Mark Galli's God...Wins!

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

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 further treatment of his book see link to review below.) Randy Alcorn uses the same approach in his preface to God Wins; LOTS of emotion without substance (see footnote below).

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! 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 even Rob Bell and was most probably a universalist! (Just read Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship)

For an excellent and extensive review of God Wins see Randy Boswell's "Reformed and Always Reforming":


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!

Regarding Randy Alcorn's forward to God Wins:

The following is a response to the foreword to God Wins by best-selling author Randy Alcorn, another writer I have greatly benefited from. I believe we need to examine his words and assertions that make up an important part of this book as his reputation and therefore his endorsement add leverage to Galli's position. One of the circumstantial evidences in support of the Restoration of All Things is the theological conundrum created by the opposing views of God of the Calvinist and Arminian camps. However, Alcorn makes quite an unbelievably naive statement when he says:

"Evangelical churches, both Calvinist and Arminian---while holding divergent positions on baptism, church government, and eschatology---have consistently held the common belief that everyone will go to one of two eternal destinations: heaven or hell."

This statement leaves me dumbfounded really. Does Alcorn really believe this? If you read any book or visit any blog or website that is debating the issues between Calvinists and Arminians you will rarely see them arguing within the areas mentioned by Randy. The number one debate is over the character of God. The sharp and often nasty debate is over whether God decides (predestination) who will be saved or whether God has set up a world where it is man's free-will that ultimately determines each person's eternal fate. It is the debate between "the God who is able to save all but has sovereignly decided not to" and "the God who loves all mankind and is willingto save all but is not able to violate mans free-will".

The Calvinists accuse the Arminians of creating a God who is impotent and weak while the Arminians accuse the Calvinists of worshipping an unloving God. They have been known to call each other heretics and claim the other "maligns God's character". Check out the current thread going on at an Amazon discussion board:

Was Randy afraid to honestly lay out the real debate between the Arminians and the Calvinists? To mention the true debate would expose the terminal disunity we are experiencing. We believe that until we reconcile the God who WANTS all to be saved with the GOD who has THE ABILITY to do it there will be no real unity.

Randy says, "Love Wins minimizes the doctrines of penal sacrifice and substitutionary atonement, ascribing them to primitive cultures." He accuses Bell of chronological snobbery. Hearkening to the early Church where the penal substitutionary atonement had not been developed (until the Reformation) is hardly a chronological snobbery of elevating recent viewpoints. The atonement has many facets and according to Leon Morris there is much mystery,

"There are many ways of viewing [the atonement]. We are left in no doubt about its efficacy and its complexity. View the human spiritual problem as you will, and the cross meets the need. But the NT does not say how it does so."

Also a good source on the Atonement is McKnight's book, A Community Called Atonement.
Randy continues, "If the orthodox views on salvation and damnation are up for grabs, then surely virtually everything in the Apostle's Creed is also." Neither the Apostle's creed nor the Nicene Creed mention the concept of an eternal hell. "Judgment" yes, but not an eternal hell.

On page vi Alcorn states, "When we abandon truths Christians once died for, will we no longer have truths worth living for?" I do not believe the early Church died to protect the doctrine of an eternal hell but rather for their Savior who was crucified and risen for their forgiveness, redemption and resurrection.

Randy states, "If our sins aren't big enough to warrant eternal punishment, then perhaps the grace God showed us on the cross isn't big enough to warrant eternal praise." The Bible states that "the wages of sin is death." Death is final and permanent. Evangelical Universalists do not believe that our sins are less "big" just because the cross was effectual for all. Why would a hospital that cured 100% of its patients mean that the disease wasn't that serious? Death is permanent and serious indeed but God said Jesus came and defeated the grave. He said that the last enemy to be destroyed is Death.

I believe that the work of Christ on the cross included all God's creation and with that conviction comes a worship and praise that is unquenchable. I see no end in sight of the worship I experience on a daily basis. The scope of the gospel is so enormous that I am overwhelmed by God's love, power, glory, and holiness. I have no problem imagining worshipping Him forever! He is amazing and glorious!

Randy Alcorn is clearly disturbed by this debate and he makes dozens of assumptions and accusations in his short forward. I suggest you lay aside the emotional greeting meeting you at the door of Galli's book and try and allow an objective mindset to steer you through the land-mines of emotional reactions, doubt, and fear while navigating through the chapters.