God Wins Chapter 8 – Well…

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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.

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

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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 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.

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God Wins Chapter 5 – The Pitfalls of Literalism

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The hermeneutical trend of reading the bible in such a way as to take literal the words on paper allowing for no genre, context, or apocryphal meaning is a not only a danger to serious biblical interpretation, but so too which forms a hermeneutical blind-spot for other fields as well. In studying the move between oral and written cultures, one must notice the dangers in having something written as opposed to having heard something. For the hearer, he or she is able to noticed the facial features of the speaker, for hidden cues, or the tone and pitch of the voice. In a written performance, that is missed and indeed, the reader becomes the speaker. This is, I suspect one of Galli’s pitfalls in understanding Bell, if he ever really attempted to do so. In this chapter, The Point of Heaven, Galli shows his subjective literalism not only in reading Scripture but in reading Bell as well.

He starts the chapter off by declaring that “someone more or less” is missing from the picture, which I assume he means God. I am unsure as to how he thinks that God is missing from Bell’s heaven, as I suspect that it is more of a matter of perspective. As an example, God is not missing in Esther or the Song of Solomon, but ever present, even if He is never mentioned. But, as we proceed with the chapter, Galli’s literalism obfuscates Bell and Scripture. He correctly notes that “Heaven is also used to describe the reality where God rules.” Yes, it does, but Galli goes on to say that “Wherever this heaven is, it is not on earth.” And yet, we are commended to pray “thy kingdom come (to earth), they will be done on earth as it is in heaven” which is seeking the joining of the realm of Heaven to the realm of Earth, which we see not just in the final pages of Revelation but so too the very first chapters of Genesis. He cites John 14.2 and Philippians 1.23, giving the allusion that Heaven is some far off distant realm only coming to earth in a quantum superposition. And yet, this is due to the abject hermeneutic which Galli is using. While it does not behoove me to give a fully sourced critique of this work (at this time), Galli ignores the use of language in John which doesn’t mean a far distant heaven, but one here on earth, inaugurated by Christ – the Kingdom of God. Galli is not so much arguing against Bell but showing that he hasn’t read much of the Kingdom Theology or is enveloped in current scholastic studies about the ancient Jewish understandings behind the New Testament books, which oddly enough, were not written by medieval European white men. I would suggest, especially for a better understanding of the passage in John reading ]]’s book, ]], published by Tyndale House Publishers.

He concludes this section by giving into the last few centuries’ doctrine of escapism (I’ll Fly Away!) by saying that both Jesus and Paul acknowledged “this dimension of heaven” then it would be accurate to “think of heaven as… a destination to be arrived at.” I would counter that Galli should read Perrin, Wright, and others of the New Perspective on Paul as well as the Book of Revelation which doesn’t have us going to heaven, but reverses that, to reunited humanity with God where humanity was first given dominion, on earth. While the pilgrimage themes are important, as Galli notes, we have to understand that all of Creation was and is moving towards a New Creation. Oddly enough, he notes the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land, failing to note that Jacob was there at first, but took his family into Egypt, and only later, after the Exodus event, did they return to where they started. While I appreciate narrative theology, and I supposed that this is actually what Galli is following, I think that we have to be careful not to focus too much on the reoccurring themes as a permanent fixture of human existence or the Divine-human relationship as we miss that often times, these story lines are concluded in Christ.

In the next section, A Tangible Heaven, we see again a re0ccuring theme in Galli, that of being anti-experiential, as if experiencing God has somehow ceased. He again ignores, or is perhaps unlearned, in modern scholarship which should help us out of that abject hermeneutic, but it seems that Bell is at least familiar with recent scholarship and theology based upon said scholarship. He quotes Bell in trying to explain eternity who writes that eternity is “intensity of experience that transcends time” (pg57, Love Wins). Galli goes to the Greek lexicon which admittedly may not support the meaning of the word, but are lexicons meant to provide context and usage or to translate the word? This is a different in the use of ‘word-for-word’ bibles and those bibles translated, such as the NLT, using the dynamic equivalent model. That’s because literalism, even in translation, can obscure the actual meaning of the word. So, while Galli is right that the literal definition of the word does not mean what Bell writes of Eternity, he is wrong in that eternity doesn’t mean Bell says it describes. Bell is not alone, either today, or from history, in describing eternity as an experience rather than a length of time. Dr. Alexander Melnyk notes that the 5th century Christian theologian, Boethius, saw heaven as experience as well. Dr. Melnyk writes,

We sometimes, mistakenly consider eternity as if it were a never ending stream of time. This is not what is meant by eternity. Probably the best definition of eternity was given by Boethius, who lived in the fifth century. He pointed out that even if time were unending, it would still not be eternal. Eternity is a special quality which enables all moments to be present. Thus God experiences all times as if they were here present in this very moment. But that is not the whole story.

