Friday, January 14, 2011

Review: Fall To Grace: A Revolution of God, Self, & Society by Jay Bakker with Martin Edlund

Jay Bakker is probably best known because of his parents, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of The PTL Club. Those of you unfamiliar with the delights of evangelical subculture, Jim and Tammy Bakker were hugely successful televangelists who fell from grace in the 80's when all sorts of scandal broke out. When I say hugely successful, well...they had a theme park and everything.

It would stand to reason that enduring all of that public humiliation and shame mixed in with distorted messages about who God is would drive a person from God and that's exactly what happened to Jay. He quickly found himself as an alcoholic by the age of 20. Around that time, he had a friend who entered in deeply with him on his struggles. Which is to say his friend didn't judge him, he didn't try to stop him, he only loved him. Jay discovered through this the message of grace. Grace is one of those words we hear so often in Christianity yet rarely see played out in its full glory. Jay felt his life was revolutionized and he wanted to share this same message with others.

Fall to Grace is about how a proper understanding of grace revolutionizes our concept of God, ourselves, and how we can use it to revolutionize society. I absolutely loved reading it because I simply can't hear this message enough. Additionally, there's a fair bit of humor in it and it's easy reading, which is always a plus!

Bakker draws heavily on Scripture, especially Galatians, to illustrate his point. He also interweaves various stories of other people and how they first came to understand grace. His central point? Grace is exactly what we were always taught in Sunday school...unmerited favor. It cannot be earned by any good deeds we do. Likewise, we cannot really fall from it. Bakker says the church preaches more often than not a message of Grace +. Grace plus sexual purity will win God's favor, etc.

So yes I tend to agree with Bakker's position. I find that often in church we create new burdens for ourselves by creating new rules and laws that must be followed. I find that the church draws heavily on cultural sin to establish these ideas. But Bakker argues sin isn't about hurting God (as we are so often told) but hurting ourselves. I know many people who would disagree with this, and say I take a very humanistic approach to looking at God, but look, what does it mean when we think what we do offends God? I think that is also a very man-centered way of looking at things. I believe God is bigger than we can ever understand and the tiny part of Him we know, we know for our benefit.

I find it easy to fall into a performance trap so I really appreciate being reminded in books of God's unwavering love. I appreciate being reminded that there's really nothing I can do one way or another to change how God feels about me and that as such, I should offer the same grace to others.

Which leads me to the third part of the book. Jay Bakker is a gay affirming pastor, which in his words means, "someone who welcomes gay people into the church without asking them to compromise their love or lifestyle." This is me, too, minus the pastor part. While I've mentioned it a few times on here before, it's something I really struggle with because most of my family and friends who share my faith do not share this position. It may sound strange and perhaps you'll think I'm weak, but I never know how much to say about it. On the one hand, when I look back at other times that the church was oppressing others, it's easy for me to wonder why Christians who knew better didn't fight harder. (i.e. during civil rights, etc.) On the other hand, that's sort of me now, and I'm realizing that sometimes it's hard to be continually outspoken about it. You lose favor with people, they start trusting you less, and become reluctant to enter into conversation with you. It's not an easy thing to walk a path you believe is right that goes against your faith tradition. I constantly feel on the outskirts of things, even in the Christian fiction blogosphere. I don't offer this as a way of excuse, I guess I just understand a little better now. But I almost wanted to cry with relief over Bakker's book being so affirming of the gay community while he still considers himself evangelical. It was lovely to read his defense of his position and understanding of the "clobber Scriptures" (a handful of Bible verses used to tell the GLBT community why they're sinners) and while it wasn't terribly in-depth, it's a good beginning place for any Christian who sincerely seeks to understand how someone can love God, love the Bible, and not think it's a sin for someone to be in a gay relationship without feeling conflicted. I was once that person who needed to understand, so I believe there are others out there. Bakker spends a lot of time on this, not because he thinks it's the most important thing, but because he feels it's an area right now where the church really needs to grow in grace. It's a very practical opportunity for us to apply what Paul says and Bakker is offering the tools to get started.

Like I said, I loved reading this book because I need to be reminded of grace, I need to tone down my own judgmentalism, and I loved seeing someone so bold about it all. I do have a few quibbles...he credits Hebrews to Paul and really we don't know that for sure. (it's my favorite book of the Bible, otherwise I might not care. :) The book is short and not in-depth, but that makes it a great place for someone just starting to grasp the concept of grace, or for someone like myself who needs the constant reminder. And how much do I love that The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark is recommended reading?

Rating: 4/5
Things You Might Want to Know: well, if you're really conservative you're likely to be offended by this book. don't let you offense scare you away. Minor profanity.
Source of Book: ARC received from publisher
Publisher: FaithWords

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