Review: God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins

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I purchased this book. My review was unrequested. While I favor Tyndale, finding the people who work there and who daily engage on social networks to be of the best kind, but I have found that this book is poorly written.

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Mark Galli spent 22 years as a journalist and has served as a pastor. He has an MDiv and as has completed some PhD work, although I am unsure in what field. He is a Christian, an Evangelical, and more than likely, although never fully expressed in God Wins, coming from (or going to) a very Reformed tradition. He is an author of several books, and respected in his field. I can respect the work that Galli has done in the name of Christ for his tradition, and indeed others with his work at Christianity Today. Yet, in this work, we find the pitfalls of having an market idea and then trying to build a book around it. Billed at the “first market response” to¬† Rob Bell’s Love Wins, published earlier this year by HarperOne, God Wins more than likely will soon vanish from our memories, due to it’s lackluster writing style and the almost purposed method of the author to miss or to misstatement Rob Bell’s point.

There is something to be said about trying to refocus the issue of Salvation on Christ, something which I think that we lack today; however, the point of Bell’s book is not so much about attaining salvation, but about not judging others and understanding one’s role in salvation. Galli never seems to answer Bell, but instead talks past him, trying to focus on the media-hyped Love Wins instead of Bell’s Love Wins. This is a major problem for Galli, as for those who have read Bell’s book, and I of course mean actually read it, Galli’s response seems to often times be misdirected. This misdirected response is often as off-putting as Bell’s misquotes regarding Luther. Further, Galli misses most of the nuances of Bell’s work as he has failed to grasp modern, or ancient, theological trends, scholarship and preaching styles, or perhaps he is simply ignoring Bell’s foundation. This only produces, for those who have read Bell’s work as well as Barth, Lewis and Wright’s theological tales, a series of theologically incorrect gaffes which Galli is not able to recover from. He simply assumes, as indeed, most of us do, that our theology is the only biblical theology; that our theological language is the Scriptural language. Thus, Galli is not properly able to respond to the healthy dose of Wright, Barth, Generous Orthodoxy and even Eastern Orthodoxy found in Bell and Love Wins. Further, he misses that Bell is at heart an Open Theist Arminian. And barely is it mentioned that the largest difference between Rob Bell and Mark Galli is the issue of Christus Victor and Penal Substitution. Because he is not able to recognize and thus speak to Bell’s theological stances which has in turn produced his sermon, book and the bumper sticker, Love Wins, Galli comes off looking like an impotent archer, flinging arrows into the night air, hoping to hit something.

Galli’s main issue, it seems, is that Bell asks questions, but in this, he again, misses the target. Bell is not asking questions of God, but of Christians. Further, he is relating the questions which he has heard from his parishners. He quotes from Job, which is ironic, in trying to tell his readers not to question God. Yet, Job was no doubt written to answer the very central question of the believer, “Why does a good God allow evil?” Further, all of theology is a question and answer period with God, who finally answers the great human question of “How do we get to God?” with Jesus Christ. He quotes from various passages in the Text not realizing that role of Scripture and that is to help in answering questions. Without questions, without curiosity, without rebellion, we are no longer humans. Further, along with the anti-question pieces found throughout the book, Galli has decided that experiencing God is unscriptural as well. As a Methodist, I find that the experience plays a large portion in our interpretation of Scripture. Further, social scientists will tell you that experience often leads to our private interpretations of events. Experiencing something matters, but Galli seems to disagree with this. Questioning is how we come to experience God, how theology is made, how Reformations are commenced.

Galli’s mastery of Greek, compared to that of Bell’s, is lacking. He relies on dictionaries (which arely, if ever, give the cultural context in which the word was used) and blog posts to shoulder this heavy lifting, and he fails in doing so. He criticizes Bell’s use of the Greek, and in fact, Bell should be criticized, but in several places, Galli makes far-reaching statements which cannot be supported by facts. Further, he holds to a plain reading of Scripture, which is intellectually dishonest. He gives false facts, such as the number of prominent Christians who have believed in some form of universal reconciliation, and ironically enough, misses two of his heroes, C.S. Lewis and Karl Barth. This is not the sum total of this book, however, but it does take away from any message which he is trying to give, leaving the only thing to take away is the fact that Galli is either an inept theologian or hasn’t read the book. Perhaps, both. A theologian, in my opinion, is the sort who should respond to Bell, if a response is needed, and not someone who has spent 22 years writing hooks and lead-ins in basic English, reporting only the facts and not trying to analyze the context and words of another.

What does Galli do good? Gallis is right when he accuses of Bell of seemingly watering down certain parts of the Gospel. Further, Bell does leaving gaping holes in his work which allows Galli to drive through, and while I do not like where he takes Bell’s openness, it is plausible (i.e., can you then choose hell if one can, after death, choose heaven?). The only answer to give is that Bell is a modern pastor preaching to a congregation of the saved. He is trying to reach those who condemn everyone but their sect to hell, or their religion as it were, often times latching on to one verse or passage to bolster their claim. Galli doesn’t and cannot be counted among those who believe that their is no escape clause for those things which we do not understand. Galli is concerned with the Gospel, and while I may disagree with him on a few things, that is his focus, and in this, Galli should be lauded. He does have his own peculiarities, and hypocrisies, but I suspect that this is because he is simply unfamiliar to the paradoxes of his own faith, this topic in Christian history and in fact, theologies which are not similar to his own. Taking Galli as who he is and knowing his foundation, God Wins is the response one would expect from him (and the same must be noted about Love Wins and it’s author as well).

I would have a difficult time recommending this book, but in fairness to Rob Bell, it is one which should be added to the voice surrounding Love Wins, because it does have it’s own victories. It is, in my opinion, a very poor example of a needed response.

To read the rest of my reviews, chapter by chapter, you can click here.

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