Wednesday, October 26, 2011

God Wins by Mark Galli

“This is a book that uses Love Wins as a starting point to talk about key theological issues...” (xviii)
Love Wins is full of questions. Galli starts out by distinguishing questions. Questions driven by faith and those driven by self-justification can be very similar. “God is pleased with the former, but not so pleased with the latter.” (4) We think pretty highly of ourselves and our questions. Galli notes, on the other hand, that God frequently doesn't even bother to answer questions posed to him by biblical characters.
Love Wins is “ultimately thin and sentimental,” Galli says. “It does not communicate the gravity, the thickness, the mystery of God.” (18) He suggests we begin with God, transcendent, One who sits above us in the heavens. He commands, we obey.
Galli truly does use Love Wins as a stimulus to discuss theology. He spends much of his book speaking theologically on various topics. In that sense, this book is not specifically an “answer” to Love Wins. It is a good review, however, of the theology of sin, forgiveness, the incarnation, atonement, and the resurrection. He does note where Love Wins falls short of the accepted (by evangelicals, historically) understanding of those doctrines.
Galli's book reads more like a conversation rather than a theological text. He likens the theology contained within Love Wins to that of nineteenth-century liberalism yet notes that it is “boldly orthodox on a number of doctrines that nineteenth-century liberalism denied.” (56)
He points out a problem in Love Wins with respect to salvation. The entire discussion in Love Wins is that the human will is free, autonomous, and able to choose between alternatives. It assumes the will is not fallen, that it needs no salvation, and that it doesn't even need help. “This is not the biblical picture of humankind but the Enlightenment picture, which turns out to be fantasy.” (71) Instead, we are trapped in our sin. Only God can liberate our wills. That happens through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That is the gospel.
He takes issue with a distortion of the gospel in Love Wins, “a near-perfect example of works-based righteousness.” (82) He thinks the lack of context of Jesus' work, “will likely create serious misunderstanding.” (84)
Galli gives a brief overview on the Bible's teaching on hell then addresses the misunderstandings of it in Love Wins. He writes, “The discussion about hell and judgment in Love Wins hinges on a problem about what God is like.” (101) But the discussion goes off on the wrong course and is a distortion of the true Christian story. “Time and time again, where Love Wins attempts to retell the biblical story, it results in a serious misrepresentation of the real story.” (106) Galli points out several cases of “creative exegesis” in the book. He says, on some points “the book is quite misleading, and in some cases, misinformed.” (118)
On the title of Bell's book, Galli says love requires a free response and, according to Love Wins, “freedom is defined as the ability to choose to do good or evil. ... Love wins, then, because even if people reject God, God lets them retain their freedom, which is the highest expression of God's love.” (131) As Galli notes, in this theology, what really wins is freedom of choice. “Love Wins exalts that very American virtue to the highest place, making free choice the human value upon which our destiny is determined.” (131) In this theology, people get what they want. Galli says this is opposite biblical teaching of a sovereign God. It is God who accomplishes the work of salvation, Galli writes. God wins.
Galli admits that this biblical view of salvation means we will have unanswered questions. “The apparent contradictions of God's love and justice are in fact two sides of one biblical paradox.” (148) There are perplexing questions, but we put our trust in God.

Galli has included an extensive study guide. He notes that Love Wins has stirred up a renewed interest in the key doctrines of the Christian faith. He has created a discussion guide for readers to find what Scripture has to say on these issues.
Galli has also provided a list of books for further reading and an essay on how to charitably engage those with whom we disagree.

Mark Galli is a historian and has been an editor of Leadership, Christian History and is currently senior managing editor of Christianity Today. Prior to that he was a Presbyterian pastor for ten years.

Tyndale house, 224 pages.

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