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.”


Vespers: Life Changing

We had our first Vespers service last night at Vintage. These services, the brainchild of Jonathan Perrodin, our Formational Leader, are designed to create a space for us to be with God. They incorporate liturgy, art, music in new and unexpected ways. I am so thrilled about Vespers that I hardly have words to express my excitement.

This first Vespers service focused on Saul and his encounter with Jesus that so profoundly changed his life. Because he had met Jesus, his life as he knew it was over. A new life was emerging, a life that he lived that was not his own.

During the course of the service, we were invited to come forward, light a candle, and place it at the foot of the cross. This action symbolized that we are living a new life, a life that is not our own, a life that emerges from the death Jesus died. After we placed our candles at the foot of the cross, we were given several minutes to pray.

In that time of prayer, I had a breakthrough.

For the past several months in general … the last day in particular … I had been doing some complaining about my life. I had been complaining to Vanessa about the traveling I was doing. I was dreading being away from home. I was wishing that I could live a different life than I was living.

God knows what I want. And yet he has chosen to give me the life I am living. Who am I to complain about it? Who am I to be bitter or angry or pouty because my powerful, gracious, and wise God has decided that I don’t yet need what I want. I need what I’m getting.

I wouldn’t be happy if one of my kids was treating me the way I was treating God. And I’m sure God wasn’t all that happy with me.

So, I didn’t just leave my candle at the foot of the cross. I left my bad attitude and my complaints and my unholy discontent about the life God has given me. I was changed by the grace of God at our Vespers service.

Go. In Peace. Indeed.


Clumsy During a Growth Spurt

We’ve always been able to tell when Mattie is about to grow. Her sweet little cheeks get all chubby. And she gets clumsy. She walks into things, falls down for no reason, gets hurt in unusual ways. It’s like her body can’t keep up with itself, like she’s trying to adjust to her new size. It’s been this way since she was a toddler, and we still see it now that she’s on the brink of being a “double digitter,” as she calls it.

What is true physically for her is true spiritually for me. When God is up to something in my life, when I am on the brink of big changes, I tend to get a little clumsy. I’m not as careful as I should be with my words. I am even more easily annoyed. I don’t think well of people as I should. Normally, I end up tripping into the people closest to me – Vanessa and the kids. Sometimes I even stumble into a friend.

Being clumsy sucks. But it also gives me hope that maybe I’m growing.


What If …

What if we cared more than we consumed?
What if we share more than we spent?
What if we stimulated grace instead of the economy?

In the next few weeks just about every American is going to have him or herself a question, What do I do with the free money I am being sent from the government? I heard some people on NPR answering that question today. Some said they would save it, pay on their credit card bills with it, or buy a new car with it. Not one said they were going to give it away.

Let’s change the culture. Those of us who are followers of Jesus strive to regard others more highly than ourselves. We try to put the values of Christ’s kingdom ahead of the values of the American empire. Right here and right now we have a fresh and unique opportunity to put this into action.

As for me and my house, we’re going to do it. We are going to give a part of our economic stimulus package check to the Grace Stimulus Package effort at Vintage Fellowship. This money is going to be used to help meet needs and make grace happen in people’s lives across Northwest Arkansas.

What are you going to do with the money?

Prophetic Words

Several years ago I read some things in Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing about Grace that didn’t really makes sense to me at the time. In one of his chapters on legalism, he described how the new legalism will consist of political issues instead of behavioral issues. That seemed odd and far-fetched to me at the time has come to be here on the Grenz and in this election cycle. Here are some of Yancey’s prophetic words:

Much of the behavior considered sinful in my upbringing is now common practice in many evangelical churches. Although the manifestations have changed, the spirit of legalism has not. Now I am more likely to encounter a legalism of thought. Author friends of mine who dare to question the received doctrine on abortion or homosexuality, for example, face the same judgment today that a “social drinking” Christian faced in the fundamentalist subculture (202).

During the Victorian era sexual sins ranked at the very top – or bottom, depending on how you looked at it – so much so that the word “immorality” came to denote sexual sins. When I grew up divorce and drinking headed the list. Now, int he modern evangelical church, abortion and homosexuality probably rank highest (205).

Who is my enemy? The abortionist? The Hollywood producer polluting our culture? The politician threatening my moral principles? The drug lord ruling my inner city? If my activism, however well-motivated, drives out love, then I have misunderstood Jesus’ gospel. I am stuck with law, not the gospel of grace (242).

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