Mark Galli, senior Managing Editor for Christianity Today, wrote a direct response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins (within 4 months) entitled God Wins.
I want to share a few observations regarding God Wins and also consider some things Galli states in a favorite book of mine, Jesus Mean and Wild. Specifically I will reveal how there is a secret hope written on Mark Galli’s heart that the Gospel of a redemption sufficient and efficient for all is true!
God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins
First, I think we should look at the back cover statement. In large bold red font it says: “Does a loving God really send some people to Hell?”
Galli has lost credibility even before we open the book. What I mean is, he has lost his credibility as a true believer in eternal conscious torment because he can’t even bring himself to say it on the cover! He appears to betray that his true heart does not really believe in such a reality.
This is because he uses the word “some.” This is a subtle yet crater-size understatement. He should have said “most” but his heart just couldn’t say it.
He also should have used, “eternal hell.” To use simply the word hell muddies the waters and softens the reality of eternal conscious torment. And since many Christian universalists believe there is a “hell” this places this view in contempt appearing as though Christian Universalism doesn’t represent any type of hell as judgment. But this is not true, they simply differ on the purpose and duration of hell.
So let me ask you, how would it have come across if on the cover Galli had written what he was supposed to mean?:
“Does a Loving God really send most people to eternal conscious torment in hell?”
Those are the cold hard facts that Galli softened and evaded from the very cover of the book. This shows Galli is not comfortable with the doctrine as it truly is to be presented.
Second, we ought to challenge Galli’s reprimand of what he considers by Bell “questioning God.” But Roger Olsen said it well:
“I wonder, however, whether Mark 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.” Roger Olsen http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/07/a-good-new-book-responding-to-bells-love-wins
The questions Bell had and the questions we have are NOT pointed at God but rather at the theologians and traditions of men!
This is another reason I believe Galli witnesses to the reality of ultimate reconciliation of all: he finds himself using ad hominem arguments to defend the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. I do not believe he does this intentionally but if he were to examine his arguments he would have to agree. (For more detail see links to reviews below.) Randy Alcorn uses the same approach in his preface to God Wins; LOTS of emotion without substance.
Then to cap this section on questioning God Galli uses Jeremiah 17:9 to silence any notion that our hearts might be a gauge for determining if something was true or just or right:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
With all due respect for Mark Galli as a godly evangelical leader and writer, this could be called “pastoral malpractice.” This verse used to censor any speech that questions the justice of an eternal hell is flat out misuse of Scripture to suppress hard questions and keep them from surfacing. Jeremiah 17:9 is speaking of the old nature within the old covenant! If you continue to read Jeremiah he describes the “new heart” that God puts in those who repent and believe (Jer. 24:7; 32:39). Our questions are coming from new redeemed hearts of flesh that God asks us to use “to judge for ourselves what is right” (Luke 12:57).
Again I do not have reason to think Galli is doing this intentionally. I believe he is simply stuck in his traditional paradigm of theology. I only point this out to display how Galli is not able to face the inconsistencies within his doctrine and thereby reveal how he undermines his own traditional view of hell.
