by Ben Howard
When I first heard Jay Bakker speak in January of this year, I was immediately captivated by his honesty, his vulnerability and his intense desire to find hope in love and unity. So I was more than happy to find out that Jay was releasing Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I’ve Crossed in February along with his co-writer Andy Meisenheimer.
As a pastor’s son and, for lack of a better term, recovering evangelical, Bakker’s thoughts inevitably trace their way through the theological minefield that many like-minded people have also found themselves navigating. He begins with the struggles of doubt, the realization that doubt is a part of faith, rediscovering the Bible as a living document instead of a list of rules, and a recasting of what atonement and salvation really mean.
To be honest, the first five chapters reminded me of similar books, like my first experience with Rob Bell when I was in college, or Brian McLaren’s early work. Though they were familiar, I found myself drawn in by Jay’s openness. Whereas Bell and McLaren’s work showcased the positives of this new way of believing, Jay’s work shows the darkness and the pain of the struggle. He does not sugar coat the fact that this transition has been difficult, or really that life in general has been difficult, and this transparency helps to form a bond between reader and writer.
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Though the first half of the book may seem familiar, the final three chapters send the book into the stratosphere. In Chapter 6, Jay lays out his view of grace. He opens the chapter with the following quote from Brennan Manning: “[Grace is] not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be the banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility.”
From there, Jay begins to lay out an understanding of grace that is so self-evident and simple, yet simultaneously so difficult to swallow that it forces the reader to confront their own prejudices. He embraces the idea that when we say grace is for everyone, including those we hate, including those who hurt us, and including those who don’t deserve to be offered grace. Even if it offends us and we cannot offer grace ourselves, grace is for all.
He continues by showing that grace also extends to us, and that means that it extends through and beyond our own inability to accept what we find as “unacceptable” in our lives.
In my favorite passage in the book Jay lays out what happens when we accept ourselves:
“When we see and accept the unacceptable in our own lives, we recognize the unacceptable in other people’s lives and yet accept those people anyway. Then we are truly able to help others, to lead them to grace, to help them to grace, to help them discover transformation.”
This vision of grace and acceptance extends into the final two chapters which explore the world of the marginalized and the church’s call to seek the lost and the excluded. In these chapters he speaks over and over about how Jesus ate with the tax collectors, who were hated for their traitorous work for the Romans, and the sinners, who were ostracized by society. He loved people because society was allowed to hate them. He was on their side because they needed someone to love them too.
In the final chapter especially, Jay explores the need to accept gay and lesbian people into the church. He relates his own experience with this acceptance and how it led to him losing his job in Atlanta. How he did what he felt he had to do, because it was right, regardless of the pain and the cost.
|Free, offensive and wonderful|
That’s what I love about this book. It does not shrink from the pain of doing the right thing. It understands that a quest for loving unity, acceptance, and grace will lead to a lot of pain from those who are afraid of the implications.
Additionally, I appreciated the way Jay came to his beliefs. He did not attempt to twist scriptures or re-contextualize them to make them say something that he wanted them to say (a temptation I am all too familiar with), instead he seems to have looked at them with fresh eyes and has been able to see through the grit and grime of a mountain of bad interpretations.
We love because it’s so obvious God loves us. We give grace because it’s so obvious the grace we’ve been given. We do what’s right because it’s so obviously the right thing to do, even when it hurts.
If this is what it looks like to cross the line, then I can’t wait to follow.
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