God Wins Chapter 3 – Mischaracterizations, Hypocrisy and the Substitutionary Atonement

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With three chapters completed, I have become convinced that Galli hasn’t read Love Wins, or has read Love Wins in such a way as to be able to write a book against it. His mischaracterizations in this chapter of Bell is hardly worthy Galli’s journalistic capability, and yet, it happens at least twice. It is growing increasingly difficult not to see Galli as a person who is simply trying to profit from the fear caused by the furor over Rob Bell’s book. As I noted, Bell’s book was more pastoral than theological, and doesn’t claim anything else. Yet, Galli posits the book at the be-all, end-all of the theological discussion on the universal restoration and proceeds to attack it on that grounds. This is false position because Bell doesn’t claim anything for his book which would give anyone pause to think that it is a theological treatise. In this chapter, entitled, Becoming One Again, Galli is attempting to make points against Bell, but he actually writes in favor of Bell, although I doubt he would see it that way.

I note how often people turn to Eden as the picturesque metaphor of God and Humanity. Galli does as well, saying that Christians know of the perfect reality construct as Eden, and yet, what many, such as Galli fail to see is the in Eden, all of humanity is both present and presented to God. If in Adam, all were present and all sinned, then in Eden, as the metaphor of the perfect relationship between God and Humanity, we find the great unspeakable hope that when Eden returns, all of humanity will be present. This is the biblical picture which we often miss because we are convinced that the whole of the Bible Narrative is seemingly contained at the beginning with our purposed ignoring of the ‘End.’ In the Book of Revelation, when Eden has again returned, all of humanity is shown presenting themselves to God and Christ. Surely, if Galli was interested in the “biblical picture” he would note that all flesh will see the salvation of God (Luke 3.6) and that every knee will bow (Romans 14.11; Phil 2.10) and that after the great battles of life, even the ancient Kings of the Earth will find healing among the leaves of the Tree of Life (Revelation 21-22). I note here as well that Gallie sees that God will “heal the brokenness” but according to the way I read Galli, God has simply placed the medicine in the room, or perhaps only heals a small part of the wound. This is not the healing and restoration of the “whole world” as Galli later writes, and thus, is the healing of the Scripture. If the Scriptures promises healing and restoration, then it is not in part, but to the whole of Creation; and if Eden is to be returned, it is to be returned in full. Although the idea of restoration goes again Galli’s later statement that, “”humankind’s unity with God has been lost forever.” What a sad, unbiblical picture and a complete denial of the Christian’s “Eden.”

Galli notes several cases of injustice, such as the one in Rwanda, and betrays his hand as what he views as justice. Justice in Galli’s mind is human justice which requires court room dramas and jail cells, as he is against forgiveness, albeit, ignoring the forgiveness that is part of God’s justice towards us. Indeed, he demands a “forgiveness that punishes injustice”.  Galli, in orthodox American-Evangelical fashion, see God’s justice as solely retributive justice–justice as payback.  In the United States Constitution, one of the powers afforded the President of the United States is the power of the pardon. This pardon has been abused in recent years, as all powers of authority are, but it was intended to be used to heal wounds. For instance, Washington issued it against the participants in the Whiskey Rebellion when forgiveness and forgetfulness was needed. That crated good. While pardons were issued after the War Between the States, they were almost counterfeit as the Union sought to exert justice over the Confederates. There was no forgetfulness. Unlike the Whiskey Rebellion, the Country has yet to fully heal from that war. If this the sort of justice which Galli would have for us from God? If we were to base God’s justice upon human terms, we could only connect it to the Presidential Pardon, used to heal divisive wounds of a nation. Further, the punishment would always be rehabilitative, corrective, purgatorial, instead of final. Instead, he demands a “miracle”, a wholly unbiblical concept, to wrought our salvation. The death of Christ and His resurrection wasn’t a miracle.  In other words, God did not break any “natural laws” in the raising up of His Son. It was fully God interacting in humanity; YHWH behaving entirely in covenantal favor on behalf of Israel’s Messiah. To classify it as a miracle is to somehow diminish it.

Galli, for as much as he wants to dismiss Bell, is consumed with the same hope which Bell has, and others have been, unless of course he does the drastic and illogical thing of reinterpreting ‘all’ and ‘world.’ He notes that the atonement brings God and humanity back together again. He goes further in saying that this restores, heals and reconciles the “whole world.” His words. Bell’s words. Scripture. He almost immediately writes, “Jesus Christ judged sin for what it is so that no one else would have to endure the just consequences of sin” and then, “He puts the whole universe  back together again, and together with him.” His words. Bell’s words. Scripture. If they can agree on these things, then why the fuss? What then is the impetus of Galli’s book? I believe that it is, more than anything, Galli’s attempt at preserving the ‘honor’ of the Substitionary Atonement theory. It is this defense which Galli becomes the most shrill.

