Tyndale House Publishers, a Bible-only publishing house, filed suit against the government yesterday, arguing that the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate violates the owners’ right to free exercise of religion.
“The federal government has deemed devout publishers of the Bible to be insufficiently ‘religious’ to enjoy religious freedom in America,” the complaint stated.
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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.
The review of the last chapter, 5, came in at over 3000 words. I don’t think that chapter had that many words in it; therefore, I am trying to cut down my critique of Galli’s book. I’m not sure it will work, however…
The chapter is Galli’s attempt to answer what he sees as the mythical universalism monster which many claim to see in Bell’s work, Love Wins. Of course, along with Bell, other defenders have not that those who say that they have read the book, and come to the conclusions of universalism more than likely haven’t really read the book. Bell’s work is a warning to not condemn or consign anyone to hell, something that I think Galli would agree with, at least if he didn’t have a book to sell. Galli even admits that Bell never commits to universalism, but yet, the entire chapter is dedicated to getting the reader to Bell’s book in that light and then to silence any questions about that view. Love Wins is called “most aligned with… universalism.” In this, as he has before, Galli shows his ineptness in understanding Bell’s work, or even the various avenues at play. Universalism is indeed the belief that all people will be saved, but Bell isn’t teaching that, far from it, but what Bell is teaching, and what Galli fails to see, is more along the lines of universal restoration (Acts 3.21, NRSV). Of course, I would comment that Bell is not the theologian to prove this doctrine. Finally, on this topic of whether or not universalism is actually Bell’s point, Galli would seem to agree that it doesn’t matter, because somehow, Bell and Love Wins have become two separate entities,
Regardless of the ultimate viewpoint of its author, Love Wins does attempt to justify the legitimacy of universalism.
I question myself, in that Galli refuses to separate God from His actions, and yet willingly separates Bell and his work as if the book and the author will not share the same goal. Here, I think, the shallowness of God Wins comes through. There is little wonder why it is billed as the “first direct market response”, with the word and concept “market” taking front and center.
I wanted this chapter to tackle the question which Bell asked, as have others, in relation to what type of sovereignty does God practice, although realizing the recoil in fear of the question in of itself which Galli no doubt had. He never gets around to answering it, and instead, posits God as one who, and I am being kind here, maybe prioritizes His wants, as if He has to choose what He gets. Galli gets into this argument later, of who’s God is more sovereign, but the God which Galli writes about loses to Bell. For Bell, God is sovereign because He will eventually win whereas for Galli, God has sovereignty on a budget and while He wants (later, it becomes “wishes”), the Sovereign wants other things first, leaving the infinite Grace of Jonathan Edwards (Galli quotes him and this phrase later in the book) butchered. Galli notes that Love Wins “fails to account for all that God wants.” Well, that’s true, accept neither does God Wins. Indeed, what the author thinks God wants is based on a poorly proof-texted passage, based on Isaiah 61.8, which notes that God loves justice. Yet this passage is at the end of an exile, wherein the Children of Israel was cast off into destruction, into the grave, into hell, but brought out again and restored, with their sin and punishment removed–YHWH’s restorative justice. This is justice, not the idea of eternal destruction, but of punishment necessary to effectually remove the sin from the sinner. Purgatory. But, before that, Galli notes that the prophets proved that God wants justice. This is the first clue that Galli will not not get the Old Testament right, in that the Prophets called Israel to repentance, to turn back to God, but they didn’t. That’s why they were exiled, to be purged of their wickedness.
Galli, again, goes on the attack, trying to get the audience to believe that Bell is suggesting that God is prioritizing His wants, and that we must “discern what God wants the most.” And yet, again, I do not get that from Bell. Bell’s mantra is, “God gets what God wants.” Galli never answers that, but puts up as a stumblingblock that God wants Justice, although Galli never defines God’s justice. Where are the answers to Bell’s statement here? It leaves the attempts herein made impotent, so much so that once again, he goes on the offensive, suggesting we should not question God, noting that God “has revealed himself to us, but not completely.” I wonder about John 17 or Colossians that talks about God being revealed, fully, in the Son. And yet, Galli says otherwise.
As in other places, Galli’s refusal to consult modern scholarship in favor of the “plain reading of scripture” leaves his arguments with gaping wholes. To argue that the bible “clearly teaches about a Last Judgment and eternal consequences for rejecting Christ,” he quotes Luke 19.41-44, in which Jesus bemoans the fate of Jerusalem. He fails to note what salvation is, in this sense, as well as judgment, or soon coming end of Exile which would allows for the Jewish people. He, further, confuses the judgment about to take place at Jerusalem with the national judgment on Israel. I would counter the usual reading with a reading grounded in certain areas of Scholarship, but if one is enamored with the “plain reading” would it help for him to hear about context? I expect that my answer, besides the “no”, would be criticism first for asking the question and second for asking the questions about the context. This scene is not about eternal destruction, but about the Salvation, i.e., Jesus who was coming to Jerusalem.