While the light from the East is important, I want to now rebuff Galli with someone closer to his belief, a more conservative pastors, Rev. George Cutler*, who in a sermon, writes,

There is a difference between the succession of events in time and the “intensity of experience” in eternity. The intensity of experience will envelop the manifestation of extensity when time ceases to exist. The word “extensity” denotes the quality of having extension or the attitude or sensation by which spatial (pertaining to space which also involves time) extension is perceived. The word “intensity” refers to the quality or condition of being intense, i.e., extreme (absolute) in degree, power, or effect, as the essential quality of eternity is intensity rather than extensity. Even though the anthropomorphic axioms “everlasting” and age-enduring are the widely accepted descriptive terminology conveyed in the scriptures; to think of length as the essence of eternal life is to suppose that the reality of it is to be measured by how long it lasts.

And while N.T. Wright doesn’t expressly confirm Bell’s view, he does in fact come close to calling the view which Galli is seemingly espousing, platonic and gnostic,

In this clip, from an interview regarding his book, ]], we see Bell’s line of thinking expressed academically and theologically by N.T. Wright,


Galli and Bell are more alike than Galli would assume. Neither source their material and they both offer nothing more than bare-bones proof-texts to support their statements. Yes, while he can pull from Isaiah and other Old Testament books, he doesn’t offer context nor real exegesis, only falling for the centuries old misunderstanding of the New Creation which has led us to this present notion of escapism (I’m Leaving On a Jet Plane…..).

One of the issues which has begun to bother me about Galli’s approach to Bell is two-fold. First, he sorely mischaracterizes Bell’s position and then, he forgets that the Christian world doesn’t turn on a small group of Protestant believers. He fails his Theological History exam in recognizing Arminianism and Wesleyanism, and in this case, accusing Bell of the age-old anti-Catholic heresy of “works-based righteousness.” He calls Bell’s interpretation of the story of the rich young ruler wherein Bell urges the audience to “become a person of peace and justice and worship and generosity” a “serious (if inadvertent distortions of the gospel.” Yet again, Bell is not new in this, but is showing his theological heritage in both Wright and long before him, Wesley to some extent. Further, I would argue that, as I referred to earlier, Galli’s literalism is carried over from Scripture to Bell which removes Bell’s context. Bell is not preaching to sinners here, but to those who are already following Christ which is why, as he notes, “there is not a word in the book” about the grace needed to live in Christ. As well, he criticizes Bell for not focusing on the “Follow Me” part of the story which, again, the audience should already be doing. If sermons to edify and upbraid your congregation is a “works-based righteousness”, then many people are guilty of something which may actually be found in Scripture, although not to the error we have made it out to be.

As I have noted before, Galli hasn’t either grasped the theology behind the New Creation, the key of being which the body of Christ our Lord resurrected, or has refused to interact with it. While writing a response may not entail such things, to be honest to the opposing party, one should at the very least seek to understand where he or she is coming from. We meet this lack of interaction or refusal to understand again in the section, What Heaven is About. He first criticizes Bell’s claim that “heaven has the potential to be a kind of starting over. Learning how to be human all over again.” (p50-51, Love Wins) Galli says that Bell must be compared to the “fuller biblical picture.” Yet, for all of this blustery grandstanding of being more biblical than Bell, Galli doesn’t do much better, as in describing ‘heaven’ Galli starts and seemingly stops at Revelation 4.8-11. He does note the vision of the “last days” in Isaiah 2.2-3, which takes place on earth, using metaphorical language. He goes on to state that the “central activity of heaven will not be creativity or work but the worship of God” (referenced by Revelation 4). I don’t get the sense that in Bell’s heaven, worship is denied, but I do think that this is an interesting divide enumerated by the words which we use. For Galli and others, they speak of the Life-After as ‘heaven’ while for Bell, Wright, and even myself, I use the term most frequently as “New Creation.” It is a return, as the final chapters of Revelation puts it, to Eden, where the creativity first took place. In quoting chapter 4 of Revelation, he dismisses the notion that humanity is not yet present with God as well as the vast difference which we see in the heavenly situation when God brings heaven to earth. I admit that Bell’s more philosophic attributions to the Kingdom of Heaven is a bit off-putting, I am reminded that Galli’s extreme literalism is only the other side of the coin of Bell.

