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Review of Jay Bakker’s “Fall to Grace”

 

I recently picked up a copy of Jay Bakker’s latest book, Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self and Society (Faith Words 2011) out of curiosity, really.  I was in seminary during the days when Jay’s parents, televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and their PTL (Praise the Lord) ministry experienced their own very public and dramatic fall from grace due to sexual scandal and the mismanagement of ministry finances.  I am told that Jay Bakker has previously shared his perspective on the whole scandal in Son of a Preacher Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows (Harper Collins 2001).  I’ve not read this earlier volume, but it is now on my “bucket list” of books to read. 

Fall to Grace does contain something of an update from his previously told story.  He shares his own story of substance abuse, cruel “Christianity,” and the general lack of grace he’s experienced – pretty much since the fall of his parents.  Despite all that would prevent Jay from ever connecting to a “the church” again, somehow God’s grace has worked to grab hold of Jay and reveal to him the truly extravagant nature of God’s love. Jay is not only connected to a church – he is one of the founders of “Revolution Church New York City.”  Revolution aims to connect with people the rest of the church seems to reject.  Now that sounds like they are reaching out to people just like Jay – people who have been hurt by the established church; people struggling with substance abuse; people sporting body piercing and extravagant tattoos. 

Throughout this book, Jay offers an ongoing discussion with the Apostle Paul’s teachings about grace.  The theology Jay draws from his encounter with Paul’s writing is similar to Andrew Farely’s The Naked Gospel (which I have previously reviewed).   Other books of a similar vein have been written by folks like Steve McVey (The Grace Walk), Bill Gilliam (Lifetime Guarantee), and Neil Anderson (Living Free in Christ).  What you find in Jay’s book, however, is much more personal and powerful, primarily on account of the author’s intense personal experiences.   

The ethical implications Jay develops from this theology is a lesson to the church that it must extend acceptance to all sorts of people.  In theory, most Christians and churches will say “Amen!”  It’s only when folks start to read Jay’s application that issues are likely to develop.  Though it is not the major emphasis of the book, Jay strongly challenges the church to offer an “open and accepting” stance toward homosexuals, without placing any expectations that they change anything about their lifestyle.  In fact, Jay makes no bones about the fact that he is pro-gay marriage and gay rights.  He does not believe that homosexuality is a sin.

Jay is not content to offer this perspective simply as a matter of personal opinion.  He takes the time to delve into scripture.  He explores issues of mistranslation that he believes have led many to incorrectly (in Jay’s opinion) condemn homosexuality as sin.  So, while many (huge understatement) will disagree with Jay’s conviction, they will be force (if they are intellectually honest) to honestly deal with Jay’s objections by dealing with the text in a responsible way. 

While folks of good conscience might disagree with Jay’s conclusions about this subject, what they might agree with (I know I did) is the behavior of many churches and Christians is typically very sinful.

In a previous community where I served as pastor, a friend from another church told me a story that illustrates the ungodly and ungracious manner in which homosexuals are treated.  As my friend tells the story, the son of an elderly woman returned home for a visit.  It was common knowledge that the young man was gay and involved in a relationship with a partner in the city where he lived.  The young man’s partner was not with him on his visit.

Out of respect for his mother, the young man attended church with her on Sunday morning.  When the pastor heard the young man was in church, he and several deacons approached the man, asking him to leave.  They told the man that his lifestyle was sinful and that he did not have a place in that church during worship. 

I could not believe the story.  I assumed, “Maybe he attended wearing a skirt, high-heel pumps, and black knit stocking.”  Not sure that this should matter, but I was working with the assumption that the man had done something blatantly “gay” that had earned him rejection by this pastor and his church (one of the largest and fastest growing churches in that community).  I checked and rechecked the story, trying to get all the facts.  In the end, I contacted the pastor himself.  The young man had done nothing different than any other young man in the church.  He simply attended.

I would suggest that issues dealing with the interpretation of scripture as it relates to homosexuality need to be discussed by the church.  Jay’s book certainly aims to open such discussion.  With that said, I would also say that the issue of how the church treats homosexuals deserves much more attention.  If homosexuality is sinful behavior (and I think it is), I share the conviction of Jay and others that the treatment that gays and lesbians receive from the church is much more sinful.

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3 Responses to “Review of Jay Bakker’s “Fall to Grace””

  1. Pamela says:

    Bill, I read this book too……. was a little bored – heard it all before maybe? I am really having a tough time reconciling the homosexual issue – not one that I have talked to chose it or is in a season of rebellion…… conversation needs to be opened up…. would love to hear your response to his interpretations of translation

  2. Bill says:

    I like the book. It might be a bit of guilt on my part for being so hards on his parents in seminary – or while living in Charlotte in the aftermath. So I sorta felt a part of the lack of grace attitude Jay must have felt.

  3. Theunis says:

    Using your words and a wild card (*) I want to post this as a regular expression (programming term) and see what happens:

    I would also say that the issue of how the church treats * deserves much more attention. If * is sinful behavior (and I think it is), I share the conviction of * that the treatment that * receive from the church is much more sinful. I was socially ousted for preaching Grace in 96 and raising flags about the possibility of social harm and rejection coming from the classes created in poorer communities in war prone countries, by the ripple effect of the arrogant stupidity of the prosperity gospel. I am still outside on their un-invitation. I didn’t even have the luxury of a name or some cash to open a gap for any platform for ministry. It is one big dysfunctional family!

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