Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Love or Justice? @markgalli @randyalcorn @christianaudio

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.

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.”

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