Mark Galli, senior managing editor at Christianity Today, responds today to Jeff Cook’s post yesterday. Mark has written a book that will be out shortly that responds to Rob Bell with the title God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins.
In the End, We Can Trust
Mark Galli, senior managing editor, Christianity Today
In a recent blog post here, Jeff Cook took aim at a video by Francis Chan, the author of a forthcoming response book to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I took note, naturally, since my response book, God Wins, is coming out in the next month as well. I’ll admit I was self-centeredly looking for “ammunition” that would set my book apart.
But after reading Cook’s critique, I found myself in the awkward position of feeling compelled to defend an author whose book will be in “competition” with mine! But it appears the Chan and I are both partial to one biblical argument.
Let’s begin with the critique.
… it seems to me that those who affirm the traditional view of hell need to do more than say “this is what the Bible says and we’re just repeating it.” Everyone involved in the debate about hell right now is saying “the Bible says”. What those who affirm the traditional view must show is why that view is worthy of devotion.
There is a way of saying, “The Bible says…” to shut off all conversation. I doubt if Chan is saying this, and I certainly don’t say this. Cook is right to critique a Biblicism that would do this sort of thing.
In addition, Cook is on to something when he implies that we need to do more that merely repeat the Bible. We are called by Jesus to preach the Word, not merely read the Word. So that requires explanation of some sort. Some of those explanations will help us understand more deeply biblical teachings that are unpalable in our age. But sometimes we won’t be able to do that because the mystery is so deep.
The problem with the wording of Cook’s conclusion is this: It suggests that our job is to try to justify the ways of God. But of course, it is not our job to show people why God or his truth is “worthy of devotion”–as if there were a reason above and apart from God that would justify his truth to us. Instead, his truth comes to us unbidden, sometimes in the starkest of terms—“and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Who can possibly unravel the mystery, and yes, offense, of this “simple” biblical truth? So the truth often comes to us in terms that defy our ability to grasp it or explain it in ways that shows it worthy of belief, let alone devotion.
While the paradoxes of divine justice make us balk in our age, it has been the paradoxes of the Trinity or the Incarnation or grace that have caused other eras to demand that these shown to be worthy of devotion. But to succumb to this demand is to let our presuppositions run the show, when it is biblical revelation that is in charge of the business of theology. When we succumb to this demand, we invariably end up with an extra-biblical explanation that undermines the faith (tri-theism or modalism, Arianism, etc.)
The truth of the matter is that the faith will always be a stumbling block, for different reasons in different eras. In many instances, all we can say is “The Bible says…” as long as we do not mean the Bible as a magic book but the Bible as the revealed Word of God.
This does not mean we should not ask the toughest of questions. We have that freedom in the grace of God to do so. Many biblical characters are shown doing just this, to the point of insolence sometimes! But note how, in the end, even the Academy award-winning questioner of God, Job, concludes the matter:
“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. (Job 42:2-3)
At the end of the day, the Christian is not called to have answers to the deepest theological perplexities, nor to justify the ways of God to man, but to point to Jesus Christ on the Cross. There we see God as both perfectly just and perfectly merciful. How he solves that which we only see as impossible dilemmas, I do not know, but with a God of pure justice and pure mercy, all things are possible. And after we’ve asked our questions and mightily wrestled with them, we can feel free to leave things we do not understand, things too wonderful for us, in the hands of a good God.