Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, has generated a national conversation about ultimate issues, such as the nature of hell, heaven, and the ultimate destiny of humankind. Yet, the book has also created unnecessary confusion. God Wins is a response to the provocative questions Love Wins has raised. In God Wins, Mark Galli explores the important questions that are left unasked and the issues left uncharted. Mark shows how Love Wins is not enough--and that there is even better news for our world. Includes a group-discussion guide with relevant Scripture passages.
- Audio complements the text
'This audio version truly complements Galli's text, matching the historian's academic knowledge of the subject with the feel of a university lecture.'
J.E. © AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
- Love or Justice?
This review first appeared on my blog, Jacob's Café.
Part 1 of the Review:
I'm currently listening to the audiobook version of Mark Galli's God Wins, a response to Rob Bell's Love Wins. I started writing some responses while I'm listening to it, so I don't forget them all. I wrote so much in response to just the preface, I thought I would post this first, especially since the preface wasn't Galli's work at all and so should be somewhat separated from his review.
Randy Alcorn wrote the preface to Galli's book, and it actually sets a quite negative tone. One of the things I appreciated about Galli was that he stated he is not criticizing Rob Bell or what Bell believes, but simply what the book, Love Wins, says. I think this is a fair attempt at taking the personal attack feel out of a discussion. Unfortunately, Alcorn's writing seems to take jabs at Bell along the lines of what DeYoung, Piper, and others have done.
Like many of the neo-Calvinists, Alcorn emphasizes the role of justice in Christ's sacrifice. He (and Galli) at times, present love and justice as mutually exclusive. However, Galli does properly state that this depends on how one defines love. I would add that it also depends on how one defines justice. Yes, love without guidance is not all that loving.
However, Galli, Alcorn, and many people seem to equate justice with punishment. Just like love without consequences is a very anthropocentric idea, so is punishment-focused justice. Our emphasis on fairness and forensic-like exactitude is not necessarily theocentric. In fact, it flies in the face of most of God's most explicit commands about justice (Jubilee, anyone?). What if forgiveness- and grace-centered love is the true definition of justice?
While Galli doesn't really use this perspective explicitly, Alcorn argues that Bell and others forsake the straightforward meaning of Scripture. Personally, this argument is something that drives me nuts. There is no such thing as a straightforward meaning, particularly of the Bible. Everything takes interpretation, especially when it was written thousands of years ago. Even something contemporary, being read within the culture it was intended for, takes interpretation. Love Wins is a perfect example. Galli says Bell's book says some things that I simply do not see in it. We have interpreted it differently. And Bell is one of the more straightforward authors out there. If something like this takes interpretation, there's really no legitimacy in reading the Bible from a "straightforward meaning" perspective.
Alcorn also criticizes Bell's book for disregarding historical church doctrine. This argument itself is controversial, as there is substantial evidence that a wideness of God's grace has been held by many influential Christians over the centuries. But yes, official doctrine has been rather narrow. The thing I find ironic about this is that it is Protestants, often those who who hold the label of "Reformed," who emphasize this argument. The Catholic Church used this exact same argument against Luther and other Reformers. As Galli says, newer isn't always better. Older and traditional isn't always better, either.
As humans, we are fallible. That means our theology is fallible. I hope our theology improves over the centuries. The theology of the Hebrews and Israelites certainly did. That doesn't make latter people better, but they did learn from their ancestors. We need to be wise about our theology. That means giving serious weight to the thought that came before us. But it also means taking a critical look at it.
Galli is much fairer in his part of the book, and Alcorn states how open-minded and fair Galli has always been. This is one of the things I have appreciated about his writing over the years. However, thus far into the book, it would have been much better without the preface.
Part 2 of the Review:
The first part of my review of Mark Galli's God Wins, primarily based on Randy Alcorn's preface is here. This post reviews and engages the rest of the book, solely based on Galli's words.
