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In truth, I almost entitled this post ‘Mark Galli is not a Theologian, Good, Bad, or Otherwise’ but I am trying not to appear to attack Galli personally. I want to focus just on his message, but in equal truth, his theology is part Reformed, at least in quotations, and part ineptness. First, he opens the chapter up with the scene in Pilate’s hall, on the even of the Crucifixion, with Pilate asking Jesus Christ questions – which Jesus answered. In doing this, Galli tries to offer commentary, but the commentary is often of a less than academic variety but markedly more of the journalist variety, and of course, I mean no offense to my journalistic friends; however, the sentences are short, the statements less than meaningful, and often childish. At least you expected that from Bell, but not from a man in Galli’s position. Again, though, his focus in on questions, something he obviously doesn’t like or believe to be theologically palatable.
He finally turns to tackling some of the issues raised in Love Wins, or so he leads us to believe. So far, we have had to read Alcorn’s forward, Galli’s introduction and chapter 1 without much , rather any, real issues with Love Wins raised. Galli writes, “Unfortunately, this preliminary work is not done in Love Wins. We are met with an onslaught of questions, most of which are not answered” and “It does not communicate the gravity, the thickness, the mystery of God.” Therefore I am ready to hear what Galli has to say about both things – the lack of theological preparedness found in Love Wins and how this might contribute the things of God which Galli enumerates. I have to agree with Galli at this point, that Bell has prepared somewhat of a theological treatise on universal reconciliation, but some of the early Church writers did, as George MacDonald did, as Karl Barth did, as William Willimon has done, and N.T. Wright paints, and as Von Balthasar published. But, in comparing those men to Rob Bell, the latter is lacking in comparison to the former in that the latter, Bell, didn’t set out to write a theological treatise, but in his role as Pastor, provide a pastoral letter to an issue which has raised it’s head from time to time – just who gets to tell her to go to hell.
From here, with the promise of some measure of theological interact, Galli proceeds to picture God as Creator, Lord and Lawgiver, yet continues to commit the error of placing God as so far removed from us, that we need a second God [Platonism, cough, The One and the Logos, cough, cough] to help us get to the first while positioning God as a wrathful father, just the image which Bell attempted to correct. (Here, I think that Galli takes his theology from Justin and the Greeks, but I may be wrong, and instead, Galli is just parsing theological information and trying to coherently rehearse Trinitarian dogma). He starts his introduction to God in Genesis with what we “think is the beginning.” He notes that God is first seen as Creator, with God as a “transcendent authority.” I beg to differ with Galli, especially if you read Genesis 2 and 3 which has God far removed from the idea of transcendence, certainly not a Hebrew thought, to a God who was present with humanity, in daily conversation with them, and even further, we examine the ideal government, in which God spoke directly to Israel and was indeed their king before the Fall occurred (here, I am relating the story establishment of the Royal Dynasty). This is not the only place in which Galli posits God as so far from us, and yet, he never actually seeks to resolve this fully, except by creating the same issue of the Philosophers. This transcendent God (which might explain Galli’s aversion to questioning God) is then shown to be one who “sent Jesus to the cross to die for our sins, to settle the score between us and God.” It is difficult for me to believe in this image of God as the legitimate one, or rather the more biblical one, as it puts Christ in the middle between God and His Creation, not in the matter of love, but of fear. Even Galli notes that this image doesn’t prompt us to love God. He goes on to draw an image of the relationship between God and humanity with an allegory of a boss and an employee. He notes then that this is the way we think of God when we see him as Creation, Lord, and Lawmaker and yet, his allegories are poor, his own image of God undeveloped by Scripture, and seemingly fully self-reliant.
YHWH/ Elohim the Creator-God of Israel & Judah is a relational God; being covenantal is intrinsic to this God’s very being. God in Genesis 1 spoke directly to the people of His creation. In Genesis 2, God specially crafted Creation for Humanity who in Genesis 3 is seen in daily conversation with God and this is not to mention the other times in the Old Testament in which God is seen as ‘with us.’ Further, his notion of God as Lord gets lost in this section and I suspect, combined with Lawgiver. But, this image which is presented is one of a wrathful God who obviously abandoned his creation but now is jealous, sends His Son to death and allows His Son to act an intermediary, fending off the wrath of the Father. To maintain this view of God the Father, one has to almost completely upend the entirety of the Hebrew Bible in which prophet after prophet goes to the Judeans & Israelites to beg them to return to God before it is too late, as well as the promises that after a period of punishment, or hell, if you will, they would be returned because the Love of God wins, even in Babylon, in exile, in torment.
