Earth and those who had formerly persecuted the Saints are now given Grace, and that in this, the persecuted must welcome the persecutors. Think of the acceptance of Saul of Tarsus as an Apostle. How much harder is the doctrine of Grace than the doctrine of hell. And what if this Grace was extended to those who had persecuted Christians in this life, but find grace in life eternal? But, I digress.

Gallis is correct to connect judgement to the person of Jesus Christ. In this, I think that Galli and Bell would agree, as would Wright among others. We cannot separate Christ and Judgment as only through Judgment, I think, we come to know Christ, and vice versa. But, I do take issue with this image of Jesus which Galli is, which helps to highlight his earlier statement about the New Testament intensifying judgment. Galli’s Jesus is one who has a “moral backbone.” But, Galli, again, gets a few things wrong. First, he misquotes John the Baptizer’s words about Jesus baptizing with fire, associating this wording with somehow having a backbone and not with the Spirit. Further, he misquotes the age old statement that Jesus took a whip to people, and not to the animals as the Greek says.  At this point, Galli is playing up to preachers like Mark Driscoll, who want to shape the Jewish Jesus into the image of a Mixed Martial Artist. While we want to see Jesus as a brash warrior, bringing the heat and whipping people into shape, the New Testament doesn’t give us that picture, although to be sure, Jesus wasn’t a hippie either; for both images are hopelessly trapped in a game of enculturating a Jesus, often European, but rarely Palestinian. But, Galli and I agree that the “perfectly just” and “perfectly merciful” Jesus will judge, however, Galli never goes on to define Justice or Mercy.

Telling the Right Story begins by blatantly twisting Bell’s work which leaves me, again, questioning the journalistic integrity of Galli or wondering if Galli has even read Love Wins. He quotes Bell’s characterization of “the Christian story” and then begins to deride it as if Bell was actually presenting it as the actual Christian story. Instead, Bell presents the story as one often heard by sinners, and one which prompted him, in part, to write the book. Bell takes a hardline against that type of story, one in which God loves to send people to hell if they don’t follow, exactly, his rules, and yet Galli doesn’t get that. Instead, he wants to pretend that Bell is actually selling that story as the Christian Story which gives him room to rail against both Bell and that story. He notes that “some” Christians have gotten the story wrong, which again is what Bell is saying. Further, he takes issue with Bell noting the progressive revelation of Scripture when Love Wins refers to the fact that the after life is rarely clearly defined in the Old Testament. Galli takes this to pound his chest as a bible believer, as one who doesn’t question Scripture, and one completely devoid of knowledge of actual scholarship, believing, I think, that the bible somehow came about in a vacuum, removed from the time in which it was written.

I find that I agree most with Galli in the section entitled, Hell Today? He’s absolutely right that Bell undersells the hells of this life, noting that often times, the sinner receives no punishment in this life. His only error here is misusing Romans 1.18, but beyond that, he is correct when he says that because people do not receive punishment in this life, the “idea of judgment is stressed in Scripture”. This is a section is may be among the only redeeming qualities of this book, in that he acknowledges where Bell doesn’t that sometimes, the wicked grow wealthy and live their lives to the fullest extent while the righteous suffer and die miserably.

More Odd Exegesis focuses on Bell’s interpretation of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Here, Galli’s ineptness in surveying modern scholarship, or even commentaries on Luke becomes more readily apparent. He dislikes Bell’s thought that the parable is about social in/equality, but in reading Luke and recent scholarship on Luke, one cannot help but see the use of rich/poor in this parable as the author of Luke does throughout the Gospel. The parable may actually be seen as pointing to social issues, especially given that the story involves inversion, a common Jewish story-telling method of the time. Further, as Wright notes in Jesus and the Victory of God, this story carries with it an undercoat pointing the then-present Resurrection which was happening around them. The story is similar to the Prodigal Son in many elements. Wright also notes, in the just mentioned book, something that Galli needs to pay attention to, “scholars who presuppose the real referent of the parable to be the future post mortem state (e.g. Nolland 1993, 827) tend to reject the importance of the known [folk] story – despite the wealth of evidence discussed by Hock and Bauckham, to look no further.” But, Galli is still living and thus reading in a world where heaven is up and hell is down.