Galli cites Jeremiah that the human heart is evil and deceitful. However, this is not the full picture. It ignores the New Covenant promises that Paul describes and that John Eldredge has spent many books emphasizing: Christ gives us a new, good heart. This missing element is overlooked by many of the neo-Calvinists today, which creates a punitive justice-focused system of salvation and theology and that I believe is far too narrow in focus.
Galli's first chapter clarifies different types of questions: Questions about God and questions about oneself. Galli illustrates this with examples from Mary when she asks how God will make her pregnant (not doubting that God will be able to do it) and Zechariah questioning how he can be sure that God really will give him a son (doubting the agency of God). Galli argues that Mary's type of question is good, while Zechariah's is sinful.
The contrast is compelling, but I'm not sure it's accurate. Galli seems to forget the clear case of Thomas after Jesus' resurrection, demanding to see physical evidence to believe that the resurrection has actually occurred. This sounds more like a Zechariah question to me. Yet Thomas was not at all condemned, rather met with deep love and the evidence he needed. God, of course, does not always provide the evidence we want, but asking is not necessarily sinful.
Galli argues that Bell only presents God as agent. He describes the downfalls of this extremely well, explaining that God as agent means God doing things for us. I completely agree with Galli that God as agent misses the Gospel, with God as lover as a more accurate and deeper understanding of God. This is one of my criticisms of most of the neo-Calvinist movement--I only see them presenting God as agent and leave out the whole relationship thing. At the same time, to be fair, this may be my reading of them, just as that is Galli's reading of Love Wins. I actually read that lover element in Bell's work far more than an emphasis of God as agent. If Bell limited God to this agent role, I would be in complete agreement with this criticism.
Additionally, Galli and other critics of Love Wins have argued that Bell does not present a full picture of the Gospel. I agree; he didn't. But I don't think he meant to. He was focusing on a particular element, just like most books do. In academia, an entire book can be focused on an incredibly narrow topic in order to go in-depth. In the popular press, people aren't used to this, but I think that's a better analogy for Bell's work. Bell was simply asking questions about the theology of Heaven and Hell, which is only a small element of the Gospel.
Further, Galli has joined the chorus of many others who have criticized Bell for asking questions and not resolving them. I don't see the problem there. Bell explicitly states he wrote Love Wins in order to get people to think, not necessarily to draw a line in the sand. Readers of my blog know that I value that type of perspective, so I obviously appreciate that type of writing more than taking a clear stance. Yet that makes it harder to categorize someone...
At one point, Galli criticizes Love Wins as presenting Christ's Incarnation as more important than the crucifixion and resurrection. I'm not sure that's an accurate depiction of the book anyway, however, even if it were, that may not be incorrect. Protestantism has historically emphasized the resurrection, hence the empty cross that is frequently displayed in churches. Roman Catholicism has focused on the crucifixion, resulting in the crucified Christ on display. However, a lot of the Orthodox Church has prioritized the Incarnation. So there is, in fact, a significant history of focusing on the Incarnation.
One of the central lines and arguments in Love Wins is the question, "Does God get what God wants?" while referencing Scripture that God wants all people to be reconciled to him. Yet the book also discusses how God loves us so much that he gives us what we want, so if we want Hell, we can have it.
Honestly, the way Bell phrased this no-win question was not entirely fair, but it's a beautiful literary style and excellent for an argument. However, Galli takes it a bit concretely, emphasizing how people's wants are not stable nor can be very healthy for us. Using the analogy of a child's wants, a loving parent does not simply give into those desires. In fact, love gives someone what they need, not what they want. True enough.
However, I didn't read Love Wins in the same way. I would have a hard time believing Bell meant this type of superficial wanting. Rather, it is a deeper acceptance or not of the reality of God's love. The best example of this I can think of is from Les Miserables (spoiler alert, if you don't know the story). Javert, the officer of the law, has been tracking Jean Valjean for decades, with the belief that once a thief, always a thief. When Valjean spares Javert's life later, Javert is unable to accept that reality. He cannot live in a world of grace and transformation, so he commits suicide. He would rather die than live. That's the wanting that God will not force on us. There are people who will not be able to handle who would be accepted in Heaven, so they choose Hell.
