Thursday, May 05, 2011

Book Review: Fall to Grace by Jay Bakker

I am captivated by grace. It is grace that has changed my life. It is grace that I preach. It is grace, more than anything else, that animates me. As such, I’ve thought a lot about it over the years. I’ve studied it and read a lot of books about it. Some of the most formative books about grace for me have been:

What’s So Amazing about Grace by Philip Yancey
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
The Grace Awakening by Chuck Swindoll
Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I’m glad to now add Fall to Grace by Jay Bakker to this list. Jay is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, a product of the most over-the-top brand of Christian subculture. He has been in the public eye since the PTL days, and he has stayed there with the Sundance Film Channel series One Punk Under God and his first book Son of a Preacher Man. Fall to Grace keeps Jay in the spotlight, telling his own story of being revolutionized by God’s grace.

Fall to Grace is an accessible commentary on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Jay interacts with the major themes that Paul talks to the church in Galatia about - how to relate to God, how our religion can get in the way of how we relate to God and each other, how grace - not religious rule-keeping - is really the only thing that can change us, and how the fruit of God’s grace in our lives needs to be acceptance for other people.

Those wanting a verse-by-verse exposition of Galatians are going to be disappointed. So are those who want to read a highly technical theology of grace. Rather, Jay tells the story of his own life. He asks the questions with which he has struggled. He authentically seeks the grace and truth found in Jesus. And he invites his readers to enter in. The result is an easy-to-read and engaging book that will encourage, entertain, and challenge the reader.

The most challenging aspect of Fall to Grace is Jay’s insistence that the grace of God requires the inclusion of gay individuals into the Christian community. He is clear that when he discuss this, it is not because homosexuality is a sin that grace is required. He does not think it is. Rather, he believes that the grace of God requires an intentional acceptance of all people. Maybe no group is more marginalized by the church today than those who are lesbian, gay, transgender, or bisexual. It is for this reason that Jay calls for the gracious treatment of them.

He discusses briefly yet compellingly the “clobber passages” of the Bible used to perpetuate the idea that homosexuality is a sin. But his primary appeal does not rest on textual arguments. He makes profoundly personal and emotional pleas for grace. With stories of his own growing acceptance of gay Christians and their struggle to accept themselves, Jay personalizes an issue that all too often is debated by the screaming heads on TV and by the placards at protest rallies.

I don’t know if I agree with Jay about what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. Like him, I was schooled in the traditional approach that leads to both fear and condemnation of gay people, be they Christians or not. Like Jay, the traditional answers and attitudes have not resonated with me. Like Jay, I am on a journey.

On National Coming Out Day in 2010, I gave myself one year to figure out what I believe about what the Bible actually says about homosexuality. During this year, I have pursued some intentional friendships with gay Christian leaders. I am reading several books on the issue. And most importantly, I am going back and studying those well-worn “clobber passages” that Jay discusses in Fall to Grace. I am praying that on National Coming Out Day 2011, I’ll be ready to clearly, confidently, and compellingly express what I believe.

I am thankful for the contribution of Fall to Grace to my journey.

But I don’t think that the purpose of Fall to Grace is to be a pro-gay polemic. I think the point is to encourage followers of Jesus to be completely captivated by grace, to push the limits of acceptance, to be liberated by the mercy and forgiveness of God. That is the overriding message of Fall to Grace, and it’s a message that desperately needs to be heard.

I am with Jay in believing that grace can cause a revolution. I’m quite fond of how Bono put it, “Grace. It’s a name for a girl. It’s also a thought that changed the world.”


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