The Greatest and First Commandment

Mark Galli’s new book When Did We Start Forgetting God? is a call not to look outward or inward, but upward: to worship God simply for the sake of worshiping God.

In his new book, When Did We Start Forgetting God?: The Root of the Evangelical Crisis and Hope for the Future, former Christianity Today editor-in-chief Mark Galli pleads with evangelicals to refocus on the Greatest and First Commandment: to love God with one’s whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. Galli believes that “American Christianity has been less and less interested in God and more and more interested in doing things for God. We’ve learned how to be effective for him to the point that we don’t really need him any longer.”

The author borrows a trendy phrase from contemporary evangelicalism when he admits that he and many other American Christians have lived like “practical atheists” for too long. This practical atheism, he believes, is the root of the evangelical crisis.


Galli spends the majority of the book calling the church to gaze upward to remedy its situation. With at times painful honesty, he argues compellingly that the church should shed its horizontal, missional emphasis on love of neighbor and focus on what he calls “the vertical”—the love of God. Critics will certainly point out the two-pronged nature of the gospel’s teaching—to love God and neighbor—but Galli preempts their argument by noting that Scripture consistently gives primacy to the love of God.

The book highlights our lamentable tendency to idolatry—to make anything other than God the ultimate end of our desire. Churches that set their primary mission as “to make the world a better place” or even “to transform individuals by the power of the gospel,” end up making God a means to some other end. As Galli says, “That’s not love of God. That’s love of self.”


As Galli persuasively argues, the church was not made for the world. “If anything,” he continues, “the world was created for the sake of the church.” He successfully lays out an ambitious, God-centered vision for the church’s life, and charts a course for getting there.

However, if there is one fault in the book it is Galli’s curious failure to mention several other books that support his argument. For explaining how desires are formed, Galli would have done well to mention James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom. And given that desiring God is one of Galli’s central themes, it is unfortunate that he failed to cite John Piper, the man who literally wrote the book Desiring God. At times Galli writes of concepts that Piper has explained already, and with a touch more eloquence. When Did We Start Forgetting God? would have been even richer if it had drawn on these sources.

Even so, Galli’s call for American Christians to renew their commitment to the first and greatest commandment is laudable. Such a resolution, if followed, would undoubtedly do much good for evangelicalism.

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