This relates to another one of Galli's central criticisms of Love Wins: It gives too much weight to people's free will. Galli argues that people running their own lives is not freedom, but rather slavery to sin, and there is definite truth to that. He also basically argues for a bondage of the will perspective, explaining how the Holy Spirit is what gives us faith to believe in God. Again, I think Galli read Bell's book too literally. The bondage of the will and freedom of the will debate has existed for centuries and continues to do so, now particularly in the realm of neuropsychology. I'm not going to get into that debate for now, but again, the point is that there is a long, strong history supporting a freedom of the will and even some combination of bondage and freedom.
Galli also criticizes Love Wins as presenting God as impersonal and not present in Heaven. I would simply chalk this up to differences in reading because I read Love Wins as an intensely personal, relational Father who is the epitome of Heaven. Bell may have used different language than many evangelicals do in describing the personal nature of God. However, I found the language incredibly meaningful and personal.
Like many critics of Love Wins, Galli labels it as supporting universalism. The problem with most of these comments is that they use a particular definition of universalism. The way I have always heard universalism defined is that all religions are essentially equal, along the ideas that all paths lead to God. That's most definitely not what is presented in Love Wins. In fact, on page 78, Bell states, "What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody." Earlier, he explains that Jesus is the only way to God. However, does not mean that people of other faiths cannot be saved through Jesus: "What he doesn't say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn't even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him" (p. 77).
Some people cannot comprehend how a person Jesus could save someone from another religion and not be a universalist. But this perspective would state that Christianity does have greater value and insight into life and God than other faiths. It is a Christianity worth believing, as Doug Pagitt has said. True universalism would say Christianity is not better than any other faith. That is simply not present in Love Wins.
What I think was the best contribution this work provided to Christian literature on the argument for eternal damnation was that finite events have long-term consequences. A car accident that was not my fault can result in an amputation or many other issues. The decision to get drunk once can lead to all sorts of behaviors with very lasting consequences. This is how many things work, although we try to think all consequences don't last. Galli's argument is that this is the situation with Heaven and Hell and our decision to follow God in the present life. Rather than God necessarily punishing us, those eternal states are simply the natural consequences. The question Bell raises that many people have asked still remains, though: Would a loving God set up these as the natural consequences?
Ultimately, God Wins is stimulating, but I found Love Wins to actually demonstrate a fuller and deeper view of the Gospel and God than God Wins, albeit Galli's reason for writing this book was the lack of fullness and depth in Love Wins from his perspective. If one is very interested in the Heaven-Hell debate, this is a good resource for additional ideas.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
- Charitable and Insightful Response to "Love Wins"
God Wins is another book responding to Rob Bell's Love Wins, this time by Mark Galli, Senior Managing Editor of Christianity Today magazine. Galli's response can best be summarized by his April 2011 review in CT entitled "A Bridge Too Far." I remember reading Galli's review and being impressed both by his charitable reading of Bell's book and his insightful critique of its theological drift.
In short, Galli sees Bell's theology drifting ever-closer to 20th century liberal Protestantism which came to dominate the Mainline Church of America and Europe. As an evangelical, Galli's cautions Bell by pointing out the Achilles heel of liberal Protestant theology: it gradually reasons away any uniqueness of Jesus Christ and destroys the foundation for a visible Church. Mainline churches like mine have slowly been dying from this lukewarm brand of Christianity, so Galli (like me) can't understand the evangelistic appeal of Bell's soft universalism.
Galli is charitable toward Bell, almost to a fault, never referring to what Bell thinks but only what "Love Wins says," even when dismantling Rob Bell's creative but sloppy exegesis of Christian scripture. Overall, God Wins is insightful and a necessary companion to Love Wins.
I read God Wins via audibook from Christianaudio.com. Again, great book. Narrated by Sean Runnette. For no rational reason, I'm not found of Runnette as a narrator. But that fact didn't stop my enjoyment of God Wins.