Galli is correct, however, that Bell doesn’t mention God nearly as much as perhaps he should have, but again, I go back to the (perhaps excuse) that Bell is preaching to Christian with a different focus than Galli would have him to have. To accuse Bell, however, of coming close to the “Eastern religions” (a term Galli has used several times) is to misunderstand other Christian theological traditions, such as Eastern Orthodoxy and the Apophatic terminology which Bell can easily been seen as fitting into. A different view is not always unbiblical or wrong. Further, our views are not automatically right since we hold them. Bell is not automatically wrong because he espouses theology differently, and neither is Galli. I’m not sure that Galli understands that, but I am sure that he is missing out on the grand narrative of Christian theologies which is a detriment to himself personally, and indeed, leaves a gaping whole in his book.


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God Wins Chapter 4 – Calvinism ≠ Biblical, Galli’s view ≠ Bell’s words

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I am hesitant to post such a title, especially about Calvinism, especially since I do think that Calvinism contains biblical doctrines, although I cannot attest to it as a completely biblical doctrine (and thus the idea of ever Reforming, I would gather). However, Galli takes the approach that Calvinism and ‘biblical’ can be interchanged, although admittedly, he never uses Calvinism nor such words as predestination or election while allowing the concepts contained there in to shine forth. To note as well, his Calvinism is not the absolute variety, but is one which demands a response. Further, the concept of irresistible Grace is present in Mark, and without Scripture, proceeds that it is at once the only biblical doctrine and thus because Bell is clearly Arminian, or Open Theist, then he is preaching a false gospel. While this may play well in some quarters, many who assume themselves to be ‘biblical’ would see Galli as unbiblical for many of his statements in this chapter! For many, such as C.S. Lewis, whom Galli quotes several times, we place ourselves in Hell. This is the idea that Grace is resistible, that while God has given us the free gift of grace, He has equally given us the freedom to refuse it. In short, what Galli is arguing against is not new or even unbiblical as he supposes, but the biblical doctrine of Free Will as argued by many Christians. I would assume that had Galli actually studied theology, and not parsed theologians and he seemingly has done, he would have recognized Bell’s ‘new’, ‘American’, ‘Enlightenment’ theology as some of the core beliefs of Wesleyans, other Arminians, and Open Theists.

This chapter is short, and that is saying something for an already short book, but it is focused on Bell’s words that “Yes, we get what we want.” For Bell, this means that we get to choose whether or not to accept Salvation or refuse it. Here, again, I turn (like Galli often does, seemingly missing the ultimate hope of the generations-past author had) to C.S. Lewis who wrote in the Great Divorce,

“Finally, it is objected that the ultimate loss of a single soul means the defeat of omnipotence. And so it does. In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat. What you call defeat, I call miracle: for to make things which are not Itself, and thus to become, in a sense, capable of being resisted by its own handiwork, is the most astonishing and unimaginable of all the feats we attribute to the Deity. I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”

Bell is no C.S. Lewis, but how is this quote different in the intent and philosophy which Bell has written in that we receive the hell which we create for ourselves in refusing salvation. Barth noted that it was the possible impossibility. Barth, another theologian which Galli quotes and has an admitted admiration for. Yet, Galli has decided to take on Bell, armed with what? Two theologians who would support Bell before Galli. But, I digress. Here, Galli clearly gets Bell wrong and tends to see Bell as a semi-Pelegian, holding court without Augustine, or perhaps fails to understand Bell’s theology as Galli launches into a sophomoric explanation of what we understand as Calvinism and then holds Bell up to that. In this measuring, Galli misquotes (Bell doesn’t say that the Gospel is that God gives us what we want) and overstates Bell’s position (Bell doesn’t say we judge ourselves and nor does he remove God from that position).

