One word comes to mind when describing Jay Bakker’s brand new book, “Fall To Grace: a Revolution of God, Self, and Society”. Provocative. It’s so provocative, in fact, that it has been pulled from some Christian bookstore shelves. But make no mistake… it is a Christian book, in its purest sense. And in my opinion, it’s one that desperately needs to be heard today.
For those few who may not remember, Jay is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, the “fallen” televangelists from the 1980’s, whose collective careers ended when they became the topic of numerous national scandals. Jay was an adolescent when the turmoil started, and he began a downhill spiral into a life of drugs, alcohol, and sex. After many estranged years, he rediscovered his faith in God and the power of Jesus’ blood. He then founded a church for the “rough and tough” people of society; those who are cultural outcasts. Revolution Church began in a downtown Brooklyn bar. Today, it still exists, ministering to those who feel that they have been cast aside by religion. Instead, they have come home to Jesus, to experience his furious love and grace firsthand. Suffice it to say, Jay knows grace very well. And he doesn’t choose to portray his book in a fluffy, sunshine fashion. He is real. He is raw. And he is brilliant.
Grace. It seems simple, but it is so profound. So profound that Paul dedicated much of his writing to it. And you know what? We still don’t really get it. “Fall To Grace” is an in-depth study of Galatians… a book that is entirely about God’s unmerited favor toward us. Why do I cling to grace? Because I only recently realized its true, deep, profound reality. Too often, grace is only a word… rhetoric that we Christians learned how to say in order to sound spiritual. But it’s so much more. Paul goes so far as to say, “If you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace” (Galatians 5:4). Paul is telling us that we either follow the law with zero mistakes, or we lean on God’s grace through Jesus. It can’t be both. Jay says, “With the arrival of Jesus, the law is redefined as a temporary fix: a kind of plaster cast to hold our fractured and dislocated souls in place between the injury of original sin and the healing of grace.” Galatians 3:19 says, “This system of law was to last only until the coming of the child to whom God’s promise was made.” In 3:25, Paul says, “Now that faith in Christ has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.” Now… pause for a moment. This is when we Christians sometimes draw our weapons. This is when someone in the crowd shouts, “Yeah, well… grace is good, but you can’t have grace without works.” That’s what we do well… we find ways to try to earn our salvation. But Jesus and Paul both tell us, that’s not even close to possible. Now, read ahead into James, where we get a lesson about works. Great stuff, indeed… but unfortunately, this is where I believe many of our problems originate. It is so true… works and deeds enrich our spiritual lives, connecting us with God and each other. But rather than grace and forgiveness being the result of our works, it’s quite the other way around. Once you experience grace (God’s unmerited favor) in your life, then you will be overflowed with the desire to do good works for God’s kingdom. Works are the fruit of grace in our lives. This doesn’t mean you will always be perfect. This means that God will walk with you wherever you are.
Some have accused Jay of being a universalist… someone who believes that all roads lead to God, and that everyone is saved. This is certainly not the message I received from his book. Jay is very specific about the importance of Jesus. The blood of Jesus is the sole reason that we have this gift of grace. Jay’s target audience is Christians who have already accepted Jesus as their Savior. He is encouraging us to rethink our faith. He is encouraging us to love without boundaries. Jay says, “In church we learn that we should ‘hate the sin but love the sinner.’ I was seeing Christians who were using sin as an excuse to judge and reject the people they associated with sin.” I see this too often, and it breaks my heart. We know we should remove the plank from our own eye first, yet it’s much easier to point fingers. Worse than that, there are groups of people who are told they cannot enter through our church doors. What kind of picture does that paint for the person who is searching for spiritual answers? It’s really no wonder that the Christian religion has developed a reputation for being hypocritical. We walk around saying, “Grace be with you”, yet we judge so harshly that some people don’t dare darken a church door.
Jay dares to tackle some hot button issues in his book: “Preaching grace opened my eyes to other kinds of suffering as well. It’s what started me thinking about how Christians have mistreated the gay community, for one. I encountered numerous gay men and women who felt rejected and judged by their churches. This rejection often cost gay Christians their faith. Occasionally, it cost them their families. In some tragic instances, it even cost them their lives as intimidation–in the name of God–drove them to suicide.” Unfortunately, Jay has been the target of scrutiny just because he stated his beliefs on this topic. But I have to say… I really think this is long overdue. I’m not a political person. But this issue of the Church and its lack of acceptance of the LGBT community has been going on for a few decades too long. Don’t get me wrong here. I believe that all people are entitled to their opinions and belief systems. But I also believe that Christians are sometimes so ill-educated on the topic, that they avoid it altogether, and annihilate people in the process. Legalism and self-righteous attitudes encourage us to repress, judge, and correct. Instead, we ought to encourage, understand, and above all else, love. God does the judging so we don’t have to! All we are commanded to do is love one another. I have a soft place in my heart for those who have been so harshly treated by some members of the Christian faith. I am an adamant supporter for organizations like Soulforce and Truth Wins Out, because I believe in promoting unity and understanding between the Church and the gay community. Because of unacceptance, many LGBTs will never discover the true Jesus and his unbelievable grace. Let’s not continue this harmful cycle.
Sometimes when I picture Jesus, I see myself as the adulterous woman. Shamed, mocked, good for nothing. Everyone around may point fingers and hurl insults as they pick out the perfect rock to throw… but the one perfect guy of the bunch? He walks over to me and stoops down in the sand, and starts writing. I imagine that he might write the names of those in attendance that day. I imagine he might scrawl their sins in the dirt for all to see. But then he looks at me, wraps his arms around me, and holds me. “Let him without sin throw the first stone!” Grace. Grace. Grace.
If the Creator of the universe can love that deeply, shouldn’t we?