In the section entitled, The History of Universalism, Galli shows that the greatest extent of his research seems to be the internet. He believes, for one, that “throughout Christian history it (meaning universal reconciliation, which I understand Galli to mean from his previous paragraph, although I although that the author may still be getting the two concepts/words mixed up) has been decidedly in the minority. He is correct, however, in noting that an ecumenical council in 435 condemned Origen’s view. Further, he notes that Christians of the three communions, Orthodoxy, Rome, and Protestantism rejected the view, believing that save for George MacDonald and William Law, the number of prominent Christians who believe in universal reconciliation can be counted on one hand. I suspect, then, that Galli is a mutant with fingers which number past the usual five or six. Returning, first, to the point of the “minority.” Galli ignores the masses of Christians noted by Basil and Augustine. As to the rejection by the three Communions, I would caution him to read much more Orthodox theology than he apparently has. For Rome, read Redemptor Hominis by the late Pope John Paul II. For the Protestants, read Barth, Willimon, and a host of others who may in fact reject universalism, but hold to the hope of a universal reconciliation, or as older Protestants called it, a universal refurbishment. And as far as the limiting of prominent Christians to five, I would suggest he read about the Gregorys of Cappadocia (x2), Eusebius, Marcellus Ancyra, Irenaeus, Diodorus of Tarsus, Origen, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Victorinus, Hilary, Titus – Bishop of Bostra, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and even Jerome not to mention Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis, Robin Parry, William Willimon, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Truly, the greatest weakness to Bell’s argument from History is that he clearly failed history. But, so does Galli who would insist on arguing against the universal reconciliation found in Gregory of Nyssa and Clement of Alexandria [although I allow that some serious Clementine scholars might disagree that Clement had a fully-developed theology of reconciliation], without, no doubt, reading them and continuing to rely upon the Constantinian enforcement of doctrine.
Next, Galli moves on to debating the meaning of ‘all’ which, using his preferred hermeneutic should, without question, plainly mean all. He opens by muting the statement in Isaiah 52.10 regarding the fact that all the earth will see the salvation of God. He says that is is merely about recognition of the salvation, and not acceptance. I would contend, as Bauckham does in Revelation 5.9-10 (The Theology of the Book of Revelation, p75), that ‘seeing’ is much more than just viewing with one’s eyes, but in realization of what salvation is, and thus, in bowing before God. In Philippians 2.9-10, in the remnants of the Christological hymn, Paul notes that it is more than seeing, but in bowing and confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. If we were to remain completely narrative in our theology, we would then note Romans 10 where in we are saved by our confession that Jesus Christ is LORD. But, Galli’s failure to use his own hermeneutic (ignoring 1 Timothy 2.3-4′, admitting it only as a key verse for Bell) doesn’t stop there and is only confounded by a blatantly false misreading of James 2.19, which reads,
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. (Jam 2:19 NLT)
Galli’s says of this verse, “But even demons acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and shudder at the thought.” He says in response to the use of the above mentioned Phil 2.9-10. In effect, his response is again made impotent due to not only a bad exegesis, but an awful use of the verse (James 2.19) which leads only to a shallow attempt to ignore what Scripture actually says. He does go on to note, that universalists use other verses, without actually noting the verses used, allowing that “most of those” (those meaning verses with the word all in them) simply refer to “all Israel” (a key concept Galli misses) and the usual response of ‘all kinds of people’. There is no exegesis here, but a simple repeating of what others have written, without source, leading to more bad theology as the work is moved from one to another.
He calls attention to 2 Corinthians 5.19, pulling a single verse out of a passage, say that it accords with Colossians 1.20. He sees these verses and stating the Gospel message as he knows it. Yet, here, I find it troubling. First, for Galli and many, many others, a response is need, an acceptance on our part, as if we can choose Christ, or reject Him, allowing the final work of salvation to fall upon our shoulders. When Galli is speaking of God’s sovereignty later (which he takes on Bell’s notion that throughout hell, one may have a choice to accept Christ), I have to wonder, as he requires a response, if the fact that a required response actually mutes the sovereignty of God. Galli says that we are called to be reconciled to God, and yet, in the verses he noted, all of the action of reconciliation is centered on God in Christ! In pulling those verses out of the larger narratives, I believe that Galli misses a great deal. For example, 2 Corinthians 5.19 is part of a larger pericope beginning in verse 11. In that section, we find that the Apostle is speaking about his mission, in that God has sent him, through the love pf Christ, to preach. Why? Because they “are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” Note Paul’s words in Romans 5 where life is now said to be for all. Returning to 2 Corinthians, Paul tells the congregation there that “the trespasses of the world will not be counted against them.” And, finally, he notes that today, today is the day of salvation! This is a point, later, that Galli misses. Christ has already died, was buried, and rose again. He brought Salvation once. It is the day which Salvation has wrought.