There is not much in the fourth chapter, unless he removes the diatribes against Bell and fully explores the tension between the Sovereignty of God and Human Free Will. For me, in reading Willimon, I am coming to believe that Grace is irresistible.

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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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Roger E. Olson on God Wins

Dr. Olson is a friend of Mark Galli, not that that actually seems to matter as he generally is pretty even handed about Galli’s book, God Wins. He sums what what I’ve been trying to say about Galli’s attack on Bell’s questions succinctly,

I wonder, however, whether Mark (I am not calling him “Galli” out of disrespect but because I know him personally and it would be awkward to call him by his last name when we are on a first name basis) is confusing interrogation of ideas about God with interrogation of God.  When I read Love Wins I did not sense Bell intending to interrogate God.  His questions, I thought, were aimed at traditional notions about God.

A good new book responding to Bell’s Love Wins | Roger E. Olson.

Exactly!  Anyway, as I muddle through the book, take a read at Dr. Olson’s review. So far, and I don’t want to read past his review of chapter 2, but I agree with everything that Olson is saying.

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God Wins Chapter 2 – Still no questions, because God is Transcendent

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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 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 ]] 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.

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God Wins: Chapter 1 – No Questions.

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Before you read this reflection on Chapter 1, you can actually read the chapter here.

As I noted in a previous post, it seems that Galli has a problem with asking God questions, or rather, with Rob Bell and others asking God questions. Here, I think Galli gets Bell’s book wrong in that Bell is not flippantly asking God questions, but going through the questions which are asked to a pastor from sometimes troubled parishioners. Galli notes that he is concerned with the nature of the questions, placing a difference between “questions and questions”. Our author goes on to note Mary and Zechariah as an example of these two types of questions. While I will not get into the purpose of the Gospel (stories), I will note the drama of the scenes. First, Mary was chosen because of her faith and obedience while it is not specifically said exactly why Zechariah was chosen. Giving these two wildly different people as examples of what questions can be asked of God reinforces the idea that Galli is handling the text as a flat document instead of allowing for varying types of narrative in Scripture, or even, a variety of characters. The questions are asked by two different types of people, so perhaps, Galli is really condemning the latter person who needs more than a simple word from another, which if we read further, we find exemplified in Thomas who questioned and doubted, but was not condemned, serving instead to bring about a uniquely Johannine revelation of whom Jesus Christ really is. Not to mention that Gideon pushed God more with his questioning, which was of the same same as Zechariah – both men wanted a sign, and both men received it. This relates back to the Pastor which Rob Bell is, in that he allows his congregation to be who they are in Christ. Some are Peter who runs to the tomb and John, and others are Thomas and Peter the one who is rebuked as Satan. In this, Galli hasn’t proved his points about Rob Bell’s questioning, and in fact, shows that he hasn’t yet received the intent of Bell’s book.

And to further show that Galli is willing to proof text Scripture, he quotes Jesus in Matthew 16.4 (which, oddly enough, is a different author than Luke with different stories and goals) about the evil generation demanding a sign to believe that Jesus was the Christ, not in condemning signs altogether. In this, I find it difficult to connect asking for ‘signs’ and questioning doctrines and theological positions, as well as understandings of Scripture. How else do we engage the Text and, indeed, our own Traditions, unless we question and seek to find what is right and good and Godly? Further, Bell is not asking for a sign, and neither, as to the best of my knowledge, is the congregation. They are asking, like countless others have and will, whether a not a loving God will (not always can, but will) send someone to hell for a variety of reasons. Is this really to be condemned as fool-hearty? And if Galli cannot tell the difference between questioning and asking for signs (which one of the differences between Mary and Zechariah; Mary questioned, while Zechariah asked for, and received, a sign), how much more can I expect from him in determining Bell’s arguments? He notes that these questions are asking God to ‘prove himself on human terms’ and yet, aren’t all questions asking God to display Himself so that we can understand Him better? Isn’t the Incarnation the ultimate answer from God in human terms? He goes on then to write about examining the heart (to which I agree), but how can he examine the heart of a questioner who had the question printed in a book after being asked to a pastor who then turns the tables around to those who do not question, but only condemn? Galli’s line of reasoning here is disastrous and betrays the fact that Galli seems to be fearful of actual questioning.

