When Rob Bell's Love Win's came out it caused quite a stir. I've read it, reviewed it, enjoyed it. It's not the most profound theological treatise ever written, but it lays out good questions that Christians and non-Christians are asking. Of course it pushed buttons. Remember John Piper bidding Rob farewell (from evangelicalism)? Then Christianity Today Senior Managing Editor Mark Galli, entered the fray with a book length response entitled God Wins. I've not read the book, but as Martin Marty tells us in today's Sightings post, Mark lays out traditional evangelical understandings of judgment and hell -- if you don't come to Jesus you're going to be toast (rather literally). Marty notes that Galli doesn't ultimately answer the question of God's fairness and justice, and that this question still needs to be answered in light of the earthly realities where "choice" really isn't in the realm of possibility. I invite you to consider Dr. Marty's responses to the two books on heaven and hell.
Who Wins? Two Books about Heaven and Hell
-- Martin E. Marty
What follows is not a taunt but a challenge: let us have a Volume Two, especially from Galli. He offers soft but evangelically-orthodox answers to most questions which Bell posed last year in his book. But he slights the biggest, hardest, most troubling questions about the love and justice of God. He is anthropocentric, of course, but his “anthro-” who asks questions and ponders fate tends to be someone familiar with the biblical questions with which serious apologists for centuries have dealt as they set out “to justify the ways of God to man” (and woman).
Such are perhaps the hardest questions which concern “me” and “my personal fate,” or “people who need to get motivated to evangelize others,” who worry about predestination and God’s foreknowledge and the hardness of heart which the Bible says God causes. Galli is humble about what he knows and does not know, but always punts when it gets hard and interesting by saying that God is a loving judge who is smarter than we are and who told us enough to get us personally through our questioning. But here’s the challenge: watch the evening news, as we do, showing Somali children starving, parched, dropping in the desert, in the arms of a dying mother. By the thousands upon thousands. Or walk among the poor of India, by the millions. There is no chance. Repeat: no chance, that they or their parents can ever hear the Christian “good news,” to reject or accept it. Galli makes much of choice. Time is short: there is no way the best-intended gospellers can mobilize to reach them. No way. And staying home with books keeps gospel-recruiters from the desert sands or Indian villages.
Only a couple of dozen lines in Galli’s book even bring up the question, which he then drops with some verbal sleight of hand. I’m almost embarrassed bringing this up, so ancient and worn it has become, but it’s here. About the “fairness and justice of God,” “let us not too sweepingly dismiss such questions.” We Christians, our club, should ask them, since this is “one of the ways” we get a deeper faith and “think more deeply about God” in our sanctuaries and libraries. Meanwhile, hour by hour, millions by millions go to hell. Galli is sure about hell. Page 95: In the New Testament hell is “mostly pictured as fire,” “darkness, destruction, exclusion from the presence of the Lord.” “The point is less to describe hell in detail than to suggest it is a place of torment.” In this case, for the innocent. Still: “those in hell experience torment for eternity,” say most evangelicals, and Galli does not dispute them.
I’m a reporter, columnist, bystander, and don’t claim to have credible answers to the questions Bell and Galli pose and to which they would respond. But we need a Volume Two from Galli on these really tough questions. Otherwise, “Bell Wins.”
Mark Galli, God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins (Tyndale, 2011).
Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011).
In this summer’s Religion and Culture Web Forum: What does religious education look like in the globalized realities of the 21st century? This was the question put to a distinguished panel at the recent meeting (May 22-28, 2011) of the International Association of Black Religions and Spiritualities (IABRS), an organization that “represents the religions and spiritualities of darker skinned peoples globally.” This month, we feature the response of Dr. James Massey, the male Dalit (India) delegate to the IABRS. Dr. Massey argues that peace among the world’s religions will require finding not only a “common ethic” (per Hans Kung), but an “appreciation of differences.” To both these ends, Dr. Massey calls for “re-looking at the religious traditions.”
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.