Finally in relation to a quote by Martin Luther that Rob Bell was accused of taking out of context in favor of a more hopeful take on salvation I would direct you to a closing quote given by Galli in his chapter in God Wins entitled, “The Victory of a Personal God.” He references Dietrich Bonhoeffer as “one of the most profound and realistic Christian theologians of the twentieth century.” He summarizes Bonhoeffer’s worldview as: “God is in charge; He makes no mistakes; all that He does is driven by love.” The irony of this placement of Bonhoeffer here at the conclusion of his book against Love Wins is that Bonhoeffer held considerably less “evangelical” views than Rob Bell and was most probably a universalist! (Just read The Cost of Discipleship)
Update: Here is an excerpt from Bonhoeffer that is quite clear in his leanings toward a universal redemption, again, emphasizing the irony of presenting Bonhoeffer as a conclusion to an anti-universal treatise!:
“In the body of Jesus Christ, God is united with humankind, all humanity is accepted by God, and the world is reconciled to God. In the body of Jesus Christ, God took on the sin of all the world and bore it. There is no part of the world, no matter how lost, no matter how godless, that has not been accepted by God in Jesus Christ and reconciled to God.” “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings AS THEY ARE; not an ideal world, but the REAL WORLD. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love. God establishes a most intimate unity with this. God becomes human, a real human being. While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, GOD BECOMES HUMAN; and we must recognize that God wills that we be human, real human beings. While we distinguish between pious and godless, good and evil, noble and base, God loves REAL PEOPLE without distinction. God has no patience with our dividing the world and humanity according to our standards and imposing ourselves as judges over them. God leads us into absurdity by becoming a real human being and a companion of sinners, thereby forcing us to become the judges of God. God stands beside the real human being and the real world against ALL THEIR ACCUSERS. So God becomes accused along with human beings and the world, and thus the judges become the accused.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 66–68, 84–85″
Jesus Mean and Wild by Mark Galli
In closing, in light of Galli’s own revelation of himself as someone uncomfortable with his doctrine of eternal conscious torment and hopeful for something bigger, bolder and more beautiful I will end with a few quotes from this excellent book. It ought to be read and re-read as an antidote to the Church’s perennial tendency to domesticate and tame Jesus. But I want to highlight here how in the midst of serving to us a more powerful and sovereign Jesus, Galli also continues to point to and maintain a greater hope in the grace and mercy of God.
“This is not a world for shallow people with soft character. It needs tested, toughened disciples who are prepared, like their Lord, to descend into hell to redeem the lost…He’s got the whole world on His mind, and He is looking for people who are keeping that world foremost in their minds as well.” (pg 31)
He then quotes Frederica Matthews-Green:
“Jesus didn’t come to save us from the penalty for our sins; He came to save us from our sins — now, today, if we will only respond to the challenge and let Him…The Lord does not love us for our good parts and pass over the rest. He died for the bad parts and will not rest until they are put right. We must stop thinking of God as infinitely indulgent. We must begin to grapple with the scary and exhilarating truth that He is infinitely holy, and that He wants the same for us.” (pg39)
And again a quote by Galli:
“To be holy means to be set apart for divine purposes. God wants nothing less than all creation, which is now subject to decay, futility, and corruption, to become sanctified, alive, and completely dedicated to His purposes.” (pg 44)
In light of Galli’s own words that, “He’s got the whole world on His mind” and that, “God wants nothing less that all creation to become sanctified,” how does that square with the doctrine of eternal conscious torment where most people will be given up to an eternal cycle of death, sin and punishment? (And this is from a Calvinist keep in mind.)
Regarding holiness, fear and “destruction by love”:
“But we misconstrue His love — we may even be attracted to a mere figment of our imagination — if we don’t also sense fear. The one who loves us is the Holy One who wishes to make all unclean things holy. That means the One whom we cannot stay away from is the same one who is out to destroy those very habits, sins, notions, addictions, and self-justifications that we think we can’t live without. And there are times we think Jesus is out to destroy us.
It is a wonderful and fearful thing to fall into the hands of the real Jesus.” (46)
Galli says, “The One who loves us is the Holy One who wishes to make all unclean things holy.” But according to elsewhere in this book and in God Wins Galli would say that The Holy One will make some unclean things holy while consigning the majority of unclean things to a cycle of unholiness and vileness forever!
“His demands are loving demands — not only because they entail love of God and neighbor, but also because to live as God wants is to live in fulness and joy. To live any less, is to live a subhuman existence.” (pg 144)
Here Galli continues to confirm his understanding that deep down he believes God sovereignly will get what He wants. It is incoherent to consider that God will allow most of His very own image-bearers to live “sub-humanly” forever, defacing His image and glory eternally.
As we have stated elsewhere we do not believe it is necessary to read books exclusively defending the universal love and redemption of God. We need the present (and past) wisdom of the entire Body of Christ to complete our understanding of the Gospel. They are all divided into different camps but you can bring them all together in your heart as you read and draw from them all — as one holistic view of the Gospel! Jesus Mean and Wild is highly recommended for it fills the gap in the Church for an understanding of what Augustine called the “severe mercy” of God in the context of His unfailing love. Galli closes his book with these words:
“Jesus has come to us, the real Jesus — mean, wild, and pulsing with an unnerving and irresistible love.” (emphasis mine)
Amen Mark Galli!