This review refers to a free audiobook edition of "God Wins" by Mark Galli, provided by Christianaudio.com through its Reviewers Program in exchange for an honest review.
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- A Positive Response, with some Theological Slippage
God Wins by Mark Galli is one of the earlier book responses to Rob Bell's Love Wins. There's much to praise in this book. For one, Galli focuses on the arguments in the book and avoids talking about Bell hardly at all. Additionally, he doesn't limit his focus to hell, but instead covers the full range of topics from the question about who God is, the biblical concept of atonement, and the importance of faith. It is only at the end of the book that he addresses hell and judgment and a defense against universalism.
I was most surprised by Galli's explanation of salvation. His commitment to historical Christian belief shines through in all of his chapters, but I didn't realize he'd hold to monergism as well (the Holy Spirit revives us apart from our effort or will). That is definitely a plus!
Galli is a "big-tent" evangelical. His positive attitude and desire for dialogue is a great addition to the discussion, yet he's much more generous in his personal assessment of Bell than Bell's own statements deserve. At one point Galli says that even though Love Wins would indicate Bell is a universalist, since Bell says he's not, Galli takes him at his word. This kind of "big-tented-ness" is prevalent throughout.
God Wins is a kind and compassionate response to the claims of Love Wins, but it stands on its own merits. Still, some slippage regarding important teachings from the Bible makes me wonder if another book, such as Erasing Hell, might be worth considering instead.
I received this book free from christianaudio as part of their book review program. I was not obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are mine.
- Loved the Book's Tone
Rob Bell’s Love Wins produced a firestorm in the Christian blogosphere. It is no surprise that a response book, or several response books, would be forthcoming. One of the first, God Wins, comes from the pen of Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today. In his response to Bell’s controversial offering, Galli graciously attempts to correct the errors of the controversial, mega-church pastor.
Galli’s tone in this work is one of its most endearing qualities. Throughout God Wins, readers will encounter arguments that are not personal, not cruel, and not straw men. Galli finds himself thankful for the fact that Christians are thinking deeply about important issues, even though he disagrees with Bell’s conclusions. In a discussion of a topic that has generated a great deal of heat, the tone of Galli’s work is refreshing.
Generally, the theological positions that Galli presents are spot-on. He argues against the universalism present in Bell’s work (though Bell himself denies being a universalist, his conclusions are universalistic). Galli argues for a much higher view of the atonement than Bell, pointing out the importance of substitution and propitiation.
It is simply difficult to read a response book to a book that you have not read. I have not chosen to read Love Wins, and thus cannot say whether Galli present’s Bell’s arguments fairly. My assumption, given Galli’s tone, is that he tries hard to present Bell fairly. Galli also makes it clear that he wants his book to be able to stand alone. However, it simply cannot stand on its own merits. God Wins is a popular-level, critical response, and that very genre of book limits its appeal.
Theologically, I find myself cringing occasionally as I hear Galli’s arguments. This is not to say that I agree with what Bell is credited as putting forth. Rather, I notice that Galli is very open to views which I find inconsistent. For example, Galli declares that annihilationism is as plausible as an eternal hell; I disagree. Galli also declares at least twice that Scripture is silent on how God will deal with those who never hear the gospel. I would argue that Romans 1:18-20 and 10:13-ff are quite clear regarding this issue. So, though Galli is very solid on many issues, I cannot offer a blanket recommendation of his doctrinal positions.
Mark Galli has, with a very kind and gracious tone, put forth a work that is a fine first response to Rob Bell’s quite notorious book. There is much to recommend God Wins, but there are also weaknesses. Readers who are very interested in the controversy over Bell’s arguments will find Galli’s work helpful. Others who wish merely to study the issues of heaven, hell, and atonement should look elsewhere for more clear and thorough treatments of these important topics.
I listened to the fine recording of this book produced by christianaudio.com. As is always the case when dealing with christianaudio, the quality of this audio book was excellent. I received a free audio copy of this work as part of the reviewers program in exchange for publishing an honest and thoughtful review.