He ends this section by turning to and essay written by Richard Bauckham in 1979 who noted then that the exegetical scholarship of the time had turned “against the universalist case.” Indeed, by then, it surely had, but, in 1993, Bauckhamn published a book on the theology of Revelation which allows for a universal kingdom of Christ. For Bauckham in 1993, the narrative of Revelation was central in the narrative of Scripture as it made all theological perspectives focused on the whole of Creation (163-164). In Revelation, everything is tied to a restoration of all things. (Behold, I make all things new…)
In the section entitled, Divine Math, Galli takes on what he assumes to be Bell’s anthropocentric notion that if it doesn’t make sense to us, then God won’t do it, such as sending those who had never heard of Christ to hell. This is a causality of Bell’s style. Galli is correct in that Bell does seem to posit that certain things need to make sense. Of course, this isn’t just Bell’s problem, but generally most of the West’s. Yet, Galli doesn’t answer Bell’s questions, in that for many Christians, history is not tragic. He uses Romans 9 as his starting point to dismiss Bell. This is a sensitive topic of discussion, and if not handled correctly, leads to a variety of doctrines which, in of themselves, led to horrible excesses in the name of Christ. By pulling out chapter 9 from the usual 9-11, and indeed, then, out of Romans, he has All Israel rejected, failing to note the theological language of that phrase, or the promised restoration, after being cast off, of Israel. [cough cough typical Calvinist supersessionism, to be expected] For an author who follows themes in the Text, he misses a very central theme found throughout Scripture and articulated by Paul in regards to Israel. Instead of answering the question or trying to exegete the passage, Galli returns to the familiar refrain of abhorring questions. He treats the Bible as it is has a role to play ignoring our questions, saying that it does so to direct us to trust more in God, which I assume was completely blind in the Old Testament as he says that since Christ came, our trust is no longer blind.
He moves on them to address the topic of how many will be saved, not what Bell was getting at, by relating to the reader the metaphor found in 2 peter 3.8. He takes this 1000 year:1 day ratio, which he actually gets right, and applies it to Bell’s ‘billion’, again, which wasn’t the point. Galli, however, allows that God “manages the population of heaven” well enough and that we should leave him alone. I have serious doubts that Galli read the book, but if he did, then his hyper-literalism has transferred and confounded him in reading other texts. And it is in his hyper-literalism that I found one the lowest points of the book. He quotes Revelation 14.1, with the 144,000, as specific number “regarding heaven’s population.” He notes the different interpretations, but fails to note that more than likely, and I believe Bauckham could help him on this, represent the tribal armies, reunited, following the King Messiah into war, according to the ancient methods proscribed in the Torah. It has not only to do with the New Creation, but also a more political imagery consistent within John’s Jewish-Christian Apocalypse.
In trying to prove that God’s and our own actions are eternal, especially in regards to our lives, he quotes from Ecclesiastes 3.11, which, given his earlier statements on the Old Testament, I have no doubt that he believes that the book has a solid view of the after-life in it. He first notes that the eternal God creates things which brings about eternal consequences. This, without scriptural support or further explanation, is followed by his attempt to answer Bell’s question on why, if we only sin for 70 years, do we spend an eternity in torment. He answers this by relating sin to a marriage proposal in that, he takes the idea that ‘if you don’t it right the first time, you’ll regret it forever.’ I’m paraphrasing him, of course, but that is generally the idea. While his marriage proposal may have flopped, the fact is, is that they were indeed married and have a wonderful family. How is stammering over asking the love of your life to marry you comparable to sinning? Or, further, to rejecting Christ? He is wrong to say that certain events can only be navigated once – only this life can be navigated once. But it is life, a vapor, as the author of Ecclesiastes noted. Yet, eternity is not. Further, again, eternity is more than Galli is allowing it to be.
Finally, in this chapter, Galli ends with Bell’s misguided notion that throughout the course of Hell, one may be able to choose God, finally. Bell’s view does not fall into the realm of hope offered by earlier commentators, and Galli is right to take him to task on it. But, again, Galli’s argument of freedom of choice which is a slap in the face of God’s dynamic sovereignty, is brought low by the fact that be believes that a response must be made on this side of the great divide. This is a larger topic than this chapter, or Bell’s book, could hold, but it is one which I think would help both authors understand their respective statements better.