Mark Galli – When did we begin forgetting God?

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What do we do now?

A review of

When did we start forgetting God ?:
The root of the evangelical crisis and hope for our future

Mark Galli

Paperback: Tyndale Momentum, 2020
Buy Now: (Amazon) (Kindle)

Reviewed by Justin Cober-Lake

Former Christianity today The editor Mark Galli rightly recognizes the crisis in American evangelicalism. Or rather, he recognizes the crises involved. A theological crisis, of course – that seems to be embedded in the structure of the culture, a teaching dispute can largely go as planned. However, more cracks have become visible in recent years. The largest of these runs through politics, a gap that is very noticeable in our last presidential election. But if the center doesn't stop, we'll see these divisions zigzagging across the church, and Galli notices our problems in family life, worship, social issues, and more. With the emergence of terms such as "post-evangelical" and "ex-evangelical", the modern movement looks as if it is in a tailspin.

In this context and in recent history, Galli writes When did we start forgetting God? not just as a bearer of bad news (if it is actually bad news), but with a lot more in mind. He first recognizes the crisis, diagnoses it, and then examines specific applications for his proposed treatment. There is a way forward, but Galli's optimism – if you could call it that – is not in his insights or the wisdom of the Church. “The future of the Church in America does not depend on the health of evangelicalism. it depends on the power of God, ”he writes. "I would say we are in good hands" (8). With this perspective, Galli is resolutely pushing into difficult areas.

A central problem lies at the center of all these problems, he explains. "We have forgotten God" (9).

He admits that the point sounds absurd in a culture that seems to be obsessed with God. It turns out that most of the time we just think we're obsessed with God. Galli follows biblical ideas about what a longing for God actually looks like – thirst, romance, endless desire – and finds that it doesn't even resemble the Christian world around us. Based on Augustine, he states how "we make idols out of the penultimate things we want" (27). Evangelicals are no longer characterized by "the longing to know God" (29), and this change leads to a crisis.

Galli's concise study deserves careful reading, but broadly outlines areas where we have turned from concentrating on God to concentrating on God-related. We skipped God to find spiritual experience. We have slipped past God to promote mission technology or political transformation. We do good things, but we lost sight of the person in the middle of the action. Gallie writes as "wake-up call that something better is waiting for us" (43). This alarm sounds in several areas.

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The most challenging area that Galli addresses is our concept of the Church. He believes that evangelicalism "has an inadequate and shortened teaching of the Church" (47). For this reason, he wants to rethink the real purpose of the Church and move away from the missionary mindset that dominates certain schools of thought (and often has an implicit meaning otherwise). The purpose of the church, he argues, is the church. The church should not reach so much, but invite. "Instead of the world being the purpose of the church," he writes, "the purpose of the world is to become the church" (70).

Galli's later chapters don't necessarily depend on this particular argument. Someone with a different ecclesiology will still benefit greatly from the rest of the book. Nevertheless, it is worth taking a break because Galli offers a challenge. He turns us away from activity and activity – from counting heads and collecting funds – back to God. While it sounds obvious on one level, it contradicts years of church teaching. At his most demanding moment, Galli explains that the Great Order was not given to the whole church, but only to the eleven disciples. The apostles were sent out, but not every Christian is an apostle. Evangelization is important, he argues, but not the central purpose of the church. The Church should be the people of God, "live together in love in Christ, in praise of the glory of God" (70).

With that in mind, we can begin to reshape the way the Church works by doing the same things with a clearer focus. Galli suggests changes that are often modest but could have a significant impact. Small groups, he suggests, get lost too easily in the horizontal. They develop a good community, but can lose sight of God. It's not an uncommon experience to go to a small group that shares well, eats together, delves deeply into each other's life … and then spends a few minutes studying the Bible or praying (usually for traveling mercy). Galli wants us to meet, but pay attention to our orientation during this time. In a similar way, he addresses sermons, music, and other aspects of contemporary church life.

The last third of the book deals with our need to shape our desire for God. Part of his strength lies in his creative approach to the problem, while keeping in touch with current public interests, such as: B. liturgical thinking or contemplative practices (both, admittedly, old issues simply get new attention). Galli does not speak James K.A. Smith or Tish Harrison Warren, but both authors talk well with Galli's thoughts.

If we lost that we want God, how can we want God? Galli answers this question in various ways and first of all points out that "our passions arise when we give ourselves whole-heartedly" (142). We can develop our passions. God gives us the means to love and enjoy Him, and we can accept that and choose to act in a way that deepens our desire. If we develop these practices, we will "get to know the true God and wean ourselves from the God of our imaginations" (193). We will grow in Christ and learn to love God. In this way, we do not withdraw into an isolated monasticism, but will better deal with our fellow human beings. He writes: "Searching for God does not mean withdrawing from the world, but entering the world and perceiving the world with the spirit of Christ, seeing God in, with and under everything we see and what we do" ( 228). If we focus properly on the Church and the Self again, we can find the right value in everything we do.

Galli's book sometimes offers simple approaches to big problems and sometimes paradigm-adapting work through simple thinking. He writes both the big picture and the small details with ease, and his reasoning develops well into practical applications. With a view to his work, we should quickly move the book to the second row and remember what (or whom) we forgot.


Justin Cober-Lake

Justin Cober-Lake is the pastor of spiritual education at the Nelson Well in Central Virginia. He holds an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Virginia and has worked in academic publishing for the past 15 years. His editing and freelance writing focused mainly on cultural criticism, especially pop music.

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