No doubt, in reading my other reviews of Mark’s book, you will have detected that I might not like what he has said/written, and more than likely will end the review with a giant bomb leveling the publishing world. Yet, in chapter 8, The Victory of a Personal God, there is little to disagree with. I agree with Galli that in Love Wins, God is not a powerful force front and center in the book, and yet, I would counter that Loves Wins is not written about God so much as it is written to His people to set them to thinking about the destructive uses of their words. I agree that Bell doesn’t spend a lot of time on sin, but I would counter that’s because Bell is writing to a congregation of the saved and sanctified whose job it is now to work to root out injustice and to work towards the New Creation. This is where Galli’s main fault lies, in that he cannot recognize another’s theology, and therein fails to answer Bell on Bell’s grounds; instead, he starts at his own, very Reformed-leaning, theology, and asks Bell to measure up. Bell is Christus Victor and is has been influenced by the N.T. Wright and others of this genre of theology, in that the New Creation and not heaven is the ultimate goal. Galli does take jabs at Bell, accusing him of being similar to “pagan fertility religions”, which I have discussed in a previous chapter, in a way not really given to charitable dialogue, something Galli implores Christians to use.
Galli accuses Bell of something Galli is at fault for, and that is not fully expressing the mystery of Jesus Christ. Of course, I believe that Bell is beholden here to the mystics who know that God, or Christ, or the mysteries of the Church can never, and should never attempt to be, explained fully by the words of us mortals. But, this, again, is Galli’s weakness, in that he doesn’t know where Bell is coming from, nor does he seem to understand Bell’s goal. Bell’s goal is not a theological treatise, nor is it directed so much to sinners as it is to his congregation (remember, Love Wins was a sermon before it was a book). The book is written by a pastor, not a theologian. Galli’s book is written by a journalist, not that there is anything wrong in that, but the two men write with different styles, and different goals. They have different backgrounds and different theologies. To judge either of them by the likes of Calvin, Luther, Piper, Wright or Dunn is to judge them for what they are claim that they are not, but Galli seems to miss this.
One issue I did find ironic in chapter 8 is that Galli, who finally gets Bell’s thoughts on universal reconciliation correct, calls for the end of speculation. He notes that “the Bible doesn’t explain exactly how Jesus is both human and divine.” Previously, he writes as he believes that the Bible explains exactly how the Atonement takes place. Further, he goes on to say that we shouldn’t speculate on several things, and one of them is the fate of those who die “before the age of accountability.” First, the nature of Jesus is a creedal concern, and not something taken up, or even needed to be taken up, by the Church until the 5th century. Even now, millions of Christians do not subscribe to the Chalcedonian Creed. Second, the Bible doesn’t explain the mechanisms of the Atonement (Bell is correct) but gives models, of which Bell subscribes to Christus Victor and Galli to PSA. Finally, the bible doesn’t say anything about the so-called age of accountability, and as a matter of fact, everyone is born a sinner, even children. If we are to take the Flood as a meta-narrative of the End, then we note that babies weren’t saved. No one brought children to the ark and left them there. Speculation due to the fact that we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is “perfect justice and perfect mercy” has allowed us to carve out this 13 or years of a child’s life which we believe prevents them from going to hell if they were to die.
The final chapter is little more than the current evangelical spill, with some rehashing of the previous chapters.