In Isaiah 1.18, YHWH tells Israel to come and ‘reason’ with him, which according to one Hebrew Scholar, allows for the meaning as exemplified in Abraham’s questioning of the God’s destruction of Sodom, and in particular, it is by Abraham’s questioning of God that the promise to spare all was given:

Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Gen 18:25 NLT)

It would seem then, that Galli not only doesn’t know that questioning God directly is possible, but so is reminding Him of his position in the universe, as even Moses did when God was intent on destroying the Children of Israel in the Wilderness. Further, as Galli noted earlier, the bible is filled with wonder and mystery, and according to him, the more truest doctrines do not make sense. How then can we know doctrines, wonders and mysteries if we do not reason those things out by questioning?

He ends this relatively short chapter with two examples, one from Habakkuk and the other from Job. In Habakkuk, he draws from the Prophet’s questioning 1.2-4 and 1.12-13 with God’s answer given in 2.2-3. (I note that the ESV Study Bible provides an excellent viewpoint on the issue of Habakkuk’s questioning and God’s response, which I would hope that Galli has at least consulted along with other critical commentaries and Study Bibles.) I am unsure as to how the prophet Habakkuk compares the pastoral questions of Rob Bell in Galli’s mind, but nevertheless, this issue isn’t in Galli’s mind when he carelessly uses the ancient Prophet who is writing after much warning to Jerusalem and, as Prophets do to both God and the People, asking questions which need not be answered. If Galli is hoping to draw a parallel here between the Prophet and Bell, as he tried to do so between Mary and Zechariah, he fails as Habakkuk’s goal is different than Bell’s. The Prophet’s work is set up into three parts. Parts 1 and 2 are cycles of Lament and Divine Response. The third part is the prophet’s prayer. In these Laments, as they often are, are questions which are set up to be answered by the Divine. This style is not unique to Habukkuk, but to take the genre of a book in Scripture and apply it across the board, even suppressing context, is to do injustice to the whole of Scripture and indeed, to be dishonest in one’s treatment of modern situations.

Following Habakkuk, Galli turns to Job in a section entitled, “None of Job’s Business“. I find this title particularly ironic because we have the Book of Job which tells us all of Job’s business. If this book was taken as an historical event, even then we are left with the dramatic irony of having a divine view of the proceedings in that we know the story from beginning to the end, with what was going on in heaven and on earth. Humanity questioned; God through inspiration answered with the Book of Job, something Galli obviously misses when he notes, “What we see in these two incidents is that God seems relatively unconcerned with giving specific answers to the anguished questions of Habakkuk and Job.” What the author misses is that the answers were given, in Habakkuk’s case, by the previous Prophets, but more importantly, God’s answer was to remind the Prophet that this was due but that God was still sovereign and this is done not with reading Habakkuk piecemeal as it seems Galli has, but the whole of the precious book. In Job, while he may not be given the answers, we the reader are. Job, if not taken as a historical account, serves as a Wisdom book which gives answers to those with an ear to hear. If you take both of these books as flat, historical accounts, given in a literal method, and further, pieces out of those books, then you miss both the questions and the answers, but more importantly, you miss God’s message in them.

I must wonder about Galli’s own pastoral concerns, not as a personal attack, but in that he writes that God doesn’t take our questions seriously and that the same God who send us Christ makes a habit out of ignoring questions which “throws into doubt his kindness or justice.” Is this the God of the Bible who gave us the Law, the Prophets, and finally, Christ to answer our questions about God’s justice and kindness? When has God ignored us except in our Sin, and even then, He heard the cries of Israel, and indeed, all of humanity by continuously sending them redemption, and finally sending us Christ? I fear that the rejection of questioning is not so much biblical as Galli likes to assume, but a protection against the author’s own fears either in himself or in those to whom he might minister too. God is not silent, nor does he “refuse to submit himself to our interrogations.” Instead, He is a God which engages in conversation (theology) with His Creation and demands questioning.

If you were to examine the questions offered by ]] in the first chapter, there are 86 of them as Galli notes, then you would see that many of the questions are pastoral, but more importantly, intrusive not into God’s holiness, kindness, and justice, but into our own theology and thoughts about God and his holiness, kindness, and justice. It is a shame that instead of answering those questions, posed not to God but to Mark Galli, that our author instead commended the age-old myth of never questioning, and confusing questioning with asking for a sign.

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