His next two sections do not hold much theological promise either. First, he examines God as Agent. As I am not completely unfamiliar with Trinitarian Doctrine, I would rather reserve ‘Agent’ for Christ, not God the Father which Galli seems to do as a means to undermine Bell’s understanding of the Gospel. While he calls Bell’s view (p72, Love Wins), ‘good’ he notes that it is not the ‘best’ news which the bible proclaims. He writes that Bell’s Gospel pictures God only as an Agent which he defines as, “Someone who accomplishes something for us, as well as something that God does to us.” Here, Galli seems to take on the notion that a life in God means, in part, participating in the renewal of the world through service to others but doesn’t necessarily condemn this point of view, just says that it is not all. I’m not sure Bell would disagree, actually, or any preacher or theologian; therefore, I am unsure of Galli’s point, except that he is against the idea that a life with God is about “experience and doing.” Perhaps Galli hasn’t read much of the Wesleyan theologians. (I note that in this section, Galli starts to take on the Evangelical Church in the U.S., but again, never goes beyond saying what is ‘not right’.) Interesting enough, in just a short space, Galli condemns Bell’s statement of “May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love” (198, Love Wins), more than likely because Galli is questioning the use of experience, but praises the words of Jesus who prays to the Father in John 17 with the words, “May they experience such perfect unity…” I am led to believe that since questioning is often times a vital part of experiencing, that Galli deems both equally invalid as a Christian witness or discipline, and for that, I pity. I pity him not just for his refusal to experience God in questioning, but in seeing God as so transcendent that He is “ultimately only over there.”
As I noted earlier, Galli seems to lack the finer qualities of the usual Trinitarian theologian. I don’t want to spend too much time on this because it is only essential in noting the hypocrisy of citing Bell’s lack of theological preparedness when one’s own understanding of certain theological elements are deft. He cites ‘theologians’ in saying that the Son and the Father are two “persons” but one being. While this may be the somewhat an official stance, Galli goes on to show that he misunderstands the ‘theologians’ especially in using the language of the union between God the Father and Jesus to apply to humanity and Jesus.
Galli relies on American-Christian language of citing the ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ which is only a fairly recent phenomena and is unbiblical, if excluded from any notion of community, which it usually is in Evangelical circles. While Galli wishes to set aside corporate salvation, he might have done better to spend some time exploring what the theologians have written regarding corporation salvation in relationship to God. He goes on with saying that God was “not merely being kind to us in Christ” (which I’ve tried to locate in Love Wins, but couldn’t. As this is a book which is supposed to take on that book, I would expect more direct quotes) but that God has indeed saved us for reasons known to Him. Of course, Bell would agree with that, I think, which sort of acts like a sub-plot to Love Wins, in that God’s reasons are for the renewal of Creation. Both Bell and Galli would agree that our sin has caused a separation so the point of this conversation thus far has been rather muted.
Galli uses Scripture, but to what end? So does Bell. Interesting enough, both Galli and Bell quote Colossians 1.15-22, which reads,
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see– such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.
Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. (Col 1:15-22 NLT)
Galli, however, only reports, “now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body.” Galli’s individualism allows him to read Colossians 1 and privatize that writer’s concept of salvation for himself, while failing to note that the Apostle’s epistle actually includes all of creation. In this passage, we read of the hope in which God has reconciled all things, the entire world as some translations put it, to himself through Christ, and not just you, which really points to me me me as the individual person.
Galli moves on with a section entitled, “Life in God” which he seemingly opens with the continued thought from Colossians 1. Galli sees that we are now in the very being of God. He notes that the meaning of this has taken the whole of Christian history to examine, but the ironic part of this is that the explanations were all started by questions brought on by the radical change made through the Spirit as experienced by the followers of Christ. He adds, “We cannot neatly separate who God is from what he does for us, for it is the very nature of God to pour out his love to others.” Here, Galli is arguing along the lines of Karl Rahner which is detrimental to his ability to deal objectively with Bell’s (among others) theology. Is God what God does? We could take this to a different conclusion, such as God is Retribution. If God is always Retribution, and such a notion of justice always requires Punishment, then God is always the Executioner which excludes Love and Mercy. I note that this is often the way we view sinners, such as homosexuals, in that we cannot separate their actions from their persons. Imagine again that this is carried further, in that we are sinners, defined by our actions, and thus unable to change. If God is defined by His actions, he is thus unable to change and the image of God becomes more human, feeble, and weak. This small bit of real theology which pokes through Galli’s writing here would destroy God’s ontological αναλλοίωτος because then God would be unable to change according the dispensation of the times. Yet, in that single word we find the issue of economy. I draw the clearest understanding of the nature of the Godhead from Marcellus of Ancyra and his notion of the Economic Trinity. In that, we find that ontologically speaking, God will not change (the Immanent Trinity, and yet, economically, God is allowed to change His methods if not nature for a space of our time. I note that even Galli truly doesn’t believe what he writes in the above quote because he notes that is Creator, Lord and Lawgiver in different roles which require an economic change. Instead, at some points, while Galli paints a picture of a God so transcendent, unchanging, and above nature & history, he simultaneously comes close to the pantheist model. It may be that if Galli where to re-examine the notion of an economic nature of God, then he may find that the paradoxes of Scripture are ironed out which allows for the hope of a universal restoration.
Bell and Galli would be agreement, however, that the nature of God involves Love, but I suspect that while Galli quotes Jonathan Edwards, Bell would again quote the Apostle Paul who spoke of the reconciliation of the entire world while I might add the doctrine of irresistible Grace. If God is doing the reconciliation of the entire world, then who can rightly resist Him? Galli has failed, thus far, to separate himself from what Bell is saying, but continues to separate himself from the way Christians the world and time over had lived, but experiencing God in Christ, by questioning theological standards and indeed each other, by doing. Galli wants to make the point about questioning, and yet, he fails to note that when he uses the doctrine of the Trinity, or the catechisms, or the whole of Christian history he is often relying upon the fruited results of someone who experienced something and who questions what it was and what it means.