According to his “plain reading” (which is only a means to reinterpret the passage according to how he wants to read it), Galli takes on Bell’s version of the parable by noting that this story couldn’t possible being about the Rich Man thinking that Lazarus “as beneath him” because “Lazarus has made it to heaven, while he is in hell.” Of course, and I refer back to the issue of that several words are often (mis)translated as hell, Galli thinks that the Rich Man is in Hell, or perhaps below. He then declares that Bell is wrong, that Jesus wasn’t speaking about equality, but about mercy needing to be shown in this life. Galli is wrong, but I have to wonder how he views equality as far apart from mercy? He concludes the section by states that one again “Love Wins attempts to retell the biblical story” and of course, for Galli, Bell gets it wrong. Yet, for those who are following along with the narrative of scholarship which is revealing to us how the earliest audiences would have understood the stories, it is clear that Bell is actually expressing some knowledge of said Scholarship which brings substance to the”biblical story” where as Galli is stuck on the “plain reading.”

Following this section, Galli takes on Bell’s notion of punishment and judgment as pruning in What Type of Judgment. Bell notes that “Kolazo” (which from the construction of it, shows that Bell is parsing ideas about Greek instead of relying upon the Greek) means “pruning”. Galli, without sourcing his work (which is a problem I have with both authors) note that “Greek dictionaries define kalazo as …” and lists several definitions, none of which includes “pruning”. Yet, Thayer’s Lexicon does. Further, Liddell-Scott includes the word “correction” in its definition. He goes on to quote Scott McKnight’s review of the book found on this blog, but does so only in part:

My point: it is simply disingenuous to say without qualification that it means pruning, and it is unfair to readers not to say that most — if not almost all — instances refer to a kind of retributive punishment and chastisement — there is very little emphasis in this word’s usage that suggests punish to improve and much more punish full stop. Here’s the big point: this is about Life and Kolasis/Punishment in The Age to Come. The Age to Come is everlasting.

From there, I get the the impression, not found in Galli (the bold words are Galli’s quoted section), is the McKnight’s problem with Bell’s exegesis is that is without qualification (italicized words above). It may be that Bell is thinking instead of κολάζω a construction of the word he noted and meaning pruning according to several Greek Lexicons. Further, it is used in 4 Macc 2.12 to refer to the punishment which parents afford children to help them grow.

καὶ τῆς τέκνων φιλίας κυριεύει διὰ κακίαν αὐτὰ κολάζων

In the first of the two last sections, The Problem of Choice – Again, makes the salient point that a choice after death, one in which the soul experiences hell has a chance to choose heaven then it is not a choice, but coercion. Further, it is not love, but fear. It is a not a fear which causes us to grow and to be pruned, but one in which we build up resentment to God the Father, making the blood of the Son invalid. While I agree with much of his statements here, I take issue that he would leap to assumptions that Bell’s scenario would allow the saved to choose hell, but what cuts to the bone is Galli’s notion that we only “tend to learn and grow because we temporarily reject the love and goodness of God.” He is attempting to counter Bell’s vision that in life eternal, we will grow, but in doing so, Galli makes it seem that we must sin and perpetuate evil in order to grow. This is neither biblical nor anthropological. Human growth is not due to sin, but in fact may be said to have been slowed due to the evils which we ourselves create. Yet, in life eternal, in the New Creation, we will grow to assume what our place is in God, to what the image of God actually means, and this doesn’t take sin, but God.

The final section in this chapter is, as if he is taunting me, As for Those Questions. He accuses Bell of universalism, but anyone who has read the book knows better. He accuses the book of focusing on “a God of love” than the God who we know through Jesus Christ (John 3.16?). He goes son to say, again, that it is not just about love, but about justice as well, but never, and I am running out of hope and patience, defines justice. He says that God “has plainly revealed to us” the realities of hell and the final judgment, and yet, provides little scriptural support and what he does, relies on a “plain reading” and not rediscovering the biblical text as the authors intended. He even acknowledges that the “Bible doesn’t give us much beyond these few, bare truths” and “We do not know a lot about hell and the Last Judgment.” What truths is he actually talking about and if we don’t know much about them, then why is he so adamant about defending what he says he doesn’t know much about?  But, he goes further, to caution us against judging anyone, even Hitler and Osama Bin Laden, due to what we can only call ‘death bed confessions.’ (Here, I think back to the Christian Story Bell railed against, as if the final work of salvation is not in Christ, but in what we do.) He draws this chapter to a close by writing, “We can let such matters lie with him. We do not have to reconcile paradoxes to which he has chosen not to reveal the solutions.” I would agree.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Post By Joel Watts (9,927 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, working on the use of Deuteronomy in the Fourth Gospel. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

Connect

Leave a Reply, Please!