Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit
Denver Journal Book Review by Denver Seminary Professor Dr. Alex Mekonnen
Galli, Mark. Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011. 203 pp. $17.99, hard cover. ISBN 978-0-8010-1350-8.
Often our simplistic understanding of Christianity is a picture of a sheep on a green pasture. We expect God to meet all of our needs, we always need to feel secure and be free from harm and danger. Peace without chaos, crown without cross, resurrection without death, health without pain is assumed when some people embrace the Christian faith. Galli’s book, in a constructive and biblical way, demystifies the myth that contradicts the God of the Bible. He reminds us to search for the root of our faith and anchor our theology and practice on the teaching of the prophets and the apostles. “We have forgotten the God of the Bible—the untamable, unruly, mysterious Spirit who regularly upsets our plans and, yes, sometimes creates havoc in our lives. We’ve become blind to this God, and when he works his chaos among us, we think it is either the devil or blind chance. No wonder we shut the curtains and pretend we’re not home!” (p.18) The Jesus who said “follow me” has full authority to intervene in our lives and disrupt our plans to keep us in the path the sovereign God designed for us. Transformation of personal life and productive ministry is impossible unless we let God be God and obey his teaching. Galli’s book is a good reminder of this biblical truth.
One of the key ways Galli used to help us understand the God of the Bible is by differentiating religion from the Christian faith. He agrees that Christianity is a socially useful religion. But he also asserts that “…the Christian faith is fundamentally different than religion—religion understood as our attempt to order and control our lives before God” (p.23). When religion takes preeminence, its rituals and laws become a mechanism that regulates our lives. Without being examined, it can be dangerous. “Religion, when it becomes the focus, is about order and control. It is making people nicer, happier, and better citizens. It’s the middle ground between unbelief and zeal, a safe place to have God and morality without the holy chaos of the Spirit” (p.27). Stephen denounced this kind of religion (Acts 7:52).
Religion has a tendency to make the finite human mind define the infinite and incomprehensible God. We limit him to a particular people, place and culture. Change is resisted within religious structures. Status quo has to be maintained; form is more important than substance. The dynamic nature of the Christian faith contrasts the norms and practices of religion. Galli asserts, “As we read the New Testament, we are reminded time and again that the gospel isn’t about making life safe and orderly, but entails the risk of following Jesus. It is not about improving people, but about killing them and creating them anew. It is not about helping people make space for spirituality in their busy lives, but about a God who would obliterate our private space and fill it with himself. The gospel is not about getting people to cooperate God in making the world a better place—to give it a fresh coat of paint, to remodel it. Instead it announces God’s plan to raze the present world order and to build something new” (p.30).
Like Nicodemus, religious people find it difficult to understand the concept of being “born again.” When we encounter Christ, the Spirit of God will never leave us unchanged. The change of heart manifests itself in godly values and character, a holy life that honors God in word and deed. Therefore, “The gospel is about the cross, which puts a nail in the coffin of religion. The gospel is also about resurrection—not an improvement nor an adjustment, but the breaking in of a completely new life, because the old life has been obliterated. It’s about the Holy Spirit introducing the holy chaos—the toppling of religion that has become an idol—so that people can know liberation” (p.310).
Galli’s book makes a reader do some soul searching and challenges us to fathom the depth, height and width of God’s love for us; to partake from the richness of God’s grace, to enjoy our status as children of God. The book reminds us to live and walk before God with hope and confidence, as one who has promise and an unshakable destiny. As Galli described him, the God of the Bible “seems addicted to risk rather than religion, to freedom rather than control, to love rather than law. In entrusting the future of the planet to a mercurial nomad named Abraham; in revealing his holy will to a fickle and forgetful people; in coming in the flesh to make things plain to the blind and deaf, who wanted nothing more than to murder him—this God seems oblivious to the dangers that accompany his unmerited favor” (p.33).
This book is excellent to have a good grasp of spiritual formation, God’s love, grace, the authority of God in our lives, biblical understanding of sin, and the impact of Christian faith on individual life and society. It helps the reader see God’s hand at a time when we feel like we are in the dark. It enables us to realize meaning out of a meaningless suffering, and to hope for restoration beyond a seemingly destructive situation.
Alemayehu Mekonnen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Missions