In the section of the chapter entitled Sacrificing Sacrifice, Galli in no less than two times mischaracterizes Bell’s words. First, an almost singular point of agreement with Galli, in that he acknowledges that Bell’s description of the Incarnation as “divine in the flesh and blood” is lacking, as is Bell’s theological notions. We depart our unity when he misquotes Bell in ascribing to primitive cultures the symbols of sacrifice. What Bell said was that primitive cultures who practiced animal sacrifice saw sacrifice in such a way as to present something we need to move past. Isn’t Bell correct? Does the Crucifixion amount to an animal sacrifice? No, and I doubt that even PSA theologians would describe it as such. What is more interesting is Galli’s push-back against Bell’s notion that we finally discard the primitive terminology often associated with animal sacrifice but now applied to the Crucifixion. He notes that the symbolism of PSA is somehow as inspired as Scripture, “This suggests that these ideas were of human origin and not divine revelation…. The implication is clear when it comes to substitutionary atonement: it’s artificial, irrelevant, and disposable.” Bell is not critiquing the Holy Writ, but the way later Christians developed their terminology, contrary to what Galli wants to make Bell say. I would note that both Bell and Galli have it wrong, that PSA was not developed until a millenia or more after the first Christians. As has been identified, Christus Victor is older than PSA. But, beyond that, the idea that an interpretation is anything by artificial or even more, inspired, is ridiculous. Later, he decries Bell’s marginalization of PSA as if it alone (Galli contradicts himself several times by allowing various atonement theories but then only wanting PSA) is Gospel. I think that it is Bell’s take on PSA, misunderstood by Galli, which is the impetus of Galli’s book and not anything else. His support of PSA doesn’t stop there, as he goes on to criticize the ‘moral response’ theory, something Galli has no room for, as we discovered in the previous chapter.

One final note in this chapter. He criticizes Bell’s use of rebirth as a description of the Cross and Resurrection. I might not take Galli’s understanding of Bell’s metaphors, but I will agree that it may allow for Galli’s view to be rightly expressed. My contention with Galli then is his ignorance of the developing notion of resurrection and rebirth in the bible. To point to nature as a symbolic expression of the Resurrection, is, contrary to Galli, biblical. First, Paul in Romans 1 noted that we may look to nature to explain the Godhead. But, it was Job, Galli’s favorite book to misunderstand, who first compare resurrection to the natural cycle of rebirth. The author of Job writes,

“Even a tree has more hope! If it is cut down, it will sprout again and grow new branches.
Though its roots have grown old in the earth and its stump decays,
at the scent of water it will bud and sprout again like a new seedling. (Job 14:7-9 NLT)

So, Bell is not as unbiblical as Galli tries to make him out to be (and catches himself in doing as he as to assure his readers that he is not saying it is a pagan expression).  For many Christians, the Death and Resurrection of Christ means the initiation, the very birth pangs of the Kingdom of God (Mark 13:8; Romans 8:19-20 NLT).  For one who continuously notes that Love Wins does not reflect the “thickness of biblical revelation” Galli shows a slight ineptness of his own in understanding ‘biblical revelation.’


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6 Replies to “God Wins Chapter 3 – Mischaracterizations, Hypocrisy and the Substitutionary Atonement”

  1. Joel,

    Did you read Roger Olsen’s review?

    He also stated “I feel like he read a different book than I did!”.

    I have no desire to read this (nor did Bell’s book but I did anyway as Mrs. Naum purchased a copy and it was plunked down on the coffee table where I read one evening, spurred by all the angst and hullabaloo).

    Did just nab a copy of _The Evangelical Universalist_, however, to get a *real* universalist take…

  2. “The death of Christ and His resurrection wasn’t a miracle. In other words, God did not break any “natural laws” in the raising up of His Son. It was fully God interacting in humanity; YHWH behaving entirely in covenantal favor on behalf of Israel’s Messiah. To classify it as a miracle is to somehow diminish it.”

    Are you saying that God the Father raised God the Son from the grave? I think that Rom 1:4 shows that Jesus used His own divine power in the resurrection, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

    1. What I am saying is that we have separated God from the natural world with the use of the term ‘supernatural’. That is what I wish to avoid. We say things like ‘miracle’ and the such when in fact, it is explainable.

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